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the yoga diet

yellerMany yogis are obsessed with their diets. It stands to reason. We are pressured to look a certain way, and the majority of food on offer is not only fattening and unhealthy, but not really even food. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that banks on telling us how to eat for health, though that is usually a marketing euphemism for thin. So, figuring out what is actually good for you can be difficult.

We are neurotic about what we eat. This is why I don’t have much to say about yoga and diet. Eat what you want. If you really pay attention to what that is, after a few chocolate croissants you will likely discover that you want food. Real food. Michael Pollan has a number of rules around this idea (indeed, a whole book). Those of most interest to me are (paraphrased):

  1. Don’t eat food your great grandparents wouldn’t recognize. My addendum: unless it’s from a different culture.
  2. Don’t eat food products with more than five ingredients.
  3. Don’t eat foods with ingredients you cannot pronounce.
  4. Eat as simply and locally as possible.

That’s it. That’s all you need. “But what about the traditional yogic diet?” you cry! Yes, it’s vegetarian, with dairy. There are all sorts of ideas about tamasic and rajasic foods, and people become quite obsessed. I know. I’ve been there. Garlic and onions? Stimulating! Bad. Coconut? Unfolds love and compassion! (I just learned that now.) Good. Meat? Violent! Very bad. Mung beans? Cleansing and light. Very very good.

While it’s important to be aware of what you eat, and what makes you feel good and bad, it’s a problem when people are overly preoccupied with what should and shouldn’t be eaten. It is not healthy. It is not social. The desire to control what is eaten seems like an unconscious attempt to control life itself, or at least have control over something. There is also a desire to nurture, or reject nurturance, through the foods we eat (or don’t). Sweet, rich foods can be soothing. It can be difficult to understand what we really need and when. (For excellent books on eating, emotions, and intimacy, read Geneen Roth.)

This is where the yoga comes in. When you pay attention to your body, if only during your yoga class a few times a week, you begin to learn how you feel. And once you begin to connect to how you feel, you understand when you are hungry, and even what you really need to eat. Protein. Salad. Pork chops. Whatever. You might notice that you want chocolate to avoid a feeling you have. Even if you still eat the chocolate, you know what you’re doing. You might notice that a few blocks of chocolate do better than a few bars. A few bites of ice cream instead of a few cones. You know that feeling gross for a day is not worth a gallon of comfort now. Your body tells you, not your control freak ego. The more you get to know your body, the less you think about food. This was my experience. And that yoga has its own way of nurturing.

Yes, I’ve tried all sorts of food crazes. I studied nutrition. I was a vegetarian for four years. I had so little energy I thought there was something wrong with me. While a vegetarian diet is unquestionably best for our furry friends and best for the planet, I discovered I need to eat meat a few times a month. (Did you know the Dalai Lama eats meat?) My iron levels demand it. I also do well with protein and fat. If I eat too much carbohydrate, I feel heavy and sleepy. That’s my body. I have a vegetarian friend who can eat salad and beans and be full of energy. I can’t. But that’s what works for me. Bodies vary greatly in what they need. Maybe it’s ethnic, maybe it’s genetic. It’s probably many factors that don’t really need to be teased out.

Svadhyaya, or self study, is a major part of yoga practice. It is not obsessive, compulsive or product oriented. It is largely quiet and observational. If you practice and pay attention you can tune in to how you feel and tune out all the idiotic food trends (is any community more susceptible than ours? I’m sorry, a seed will not save you). When this happens, food can be fun and an anxiety-free joy.

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what to wear for yoga

Preferably something opaque. Where to get it?

I just happened upon this “audio yoga mat.” I admit it could be useful if you travel a lot and can carry it around. But, I mean, really.

You do not need fancy anythings to do yoga. You need you. A mat can help, yes, and so will comfortable clothes. Tanks are better than T’s because T’s will fall over your head in inversions. Tucking in the T is not sexy (unless it is in at the moment. Hopefully that trend will pass swiftly), and will still bag around your head.

I admit a strong aversion to spending $100 for yoga pants. I also admit that since old navy changed their yoga pant style (oh, maybe four years ago now) and added the very unfortunate diamond crotch, I’m stuck with a very old and faded yoga pant wardrobe. I do not have the patience to try all the fancy pants for a replacement. I tried an athleta (since bought out by the Gap) pant and a gaiam pant (both about $70), and I hate them both. I want my old navy standard back. I’ve switched to their capris, but the diamond thing is still an issue. Who decided that was a good idea? It started in the pricey pant industry and trickled down. Unacceptable. I once saw a woman who actually had a diamond patch crotch in a different color than the rest of the pants. I thought that her pants had ripped, revealing bright unders. Good grief. We might as well be in 19th century tennis dresses.

Nice tank tops are on offer at gaiam for both guys and gals. I prefer cotton, as sporty, absorbent fabrics quickly smell bad. Gaiam duds are usually organic and possibly fair-trade. And their models aren’t underage and looking to seduce you, throwing you into despair about the underfed, sexual slavery, and child pornography (to say nothing of body image as it relates to mental and sexual happiness) while you’re simply trying to do some pant shopping. (american apparel.)

As for mats, I have three (teaching purposes). Two I bought at TJ Maxx. The oldest is a thick lilac “Everlast for Women” (haha) mat about six years ago. The little round things are coming off, sticking to my clothes and shedding all over the floor. I’m attached to this mat, but it’s time to let it go. The other Maxx mat was about $13, has a pretty design on it, and comes in lots of pretty colors. You see it around. I will most likely get another to replace the shedders. The third was a fancy, eco-friendly, apple green jute mat I bought from Amazon, which shed its juteness all over me since day one. It is coarse, unpleasant, and expensive. (More about yoga mats and reviews here. I currently recommend manduka, expensive but guaranteed for life.)

No doubt there are some gorgeous yoga clothes out there. But I find the fancier I get the more likely a breast will pop out in updog, or my unders will peak out in child’s pose, or the laundromat will destroy them after two washes. I do wear different clothes to teach and to practice, as astanga sweat and the requisite after-launder is hard on the togs. (Please, please, wash your yoga clothes. Regularly. They smell worse than you think.)

Einstein had five identical suits, so that he didn’t have to think about what he put on every day. At least, that’s what my father (who was often called his doppelganger) liked to say. And, of course, Thoreau said, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”

Both had much to say about dressing:

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.  ~Albert Einstein

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.  ~Henry David Thoreau

If you’ve any good thoughts on what to wear and where to get it, by all means, share.

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