Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ashtanga Yoga: Changing Reality

"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum: "but it isn't so, nohow." "Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't , it ain't. That's logic."

-Lewis Carroll from 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'

Fair warning, this post rambles! The thoughts just never seemed to arrange themselves into coherent related paragraphs.

Much thanks to Nobel for joining in the cybershala and tackling some difficult subjects that get us thinking and talking. He writes a great blog which you can read here.

The background:
Recent posts by Nobel (here and here) where he tackles the sticky subject of yoga, weight loss and whether a letter to the editor of Yoga Journal makes valid points...Brave Nobel! :-)

The letter to the editor and Nobel's post have had me thinking about all the changes that have happened over the years that I've maintained a regular Ashtanga practice.

Nobel makes a good point in his post:
"Choosing to blow somebody off for calling me fat isn't going to change certain very basic things about how reality works. Whatever words we choose to use to describe body shapes, the basic scientific truths remain: Biology doesn't care whether I am "fat", "curvy", "round-bodied", "chunky", "big-boned", "[insert your favorite euphemism]". The more pounds I pack on, the harder my body has to work, and the harder my body has to work, the more likely premature wear-and-tear of the internal and external biological systems will occur. We can choose to accept this basic scientific reality, and work with it as best as we can; or we can choose to deny this reality at our own peril."

All that is true, factual, logical....but thinking back over all the changes I've made since beginning a regular Ashtanga practice, I notice the logical and the sensible have had very little to do with making change.

I started practice with lots of residual body image issues hanging on since the teenage years as well as plenty of "not especially healthy" food habits. Ironically, my habits only changed when I stopped trying to change them "because I thought I should"....logic was never enough.

I'd wanted to be thinner and stronger since childhood and no conscious effort to make the changes ever worked, but slowly, as I practiced regularly over years, the habits that weren't serving me, fell away. I lost my taste for my daily diet Pepsi habit (ick, right!) and lost my taste for fried food (even the smell makes me nauseous now). Regular practice provided the mirror. It became easy to know which habits would nourish and which would not because I was living it experientially from the inside out.

This is a common story with Ashtangis. Do the practice, the habits change...The habits changed when I stopped struggling and made space.

Chogam Trungpa says:
"We begin to realize that there is a sane, awake quality within us. In fact this quality manifests itself only in the absence of struggle."

We all start practice with "stuff"...and I suspect we all start with some denial about whatever our "stuff" may be. Weight is an easy kind of "stuff" to pick on because we can see it, but it is just one kind of stuff.

Nobel says: "Choosing to blow somebody off for calling me fat isn't going to change certain very basic things about how reality works."

As a scientist (that's my day job), I agree, but as a yogi, I've been stunned by the number of times what I thought was reality immediately turned on it's head. Things get interesting the moment I think I understand my own reality; they get downright messy when I start to think I understand someone else's reality.

More from Chogam Trungpa:
"You do not have to push yourself too energetically into the path but just wait, just allow some space, do not be too busy trying to understand "reality"."

Nobel is sceptical about the potential to be healthy at every size....and so am I. Current scientific research suggests otherwise. On the other hand, I think the letter to the editor makes a valid point that some words can get in the way of making change, even when they're logical and sensible. Words that sting can get in the way of making space because it is so easy to accept them as a label....and at that point I'm stuck in the ego, defining myself: "I am..."

If my teacher had said to me when I started learning handstands, "You're weak.", would I have kept trying even with that label ringing in my ears? I don't know.


  1. Hi Christine,

    Thanks for your thoughts on my post. I'm actually a fellow Gainesville-ian (turned Nashvillian). I used to practice at Sanctuary and did my teacher training there. Small world!

    Anna Guest-Jelley

  2. Thanks for sharing Christine.... my awareness of both what I consume, when I consume it and how much I consume has been off the charts lately. I have been increasingly framing these choices in terms of -- how it will affect my practice? Do I really want to eat this? Should I eat this at this time? Do I really want a second/third glass?? ... and just HOW will this affect my next practice???

    How I will feel at the next practice is a definite motivational experience against any indulgence. Not good practicing on just 1 or 2 cylinders....

    Thanks for the 6-day challenge Christine, at least it allows me 1 day to slack 8-)

    namaste, bob

  3. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for dropping in! A small world for sure! :)
    How do you like Nashville? I've only made a few visits there, but always enjoyed it.

    Hi Bob,
    Practice has definitely made it easier to pay attention to what and how I eat. It's so much easier for me to turn down the extra cookie when I know that a good practice will feel better than the cookie ever will.
    But...it's also good to have a day to relax and enjoy your "food treats", whatever those may be.

    Way to rise to the 6-day practice challenge!