ID-10072652I’m not exactly sure when I began using food and eating as a way to take the edge off my anxieties about life. The depths of my memories offer up, “adolescence?” Sure. I’ll take that.

Yoga gave me the tools of what I call “emotional rehabilitation.” Emotional rehabilitation helps a person to learn to feel again. Instead of using whatever method we have of numbing out emotionally (in my case, food), we use the skills learned at yoga to feel the emotions, and to handle them. Instead of shutting as much out as possible, we open the window of tolerance, and learn to sit in it.

Yoga–combined with years of therapy–helped to unravel the knots inside of me that lead me to eat instead of feeling.

Now, standing on the far edge of a long journey that is by no means over, these are the things that I’ve noticed about my own feelings and behaviors. They might be guideposts to you as well.

  1. Once upon a time, eating was my answer to all difficult sensations. Even the need to sleep or rest, I mistook for the need to eat. Now, I’m able to sort out these different sensations. Tired emotionally? Get some alone time. Tired physically? Rest or sleep—don’t eat!
  1. I notice that sometimes when I feel inside and think about eating a food that used to make me happier, now I feel disappointed. This shows me that the incorrect connection between feelings and food has been (mostly) unhooked. Food can’t fix my emotions. Something else, out in the world will need to change to help fix my emotions.
  1. Snacking is no longer a satisfying way to evade nourishing eating or feeling. Now I know when I start to fall into a spiral of snacking, to check inside and find out a) do I need a real, full-on, sit-down meal or b) is something upsetting me.
  1. At parties, instead of hanging out by the chips and stuffing my face, I can face social anxiety head-on and do something about it.

It’s my personal opinion that we never actually completely “get over” these sorts of addictions. What we gain is actually much more useful than complete recovery: the skill of self-awareness. With this skill, you can handle just about any life challenge that comes your way.

Did you like this post? Please comment, and share! Join my mailing list to receive my special teleclass “The Secrets to Intuitive Eating.” 

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Often in my work with my life coaching, holistic health counseling, or body image clients, the question arises, “how can you tell a healthy craving apart from an addictive habit reappearing?”

 

This can be tricky, because your addictions can be so seductive as to entice you into thinking that you truly “need” them.

 

Yet, no one would deny a pregnant woman her cravings, and they present just as strongly as a “need.” 

 

So how can you tell a “real need” from a false one? 

 

I’ve considered the distinction between a “true need” and an addictive one in the past few weeks as I’ve been recovering from the stomach flu.

 

The past few weeks have been an interesting study in cravings, and has jogged my memory about similar experiences in the past. 

 

In the immediate aftermath of the recent flu, everything smelled gross, and the mere thought of some items made me feel nauseated. 

 

I recall an instance in my life where this has happened before.  In my early twenties, I was working a desk job, and fell ill, with the flu.  While I lay in bed, I didn’t consume much, and above all, I drank no coffee.  Prior to this, I had quite a coffee habit—four of five cups a day.

 

In the wake of that sickness, the thought of coffee nauseated me.  So, I switched to tea.  First black tea, and then later, green tea.  While I adore the aroma and flavor of coffee, now I can’t drink it, as it gives me heart palpitations. 

 

It occurred to me that the illness was a kind of cleanse.  My acupuncturist would agree, and from what I’ve gleaned, many illnesses can be viewed as a “healing event” of sorts.  That sickness in my twenties I recall at the “coffee purge.” 

 

With the recent illness, what I observed was an accompanying craving for foods that I’ve not wanted in years—mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese. 

 

There was a clear progression from one to the other.  First, about three days of desire for the potatoes.  Then, a break.  Then, emerged the desire for macaroni and cheese.  As a gluten-free eater, this posed a problem.  Thankfully, Annie’s makes a decent rendition with rice noodles.

 

For three days straight, I followed the craving, and ate a box of mac & cheese.  On the third day, it tasted too salty, and no longer entirely hit the spot. 

 

Many people would probably identify these cravings as “bad.”  Both of these foods fall in the “carb” category, and even in the “junk food” category. 

 

This illness was the opposite of the “coffee purge.” 

 

Instead of removing foods from my palate, it introduced them back in.

 

And, they are not foods that I ordinarily consider “healthy.”

