Our enemies are our greatest teachers. One of my greatest struggles as a growing yoga tree and young American women is my relationship with food. Iyengar says that:
‘Food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life. It should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing.” He goes on to say, “Character is moulded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it. Men are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather then eat to live. If we eat for flavours of the tongue, we over eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throw our systems out of gear. The yogi believes in harmony, so he eats for the sake of sustance only. He does not eat too much or too little. He looks upon his body as the rest house of his spirit and guards himself against over-indulgence.”
Hmmmmm. That’s all great and I get it. Also, I have a long way to go. Why? I love food. I LOVE Italian food. I decided to take this opportunity to try and find balance around my favorite thing about Italy…food. My greatest teacher.
Stereotypically, Italians eat pizza, cheese, bread, pepperoni, pasta, and ice cream. Stereotypically they like to drink, espresso, cappuccinos, and red wine. It is a fact that while in Italy, walking down the streets of both large cities and small hill towns alike, you are likely to pass bars with wines and coffee, pizza parlors, cafes serving pastas and cured meats, and panini shops. It’s my belief that stereotypes generally exist for a reason, and in Italy, they eat what you’d imagine. Of course it’s all amazing. Am I right? As a practicing yogi finding myself surrounded by such treats provided me with a great opportunity to practice two important yogic principles. Santosa, and Brahmacarya. Santosa, a niyama, meaning the cultivation of contentment and joy and then Brahmacarya, a yama, meaning basic moderation around things we may over indulge in, sex, food, wine… To each his own. What do I like to overindulge in? As a recovering Kapha, my primary dosha imbalance, food. What kind of food? All that is Italian food, so clearly being in Italy was a great opportunity for me to practice balance. Although eating cheese, meat, pasta, bread and ice cream is widely accepted in many places the world over, they are all pretty much poisons for the body. I love to eat. However I love my yoga practice and my health conscious spirit more. Therefore I constantly needed to practice both Santosa, and Brahmacarya. So how did this yogi handle the pasta rich environment? I ate the pizza. I ate the pasta and cheese and even the ice cream. I enjoyed the espresso and the chocolate croissant. And how do I feel now that I am on the plane heading out of Italy and into Germany? Excellent. Here are the simple ways I incorporated these 2 yogic principles in my life while in the land of wine and cheese….
1) Meditation and Prayer: Every morning I try to make my first (second or third;)) thought in my mind a prayer to my higher power asking for help through out the day to be the best yogi I can be. I tune into my inner self and ask to be light hearted through out the day and to enjoy the present moment. This was often a tough feat as some days it was 41 degrees Celsius while walking around stone monuments…with a large group of people with different speeds and opinions… Needless to say it was not always easy and I didn’t practice perfectly…But I enjoyed it very much soaking in every minuet and trying not to take any experience for granted. This is yoga to me.
From my morning prayers I went to breakfast.
2) Breakfast: mmmmmm, breakfast buffets in Italy, what a joke. Meats, cheese, rolls, cakes, more cheese and meats, fruit, small tomatoes, yogurt, eggs, cereals… An endless supply of deliciousness. In practicing Brahmacarya or moderation to start the day, I’d load up on the small tomatoes, some scrambled eggs, perhaps even a slice of cheese, fruit…the good stuff. I saved my carb count for later although once or twice I even had the breakfast of champions, the chocolate croissant and coffee, mostly in France when this was the only choice. By avoiding the heavy options at the buffet I felt energetic and ready to head out for the day.
3) I only drank water. Sparkling preferably, soooo yummy. Soft drinks, alcohol… Nada. This is one area I’m pretty well disciplined with and I feel really good for it. Also, Italy is filled with water fountains pumping fresh clean water out incessantly. I took advantage of this. Of course I’m still a coffee nut, something I know I will have to kick my habit eventually, but not yet. By avoiding the empty sugars in juices, soft drinks, and booze I have lots of room for water helping me stay hydrated and feeling clear the whole day. Good girl 🙂
4) I ate the pizza, pasta, and cheese, whatever… When we were sitting down at a nice place, watching the world go by in cute ally ways, I really practiced Santosa, or contentment… And ENJOYED it. What is life with out a little indulgence? I’d like to think life is about being happy, joyous and free, in circumstances like this, and many others… I say go ahead and enjoy… It’s paradoxically important to practice Brahmacarya around all of the luxurious options available. Moderation. I didn’t eat the WHOLE pizza, or the entire plate of pasta… Or heaven forbid even the whole bowl of lemon gelato (which I was obsessed with) I avoided feeling guilty because I didn’t finish it all. I order the small, savor it and tadaa, offer it to the honey and then in the trash it goes. I’m not about to ruin a night of good sleep on an intense sugar high… But I’m not about to say no to a gelato either.
5) Asana (physical yoga practice) and hip circles. Yes I practiced my asana… No I wasn’t a nut about it, and this is another good yogic lesson for me. I got on my mat and got into my body. While in many tourist attractions I’d settle into what felt right to me. A warrior here, a triangle here, tree here…To any of the students I’ve had before they know I’m crazy about… Hip circles. Passed onto me from the great Pet Clifford… I do them so much it may be considered an awkward habit. It makes people I’m with feel uncomfortable when we are waiting in line and I’m revolving my hips around in large dramatic circles, really getting into the joints. Feels so good. Or how about after a long walk around the city? I’m not shy about getting into some asana on the sidewalk… My body feels it needs it!
To summarize: 1) I prayed, 2) I had a good healthy breakfast, 3) I only drank water (and the occasional coffee), 4) I ate it all and enjoyed it (Santosa) and I also tried to practice moderation (Brahmacarya) and lastly 5) I wasn’t shy about my asana in public.
In all honestly my weakest area was my asana. Did I play yoga? Yes. Every day consistently on the mat? No. I can hardly count a few warriors in the Coliseum a complete practice, (even though it was awesome). An eventual goal for me, to make the morning asana a part of my daily prayers…no matter what. I’ve been there before and I seem to move in waves. My time in Italy was a weak one on the asana front. That being said… I’m not going to be too harsh on myself. I mean hey… I tried, I had the time of my life, I feel healthy and grateful beyond measure for it all. Nothing wrong with that 🙂 Additionally, we are getting ready for a huge yoga trip to India. 10 weeks of solid yoga zone. Perhaps my subconscious wanted to relax a bit in preparation. Now we are in Germany for a week of friends, family, and more practice. I’ll try to enjoy every moment and continue to practice Santosa and Brahmacarya…