Yoga means many things to many people, and it’s taken me many years to find out what it means to me, personally. For me, the practice of it, in its simplest form, is about finding wholeness. Bringing the pieces of myself back together, moving and breathing from my whole body. Indeed, the very meaning of the word ‘yoga’ is union.
And so, what would it be like, if your eating practice involved engaging your entire body – your whole being?
More often than not, my eating behaviour appears to be driven by that pesky impulse in the brain, the one that says “go on, go get some.” And from the brain, to the mouth, the sensory pleasure of the moment, and I’m all tongue – overloaded with taste and texture. And then the urge again, for more, to keep going, to remain in the pleasure, to maintain the high. Impulse in the brain, food in the mouth. Where has the rest of me gone?
Where’s my oesophagus, gently squeezing the food down into the stomach? Where’s the belly, and how packed does it feel? Where are my lungs, throat, heart, in all of this?
The trouble with being driven by habit is that our unconscious pathways are so incredibly fast and efficient, that the rest of us doesn’t get a look in. We must choose to slow down if we want the rest of the body to join us. We must invite some more players to the table. You’re eating anyway, so why not get curious about the sensations that arise in different parts of your body?
And I can guarantee, that when heart, throat, lungs and stomach get involved, they protest. The sensations speak to me: I don’t want this much. I can’t do it this fast. I need a more comfortable position for this – sit up please. This isn’t warm enough. It’s not fresh enough. I’m still working on the last meal you gave me. I’m dry.
This is exactly why we don’t want the whole body to get involved. We know the wisdom that lies there. We want our fix, and we don’t want it spoiled by the killjoy belly, who’s telling us to leave the food well alone. And in that realisation, we have a conflict. The part of us that wants to eat. The part of us that doesn’t. How do we resolve this separation? How do we create a unified whole?
We dance. We feel. We push and pull in all directions, noticing all the time. The brain. The tongue. The belly. The throat. The heart. The breath. There is no right or wrong way, no correct answer. We invite the different parts of ourselves to come together. Tongue and teeth, can you chew this a little more slowly, make this a bit easier for the belly to handle? Breath, can you deepen and lengthen, bring a bit of space into my impulsive urges? Belly, can we create some space here, sit up, loosen up, allow things to flow? Heart, can you find some kindness for me – however and whatever I eat, can you love and care for me?
And you’ll find a middle way, in there somewhere. Maybe you overate, but a bit less frantically. Maybe you felt guilty, but you chose forgiveness. Maybe your belly felt uncomfortably full, but you laid yourself down, breathed, and found space and softness again. You danced back and forth, between comfort and discomfort, and found that you had an infinite power to bring yourself back to ease, to forgiveness, to the wisdom of the sensations in your body.
The body’s capacity to heal is immense. It will forgive you. All you have to do is come back, time and again, to your wholeness. To feel the places that haven’t been felt. That is your yoga. Eating what you need is your yoga.