How Jedi Knights Should Eat

by Angela

AY:A2 begins our second year of daily practice. A few of you are starting to show signs of increased concentration and willpower. I didn’t expect that to happen so fast.

Daily practitioners do develop slightly freakish will power. But a strong will can make you stupid. In this practice, your will is only as good as your surrender.

I’ll use the topic of food to illustrate. Food and ashtanga are intertwined backwards and forwards. Not separate. A person can sort of ignore this, but eventually the ignoring gets boring.

It’s the consistent (I’d suggest daily) practice that really opens things up. If a person does that as a sort of meditation, three distinct empowerments come online with respect to eating. I’ll call them the Young Jedi Trifecta, YJT:

(1) an increase in self-control

(2) a decrease in the buy-in to stories and emotional patterns used to strengthen old habits (e.g. “I have to eat X because I am Z,” or “I can never eat Y because I am W”)

(3) an increase in sensory clarity, yielding new information about the way the body relates with food.

The upshot is heroic discipline, even though one might be a sophomore with the spirituality stuff.

If you do not practice as a meditation (i.e., if you are not interested in clarifying the mind and relaxing its patterns), that is completely ok. Please note that if you’re not actively focusing your practice on self-study, the ego may seize the YJT and cash it in for goodies. Goodies! Have fun with that. Control, charisma, a nice ass, secret feelings of superiority, whatever. Zzzzzzzzz…..

In the Bhagavad Gita (7.16), Krishna tells Arjuna that four types of virtuous people practice yoga: people trying to reduce their suffering, people trying to accumulate knowledge, people seeking worldly goods in a selfish manner, and people who are already acting out of their in-born wisdom.

This winter in Mysore, Sharath said the following at least every other week: “Not all advanced asana students are big yogis.” I take this as to mean that many people he sees are Krishna’s third kind of student—what Chogyam Trungpa termed devotees of spiritual materialistm.

This is the thing. Heroic self-control can supersize the ego. No doubt. Let it happen where it happens. Because I want to note that in the passage above Krishna is not giving Arjuna ammo for some smug “what type is he?” ego-game. Rather, all four types of yogis are said to have virtue. We all contain multitudes – we understand all four types because we have been them. And I only bother to say any of this stuff because it’s obvious that all of you are predominantly of the fourth type. You are predominantly wise.

I’ve been the third kind of student for sure. In the second year of daily practice, I took the YJT and really cashed in. Those were the days. They looked like this: YJT + big self-transformation wishlist + tons of unconscious material =  Oh Unholy Neuroses. Fun times. To mention just the consequences this had for my relationships with eating, I’ll note that I ignored the ways food connected me with friends, family and the environment. I was a “me first” eater willing to sniff at my parents’ cooking and simply not interested in the energetic feel, origin, and environmental costs of my nourishment. (I mostly stopped eating meat 17 years ago, but vegetarianism doesn’t equal ahimsa. At all.) This self-focus was useful for a while. I used it, plus the Jedi stuff, to experiment on my system like crazy.

I did several major cleanses, and played with a number of very (very) strict eating programs. When my friend Marichy, his first four incarnations (especially D), put me in direct contact with my liver and the things I’d done to it as a hard drinking teen, I abruptly quit alcohol for a seven year cycle. Some things are good to swear off like that, but most cleansing and strict diets can harm a person’s metabolism and (if they don’t have sufficient carbs or calories) make it hard to think. P.S., Here are the dark sides of some especially dogmatic eating styles. A dirty little secret of many under-eaters is that constant hunger can drain off energy and goodwill for loving relationships. People who don’t eat enough aren’t happy. A dirty little secret of the organ cleansing movement is that it has a sharp puritanical edge of concern with control, and some confusion between intestinal and moral cleanliness. A dirty little secret of the mythical “ancient” diets is that eating lots of flesh makes a person  rajasic – usually angry or anxious – and can deteriorate analytical and relationship skills (attributes of non-ancient humans) until they become a bit… Paleozoic.

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So that’s why I am not in to giving food advice. (1) I figure practice will work it out for you according to your own perfect timing. HOW you eat is probably more important than WHAT you eat. (2) Moreover, throwing a bunch of moral rules at you, instead of allowing them to arise from within you, will probably increase your experience of duality. This takes people away from yoga. Hathayogapradipika 101. (3) Heck if I know what you should eat.

Carisa recently did an elimination diet as part of her yoga practice. (More info about her experience in the document linked in the newsletter.) She loved it, and is starting to use the results to create some really enjoyable new habits. When I said that I don’t tell people what to eat, she noted that people have a right to know if the foods they’ve been eating all their lives have become toxic to them.

Good point, Lady.

So I’ll fess up a bit. Context is big for me. I eat as local as possible and take a lot of energy from food prepared for me with love. When I do that preparation myself, around here I eat as much as a pound of local, organic vegetables…. for breakfast. If it has more than five ingredients or is made by one of the companies owned by Monsanto or Coca-Cola (Kraft, Keebler, Nabisco, Kellogg, those guys), it’s not going in my body. Like many daily practitioners I like fat: nuts, oils, a bit of dairy. This morning I drank a green smoothie, then a few hours later made a two-egg omlette with spinach and goat cheese, and a slice of rye bread with ghee. In addition to the obvious inflammatory foods – alcohol, coffee, animals – there are a couple of other addictive items that I tend to avoid. Big surprise: they are sugar and wheat.

In daily life, I do eat a bit of sugar and wheat now and then, just to keep myself from getting rigid, or because that’s what’s served. Want to know how much? I’ll keep track on the document linked in the newsletter. If you want to use this document to keep track of anything yourself, there is space. But ONLY use it if you can bring as much radical, loving acceptance (abhyasa) as you do will-power (vairagya). There are some interesting articles linked on the document as well.

At the risk of sounding corny, eating feels spiritual to me. I don’t mean fairy dust and sunshine—spirituality is way stronger, grittier stuff than that. It’s simply that eating tends to be an intense direct experience of various layers of my self, my intra-connections in time and space, and all the drives in nature. From the most base to the most transcendent. It is a field of experience in which all sorts of separateness — me/it, attraction/repulsion, life/death, inside/outside — naturally, momentarily, collapse into one.