Respect Your Digestion, Change Everything

Gracy 415Thank you all for replying to my blog post topic poll last week! It’s fun for me to hear from so many of you on what you’re thinking and feeling. The big winner was--ALL OF THEM! Well, there were a few more votes for topic #3 on Agni and sugar cravings so I am doing that one first. Look for topics #1 (how to disappoint someone with love) and #2 (what to do with your heart full of desire) in the coming weeks. So without further ado, let’s talk about Agni!

Let’s start with Easter dinner a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start by saying that I ate too much during said Easter dinner. It was particularly interesting scene because I ate too much during a 4pm Easter dinner in a Kurdish restaurant in an almost-suburb of Nashville, with my best friend from the Peace Corps seated across from me.

Over the past year we had both lost our parents in a timeline that felt too quick to be fair. The only way we could find to confront the inherent shittiness of certain parts of life was to spend Easter together. Between meals and cruising around and a decent outing on the downtown strip, little bits of conversation would pour forth in the space between us. We talked about the the things we regretted saying to our parents, honest conversations we still really wished for, and all those funny little memories that stick to the insides of your ears and eyelids. They were the kind of conversations that took a pressure-less weekend to unfold and where nothing at all got resolved. It just felt good to say it all out loud to a person who could understand.

During this weekend I was also preparing a presentation on the Ayurvedic concepts of digestion--called Agni in sanskrit--for my continuity program. According to Ayurveda, paying attention to your digestion is the single most important way to take care of your health. This is because in Ayurveda our physical, belly-centered digestion is completely linked to our mental, emotional and spiritual digestions. If we aren’t paying attention to what we are putting in our bellies, it’s probably going to show up as unexplained anxiety or a bad attitude or general stuckness in life.

You may wonder how you can respect your Agni more. Can you handle it if I give you the least sexy advice ever? The secret to great Agni is that you have to eat with awareness. More specifically you have to wait to eat until you are truly hungry, nourish yourself mindfully, and then stop when you are full. Extra bonus points if you can do this on a set schedule, not skip meals, and eat a lot of plants, good fats and healthy proteins.

I know this sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. Every part of that brings up so much fear and resistance in me. I get anxious wondering if I am really hungry (tip--if you aren’t sure then you probably aren’t), think of my to-do list instead of being present while I eat, and then push those last few bites of food into my mouth even though I know I am full.

Which brings us back to Easter. I sat down the meal hungry and ready to be nourished. We split plates of grilled eggplant dip, juicy chicken kabobs and some of the best falafel I’ve had in a while. At a point my body let me know know I was totally full. Sitting with this knowledge, I made the decision to order rosewater saffron ice cream. I love this particular kind of ice cream but there was something deeper than that that made me order it. For me, there’s so much wrapped up in ice cream. It’s what my dad brought me when I was sick, what got served up to us after summertime play in my grandparents pool, what I ate to comfort myself after a hard day at school. For me, food is always way more than food.

I felt good to eat it and so I did. I ate until the bowl was gone and of course regretted it. I went from feeling clear and open to conversation to pretty checked out. There is such a unique fuzzy headspace that come when I numb out with food. It makes me want to crawl under my covers and hide from all that life shittiness. It was what I did when my parents got divorced when I was five and I felt alone and what I did when my college boyfriend and I broke up and my self-esteem plummeted. It’s a familiar pattern and increasingly ineffective. I missed my dad in that moment and the ice cream took the edge off.

My upset stomach and my fuzzy headspace went away eventually. Luckily what has stayed is my respect for my Agni. Looking back at my life, I see that every coherent period of work/life/social balance comes when I am not eating emotionally. It also comes when I am not using alcohol or relationships destructively and when I am journaling and doing yoga and making art and all the other things that make me feel like me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made the decision to stop eating when I am full and skip the dessert at the end of the meal. (I got really into desserts again when my dad passed--no big surprise). Honestly, it hasn’t been that hard. I’m craving a good relationship with my Agni way more than a bowl of ice cream. What has been hard is dealing with the sadness and loneliness that I’ve been tamping down with food. It’s a lot of sadness about my dad and probably a lot of other emotions that go back way longer than that. It’s uncomfortable but since I know how to practice, I practice being with it. I breath and journal and cry and watch it transform. I feel love for all of it and then it returns in another harsh wave and I practice again. I’m not sure if it’s a constant companion but I’m open to that. I feel alive and in touch with a vital pulse within my chest that isn’t there when I eat emotionally. I’ll take it because it feels real and clear.

You know what? I love that eat emotionally. I love it because I don’t think I was strong enough to deal with these feelings until that weekend in Nashville when I was so deeply bolstered by shared experience with my friend. All of those desserts this winter kept my feeling intensity at a level three. This helped me go through the motions of daily life and get through the first part of my grief. It’s so wise and interesting to me that a part of me knew how to do this.

I see compulsive behavior as covering up something deeper and being compulsive is like putting on the emotional breaks until we are strong enough to face that something. I don’t think we should use this as an excuse not to get stronger. We can and should get stronger because that is why we are here. But understanding this about ourselves can stop us from beating up on ourselves when we do eat the bowl of ice cream or drink too much or go back again to that relationship we know isn’t right.

When I was younger, even when I first started teaching yoga, I thought that self-improvement was a straight line. We could progress and build upon our progression and finally get to the top. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen there but it felt appealing. Now I see it all as wildness and shadows. Life doesn’t want a straight line. It wants our deepest emotions to smoulder and rise up in perfect formation so we can’t look away from them. It asks us to choose them. When we choose them then we get to let go for real. Choosing them, letting go isn’t a thought in our head. It’s a place of feeling in our bodies. It’s wrapped in silence down in the hollows. It sings with the truth that there is nothing about ourselves or this whole beautiful shitty world of life and death that isn’t fit for our love. I’ll take that over anything.