Some might call me crazy, but I think that the practice of yoga is essentially hedonistic. For years when I practiced yoga I did it for the pay off at the end. I suffered through the pain and mild boredom for the feeling of calm gratification I would achieve as I laid in savasana. Slowly though my attitude began to change. Just the act of breathing deeply felt like chewing some rich, yummy confection. Moving with unexpected grace became an expression of sensuality. The payoff of all at once achieving a previously precarious pose was like receiving my own private standing ovation. Chocolate, sex, recognition… what more does a girl need? But in our increasingly austere and puritanical culture it’s become a badge of honor to deprive and punish oneself. In the yoga community alone the list of things we must not consume or purchase has become as long as Sean Corne’s well toned arm. No meat, no caffeine, no processed foods, gluten, animal products….. blah. I get it, the abstinence of ahimsa or non-harming is a key principle of yoga but for crying out loud! Let it be. Increasingly we are becoming defined by what we DON”T do. Is there any room left for hedonism? For the pure and simple joy of indulgence?
In preparing this blog I’ve been bombarded with media information about how harmful your Thanksgiving dinner might be to your health. “Too many calories!” or “Too much sodium!” There are the articles and sound bites about how to make your Thanksgiving meal more healthy, how to save a few calories, how to make it humane (tofurkey anyone?) and so on. When my mother was alive she made the exact same Thanksgiving dinner every year. I can practically taste it. I still soldier on and try to make the same dishes she made even though the stained and worn notecards she printed her recipes on are all but obsolete, she went rogue years ago, following the printed instructions not a bit. Even so, you can pry those cards from my cold dead hands. I will use every heaping tablespoon of butter, bacon and sausage drippings (Mom was from the south), salt and bourbon. How incredibly presumptuous of the media to suggest that we fling aside our traditions in the interest of austerity or health as they like to say. These traditions bind us to our past and to each other and this my friends is yoga.
I am not oblivious to the fact that most of us will gain weight as we progress through this season. It’s not just the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It’s the peppermint brownies, Christmas cookies, Santa shakes, egg nog and champagne. This is a season of food and I for one will not lament. This is how we celebrate in our culture. I meet a fair number of people in my profession that are wanting to lose weight. They tell me that their problem is that they just “love” food. This is certainly not a problem. There is a place for hedonism in the quest for health and fitness. Yoga doesn’t just take place on a yoga mat. Here’s how you can practice yoga with a fork in your hand and love every second.
Your breath is the language you speak to your body. The next time you are preparing to indulge, or over indulge take a moment to breathe. Separate yourself from the crowd, conversation, or the TV and take a few deep breaths through your nose, low into your belly. Really notice the breath through your nasal passage, throat, and into your lungs. Imagine the breath as it is distributed throughout your body. Exhale for as long as possible until the lungs feel empty but you don’t feel starved for air. Repeat.
Take very small portions of only the things that look totally irresistible. Really, just a couple of bites will do. You can always go back for more.
Only eat things that are really, really good. If you love food like you say you do then don’t waste your time on stuff that is just okay. This means that you must absolutely savor every bite. Smell, appearance, texture, flavor, temperature… all of these conditions of excellence must be met to make it to your plate and into your mouth. If not, then don’t waste your precious calories on it. You’d be surprised by how much less you want to eat when you are really tasting your food.
#4 Stay present
Before you take a single bite asess your level of hunger. Food tastes better when you are hungry so don’t bother consuming unless you are at least a little hungry. If you aren’t sure if you are experiencing hunger or are just stimulated by the environmental cues go back to #1. If you are starved or deprived watch out, you are at serious risk of over-consuming and regret is a cruel mistress. You don’t want to wake up to that awful feeling tomorrow. You “love” food right? Abuse has no place in that relationship. Before you dig in try to find some protein, or something satisfying like crunchy veggies. Avoid breads and processed flour products. If you have a foundation of something nutritious to satisfy you, you will make smarter choices and meet your nutritional requirements first. As you are noshing keep asessing your level of satiety. Once you are no longer hungry it’s time to push the plate away. Fullness has a way of sneaking up on you. That overfull, bloated feeling is something we’d really like to avoid. It can kind of ruin your day and certainly make zipping your pants less gratifying.
Remember, it’s the ritual of these meals, get-togethers and seasonal treats that we crave. This is a time of well worn traditions and habits independant of consumption. Subjugate the habit of overeating to the other joys of this season; the smells, sounds, twinkling lights, conversations, textures and familiar faces. Hedonism is the practice of making joy and happiness your priority. A complete and robust happiness that is free of guilt and regret can be obtained calorie free. Happy Holidays yogis, namaste.