Happy International Yoga Month, yogis! As many of you know, meditation, pranayama, breath work, kriyas, mudras, and bandhas are pivotal in addition to asanas when it comes to getting the greatest benefit out of practicing of yoga, which is ultimately intended to lead you to your true self. The thing I want to focus on today is the energetics of yoga, and how you can use meditation and breath work to help heal you from mental imbalances (I suppose all imbalances originate from the mind, so that’s redundant to point out). Today’s mental imbalance is eating disorders.
It’s a bizarre feeling when you have always had a close relationship with food, particularly if you’ve ever had an eating disorder (including all varieties of bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating). You become so dependent on it for so much more than nourishment.
I want to say first and foremost that I am a big believer in sugar being the culprit for a lot of diseases and health-related issues in our world. There is a reason food is so addictive, and countless studies have shown how sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Sugar has been linked to Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, inflammation, fertility issues, and much more. Both western and eastern medicine agree that too much sugar, mainly processed sugar, compromises one’s overall health. There are many books on how to detox from sugar. I go through detoxes throughout the year where I don’t have any natural or processed sugar for weeks at a time. But despite all of that, addiction to food (or abusing food) can and does go beyond how it tastes. People eat food for many more reasons other than addiction to food.
To state the obvious, the most common thing people depend on food for is pleasure and comfort. Most people eat for pleasure/comfort now. We eat because it tastes good. We eat because we’re happy, or we’re sad, or we’re bored. If we’ve had a stressful day at work, we love to curl up on the couch with a glass of wine or Chinese food to make us feel better. If we get that big promotion at work, the first thing your S.O., friends or family will say to you is, “Let’s celebrate with going out.” Or if you are dumped or are the dumper, (majority of) you wouldn’t think twice about inhaling a carton of ice cream. Movies help to enforce this stereo-typical idea of how we can and should deal with our emotions; in fact, movies like to enforce this stereotype that in order to effectively deal with our emotions, outside sources are what will help us, when that notion couldn’t be farther from the truth.
If you have an internal issue, going outside of you to help cope will distract you from the issue at hand, but in time the internal turmoil will resurface. Distracting ourselves sets us up for failure because when you distract yourself from what you are feeling, you are moving farther away from who you are at the core. Maya, the illusion of this life we have created, is what we are currently living in. There is a veil that is over our eyes that separates us from the infinite. This is why learning to control the modifications of the mind (aka those invading or pervasive thoughts) is an important step to lifting the veil of illusion and unmasking our true selves. With that said, if you have an internal issue, you must go within yourself to deal with it. The illusion of being “happy” or traveling the world cannot cure you from what’s left to deal with because at the end of the day it will remain until it is acknowledged, worked through, and dealt with.
This is why meditation is so important to teach to young children so they can effectively learn to deal with their emotions at a young age. Can you imagine how many therapists we could put out of business if children could be their own therapists through meditation?
Another thing we depend on food for is connection, community, and (defining) culture. We can connect to people through food by the type or genre of food we eat. This can connect us to people of different cultures, and also helps us with communication. If you think about it for a moment, when you eat someone’s food, you are ingesting so much more than the nutrients of the food you are eating at hand. You are digesting the life of a plant or animal, and how they were raised: for example, when it comes to eating vegetables or fruits, you are ingesting the photosynthesis, water, and processing a plant goes through; and the preparation and intention put into the food before it is served. On an unconscious level, where and how your food is prepared effects you on a molecular level you are not even consciously aware of. Digest that idea for a moment (pun intended).
Finally, (I know I am probably missing a lot of the in between people eat food for) there is a small percentage of people (at least in the United States) that will eat solely for nourishment, whether that be people who have practiced eating this way for a life time or for a short amount of time. They eat with an intention of fueling their bodies, which I think is one of the most well-rounded ways to eat. With that said, there is a fine line when you eat this way, and it can easily turn into an eating disorder if you begin to get dependent on calorie counting.
When we aren’t taught how to have a healthy relationship with food as a child, it can turn into poor eating habits (such as addiction and using food to punish our bodies), which can turn into health issues.
How does one who has dealt with anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating majority of their lives overcome their habits? How do we finally have a healthy relationship with food after years and years of abusing our bodies with it (whether that be feeding it too much or too little and feeling guilty about it)?
First of all, you need to acknowledge you have an eating disorder. So many of us hear or see stories of people with bulimia, anorexia, or binge-eaters, and we think to ourselves, That’s terrible, but I’ve got it under control… I can’t stop any time. When we stop for a moment, and truly acknowledge our imbalance, the true healing can begin. It takes awhile to come to this conclusion for some. If you are currently in this first step, remember… You are loved. You are worthy. You are enough. You do not need to be a certain size to be celebrated, appreciated, loved, accepted, or acknowledged. Your opinions, thoughts, and feelings are valid at this stage of where you are. If anything else, know that I love you. I am always here to talk to you with no ulterior motives. I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m here to listen and be your friend, your support system.
