An Excerpt from The Yoga of Food by Melissa Grabau, PhD.
Resistance is a powerful deterrent to change, but it can be managed when you have awareness of its energetic pull toward the status quo. We move on to ad- dress the pitfall of chronic tension, the pitfall of difficult moods and impulsive behavior, the use of food to self-medicate, and how these behaviors coalesce to create a problematic identity, which has its own energetic current. We then address the pitfall of hunger and how this almighty force can bring you to your knees if you are not well versed in energy-management skills. Then we move into the solutions offered by yoga. First we discuss how physical movement, particularly yoga, is a magnificent tool to address problematic energy patterns. Bringing more awareness to the energetic feel of your body gives you the power to shift out of tense or chaotic energy states without turning to habitual, unhealthy behaviors, like overeating. The role that breath awareness has in helping you to relate more consciously to your energy is then discussed. Finally, the role of self-discipline and mindful management of your energy is addressed in relation to how yoga can help you integrate more awareness and conscious management of energy into your daily life.
What You Resist Persists:
I first met Brenda about six years ago. She has large eyes whose stare evoke that of a deer in the headlights. She is tall, very pretty, and very thin. She had struggled with food restriction for many years before consulting with me. When she first came in she was very shaken, as in literally shaken, due to suffering a grand mal seizure as a result of electrolyte imbalance caused by food restriction. Brenda can go days without eating and she likes it. “It’s like a high, like you can do something no one else can do. I look at the other mothers in the park and the ones who are thin, I say to myself, ‘I know what you’re doing! I know what your up to!’” Brenda had a rather wild look in her eye when she related this to me, and I could literally feel the pull of her anorexia as she spoke. Her weight was stable at the time, however, and she stopped therapy and I didn’t see her for several years. Then she came back. She had started restricting again, had had another seizure and was scared. “I’m done with it this time,” she declared. “It’s so not worth it.” We worked together until she got pregnant with her second child and then she stopped coming again. I heard from her a few years later after another grand mal seizure nearly killed her. Thankfully, a friend was with her and called the paramedics, who were able to save her life. This time I think she has been scared straight. She is also more open to exploring the severe abuse that shadowed her upbringing in a rigidly religious home. She was beaten by her God-fearing father in measured, brutally self-righteous blows with the paddle that hung over the dinner table. Her mother, who also restricts food, subtly resented and undermined her adolescent daughter’s growing beauty and burgeoning sexuality. “I can beat you at this game” (being thin), Brenda remembered feeling toward the mother who wouldn’t protect her.
If ever anyone illustrates the power of resistance, the drift back to the status quo, it is Brenda. Helping her come to terms with the unspeakable issues beneath the surface of her symptoms has been very important in her healing. But look what it took to get her there! And, I am afraid that this is not unique to Brenda. Especially when you enjoy the payoff of your symptom, say the high from not eating or the comatose daze from binge- ing, it is very hard indeed to give it up. Resistance is held in place by the obstacles to clear seeing identified in yoga as the kleshas. Attraction: “Oh it feels good,” like when you bite into that first piece of pepperoni pizza dripping with cheese. Or conversely when you turn down the pizza and revel in the empty pit in your belly, feeling all-powerful for a moment. Then there is Aversion: “I will not tolerate that!” Like when you are feeling exhausted and hungry and the thought of another carrot makes you want to hurl. Or, if you restrict food, the thought of feeling full after a meal fills you with unspeakable dread. Ego steps in and supports attraction and aversion, announcing, “This is just how I do things, thank you very much.”