 

As I indulged my body’s desire for another day of packaged, processed mac & cheese, I considered if I was truly experiencing a nutritional need, or if some addiction took the opportunity to show itself again. 

 

If you examine closely the sentence above, it reveals part of the key to understanding healthy craving versus addiction. 

 

The key lies in the distinction between “me” and “my body” and creating a healthy relationship between those two things.

 

In the past, my “addictions” were primarily the product of my mind, which then hooked my body.

 

In the past, eating “junk food” was the result of feeling lonely, isolated, scared, unloved, unrecognized, angry, powerless. 

 

As I did the work to resolve those core issues, I was able to see that actually my body never “asked” for those junk foods in the first place.  My mind did. 

 

So the distinction between “healthy craving” and “unhealthy craving” has to do with where the craving is truly arising.  Is it in your body, or is it in your mind?

 

Let’s examine these two “purging” illness that I’ve told you about above, looking for traces of both kinds of cravings—of the body and the mind. 

 

In the instance of the coffee situation, I had been drinking coffee for so long, that my body was actually hooked on it.  There way truly no way that I would have known that it was something my body didn’t want, unless I tried not drinking it for a while.  And that thought would never have crossed my mind.  The sickness introduced a situation where I could remove the substance, and from there create a clean slate inside against which to test if coffee was really a substance my body likes. 

 

I started drinking coffee not out of a love for coffee—like many I began drinking coffee as a means to extend my productivity.  I drank it because my family members did.  And, I drank it, because it was a sign of maturity, or so I thought.  Never did my body “ask” for coffee, and I doubt that yours would either.  We just like caffeine.  This is a clear instance of “me” introducing a food to my body, and getting it addicted. 

 

Sugar is like this too.  It is a substance scarce in naturally occurring foods.  Fruit is sweet, and some vegetables are.  So are grains.  But white table sugar—that is an invention of modernity.  Sugar is highly addictive, and if you don’t agree, try taking it out of your diet entirely (that includes agave, honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, sucannat, and any other “alternative” sweetener you can think of) for an entire week, and see just how cranky your get. 

 

I found out about this when I did my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training.  I all but eliminated sugar from my diet.  And when I cam back from the training and had a glass of lemonade, I just about passed out from the sugar high and the ensuing crash. 

 

In the end, the “coffee purge” was a little of both–I created a real addiction that was the product of my mind.

 

So check to see if your “craving” is the result of your mind desiring something to fill the uncomfortable spaces in your life, and if you’ve fed it something that now it is hooked on. 

 

If you check inside, and know that you are not really feeding your mind with food, then you can examine what kind of craving your body is truly experiencing, and satisfy that craving at it’s core.  

 

Let’s look at the more recent example of the mashed potato and mac & cheese craving. 

 

When I mentioned the craving to a friend of mine, he told me that potatoes are very high in electrolytes, so much so that they actually conduct electricity.  In fact, you can light up a light bulb with a potato! 

 

Craving explained—stomach flu leaves a person dehydrated, and depleted from the electrolytes that help usher fluids across the cell membrane.  My potato craving was my body self-medicating with food.  Amazing! 

 

There are a few other reasons that your body might experience a craving. 

 

Seasonal:  Our bodies are set to function with the cycles of the natural world.  In the spring, we tend to desire detoxifying foods like leafy greens or citrus foods. In the summer, people crave cooling foods like fruit, raw foods and ice cream, and in the fall people crave grounding foods like squash, onions and nuts. During winter many crave hot and heat-producing foods like meats and cheeses.

 

Lack of Nutrients: When the body is nutrient deficient, it will try to make up for it as immediately as possible.  A lack of minerals leads to salt cravings.  Overall inadequate nutrition leads to cravings for instant energy in the form of sugar and caffeine. 

 

Yin/Yang Imbalance or Balance:  Certain foods have expansive qualities while others are contractive.  “Yin” refers to the expansive quality of a food—think how sugar makes you feel, or alcohol.  These are extreme examples.  Leafy greens are also an example of an expansive food, or a “yin” food.  “Yang” refers to the contractive quality of a food.  Consider how salt makes you feel, or meat. 

 

Sometimes eating one kind of food creates a cycle where a person only wants to eat those foods.  The body gets stuck in a feedback loops. 

 

Other times, the body naturally balances.  You eat some meat, and want some leafy vegetables to go along with it.  This is just one example. 

