Nowadays, I arrive everywhere early. Just to have a cup of coffee or to read a few pages before the next thing on my schedule. Like now for instance… I still have 40 minutes before my evening class begins and I have already arrived to the coffee shop next to my studio.
Now…How about a piece on this coffee thing?
Friends, students and readers, who recently read, heard or saw that I drink coffee, have been commenting on this, which I find interesting. Some people who read Mavi Orman write and ask me if I am still drinking margaritas and eating chips and salsa. (yes of course I do!)
Aren’t these the “forbidden items”? (says who?) How about not eating after sunset? (how about it?) Aren’t there rules to follow and regulations to apply for a good practice? (are there?)
I gather that there is some confusion in the minds of people who take or want to take yoga seriously into their lives, about the ways of eating and drinking in the yoga world.
When I started practicing yoga in Thailand, I had set rules for myself right away. I always loved setting rules for myself (and for others) anyway, so I embraced the opportunity and the soldier in me celebrated my decision!
By then I already had no zest for alcohol, cigarettes and its contents due to my overconsumption of them in the previous decade. So a ban on these was not a major change for the soldier in me. In the winter before I went to Thailand, my friend Ayşe had suggested that we follow a chicken diet which entails for duration of one month, consumption of nothing else but all kinds of birds, and nothing else. (Well, maybe plus a salad or two).
As you may guess, at the end of that one month, which was supposed make us lose 6 pounds (and didn’t) I lost ability to eat anything with wings on them. My disgust was to such a degree that I still can’t stand the site of the chicken on a plate!
Around the time I started yoga I was getting tired of my Thai-Lao breakfast which was mainly consisted of Larb – a mixture of mint, lemon and a roasted meat of some unknown animal- and sticky rice. Taking a break from being a carnivore sounded like an attractive idea.
So quitting chicken and meat was no challenge and the soldier in me had high aspirations anyway: He deemed appropriate that coffee, soy milk, sugar, salt, fish and seafood should be forbidden.
Thus, began my meals of papaya salad-white rice-green tea for eight months. When I went back to Istanbul on the eight month, the color of my skin had turned almost orange –because of the papaya– and I had no other thought than trespassing my forbidden zone.
Ice-cream, coffee, fish, corn chips, french fries…
It is very well explained in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming) seminars: Whatever we focus on not to do reproduces itself. If a thought is focused on prohibition, the brain continues to produce the thought of the prohibition continuously.
A decade earlier than my papaya-sticky rice diet, my friend Yasemin’s mother had taken us to a dietician. Since we were not backing up from our obsession of losing weight, she thought we had better continued our madness in the supervision of an expert. We were seventeen. We truly believed that if we could live on half a packet of diet crakers and one (yes, in numbers 1) red mullet a day, we could lose our “extra” six pounds.
I remember my shaking hands before every dinner out of hunger-driven nervousness and I drove my mom crazy with my grumpy impatience while she cooked my single mullet. Then on the weekend when Yasemin and I got together, provoking each other easily, we used to break the fast with McChicken meals at the nearest Mc Donalds!
So Mr. Dietician handed us, the seventeen year-olds who were suffering not from any extra pounds but lack of self-confidence, lists of what to be eaten in my day: 3 fruits, 100 grams of meat, two dishes of vegetables, etc. (We did consider once, one whole water melon per person as one of the three fuits!)
And one more thing: An X.
X, he said, could be anything and it could only be consumed once a week. Ice cream, bagel (simit), chocolate, street food, hamburger, french fries, whatever it may be!
X immediately became the only dream of our dear young brains! We were constantly talking about what the X of that week would be, and making special plans for that special day of the week that we would eat the X!
X was the forbidden fruit for us and we were reproducing its idea in our minds over and over.
Isn’t this exactly the story of the forbidden fruit?
Yoga and Ayuverda texts present some suggestions of eating and drinking for a healthy, balanced body, calm and centered mind and a deep yoga practice. This is true. But they also draw our attention to the fact that all these suggestions should be rearranged according to one’s bodily constitution, and that each person should explore the food, which nourishes him in a wholesome way. Certain food that have the potential for agitating the mind, like meat, fish, alcohol, coffee, salt and sugar, may not have the same effect on every body. Some minds on the other hand, could be agitated not because of these food, but because they try to over-control themselves.
I repeat in my writings that yoga is not about control. Discipline –which is different from control- is necessary to acquire the ability to observe with patience what is good for one, what is not. I find that the best way is to monitor myself during the practice every morning. Unless we have the metabolism of a fifteen year-old boy, food we eat at a late hour previous night and its remains would still be occupying our inner organs the next morning.
Yogasana is a practice that deepens as the breath gets slow and long. The more space we have in the navel area the freer the breath gets and stronger the core center of the body. Experiencing such strength and freedom make me want to reduce the amount of food intake at night-time. And of course there are some nights, when going out with friends, eating and drinking is more worthwhile then doing a deep yoga practice in the morning. Then, I don’t’ worry about my inner organs and next days practice too much.
Again, if I feel weak, tired, stiff or reluctant while doing yoga in the morning, I take a look at the previous day’s menu. I do the same thing in the mornings when I feel flexible, strong, full of joy and enthusiasm. Whatever I did in the previous day yielded good results for me. (Bear in mind that along with what we eat and drink, factors like stress, overuse of muscles, sports, staying in the sun for too long, thirst will effect our next day’s yoga as well).
My teacher often tells us that yogic life cannot be led by control and prohibitions or by recipes that may work for others but not for us. He mentions that everyone has different needs when it comes to diet and each one of us should all arrive there slowly by exploring what kind of food suit us the most.
The thought of forbidden fruit is a great pleasure for the obsessive mind. Imposing the ways of eating/living/behaving/making love are all different forms of the same obsessive mental pattern. As discipline and control do not mean the same thing, yoga practice does not evolve with imposition either. Yoga is about exploring one’s true self through the study and understanding of his/her real needs, shadows as well as gifts. The way to go about it, I believe, is possible by staying curious and in love!
Bon appetite, all!
By the way…Yasemin, with whom we dreamed of X’s, studied psychology and holistic nutrition. She is now a successful health and wellness coach. If you would like to explore what suits you the most under her guidance. Here is her address:
Translation: Ebru Salman