Yoga Girl Book Review
Yoga has obviously become very popular, which is great, but I am a sceptic when it comes to pretty much anything being mangled by mainstream media, and thus being stripped of all its deeper meaning, and being turned into a fad. So when I first saw Yoga Girl enclosed in a (Swedish) women’s magazine, I assumed the book had to be one of those trendy lifestyle books with pretty pictures and pseudo-insightfulness, probably penned by some IT-girl (or really: a ghost-writer).
In other words: exactly the kind of book I would never spend any money on but that I would definitely check out at the library. A guilty pleasure, just like the magazine it came with, which I would never buy, either – but definitely read at the hairdresser or a doctor’s waiting room.
Gosh, I am grateful for the Swedish public libraries – and my good sense to give in to this particular guilty pleasure. (Note to self: stop judging. Accept your guilty pleasures as pleasures, no need for guilt.) I ended up reading Rachel Brathen’s story in one sitting, even staying up past my bedtime (which is something I never do, I get really crabby when my sleeping pattern gets messed up).
In hindsight it feels like I shouldn’t be surprised at all by how much I loved the book, despite the fact that it is so popular. Some things really are popular because they are great! There is something so true about some things that they strike a chord with a lot of people. Yoga Girls is one of those completely justifiedly popular things.
Yeah, there are the pretty pictures of the gorgeaous Rachel Brathen on the stunning beach, radiating health, joy, strength, the whole package. And tons of stylish boho outfits, that sent me right off into that consumer frenzy, where I felt like I couldn’t possibly feel good about my own yoga practice (leggings with holes in places that make them impossible to wear in public much?) anymore unless I treated myself to at least one new outfit.
But I get it: the visual appeal of pretty much any product is more important than ever. Who wants to read blurbs, right?! Also, the concern with appearances does not necessarily have to be an exclusively consumerist thing. No, appearances and material wealth obviously don’t make us truly whole and happy. However, I do believe that once you’ve embraced the concept that you already have everything you need within you to experience joy and contentment, this will affect everything around you (externally). Brathen’s story is one big, fat affirmation of this belief.
I can’t count the times I thought I really wanted something – but it would only happen once I’d „gotten over it“. I can still appreciate those things, but my happiness doesn’t seem dependent on them anymore.
Brathen’s biography thus far is obviously the suff great stories are made from, with her transformation from a severley self-destructive adolescence to enlightenment, healing, and, yes, wealth and a life on a dream of an island. It is maybe not so strange that someone – Brathen – who clearly has the ability (the courage?) to go all in for something, can do so in either direction. Being a rather careful person myself, the effects of my life choices are naturally less extreme. But even I can confirm that Brathen is right (at least about me) when she writes that we all carry this wish inside of us to be wild and live adventurous.
I have had a feeling for the past few years as if I had this parachute inside of me, but that I am afraid to pull on the rope that would open it. Afraid to know my actual size, my actual greatness. Brathen’s story is encouraging, and makes me dream of all the things that might come if I allowed them into my life. There are never enough of those kind of stories.
Ayurveda on eating disorders
A lot has been going on. It’s hard to put in words, I have been re-writing this sentence several times now. Part of me wants to tell the whole story, another part doesn’t think it’s relevant for anyone but me (maybe that’s true, or maybe that’s just the part talking that is reluctant to show itself for what it is).
Waking my demons
The short version is: The circumstances in my life – less than two weeks away from unemployment, a long week at work coming up involving travel, and spiritual growth – have awoken an old demon: my eating disorder (binge-eating). It hasn’t been this bad since university, in some respects it’s even worse. For several weeks now it has been a daily struggle („struggle“ seems like a euphemism since I haven’t had much fight in me it seems), I have even gone and bought stuff I craved, which I never ever have done before.
