Don’t you just hate those people who never seem to gain weight and never look out of shape yet claim to eat whatever they want? Well, I’m sad to say that I am one of those people.
Before you start hating me, please know that I haven’t always been one of those people, not by a long shot. It’s taken me over 40 years and a regular yoga practice to transform me into one of those people.
To be completely honest, I have never had a weight problem, but I did have an eating problem: I couldn’t eat everything and everything I wanted to eat, and it pissed me off!
Before practicing yoga, my appetite was huge! But because I feared gaining weight (intricately related to my lack of confidence) and knew myself well enough to know that gaining weight would not make me happy, I pushed away my cravings often. I refused cakes and muffins and pies and donuts. Even though I’d look at these types of foods with eyes and mouth drooling, I rarely, if ever indulged. And when I did indulge, I’d feel guilty afterwards and force myself to run on the treadmill the next day for an extra hour or deprive myself of food even more than usual to make up for “being a pig” for a day.
Most days, I just really felt deprived when it came to food, which made me irritable, which made my body and mind toxic in many ways, which resulted in a perpetual anxiety around food.
Food was not my friend; it seemed to control me. For years, I wished and wished to have a better relationship with food one day. But that day always seemed elusive probably because a better relationship with myself was what I needed to establish first before attempting to improve any other relationships I sought with food, people or otherwise.
I started practicing yoga in October 2011 just a few months shy of my 40th birthday. My relationships with my family, myself and with food didn’t change immediately, but within 6 months of my first practice, food was becoming less and less of an issue with me. My previous and persistent unsatisfied cravings were fewer and fewer, and I actually started looking forward to meals and snacks.
Why and how did this happen?
Well, I am not a nutritionist nor am I a biologist or a neuroscientist. But based on what I am learning about the benefits of yoga as I go through yoga teacher training (YTT) this fall, yoga really has become the “magic pill” that changed the way my body and mind processes and thinks about food and my entire being.
1. If you don’t love it, it won’t work.
First, it definitely doesn’t hurt that I absolutely love the immediate results I feel physically and emotionally following a 90-minute yoga session. This “high” keeps me going back 3 to 4 times each week. Between now and Thanksgiving, I’m doing a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge, so my motivation and determination is currently elevated.
Yet, even without an official challenge to maintain my interest, just the memory of how I felt the day before or two days before pushes me to pick up my mat and water bottle and head to the studio. It’s important to note that before my car accident in 2002 that left my right knee in bad shape, I was a distance runner. I ran cross-country in college and continued running throughout my 20s. After the accident when I was 30, I tried other forms of exercise like elliptical training and swimming and other low-impact aerobic workouts. Outside of swimming, nothing captured my attention or interest. But finding pool access year-round was a challenge for me and just not convenient.
Exercise needs to be convenient and accessible. Yoga is both.
2. I see food differently.
Like any regular exercise routine provides, yoga has naturally boosted my metabolism and regulated my bowels, digestive system and urinary system. Eating has become an activity I love, because what follows my meals today is a sense of satisfaction and an actual physical release. I feel no guilt around food and sometimes even over indulge. (Like last weekend when I went to a “foodie” wedding and ate four, yes four, pieces of pie!)
I get a sense that I need to eat so the cycle of my life can continue seamlessly from day to day. I ingest one meal and the previous meal’s waste is flushed. (Sounds a little too personal? I have no other way of explaining it. Too bad I can’t attach a camera to the food I ingest and record its journey. That would be interesting but even more personal. Hehe!)
Specifically, the following poses offer the most benefit to my digestion:
>>Garurasana (eagle pose) – increase fresh blood supply to the kidneys.
Our kidneys are responsible for filtering and flushing out toxins and unnecessary waste from food and water. Our kidneys also release three important hormones into our blood stream to keep us healthy: erythropoietin, renin and calcitriol. If not working properly, waste builds up in our blood supply causing damage and disease to our bodies. The most common diseases related to compromised kidney function are high blood pressure and diabetes. (source: NIH NIDDK)
>>Dandyayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana (standing separate leg stretching pose) – increases the functioning of the large and small intestine.
“The intestine is a winding muscular tube extending from the stomach to the anus. Its main purpose is to digest food. But the intestine is not only there for digestion: it also produces various substances that carry messages to other parts of the body, and plays an important role in fighting germs and regulating the body’s water balance. For some people, the intestine reflects how they are feeling: for instance, they might get a stomach ache, diarrhoea or constipation when they are stressed or upset about something.” (source: PubMed Health)
>>Pavanamuktasana (wind removing pose) – cures and prevents flatulence (which is the source of abdominal discomfort) by massaging the ascending, descending and transverse colons (aka the large intestine).
3. I still crave food but healthier stuff.
No longer do overly processed foods like fatty meats, breads and cakes get me excited. When I get hungry, I think about a big bowl of rice or sautéed veggies and salads. I occasionally indulge in desserts (like at that wedding) but without the guilt associated with eating sweets like before. I have more trust and confidence in my body’s ability to take what it needs and flush the rest out. So when I say I can eat whatever I want, I can because the “whatever I want” list has dramatically changed. I want fruits and vegetables (and have even been contemplating going vegan thanks to a couple bloggers–Ivonne and Susan–whom I respect and are teaching me a lot about how food is processed and manufactured in this country and across the globe).
4. My entire attitude and trust in myself and others has been transformed.
My attitude toward food and life in general truly parallel and often intersect. Where I once had increased anxieties over being perceived as skilled and able, I have confidence. I attribute this to increased patience with myself and with others. My expectations are more realistic. Today, I understand, through deep reflection on my life experiences, that sometimes expectations can be completely shattered and that not all humans have human/humane interests at heart. I accept that more freely now, and I attribute my ability to maintain this philosophy and outlook to yoga. Again, not something that happened over night. I’d say building this confidence, patience and awareness took a lifetime, but the past two years of a consistent yoga practice definitely nurtured and provided the boost and momentum necessary for my confidence to grow uninterrupted.
Again, I am no medical doctor or counselor. However, as a testament to my own growth and development–mentally, physically and spiritually–in such a relatively short period of time, I invite everyone who hasn’t already tried yoga to please try it. If you don’t like it after a week of consecutive practice, come back and complain to me. However, I am confident (see, I really AM confident) that you will come back and thank me. If you have tried yoga in the past but didn’t feel like it did much for you, try it again. Sometimes it’s our attitudes that get in our way. Sometimes all we need to do is read a few positive testimonials surrounding something in order to release our negative first impressions and try something again.
It took me too long to get beyond my yoga phobia and let go of my preconceived idea of what I thought yoga was and what it wasn’t.
Yoga is what you make of it. Take what you need from it and leave the rest behind.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!
© 2013 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.
Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.