Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Yoga of Dieting


We live in a culture mired in the external result, the end product. One of the most pervasive and noticeable ways this external agenda shows up is through dieting-the constant search for an external result that plagues so many people. We simply are not okay the way we are. There is always another place to get to, more weight to be lost.

In this context, yoga is particularly powerful because it reminds us instead of the process, reconnecting us to the essentials of awareness, breath, slow and conscious movement. In a sense, yoga mirrors for us an alternative way of being not only on the yoga mat but in our lives.

What yoga also invites is a meaningful relationship with our bodies. Rather than push them to where we would like them to be, we need to work with where we are, breathing and moving through resistances. We need to begin to listen to our bodies rather than force them. For many, it may be the first time they've slowed themselves long enough to even begin that process.

Despite shows like the Greatest Loser that extol the virtues of beating ourselves into thinness, true change still seems to come from the inside out. As we all know-and may even have experienced--even if the outside package has changed and someone is successful at losing the weight they want, there can still be an inner relationship with the body based on fear, submission and lack of self-love. As a result, many people who lose weight on diets gain it back again because the central way of relating to themselves hasn't changed. Their fear of gaining weight spirals, and they end up right back where they started.

Losing weight, then, cannot successfully be just an external process. Just as we do in yoga, we need to root ourselves in attitudes and awarenesses that truly transform our experience of our bodies, even before we get to the outer result. Doing that work first allows us to enter more fully into one of the most important relationships of our lives--so that if and when change happens, it feels safe and real. Here are some examples:

1) Make a Radical Choice to Love and Listen to Your Body First
Consciously or unconsciously, diets can bring us out of the present moment and into 'someday.' Notice if you're waiting to love and listen to your body only after you get to your goal weight and choose that more kind and caring relationship now.

2) Think About the Inside, Not Just the Outside
Rather than thinking so much about what you want to look like when you've lost weight, think about how you'd like to feel in your body. Would you feel more alive, connected, sexier? Get specific about the qualities you feel losing weight would bring you and think about how you can bring more of them into your life even now.

3) Notice What's Happening
Begin to notice what kinds of messages you send to your body throughout the day. Are you critical and scared or open, loving, supportive? If your body were a person, how would it feel about being in a relationship where it received those kinds of messages? As you become more aware, see if you can alter the messages to reflect the kind of relationship you'd most like to have.

4) Invite and Commit to the Process
The relationship to the body can be a spiritual practice too. Some days you will relate more consciously to your body than others. Consider some regular check-in, like a journal, meditation or even writing a letter to your body, that increases your commitment to working on your body relationship on a regular basis.

Even the skinniest people may feel fear and disgust when relating to their own bodies. Though we may believe that losing weight gets us freedom and happiness, the external result is only one part of the process. If we commit to the inside shifts first-like the foundations of breath and awareness in yoga-we lay a foundation for the kind of true transformation and peace with ourselves we've been seeking all along.


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