I walked into a gym the other day and the receptionist was eating McDonald’s. The bag caught my eye, as it’s been market-researched to do, and I ignored it (as I was raised to do– thank you, MA). But before I could make my way past the desk, the receptionist sighed and said, ‘oh, don’t judge me.’
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what she meant. She had those San Diego gym couture looks– fresh-faced and blonde, sparkling around the cheeks and shoulders like she’d just been spritzed by sea spray. If I’d intended to judge, it might have been for that lovely sweetness– seriously, how is everyone in this city so good looking? But she pointed, grimaced and I got it: she wanted me to know that she knows what I know and what most of us know– that McDonald’s is probably (definitely) a crappy choice in most (every) circumstance.
And here I commend this woman’s brain power for its complex reasoning. Reasoning, I should add, that comprises an awesome part of our human experience. We use it to innovate, to create, to discern and to justify. That last one is well utilized when we face the challenge of controlling our desires. As this woman did. As every human being who ever walked this earth has done.
In the case of this woman, she rued an indulged craving; she reflected on her commitment to health; and then, with her fingers on a fry, she respected her investment. She said, ‘A woman’s gotta eat.’ I said, ‘Totally.’
In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, five principles of good behavior make up one path to yoga– that ultimate union between our selves, our bodies, our minds. These five principles of right living are known as the yamas. They include: compassion, honesty, not stealing, sense control, and freedom from envy or avarice.
I bring up the yamas because I saw a story on NPR’s site about the connection between stress, food and our moods. A recent survey by NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 86 percent of folks surveyed reported experiencing stress in the past month. Thirty percent of them ate more than they normally would as a result. What complicates the reaction is the attraction of sugar and carbs when stress hits. In other words, the stuff inside that McDonald’s bag might seem like the right response when life gets rough. But then that stuff in the bag increases our vulnerability to stress. Oof. What a cycle.
But it’s not unbreakable nor is it out of our control. Which is where yama #4 comes in. Sanskrit term: brahmacharya. Sure, sure, I hear you old school yogis muttering through your enlightened lips: ‘that’s the celibacy yama.’ Which is true. But not quite as relevant these days as we collectively indulge in subsidized corn turned into nuggets and called chicken. Did you know that Americans in 2014 consume, on average, 540 calories from sugar daily? Compared to 60 calories from sugar in 1914? And that those 500 calories are contributing to a 23 percent increase in calorie intake since 1970? 500 calories. That’s a whole meal. It takes almost two hours for a 160-pound adult to walk that energy off.
So let’s give some thought to this. Yoga is more than a physical practice; it’s physiological and psychological. Food is more than sustenance. It’s emotional and, thanks to food science and marketing, manipulative. We know we shouldn’t indulge. And yet we do. And then we feel bad. Which means we’ll indulge again to relieve ourselves of that maddening stress of shame. Sigh. Don’t judge. We’re human.
I’ve written about finding our yoga beyond poses and spandex. Here’s another place to look. We can practice yoga by applying some sense control (some sense, to start with) to confront our urge for comfort food. Brahmacharya. And in doing so, we break a pattern. Instead, try foods rich in nutrients– fresh, local and in season. Maybe even ones that you grow yourself. Who doesn’t swoon over the scent of tomatoes from the garden? Who doesn’t giggle at the juice of a very ripe strawberry dripping off her lip?
It’s pretty simple, actually, though by no means easy. If we don’t eat crappy food, we won’t feel crappy. When we don’t feel crappy, we don’t crave crappy food. So go easy and give it a go. Forgive yourself often and remember not to judge. Then forge ahead and try again. New patterns eventually develop with good intentions. I swear. I totally think this.
Atta yoganusasanam: now we’re doing yoga.