I am likely not the only yoga teacher who has been asked by my students, more than once, what I eat and drink to stay healthy. Suggesting a specific diet, some YouTube video, or coming up with scientific proof of a particular way of living would be much easier. But that’s not how it works for me.
My approach is practicing presence in and love for my body. It doesn’t make sense, but practicing loving presence (and the following vulnerability) is much more complex than a habitual way of treating the body like a lazy animal that must be disciplined and trained to operate optimally.
It’s been (is!) a long and arduous journey for me to be increasingly willing to be present in my body, to feel and be with those feelings. While I am closer, I am not “there.” Sometimes I check out and refuse to feel the vulnerability and pain. I have my longstanding, habitual ways of not feeling, and despite practicing mindfulness and presence, I still slip into an unconscious numbing of fear and sadness. Sometimes I sincerely want to avoid feeling the existential loneliness accompanying my human experience of separation from God.
So what do I do?
I do what I can to feel myself inside. I scan the energy field of my body – a lot. There is practically always something going on that feels less than peaceful. That’s who I am a fair amount of the time: less than peaceful. A lifetime (lifetimes?) of traumatic experiences created directly from my own sincere belief in the illusion of separation from God has marked me in deep ways.
The fear shows up in my body as contracted energy. Areas where energy doesn’t flow freely, and when I feel into these areas, I am sometimes transported back to an old emotional injury. Often very old and consistently caused by some version of: I am not feeling loved and safe. Most often, dating back to when I was too young to keep myself safe or knew how to love myself.
Whether I really wasn’t loved and safe is irrelevant. If you see a giant constrictor snake in the corner of your room, your body will contract in self-protection – whether that snake turns out to be a coiled rope or an actual snake doesn’t really matter to your body’s energy field. The contraction has already occurred, and the constriction in the body may not release unless you give it conscious loving attention and deliberately release the fear that crept in.
At the risk of sounding trite: as I experience it, it’s all about love. For real, it’s about letting God’s love in through my own loving presence. To me, that means my strong, deliberate, immediate presence, right now, in my body, in the now, and it is how I re-connect to God, the Divine, the eternal Now. With that energy and focused presence, I am sometimes successful in melting and releasing frozen emotions that have lingered in my body.
The other day, I rode my bike here in Copenhagen to teach a class nearby. On the way, a taxi cab nearly ran me over. I fell on my bike to avoid being hit. To add insult to injury, the cab driver rolled down his window, yelled something incomprehensible at me, and gave me the finger. He apparently believed it was my fault that I went straight on the bike path when he needed to cross the path to take a right.
I didn’t have much time, so I got back on my bike to get to my class on time. Once I was seated in front of the class and guided the group, including me, into meditation, I felt the contracted, fearful energy of a near miss in my body; as I fell into it, I cried. Right there in front of my students. I explained what was going on. One student jumped up and hugged me. That felt good. Then the energy of shock, fear, and anger moved through, and I was clear. It was a new injury, so it was easier to release than the old ones, more deeply embedded in me. Those tend to replay as tough-to-break patterns. But the method is the same; love, presence, and patience toward myself.
The contraction from nearly being hit would have lingered if I had not allowed myself to move the feeling through and out. It may have become some soreness in my body that I might have attributed to the fall. To discharge the anger energy, I might later have snapped at my partner or some other innocent person crossing my path. Knowing me, I also would have had an irresistible urge to eat something sweet.
Sweet is how I numb out. Well, one of the ways. I have long since given up alcohol as a numbing agent, but sugar, its close cousin, let’s be honest, entered its place. For years, I worked in treatment centers for drugs and alcohol in Minneapolis, and the clients had often replaced their alcohol addiction with an excessive sugar intake.
I try to be keenly aware of how I cope with the overwhelming feelings I am trying to avoid. Big and small, and question, if even momentarily, whether I want to indulge and numb out or whether I am willing to give my body the love it needs to feel and heal.
It’s the deep sensing into and befriending the energy in my body that allows me to be in tune with what my body needs, whether emotionally or physically. From there, knowing whether my body needs herbs, meat, water, vegan food, a walk in the forest, sleep, or fasting becomes clearer for me. An outer teacher does not prescribe it; my body becomes the teacher.
From there, it becomes more apparent that wanting sugar is my way of avoiding feelings, not a genuine request from my body. From there, it starts to feel more obvious what my body needs today. Not intermittent fasting on a prescribed schedule but just not eating when my body needs clarity and eating wholesome, home-cooked meals when my body needs nourishment.