Don't Diet - Live It

Swami Muktananda Saraswati

Are you too fat, too fat, too fat? Perhaps you're a 'midnight muncher'. You creep into the kitchen, open the fridge and eat! You eat anything - cold, old potato; leftover chapatti; jam by the spoonful - with all the desperation of a deprived, constant dieter. Yet almost immediately you start to agonize over what you've done despising yourself. Chances are that you are trying to lose weight the same old way: with a crash diet; with pills, hypnosis, acupuncture; by skipping meals and making your life miserable. Too often though, dieting just doesn't work.

Overweight is one of the most common problems of our time and generally results from overeating rather than from other causes such as heredity, hormone deficiencies and so on. Fat people are fat because they eat too much as a matter of habit - a habit with deep emotional roots. Usually being fat is seen in a purely negative way, as a lack of self control, as self indulgence - but fat is not brought about by lack of self control. Fat is brought about by insecurity, sexual frustrations, anxiety and rage.

Many people with deep feelings of insecurity experience themselves as consciousness - the 'real me' - locked inside a hollow body. They try to assuage their fears and insecurity by stuffing up this hollow space with food. This makes them feel more solid; the fat gives them a sense of identity, of existing in their own right. On the other hand, a fat person may feel that his fat is a buffer between himself and a threatening world. For some, the layers of fat may create a psychological space where unwanted feelings can go. Loss, loneliness and pain are stuffed into the limbo between the real self and the outside world, and disowned. Anger and aggression are unacceptable feelings to many, especially women, and they must not be directly expressed. Here the impulse to eat is an attempt to block out anger and anxiety, achieving a sort of momentary oblivion. Some people are actually afraid to be thin because of their unrealistic imagination of what it is to be thin. A slim body is mistaken as a symbol of many other desirable personal attributes. Many fat people feel they cannot measure up and their fatness becomes an excuse for not even trying.

Men more than women fear that being thin would mean that they would not be taken seriously. They feel weak, vulnerable, insignificant, and project this evaluation of themselves onto others. For fat men, sheer size is a way of asserting themselves; strength that guarantees them serious attention eating and erotic feelings are also linked together. One of the baby's first pleasures is feeding at the mother's breast, and it has undeniable, subtle erotic overtones. When we are anxious about our capacity to meet the sexual demands of others, or when we are disappointed that they have not been able to meet our own, we often turn to eating for satisfaction and comfort.

Fat people use food as a narcotic, drug, but like any other addict, the food junkie feels tremendously guilty and over-reacts by dieting or fasting. The compulsive eater feels a split between the 'good' person who starves and the 'bad' person who stuffs. The pity it that, though he eats to the point of pain, the food addict is so guilty that he doesn't really taste a single mouthful. He eats a mountain of food but gets no enjoyment, so he's never really satisfied.

Diets don't work simply because they cannot resolve these deep emotional conflicts. The compulsive eater is out of touch with real hunger - stomach hunger. He eats from nervousness, anticipation of later hunger, to cheer himself up, and from 'mouth hunger' ('I don't feel hungry in my stomach, but I must have something in my mouth'). Diets further complicate this. You lose touch with the experience of hunger and the ability to satisfy it because you eat everything in sight against the fear of imminent deprivation.

The constant see-saw of body weight due to alternate dieting and indulgence can also upset the body's energy balance on both physical and pranic levels. This disturbs the nerves, glands and enzymes, and may result in malfunction of the brain centre that tells us to stop eating when we've had enough.

Yoga doesn't focus on fat at all, but on you. Operating on several levels at once, yoga offers practical techniques that can not only give you freedom from fat and the prison of constant dieting, but also develops health and harmony in every dimension of your being. Yoga breaks the torturous cycle of stuffing and starving by developing a comfortable, nurturing and harmonious relationship to food and eating.

The first lesson in, yoga, is to see the body as a finely tuned instrument .that likes to be lovingly cared for. The whole alimentary canal is washed out using the practice of shankhaprakshalana. This eliminates toxins and induces an encouraging feeling of lightness while giving initial impetus to weight reduction by speed-log up a sluggish metabolism. Kunjal kriya is another technique that increases efficiency of the digestive system and helps in weight reduction. Asanas rectify any hormonal imbalance, massage the internal organs, tone up sagging muscles and remold the body. Pranayama provides the extra oxygen to burn up fat and helps eliminate toxic wastes.