Practical remedies for when you feel weak
I think I know what the underlying issue is here: and old karmic trauma, the memory of which I recently conjured when I made a wish. I do want to get into that at some point but right now I want to focus on the symptoms. For while I believe that my best chances of overcoming this self-destructive habit is by dealing with the issues I am trying to distract myself from with it, I also feel a need for something more hands-on, a lower obstacle. Because honestly: sometimes the advice „Well then just don’t give into these cravings, and you’ll find out what’s really the issue“ is just not practical. If it were easy, or if I felt that strong, I probably wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.
This is the part I want to share with you not just because it helps me writing about these things but because I think that the information I came across this afternoon is helpful to anyone with an eating disorder/an unhealthy relationship to food (just out of curiosity, are there any people left who have a healthy one?).
An Ayurvedic approach to eating disorders
I remembered some of the Ayurveda books I read also mentioned eating disorders as symptoms of dosha imbalances (I wrote about Ayurveda and its terminology before, click on the category „Ayurveda“ or scroll down to the relevant links if you want to know more). So I tried to find books with an Ayurvedic perspective on eating disorders. Once again I am grateful for the internet, and people sharing their work there so generously. I found a very informative article (please note that all facts I’ll be stating are from that article, unless otherwise marked):
„Pathology of Eating Disorders From an Ayurvedic Perspective“ by Alakananda Devi
It uses a lot of Ayurveda terminology, so I am trying to make this a sort of easy to understand summary. I encourage you however to read the original article in any case. There are lots of cases to illustrate the technicalities, and also because I will (for obvious, selfish) reasons mostly be going into the things that pertain to my situation, since those caught my eye.
Some basic insights
Let’s start from the beginning:
- Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia, overeating) are related to stress and/or food allergies.
- How we react to stress in our eating habits depends on our individual constitution (dosha – Vata, Pitta or Kapha).
- Bad choices regarding food may stem from lack of education (meaning: we just don’t know any better than to eat they way we were taught as children), and for some (especially Pitta) they are a way to cope with trauma.
I am a Pitta-Kapha (right now with a severe Kapha imbalance, I’d say). For me, just recognizing myself in a lot of the symptoms stated in this article helps. Heck, just reading that
- Vata types are prone to anorexia/bulimia and tend to forget to eat,
- Pitta cannot skip meals and has a tendency to sugar addiction,
- Kapha easily puts on weight and is inclined to overeating
is huge! It takes away the feeling of personal guilt, and shifts the perspective to „This is how I as a Vata/Pitta/Kapha person react to stress, now let’s see what can be done about that“.
There is no „one size fits all“ solution
I have been praising Ayurveda for its individualistic approach in probably every article I wrote, and I find myself wanting to stress this crucial point once again: what is great about Ayurveda is that it does not claim to offer a universal solution. What is good for you always depends on who you are, therefore any „‚one size fits all‘ approach“, as Alakanda Devi puts it, is bound to set you up for failure. Unless, of course, you just happen to be the right person for the method but I’d prefer finding the right method for me …
Like increases like
Although there are no universal remedies, Ayurveda knows of certain universal principles. One of them is: like increases like. Often times like is also attracted to like, which is highly relevant when it comes to eating disorders. For according to Devis article, some eating disorders are the result of food allergies, and once recognized as such can be (relatively) easily cured.
For example, Kapha types are often (or more often than other types) allergic to wheat, gluten, and cow dairy. The „like increases like“ and „like is attracted to like“ explains why someone can be craving food that is actually bad for them. Various readings and nutrition experiments have led me – time and time again – to the conclusion that I am better off skipping sugar, dairy, and carbs (mainly wheat/gluten). Yet when I have cravings, I want ice-cream, cereal with lots of milk, and bread with cheese. Now I know why. (I kind of want to put sugar in a separate category because it seems like it works more like drug. Some say that refined sugar isn’t good for anyone, especially not the amounts we are used to consuming nowadays, others say that only certain people are more sensitive to its negative effects – either way, I’m it, I guess.) I know that cutting out the foods that are bad for me does not help with the psychological aspect of my eating disorder – but I imagine that for someone whose problems with eating are the result of an (undetected) food allergy, this information is really a big piece of the puzzle.
