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Lesson 309 - Yoga, Overcoming Hunger, and Weight Control  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
309.1 - Obesity and Yoga

From: Yogani
Date: Feb 23, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

While it is true that healthy eating is an important factor in creating and supporting good health, in yoga we regard diet to be an intermediary step between who we are (pure bliss consciousness) and how we are manifesting our inner essence physically on this earth. By going beyond diet with yoga practices, we will find our essential motivation for becoming all that we can be in this life. 

Interestingly, we will often come to this spiritual realization when faced with the hard facts of our physical existence our health and our mortality. It is these factors that drive us toward that mystical something more that we are all seeking in life. For many of us, the spiritual quest begins and continues with a quest for physical health. We have to start somewhere, and it is the obvious place to take a stand. However, diet is not where our quest for health and happiness should end. If it does, we have missed something important, not the least of which is the primary motivation for healthy living, which has its genesis within us, not outside us.

However we have come to consider diet, our actions will reflect our own style. Our choices will incorporate whatever information we have encountered in the vast marketplace of diet systems, our personal preferences, the influence of our role models, and even our sense of morality about what we eat.

Our ancient ancestors ate what was available in whatever location they happened to be living, with little control over the outcome. If the soil was good and the weather suitable, combined with good accumulated agriculture skills, then the people thrived. On the other hand, if conditions were poor, the society fared accordingly. The birth and rise of human civilization (including all technology) can be traced back to the fertile locations on the earth. 

Nowadays, the challenge of diet and nutrition has been turned completely on its head. In many parts of the world, it is choice that determines what we eat, more than the dictates of a limited selection. This is not true everywhere, of course, but for most who may be reading here, dietary choice is the ruling part of the equation. Rather than being dependent on the elements, most of us are dependent on our ability to choose wisely and eat in moderation. If we don't do either, we will be prone to suffer ailments that can rival the problem of not having enough food of any kind!

In western societies there is a huge focus on body weight, for both vanity and health reasons. It is well known that excess body weight is related to a litany of health issues, and can substantially shorten our life, by decades in some cases. This is not to pass judgment on body weight, or even on what a persons body weight is supposed to be. The length of life is not the primary measure of happiness. Happiness is always in the now, and not much related to a persons body weight. Yet, longevity is related to body weight, so if we are seeking longevity, along with our happiness, some attention to diet will be appropriate.

There are many approaches to weight loss. In all cases, the formula is to eat less on a regular daily basis. In fact, the simplest diet one could imagine can be summed up as, consistently eat less

There are a thousand strategies for doing this, ranging from fasting to eating large quantities of low calorie foods. And in recent years, strategies have emerged involving eating less of foods that stimulate the body to store fat, and more of foods that do not stimulate the body to store fat the so-called low carbohydrate, high protein and fat diets. This is in contrast to the lower fat, higher carbohydrate diets that have been in favor over the past few decades. 

Whether one is from the low carbohydrate camp or from the low fat camp, one underlying truth prevails fresh fruits, vegetables, foods with good fiber content, and adequate water consumption will be important parts of any diet. This has been demonstrated time and time again, whether we are considering diet from the standpoint of weight loss or improving health. It is also true that processed foods that artificially increase carbohydrate and/or fat content and include chemical additives will not necessarily be a positive component of any diet.

But what of the low carbohydrate versus low fat debate?

There is nothing to debate, really, because both are right as long as they are taken in moderation. Too much carbohydrate (sugars and starches) in the diet is not healthy. Too much fat (animal or vegetable) in the diet is not healthy either, particularly saturated fat. By the same token, a zero carbohydrate diet is extremely unhealthy, just as a zero fat diet is extremely unhealthy.

The benefits of both can be gained by eating both natural carbohydrates and fats in moderation. 

In fact, the issue of weight loss is taken care of automatically if one moves toward a balanced diet including a variety of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of carbohydrates (mostly from fruits, vegetables and whole grains), and modest amounts of protein and fats, along with adequate water consumption and foods with good fiber content. Moderate use of nuts, herbs and spices can add significant nutritional value as well. 