Once you have accepted you have an imbalance, sit with this in meditation. Consider what you are doing to your body when you partake in your eating disorder. No, it’s not fun to analyze the harm you have been doing to your body for X amount of months or years, but by sitting with your thoughts and addressing the uncomfortable emotions, it can lead you to the true reason behind why this disorder was developed in the first place. I know this is a hard truth to hear, but it needs to be acknowledged that any form of an eating disorder is a form of self-abuse. This is not to shame you; it’s to make you realize by under-feeding or over-feeding your body, you’re not fully loving yourself. When you fully love yourself, you are able to have boundaries with food. You are able to indulge in food when appropriate, and you are able to learn when it is best to say “no” to food. You learn your triggers, if it will make you overeat or cause you to have an episode. You learn your limits. As children, we don’t consciously acknowledge we want boundaries, but on the unconsciou level we desire them. Self-discipline is self-love.
Self-discipline is something I say with caution. I don’t want you to deprive yourself of food. I want you to be a teacher to yourself that guides with love and logic. The best way you can do this is to eat with an intention of nourishing your body. When you eat like this, you begin to learn your body, and you when you eat with intention and intuition, you learn what types of food and food groups respond with the chemistry of your body; for example, if you realize you a jittery after a lot of chocolate or coffee, you may have a low tolerance for coffee. Perhaps you should switch to decaffeinated coffee, and substitute chocolate for more fruit or foods with magnesium (hello bananas). I recently learned this past year that my stomach starts to hurt after I eat whole wheat bread, so perhaps there is some sort of gluten intolerance that needs to be looked into.
The reason I say have self-discipline is because you never want to be a slave to any of your sense organs; in this case, you would be a slave to your tongue (the sense of taste). You would also be a slave to your mind if you have an eating disorder because you are consumed with this idea that if you look a certain way you are guaranteed freedom, happiness, purpose, etc. On the flipside, you are a slave to your mind if you are an overeater because you believe that food is filling the void of something much deeper.
This brings me to my next step, which is to adopt a daily meditation regime. I have many meditations I would love to share with you (meaning there is no catch or gimmick, it would be a free service). When one starts to observe the mind through meditation, you realize the emotions you may be feeling that provokes you to do a particular behavior or think a particular thought. You can start to dissect these feelings, and perhaps you may also begin to realize that these emotions are interpreted incorrectly. For example; on the surface, you want to be thin because being thin means you are beautiful, and if beautiful people have an easier life; therefore, if you’re thin, you’re going to have an easier life because of it. However, if you dig deeper down, you may learn you want to be thinner because you’ve been treated badly for being fat all through elementary and middle school, and equate being fat means you are automatically treated badly and inadequate, so therefore, if you become thinner, all the emotional abuse subside if you are thin. See the difference? The thought on the surface thinks attaining your goal weight will make your problems vanish, but taking the thought deeper makes you acknowledge the painful memories of being overweight and the emotional abuse you endured that made you feel inadequate. The latter makes you realize even if you attain your goal weight, you need to deal with emotions of inadequacy and low self-esteem, and then you take those thoughts deeper on why you are allowing the comments of others to mold your reality, etc. Do you see? You are gradually taking the thoughts deeper, which will in time reveal the reasons you have developed these habits to cope with the emotions. This is a step closer to discovering your true self.
If meditation is not a step you are at in this moment, take a moment to think about the reality of an eating disorder and what it does to your body. Think about the abuse you are putting on all the organs and functions of the body when you partake in practices related to the above issues. Is it worth it to weaken your heart with anorexia? Is it worth it for all the tooth issues, all the esophagial problems you deal with with bulimia? On the flipside, is it worth it to abuse your body with overeating, making the organs and functions of the body have to work harder, which could potentially lead to issues like PCOS, pre-diabetes, diabetes, etc.
It took me a moment to realize it wasn’t worth it. About 15 years in fact. But it occurred to me that it’s the same thing as when I stopped tanning in a tanning bed; you will be tan in this moment in time, but a tan is not permanent, and you will have to continue to keep up tanning, which can lead to melanoma, wrinkles, dry skin. Is it worth it to practice fatal habits for a moment of happiness? No. Is it worth it to develop life-long, healthy habits that benefit and support you in the long-run. Yes.
My teacher taught me, you have to learn what you are not before you can learn what you are. You are not your eating disorder. You are not limited to the physical body. You are a body of light. You are infinite. You are eternal. You are the culmlative light of this universe.
God bless and Namaste,