I think my Kapha is out of balance …
Even before I read this article I had been observing myself and recognizing certain tendencies which just seemed to have „excess Kapha“ written all over them:
- I have been feeling very tired, pushing my getting-up time gradually to way into the Kapha or even Pitta phase of the day.
- I have been feeling heavy, and at the same time craving foods with that exact quality (peanut butter with honey turned out to be my no. 1 poison, not to give you any ideas …), which made me feel even heavier – both principles, „like is attracted to like“, and „like increases like“ working at their utmost here.
- My cravings and the binges have been at their worst at night, between 6 pm and 10 pm, which is the second Kapha cycle of the day (despite the knowledge of the different dosha cycles, I had not been able to connect the dots previous to reading Devi’s article, so thanks for that!).
- I have been lazy, not exercising at all, basically the thought of physical labor could make me feel exhausted.
There is a lot more in that article but this seems like a good place to stop for now.
Now that I have realized all this, what am I to do with this?
First of all, like I mentioned in the beginning, just having this information and recognizing myself in the symptoms/cases described makes me feel like a weight has been lifted off me. Apart from dealing with the underlying issue, which may seem daunting and hard to grasp at times, there are „hard facts“. There are factors that contribute to me going on binges, and factors that can make it easier to withstand them. Those seem more tangible, easier to change, even when I don’t feel strong enough to deal with the big picture.
Once again, it’s the little things – baby steps.
Like being aware of the fact that it’s not necessarily just a question of willpower and discipline whether I can withstand cravings at night but that the Kapha dominance during these hours is a contributing factor. So I prepare myself for the risk, and find something to do to take my mind off of food – like writing this post.
I am reminded of the impact that sugar, wheat, and dairy have on me – not only on my physical well-being but also emotionally. This makes me feel motivated to try and make more deliberate choices about what I eat. I try to focus on what is good for me, and what I enjoy eating instead of thinking of it as „All the things I’m not allowed“. This is a tricky one since I am never oblivious as to whether what I eat is good for me or not …
Exercising helps reduce Kapha – as with everything, I am going to try and set the bar as low as possible, and raise it gradually (I tend to set my goals to high, get frustrated by failure, and respond by giving up completely). Going for an hour long walk every day seems do-able.
I want to try and see my cravings as something positive: after all, they are undeniable hints of something being awry. In my quest to find out my what my issues are, what it is that I am so afraid of to surface that I need to stuff it down with vast amounts of food, there is one fail-proof way of finding out: not giving in to the cravings, and seeing where that leads me. Like I said before, this is the hardest part.
I want to get better at asking for help. Both friends and the universe in my morning meditation.
Going to see to it that I get back to getting up early again.
More practical advice
Here’s another site with a few more hands-on things to do, e. g. different yogi techniques, which I want to try:
- Sweet Ayurveda Treatment to Stop Emotional Eating & Lose Weight – I know I’ll feel silly doing this even when nobody’s around, but it’s worth a try, right?
- Healthy Ayurveda Diet To Burn Fat & Lose Weight – OK, that title does not sound good, and I am not so sure about some of the advice but still, I’m definitely in need of some Kapha reduction.
- 5 Healthy Weight Loss Tips from Ayurveda – More weight loss stuff. I am actually proud of myself for not even having tried hard to not make this the focus of this post (gee, that was a lot of negatives). And the fact that I am finally at a point where weight loss isn’t my main concern anymore (although claiming that it isn’t a concern at all would be a lie, sadly).
- 6 Safe & Natural Weight Los Solutions – again, dumb title, not so sure about some of the advice (drinking hot water with honey? From what I understand honey has the same effect as sugar, so probably a red flag for me) but most of it sounds pretty good to me, especially the meditations and yoga exercises.
