If you've been dieting -- or trying to get yourself not to eat this and that -- for the past however many years, it's going to be very normal for you to experience extreme mental states around food or exercise, and weight loss. Many of us refer to this experience as the "roller coaster." It's not fun.
But you can experience the ride differently -- and eventually get off altogether. As a yoga therapist, I help clients ease into a more stable, calm regimen of eating and losing weight. Where do we start? It's individual. Each person begins where they are. Not where they want to be, or feel they should be, but with their "three drive-through meals a day" habits. Their grapefruit-only -- then binge at 11 p.m. -- daily do-over. Their fad diet of the month experience. Their negative self-talk in the mirror routine every morning before work.
Taking the time to breathe and move, practicing daily, can help when these emotional states and difficult behaviors arise. A simple (and even brief!) practice can greatly shift your relationship with food and weight loss, or at least slow the ride down. You'll start to gain some clarity around your habits, which will help you pause before launching into a tirade against yourself, or jumping into another intense weight-loss and diet plan.
What you're looking for is a shift in how you think about food and habits, and this doesn't come from thinking about them! You're creating space around the thoughts through breath and movement. So how does that work!? Many of my clients explain the experience like this: "This is the first week where I actually had whole mornings -- or whole days or weeks -- where I didn't really even think about food. I didn't feel tortured around my eating." Now, that is not the same as "eating healthy" -- they're completely different.
One of the exercises I have on my new CD Being at Peace with Food shows you how to move your body and breath together to help shift your emotional states. Not only is the breath good for de-stressing in terms of our nervous system, but moving the body and breath together is also good for a quick shift from one difficult emotional state to a more clear, relaxed state.
Ideally, you want to flow through emotional states easily to prevent getting stuck on thoughts and patterns. Whatever difficult thoughts arise, you can learn to shift into a calm, peaceful space. After some practice you can go throughout your day with these fluctuations because they're moving more easily. They don't bother you as much. And then you'll find that when you're riding the roller coaster of food and body issues, small shifts occur here, too.
Here's an abbreviated version of my exercise.
- Lengthen your spine if you're standing or sitting in a chair.
- As you inhale, raise your arms up alongside your ears.
- As you exhale, release your arms down by your sides.
- As you continue to do this, see if you can have your breath be bigger than the movement. That means as your arms rise up while breathing in, continue to breathe in a little bit once your arms are up, and then as you exhale, your arms come down by your sides. You should only have a little breath left to come out when your arms are already down.
- Take four or five more breaths like this. Nice and easy inhaling and exhaling.
- Feel your ribs spread to the side as air comes in easily.
- Exhale, release your arms.
- Once you've done this for a few minutes, notice your emotional state. Maybe try labeling your emotional state (calm, relaxed, focused).
By simply moving and breathing, you can move from "sticky" emotional states into a more content head space, which is where you want to be if you're trying to overcome a difficult relationship with food.
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