This could also sound like, “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible.” Or, “I don’t need to eat like other people do.” And of course there is Fear, who says, “God, no, I can’t handle that!” This strong feeling might be called up by fearing others will see you as incompetent if you can’t keep up in a yoga class. Or fear of living without your habitual comforts, “What else is there?” But most of all, we fear what lurks behind the symptom—the untold abuses, shames, and regrets that many of us harbor just beneath what is visible. The only way to loosen these knots formed by the kleshas is by facing the fears and feeling into the aversions. This means identifying what you are avoiding and accepting its presence in your life. If you dread the starkness of life without the comfort of food, you must feel into this by stepping away from the habitual use of food to fill space. You face your aversion to loneliness, which opens a new possibility. You have reached behind your symptoms and done something different and that is outside of your habitual pattern. A pithy slogan from Overeaters Anonymous tells us, “If you want to find out why you’re eating, stop eating.” And of course, for Brenda, it is the inverse, “If you want to find out why you’re not eating, start eating.” We must go to that uncomfortable place beyond our habitual pattern in order to feel into what we are avoiding. Yes, you will resist the change, but you can harness the power of your intention, feel the resistance, and make a change in spite of it.
Familiarize Yourself With Your Pattern of Resistance:
I know that I am not alone in resisting my yoga and meditation practice. I was tickled one day when an excellent yoga teacher at my neighborhood studio announced during the beginning sequence, “Everyone in here is resisting, including me.” This made my own pattern of resistance more conscious for me, as well as transforming it into a shared experience. I have learned that it is not particularly helpful to ask “Why?” or even “What?” you are resisting. Instead, just feel it, make it conscious, and get interested in the energy of your resistance. For me it is an inner contraction, a pull- ing away that is best phrased as, “But I don’t-wanna!” or “I’m scared.” Of what? Of whatever. Of being too tired, feeling too much, showing up, being seen, engaging. I have learned that the “I don’t-wannas” and the fear dependably recede and often transfigure into a “Bring it on!” mode toward the end of a practice. The arc of this cycle has become familiar and predictable for me and is applicable to other endeavors in my life, including writing this. It is the great “secret” of action, and we all “know” this on some level. You know that once you start something it’s really not so bad. This includes your taxes, cleaning your closet, and your yoga practice.
Your resistance will show itself in various ways, such as:
“I don’t have the time.” “I’m not very good at it.” “It’s boring.” “I don’t have the time.” “I don’t wanna.” “My favorite TV show is on.” “I’ve had a bad day.” “I don’t have the time.” “I’m giving myself a break today.”
Yoga and meditation provide an opportunity to get to know your patterns of resistance and self-sabotage. If in the past you have taken on a new venture with enthusiasm and vigor, only to have it peter out within a few days or weeks, consider this an opportunity to re-experience this pattern with more awareness and a different outcome. We tend to repeat patterns throughout our lives (remember samskaras?). As you become more familiar you become with your pattern of resistance, you become better equipped to ignore it—to wink and smile as you notice your self- sabotaging, defeatist kvetching and carry on with your larger intentions for yourself regardless.
It is important to get really familiar with the pattern and energy of your resistance. Visualize your retraction of Self, the inward pull of your body into self-protection mode. For me, the “I don’t-wannas” mentioned above are coupled with a physical experience of withholding energy right before I go into the yoga room. It is hard to describe, but I feel it as a wash of fatigue coupled with a dollop of fear and a sprinkle of doubt. If I had to visualize myself, I would be collapsing inward in order to protect my energy. As an interesting aside, when it’s an afternoon yoga class, I notice that my ankles are often a bit swollen before class and then less so afterward. So, my resistance is both physical and emotional. By getting to know this pattern, it need not be threatening or “bad,” but rather a matter of fact. With aware- ness, you can counter your resistance by gently coaxing yourself toward the unknown. And over time, the unknown becomes more familiar, and you remind yourself that you know that you will feel better after you practice. It becomes known terrain that you trust yourself to navigate.
Melissa Grabau, PhD, (Roseville, CA) received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Duquesne University in 1998. She became licensed as a psychologist in California in 2001 and has been in private practice since 2003. More recently, she has broadened her existential/humanistic background in psychology to incorporate her long-standing interest in yoga and Eastern psychology. She is a certified yoga teacher and currently integrates mind-body techniques in her work with clients.
Excerpt from The Yoga of Food reprinted with permission of Llewellyn Worldwide. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2014. All rights reserved.