- 11 Guidelines for eating healthy | Guide on how to eat right – This is straight up Ayurveda, you can probably find this in every book on the subject. I should print these out and put them up somewhere to remind myself. Very basic, very true – often times hard to abide by because we’ve overwritten this common sense (for that is really what this, or anything Ayurveda, is) with other rules.
Other relevant links
Ayurvedic Diet – A good overview
Ayurveda – Becoming your own expert
What’s your morning routine?
Do you get up just in time to throw on some clothes, leave for work, and maybe grab some coffee on the way? Do you get up early so you can take your time and wake up slowly, read the paper, and eat breakfast at home? What does your morning look like?
I have always found myself in the category of people who hate to have to rush, even if that means sleeping less. A while ago, before I got into Ayurveda, I started meditating or doing different mudras (good when you – like me – have a hard time letting your thoughts go – mudras work whether you are able to focus or not). It hadn’t occurred to me that there are other rituals that could help start the day right.
This is the daily routine as presented by Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad (which is the one you’ll find most in books or online – with minor variations in the details).
I am posting this article from the Nithyayoga-site because it goes a little more into detail regarding the oil pulling technique („Gargling“ in Lad’s article), which I find important. Also, I think that setting a positive intention, and thus: the tone of your day, might be a little more accessible than the prayer for some.Ayurveda knows of routines not only for the morning but for the entire day – the Dinacharya in Sanskrit. Just type the word into your search engine of choice, and you’ll find a bunch of sites giving you a variation of this.Now do I do all of this? Well, sort of but not to a t. I am a person who loves rituals, and to some extend feels lost without them, so naturally, as I read about Ayurveda, the idea of adopting a morning routine (and one for the evening) sounded appealing to me.These days I start my mornings:
- early – I wake up between 4.30 and 6.30, depending on a variety of factors – usually around 5 or 6 (regardless of whether I am working that day or not)
- by drinking some room temperature water, sometimes with a little lemon and honey in it (Ayurvedic remedy if you have problems emptying your bowels in the morning)
- going to the bathroom
- boiling some water for tea and a nose cleanse – during the winter I often wake up with a stuffed nose, cleansing it with warm salt water helps
- over the past few days I started doing some yoga before (I don’t have/take time for this on the days that I work)
- meditating and doing mudras for about 30 minutes
- oil-pulling/gargling for about 15-20 minutes
- while I do that, I usually turn on the computer, check e-mails, start writing something
- after I spit out the oil, I brush my teeth, wash my face and underarms – or I take a shower
- when I do take a shower, I started combining this with a massage (again: if I have the time, so, not on working days, and not even on all days off)
- I get dressed
- drink some tea
- and start writing
The order in which I do things does vary, I also skip some steps some days, when I am too impatient and anxious to actually start my day – working on that one. Like today, I brushed my teeth but never really washed the rest, and I am still not really dressed. Sometimes I just feel like I need to start writing first, and then after a while I’ll get back to finishing the morning routine. In reality, it often doesn’t happen then, and I never actually sit still for a while to contemplate the day I am about to begin. Kind of funny, that I manage to rush into the day even though I consciously follow a morning routine.
I am not ignorant (or I’d like to think at least not THAT ignorant), so I know that me having this kind of extensive morning ritual is largely thanks to me not having a full-time job, and my hours being spread over only two to three days per week. Also, am guessing that not having kids might have something to do with it. Basically, I have the luxury of being able to use a lot of my time as I please.
I find this kind of morning routine very pleasant, energy-inducing, and thus: I find that it helps me make the most of my days. I can recommend it to anyone but I do wonder: is this realistic? Can anyone (who wants to) adopt such a routine? Is it just about setting priorities, and getting up early enough? Or does the world we live in today not really allow for paying so much attention to yourself? Will I still do this as a parent? Do those of you who are parents do this? What do your mornings look like?
Show me your true colors
Part of me wants to just continue with an entry about my spring cleaning mission, post a picture about how great everything looks. That wouldn’t even be untrue, since it does look a lot better in comparison. Looks can be deceiving, if anyone knows, then it’s bloggers and readers of blogs, right?