 

There are also other reasons why the mind might create cravings. 

 

Displaced Desire & Dissatisfaction: Being dissatisfied with a relationship or having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little or the wrong type), being bored, stressed, or uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice may all cause emotional eating. Eating can be used as a substitute for entertainment or to fill any void in your life.

 

De-evolution. When our lives are going better than usual, sometimes a self-sabotage pattern emerges.  We crave foods that throw us off the good path, thus creating more cravings to balance ourselves. This often happens from low blood sugar and may result in strong mood swings.

 

Longing for the Past: We’ve all experienced this—it’s the desire for “comfort foods.”  One of my teachers calls it “Inside Coming Out”—the longing not only for your childhood foods, but also for your ancestral foods.  Any way you look at it, your relationship with the past is showing up in the present in the solid manifestation of food. 

 

When I examine my recent longing for mac and cheese, I can see realistically that it is my past coming out, and a longing for comfort.  The needs of my body (potatoes) gave way to the desires of my heart for care and comfort of my mother (mac & cheese).  Seeing that clearly for what it truly is will allow me to make better decisions about whether to indulge the craving or seek to resolve it in another way.

 

In summary, it is important to discern between a craving that is the product of your mind, and something that comes from your body. 

 

Once you’re clear on that, then you can make a better decision about how to handle it. 

 

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KALE SALAD.  Yum! I know I said in the video that I was not going to tell you what to eat…And you don’t have to eat this.  :)  But, maybe you’ll like it!

Ingredients:  Bunch of Kale, Lemons, Parmesan Cheese, Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil.  Easy.

1.  Chop the kale.  I used Dragon Kale, or Lacinato Kale.  You could use other varieties too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Steam the kale.  You can use a double boiler, which I have here, or just put the kale in a pot with a little water in the bottom.  Steam for about 3-5 minutes, until the kale is bright green, and pretty easy to chew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3.  While the kale is steaming, squeeze some lemon juice.  Use about three lemons per one head of kale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Season the steamed kale with plenty of olive oil (Pour that over first. The lemon juice will attach to it.), the lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.  Finally, toss the salad with some shredded parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

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We are at a very interesting crossroads in the history of American Yoga.  The Titans are rising and falling around us.  I know that many yogis have been deeply wounded by the Anusara happening, but it was bound to happen.  Why?  Because where there is light, there will be a shadow—we need only to look for it.  You have a shadow.  I have a shadow.  To think that you do not is delusional; to think that your beloved teacher does not is crazier yet.  And, to hold the existence of their shadows against your teacher is only to do violence against yourself.

Ana Forrest has fierce Kali energy.  She prowls the shadows of life.  Behind her, she leaves lives transformed.  For this reason, I believe, you either love her and her practice, or you hate her, or you just feel hot, tremendously sweaty, and don’t really “get it.”  It is a certain person at a very particular point in their spiritual development that is ready to take a deep, hard look at their shadows.  As Nietzsche says, “When you look into the abyss, it looks back into you.”  Be prepared to hold its gaze.

I am a Forrest Yoga Guardian: someone Ana has entrusted with the duty and privilege of seeing that the lineage endures.  As a student of the Shadow Lady, I am aware of her shadows—her humanity, if you will.  She is no deity.  She certainly is no Guru (never call her that! She will yell at you!).  I love and respect Forrest Yoga and its Creatrix, but will never idolize it, or her, because doing so is incorrect thought and action.

Though I will not suggest that Forrest Yoga is the correct practice for you (that is for you to find out), there are certain standout characteristics I believe worth noting.

First, Forrest Yoga encourages you to take a deep look into the abyss, for you to find yourself.  It never tells you what you will find.  It only creates the structure in which you can locate yourself.  This is immensely valuable.  Systems that tell you who and what you are, or should be, are not trustworthy.

Second, Forrest Yoga places a premium on feeling and breathing.  Only by feeling, and knowing your body, can you come to know yourself, and therefore make better decisions, be in clearer communication, and make good choices for your body while you are practicing.  By breathing consciously you begin to find the roots of your habitual ways of behaving.  I find that many of my students give me feedback that after studying with me, they really feel safe in other classes because they’ve learned tools of discernment and how to actually feel for themselves.  They can decide when and how to up level or down-level.  They begin to “see” themselves on the mat—the Witness wakes up.  Forrest Yoga creates independent thinkers and practitioners.