Losing weight is about eating less on a regular basis. That means at all our regular meal times, not only now and then, or on a reverse binge basis. Drastic reductions in food intake, or an obsession with not eating (anorexia) can be as unhealthy as eating too much all the time. Balance is the key. 

Good eating habits cannot be regimented from outside. No diet system will work long term if the call is not coming from within on an ongoing basis. This is why daily deep meditation may be the single best diet measure anyone can undertake. As inner silence comes up, our conduct automatically shifts to more healthful balanced living, which is a natural component of yoga. 

Along the path of yoga, we will learn to overcome the sensation of "hunger." In the context of this discussion, hunger does not mean what is experienced by those who are living in poverty and do not have enough to eat far too many people around the world. The solution for that kind of hunger is to provide food, plus the means to eliminate poverty and the ill that it breeds.

Most who are reading here will not be suffering from real hunger. Rather, what we call hunger in modern society is a conditioned response in the body to a reduction in food consumption from what we have been accustomed to. Chances are, what we have been accustomed to eating is more than is necessary to nourish the body and maintain good health, sometimes giving us the opposite effect instead declining health. Behind excessive food intake are the hunger pangs that can come upon us a few hours, or even a few minutes, after we have eaten a meal.

What is this hunger that drives us to excessive eating, and how do we overcome it?

While there is some evidence that genetics are involved in overeating and obesity, such cases represent a small minority. Much of the rest of society has simply slipped into the habit of unhealthy eating. The food industry, ever mindful of its bottom line, hasnt been helpful in this regard, heavily promoting foods that are ever more pleasing to the palate, and chemically addictive besides. These are the foods loaded with processed carbohydrates, sugars and fats. These are the very foods that can leave us feeling a deficit, and hungry soon after consuming them, even if we are bloated. The effects of these foods on the digestive processes and blood sugar produce a roller coaster in our neurobiology, plus strong tendencies toward weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many other ailments.

Yet, the hunger pangs keep us coming back to these foods, which are readily available on practically every street corner. It is most risky for those whose career or lifestyle require eating out in restaurants often.

Regardless of the culture we live in, what we have been eating, and where we are eating, we do have the last word on what goes into our body. It is our choice. If we understand that what we are dealing with is our own habit, then we will also know that the habit can be changed, reprogrammed for better health and spiritual growth.

The call must come from within. There is no one who can reprogram our conduct the way our own inner wisdom can. This is why deep meditation and other spiritual practices form the first line of strategy. As we purify and open the inner neurobiology, the desire and will to engage in healthier eating habits will be there. As we cultivate more inner silence, we will be able to see our so-called hunger for what it is a biochemical reflex. We will be able to experience it with less compulsion to act upon it. In time, we will come to know that our hunger is actually a call for purification. As we allow ourselves to be with it without acting, we will come to know that behind this hunger is great power for purification. As we continue to allow it without acting, we can feel our inner energies shifting away from the habitual anticipation of digestion and blood chemistry imbalance toward the much broader agenda of inner purification. Hunger then becomes a positive symptom of inner purification, and we can enjoy it, because we know it is regenerative.

When we do eat, we will be inspired to shift toward more balance in our diet, and away from processed foods that artificially stimulate the hunger habit. 

All of this comes from cultivating more inner silence in deep meditation. Additional help can be found for overcoming hunger with samyama, a practice that enables us to move our inner silence for particular effects. Also, as inner silence continues to rise, we may be inspired to explore fasting (the next lesson) and other methods that can enhance our health and spiritual progress.

Whatever our eating habits have been in the past, we do have the power within us to change them. As we find our center in stillness we will come to know that our hunger is only a habit, a reflex, and that we can utilize it as a stimulus for purification and opening leading ultimately to a dramatic reduction of its hold over us. 

Overcoming hunger is one aspect of our journey of inner discovery, leading to better health and increasing happiness in all aspects of life.

Click here for more lesson content covering yogic methods for weight control.

The guru is in you.

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Note: For detailed discussion on yogic diet, see the Diet, Shatkarmas and Amaroli book, and AYP Plus.

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