At the same time, yoga practice enables you to develop awareness of, and sensitivity to, our inner bodily sensations. You begin to identify the difference between stomach and mouth hunger by going without food for a couple of hours until you experience hunger sensations in your body. You will most probably feel these sensations in your stomach, but some people feel them in the chest or neck. See how it feels for a minute or two. Does it frighten you? Does it arouse pleasant or unpleasant memories? The most important thing is to stop judging what you eat and stop dieting. Instead observe the way you eat and become aware of your eating patterns.

Finally, practice yoga nidra. This is a meditation technique that induces deep relaxation by rotating awareness through each and every part of the body. Almost all fat people have no realistic or positive body awareness. They have no idea what size they are, and experience their fat as surrounding them, trailing them or even as not there. In yoga nidra we develop familiarity with our bodies and experience consciousness as existing throughout the body to that feelings can come from inside rather than outside. Through this form of meditation we bring emotional conflicts into awareness so they need not be expressed indirectly through eating.

Yoga nidra also includes visualization sequences that help us uncover fantasies associated with fat and thin. The instructions go something like this:

'Imagine yourself getting fatter. You are now very, very fat. What does it feel like?

Now imagine all your fat peeling away or melting away...You are as thin as you might ever like to be...Try to experience thinness. How does it feel? Try to get in touch with all your feelings, positive...and negative.'

These fantasy exercises can also be used to heighten awareness whenever you feel the impulse to eat. Close your eyes and ask yourself, 'What kind of physical sensation do I have? How can I best satisfy it? Do I want something crunchy, salty, chewy, moist, sweet? Do I want chocolate? Let me imagine myself eating some. No, that's not it...Do I want cake?' In this way you can find food that fits the mood and cat as much as your body wants. Taste every mouthful.

As you learn through yoga to trust internal cues, sometimes you will be surprised to find that it isn't food at all that you want. You might be wanting a nap, a walk, to relax. Food as a substitute would leave you hungry.

Yoga enables us to experience the body as self-regulating mechanism. It also fosters self-acceptance and reliance on your own sense of self. You begin to see yourself as a 'normal' person, and then you can eat like a normal person - without guilt. You begin to eat when you are really hungry, eating enough to satisfy and eating whatever food you really want.

For the general health of any aspirant, fat or thin, yoga recommends a balanced diet in accordance with the principles outlined in Yoga Nov. and Dec. 1977. A regime of whole foods, as unprocessed as possible, ensures that the body has all the vital nutrients for health. Fad diets are deficient in certain elements and in its efforts to compensate, the body's metabolism becomes unbalanced. One-food diets and extremely low-calorie diets are only a temporary measure, and do not establish permanent, healthy food habits. A normal, balanced diet of whole foods is a diet for life, an eating pattern that will serve for all our days. Eat what you like and eat a little of everything - even the so-called 'forbidden fruits' like chocolate, sweets and cake. The key is to eat a little of these things. It's not the occasional feast that puts on weight, but the day by day over indulgence. On a balanced diet you'll find you're eating less and enjoying it more.

Yogic eating also involves regular servings at two meals a day. Through awareness and observation find the amount of food that satisfies you physically and psychically and stick to it. Even if it seems a lot when all put together, eat what you need. Then eat the same amount regularly. Of course, you will overeat sometimes, but this despairing greed will become less and less frequent. If you overeat at one meal, avoid the guilty temptation to skip the next; it will only throw you further out of balance. Regular eating stabilizes metabolism. Your body comes to know how much food to expect, and body temperature and activity level automatically adjust to burn up all the food consumed. You will be less inclined to eat between meals because body rhythms and hunger eventually coincide with meal times. Any gnawing sensations between meals are then more easily recognized as anxiety rather than hunger, soothed by relaxation exercises rather than a raid on the refrigerator. If you do your practices regularly and adopt these recommendations, you will train body and mind and regulate metabolism. Your weight will spontaneously balance out over time, without heartache.

Weight reduction is not the aim of yoga. Just the same, when you practice yoga your body naturally comes down to the ideal weight for maximum health and happiness. It takes time - five months to five years- but you did not get fat overnight and you will not get thin overnight either.

Yoga does not aim to reduce fat, but to reduce spiritual ignorance and all forms of suffering. The goal of yoga is not to make the body light, but to enlighten the mind. If you keep this before you always then your body will cease to be a burden and will serve you as the vehicle for flight into highest consciousness.