Third, there are not a lot of Forrest Yoga instructors.  This must be annoying to Ana—she pours the depths of herself into intimate, intense teacher trainings, and I bet would like to see the fruits of that in the form of many, many Forrest Yoga teachers.  But, why I think that this is actually a good thing there are so few, is that it is evidence of how Forrest Yoga teaches you to be true to yourself, and to find yourself.  Sometimes this means doing other things with your life, or teaching a different form of yoga, or just teaching “yoga.”  For example, I was recently teaching at the Bali Spirit Festival, and had an opportunity to lunch with Les Leventhal, a fellow Forrest-trained teacher.  He said Ana noted, “You’re not really teaching Forrest Yoga, Les.  What’s up with that?” to which he replied, “You told me to find my voice.  So I did.”  Boo-ya.  Many a great teacher is indebted to Ana for finding their voice; to see this, you just have to start looking for her tracks.

These are just a few of the really precious gifts of Forrest Yoga.

Ana Forrest’s life mission is to “mend the hoop of the people.”  As far as I can tell, her life mission is not to make a lot of money, or be a super-star (though she can be a serious diva—check that wardrobe!  Have you SEEN her on her Harley???), or get a spot on T.V., or have thousands upon thousands of Facebook followers.  Truly, she is absorbed in her dharma and this makes her very refreshing and lovable.  Having assisted a number of her shorter teacher trainings, let me tell you, “mending the hoop of the people” is a serious, deep, and exhausting undertaking.  Her practice authentically is all about mending, and not so much about marketing and commerce, which may well why YOU have yet to actually be in one of her classes, or one of her teacher’s classes, or attend a teacher training.

Ana’s star is rising, though.  She recently published her first book, Fierce Medicine, which is in its third printing.  Have a peek.  This year will mark the first all-Forrest festival, Wind Horse, held August 17-20 at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado.  I will be there teaching, as will many of the other Guardians.  If some of what I’ve already written has not convinced you of the merit of attending, allow me to appeal to some other factors.

There will be amazing, amazing teachers there!  Every last one of them.  Ana Forrest hand-picked all of these people, each who has very unique and special gifts, some with their hands, some with their sight, some with their ability to intuit and empath deeply.  They might not be names you know (yet), but consider it a chance to discover fresh voices.

It will be one-of-a-kind opportunity to feel and see what Forrest Yoga as it is interpreted and expressed through these very special, funny, sincere, authentic, no-nonsense human beings, my tribe, colleagues, and the people who Forrest Yoga will become.  Think about it.  At Wind Horse, you will be present for the inception of the next stage of development for Forrest Yoga, and important and landmark event in the history of American Yoga itself.

The event schedule was recently published, and there promises to be very special classes that speak to the talents and proclivities of each Guardian there.  I will be teaching one titled “Heart of Darkness—The Shadows and the Light,” a back bending class where we will really take a look at the things you fear most and hold them close.  I will also be teaching a class on “Smart Sequencing for Your Body,” where you will learn about how we put together Forrest Yoga classes, and why, and in which you will begin to write a class for yourself.

It is my deep wish that Wind Horse attracts practitioners from near and far, and generates massive enthusiasm for and excitement about Forrest Yoga.  It is also my sincere hope that as the Forrest Yoga community grows and matures, it can skillfully apply the shadow work in which the practice engages, and therefore sidestep the scandals and heartbreak that so many spiritual communities inevitably endure.  This work I believe must be a group effort, not a “top-down” affair.  Making the work the sole burden of the master teacher is both unfair and unrealistic.  As students in a lineage—ANY lineage—it is our job to study ALL parts of ourselves, and to see how our light casts shadows, and how we project them onto our teachers.  Spiritual evolution is accomplished through “together action” and this necessarily includes our teachers.  So, when your teachers are in your classes, touch them—even if you are scared to, even if you think their practices are so perfect—love them up.  If you see your teacher doing something you consider unethical, respectfully correct.  To allow anything else is to be complicit in wrong action.  We need to “spot” one another; everybody needs a hand getting to the next level.  Teachers are students and students are teachers.  All of us are fallible, human.  Remember this.

See you at Wind Horse.  A-ho!

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