November 14, 2013

6 ways to Respect Our Digestive System During the Season of Indulgence. ~ Theresa Pauline

Say “good-bye” Halloween and “helloooo” to two months of gluttonous behaviors and excuses to indulge.

This time of year, while yes, I start getting excited for the holiday parties with friends and family, I simultaneously start dreading them as they all seem to center around my biggest weakness—food.

Coming up: Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year and on January 4th, my wedding in Mexico—an additional week of parties! Yayyyyy!

Holidays, dinners, parties and receptions equals cookies, cakes, cheese, fine wines and more.

Here is what B.K.S Iyengar says about food—prepare yourself:

Food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life. It should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing […] Character is molded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it. Men are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather then eat to live. If we eat for flavors of the tongue, we over eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throw our systems out of gear. The yogi believes in harmony, so he eats for the sake of sustenance only. He does not eat too much or too little. He looks upon his body as the rest house of his spirit and guards himself against over-indulgence.’”


Let’s be honest. Most of us (not all of us) like food a little too much. The way that Iyengar says we should eat is not how most of us actually eat.

That being said, as a practicing yogini, I have been working on eating with awareness for a long time! Of course I respect my body.

However, the holiday season comes with endless gatherings and heaping trays of my favorite goodies. For as long as I can remember, this season somehow gives everyone the right to over indulge.

It’s the holidays for goodness sake.

The reason for indulgence to be avoided is not because the jeans won’t fit come January, but rather because it kills the digestive system and poisons the body. By clogging it up with excessive cheeses, cookies and cakes, the entire body becomes toxic.

Here is what this looks like—we get to a party, we start chatting away, drinking and nibbling on the trays of goodies. As we talk and nibble, the hours pass by.

Before we know it, we have eaten a tray of imported cheeses and at least half a dozen of white-chocolate macadamia-nut cookies. No awareness.

Afterwards, the body is overloaded and poisoned and has to work extra hard burning valuable tapas energy on digesting the food that has just been needlessly ingested. This leaves the stomach in pain, energy levels depleted, and an aura of guilt because Iyengar, as well as Natwar, my yoga teacher in Rishikesh, India would be oh so disappointed.

While in India last year, Natwar told a group of mostly Western yoga students, in all seriousness, that if we accidentally over indulged when home for the holidays, to go to the bathroom and practice Kunjal kriya (throwing up).

Many of us looked at him in horror, “you mean, you want us to be…bulimic!?”  Though this kriya may be a viable option to many yogis, there is too much stigma around it for young Western woman.

If you, like me, aren’t up for Kunjal kriya, there are other methods that can be used to avoid over indulgence in the first place. Changing the way we behave and think about food, just like anything else, simply takes action and practice.

This year, I do not want to dread the procession of festivities with the people I love simply because of my lack of self-control and likely loss of awareness around the cookie table. Obviously, I’d like to enjoy this precious time! Thus, it is time to make changes so I am able to face the coming season with grace, elegance, and optimal awareness.

One of the sutras (1.21) states that:

 Those who pursue their practices with intensity of feeling, vigor, and firm conviction achieve concentration and the fruits there of more quickly, compared to those of medium or lesser intensity.

By making a list of action steps-we can set a direct intention (like a focused laser beam) to improve, grow, change. The key word is action.

Here are six practices I learned from Natwar (not including throwing up) that we can actively incorporate into our daily routine in the hopes of growing out of the propensity to lose awareness during holiday parties and thus saving our digestive systems

1. Santosha:

A niyama, meaning the cultivation of contentment and joy.  Instead of giving things up completely and turning into grumpy cookie craving yogis, according to Santosha, we can and should enjoy the treats of the season. There are many other things to be enjoyed this time of year, besides food.

It can be plays, music, games, building snowmen, or surfing (depending on where you live). Make an effort to fill the holidays with things that cultivate a sense of joy within the spirit. What brings laughter and smiles to the face?

 For me, a peanut butter ball cookie made by Aunt Joanne would bring a smile to my face, so I can enjoy eating one! Here the key is moderation, this brings us to Brahmacharya.

 2. Brahmacarya:

A yama, meaning moderation and balance around the things we may over indulge in: sex, food, wine, etc. During this season, starting now, we can set the intention to practice moderation with all things. When the festivities begin, as aforementioned, enjoy. The key is to maintain conscious moderation—one peanut butter ball cookie is better than one hundred, and one cookie is way better than no cookies at all.

Even though Iyengar says we shouldn’t eat for pleasure of the tongue, I am not ready to give up cookies completely. Perhaps in my next life.

Some may be thinking “How do I have just have one?”

 3. Dhyana—Meditation and prayer:

I have found that when trying to do something I find challenging, meditation and prayer has never hurt. There is so much power in getting quiet. Prayer and mediation is a super personal practice; thus it is entirely different for every one.

Personally, I use visualizations, positive mantras, and sankulpas (positive affirmative statements), to help manifest what it is, or who it is I want to be. I use silence to get a better understanding of what this looks like for me.

Here are some examples of positive affirmations:

“I am happy and healthy and it is easy to go to parties and act mindfully and with complete awareness around food.”

“I am lighthearted, free from cookies and I inspire others with my glowing happy healthy self.”

 4. A fast:

 Kick-starting this season with a fast is a great way to re-boot the digestive system. Fasting is an important part of yogic life in India and one that is rarely practiced here in the West. If it is practiced, it is often misunderstood.

Fasting does not simply mean not eating. As Natwar says, “the type and length of the fast is determined by the practitioner.”

 There are infinite types of fasts. The one I am planning on will be seven days long and consist of veggies, fruits, soy protein and lots of water. Fasting is a superb way to create awareness around what we are eating, and its most positive benefit is that it provides the digestive system with a much-needed rest.

 5. Drinking Water:

 According to Natwar, when we are finished eating the stomach should be 1/3 air, 1/3 water, and 1/3 food. He recommends taking water thirty minuets before eating so that the digestive juices are not diluted. This helps begin the digestive process in a healthy way and sets the positive intention of eating mindfully.

Additionally, it reduces hunger so we don’t over indulge. Also, drinking water while eating hinders the system so it is important to wait another thirty minuets after eating to take water again.

Extra bonus practice: To really avoid excess sugars or toxins in the body, perhaps consider drinking only water through the entire season.

 6. Gratitude:

 The principal of gratitude should be the foundation of all of our actions, including setting an intention to manifest more awareness around our eating habits.

By consciously remembering all the things we have to be grateful for, we maintain a positive, lighthearted, and up-lifting attitude. Up-lifting meaning inspiring to others.

This season is ultimately about celebrating love for our family, friends, our creator, ourselves and hopefully about service.

Remembering this and filling our selves with these feelings will ensure that we smile, enjoy and love others fully. By remaining grateful and carrying a servants heart while practicing santosha, brahmacharya, dhyana, fasting, and only drinking water, we can avoid becoming self consumed by our intentions and actually may find opportunities to be of service to those around us.

Basically, mastering the art of respect for the self comes down to consistent positive affirming actions (abhyasa). These six practices are specific things we can try to implement into our daily lives for the coming season. I know that by walking through the next couple of months with a zealous desire to behave and feel differently, so it will be.

I’d like to give my first toast of the season (water of course) to “The Holidays!”, welcoming them with awareness, grace and gratitude for the opportunity to change.

 “Character is molded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it.”

~ Iyengar

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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland/Editor: Bryonie Wise







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