It is easy, and thus tempting to make yourself look good on the web. It’s not even like you’re really lying about who you are: you’re not making up the great things you do, you just kind of leave out the things that you’re not so proud of. In a way it’s even wise because why should you make yourself vulnerable when you don’t even know whom you’re „talking“ to?
I have felt hurt and/or humiliated many times because I just couldn’t keep quiet about something that didn’t technically need to be said. It was only I who felt like I had to let these things out of my head (or was it my heart?). Like telling someone straight out I liked them when I didn’t know whether they did – the humiliating part being that they didn’t, and that after I had said it it became clear to me that all the signs actually had pointed into that direction the whole time.
Or writing a letter to my dad, telling him how things he did made me feel, which led to the most horrible fight. I had not seen that coming, which today seems naive. I was fourteen then, so it made sense. I could go on with examples but you get the picture, right? For the longest time I thought that I needed to learn not to do that. Not to reveal so much of how I feel, and how/who I am.
I know now that I had drawn the wrong conclusion from these experiences. The lesson here isn’t not to show yourself. It’s not about not making yourself vulnerable. It is about realizing that no matter how much our ego gets hurt, our true selves cannot be destroyed. In fact, the only chance we have of truly being recognized is by showing ourselves, rather than hide behind a façade of how we think others want us to be.
I cannot claim that I have been very good at this myself. Enough though, to know that I am right. I remember one incident in the very beginning of a relationship. He texted me, asking if and when I wanted to meet up again. I answered „As soon as possible“. A friend who was with me wanted to know what I had answered. When I told her she completely freaked out, and said that you CANNOT write such a thing, that it sounded desperate, that he now must think that I wanted to get married … ??? Needless to say that this line of commenting made me feel stupid, and it made me doubt myself. At the same time I was irritated – because this is exactly the kind of thing I am not interested in: having to follow a bunch of rules, pretending you don’t want something in order to get it. Some part of me felt that if he’s going to read me the way she did, then he wouldn’t be right for me anyway. We have been together (and happy!) for five years now.
I have spent a lot of time in my life trying to figure out how the people around me expect me to be. A lot of decisions I have made about my own life were based on that. Like I wrote in the about section of this blog, I have felt the longing to finally be me, to show myself, and to take the risk both of being rejected for that but also of being liked for who I truly am. Both seem scary in their own way but I know that either way, the only significant impact approval or rejection can have is on my ego. None of it changes who I really am.
So here are some truths from the past few days that I don’t have to share here with you but that I want to because I do think they pertain to the purpose of this blog. After all, what kind of soul-searcher would I be if I saw the potential for growth in success but not in failure (if it’s even useful to think in those terms):
- After having read so much about Ayurveda and the significance of eating right, I came home from a three hour yoga class on Saturday and stuffed my face with an entire pizza AND half a chocolate bar (the first half I had eaten on the way home from class). Our yoga teacher had told us about Durga that day, the Hindu Godess that, if I understood this correctly, represents the force in our life that gives us a good punch in the face when our ego gets bloated, to remind us that we are not better than the rest but part of it. So I choose to look at this pizza incident as an act of Durga. It was called for because:
- Writing this blog and getting so much (well, that’s relative, I really don’t have a frame of reference here) positive feedback does make my ego feel flattered. Like, a lot.
- I obsessively check the stats for this blog like 19,364,920 times a day.
- I spent more time fighting with my better half over how to re-organize the kitchen than cleaning and reorganizing it.
- I haven’t tried out a single no poo method on my hair yet although it seems so easy. I just love the smell of the poo I have right now.
May we all feel free to be ourselves a little more each day.
All the words we need …
… in life are „yes“, „no“, and „wow“.
Credit where credit is due: It was my yoga teacher who said this in class yesterday (and she in turn got this from a teacher of hers). Some of us should probably say „no“ more often, others „yes“. But I am sure that we could all use „wow“ a lot more.
Wishing you a wow Sunday.