More on the Appetite: A Healthy Soul

More on the Appetite: A Healthy Soul

In a previous post I brought up the appetite, and I ended thinking that much more should be said. Well, really, much more has been said already, and not by me, but by really smart philosophers. So I am going to say again what other smarter people have already said. Because it’s important. Because before you can start changing your life/habits/waistline/health, you have to understand what you are. If you fail to observe and understand yourself, you will medicate your symptoms, but never change the root of the issue.

I am going to expand on what I mentioned about the soul in my other post. Plato wrote a dialogue called the Republic that asks the question, “What is Justice?” Yes this is a yoga blog, and yes I am talking about justice. It’s relevant, I promise. In the dialogue, characters discuss a just city and a just person; if we can understand justice on a large scale in a city, then that will help us understand justice in an individual. If you want to know what Plato writes about the city, go read it yourself; I am going to focus on the just soul. What makes a person just? Like I mentioned in my previous post, there are three main parts to the soul according to Plato’s dialogue: the appetitive, the will/heart, and the mind/spirit.

The appetitive part of the soul keeps us grounded in our physical needs. Just like any animal, we have to eat, protect ourselves from weather and predators, and reproduce. Our appetite is our desire for these basic animal needs. Our appetite for these things is good and necessary. But the thing is, we are not just any animal. Our soul is different. We have two more parts that the animals do not have.

The will or the heart sets us apart. It is this part of the soul that contains human emotion that moves us to act. We don’t just act out of basic needs like the animals do we? You can see this in yourself. We act and make choices because we love, because we hate, because something moves us with its beauty or goodness, or because we want to achieve something great and meaningful.

The third part of the soul is the mind or spirit. In Plato’s dialogue, the mind is not just the brain and firing synapses, the mind is spiritual. It reaches into the unseen realm of logic and God. We think, consider ideas, make judgements, we ask questions about existence, we can comprehend invisible things such as mathematics, we reason, discern truth and error, create metaphysics, and ponder the divine. The mind is our most elevated part, the most godlike part of our soul that is least tied to outward earthly things.

Now that we have the anatomy of the soul in mind, back to the question: what is Justice? Justice is a rightly ordered soul. A just person has all three parts of the soul working together in an orderly way. The mind is on top, ruling the other two. The heart moves us to action according to what the mind has ruled. The appetite desires its due needs in accordance with what the mind and heart have ruled. If the three parts are working together ruled by the mind, you have a just person who acts with wisdom, virtue and moderation.

Not many of us have the parts of our soul ordered rightly. Examine yourself and you will see. I am sure you have been or have met a person who seems to have only one of the three parts. In our culture the appetite usually takes front and center. We spend our lives wanting more and more material stuff, food, and sex, manipulated by advertising that perpetuates the feeling of need, need, need. We reach out our hands in every direction, grabbing for as much as possible as fast as possible. We become manipulative or violent so our appetite can be satisfied. We think we have to have it, whatever it is, because our appetite is ruling.

The appetitive life backfires on us. It’s not good for us to live like that. We all know it, our doctors tell us, religion tells us, our favorite health blogs tells us. Yet somehow we just can’t stop, we can’t control ourselves.

If you are looking to live a healthier life, start by learning how to live a just life. Cultivate your godlike reasoning mind, and your courageous sensitive heart. Explore and exercise those parts of your soul, and maybe your mind and will could become strong enough to control your appetite. A healthy soul lives a healthy life.

I promised earlier that this concept of the soul relates to yoga. Here’s how: the practice of yoga can be a tool for self reflection. Just like you look in a mirror and it shows you the truth of what you look like, we need to look in a mirror that tells us the truth of who we are. Yoga practice can be that mirror. Your time on the mat can reveal the order or disorder of your soul. It’s not just an exercise for the body, but an exercise for your mind and will too. During your yoga practice, pay attention to the thoughts, feelings and desires that go through your mind. As you are holding warrior two for what seems like forever, what does that challenge make you feel? Does your appetite cry out, “that’s enough, time for a rest and some pizza?” If it does, keep going anyway. Yoga class is the time to practice yoking the appetite into it’s proper place. Yoga class can strengthen your mind and your heart, if you pay attention. Build inner strength on the mat, and you can bring it to the rest of your life as well. As you practice, you may discover that getting your soul lined up justly is a daunting task; it may slip out of order every few seconds no matter how hard you try. The balance of the soul is more precarious than Downward Facing Tree pose (handstand), so the goal isn’t perfection, just insight and self-knowledge, and maybe the strength to cut back on pizza.

More on the goal of yoga here.

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The Meaning of Yoga: You are Not Alone on Your Mat

The word “yoga” comes from a sanskrit word meaning to yoke, bind, or find union. In my group classes I focus primarily on union of body and mind. Practicing yoga strengthens you, challenges your mental endurance, and improves your mind-body connection for better body awareness and coordination. Greater unity of mind and body is definitely a worthy reason to practice yoga, but there is also more to the meaning of the word. In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar writes, “It also means union, or communion. It is the true union of our will with the will of God.” It’s not just a workout.

Yoga sometimes appears as a path to find spirituality or God; some people think of it as a set of guidelines and disciplines to follow in order to achieve oneness with God or enlightenment.

But that isn’t true.

No amount of meditation will bring you to God. No amount of asanas will bring you to God. Following the yamas and niyamas perfectly will not bring you to God.

Why? Because God is already here.

My yoga practice is a physical expression of a union that is already deeply true. It’s not that I must devote myself to yoga practice & virtuous living with the hopes of finding union with God. Union with God has found me. How did that happen? Jesus. The Jesus written about in the Bible. The embodied God who came to us, died for us, and rose from the dead. Jesus is called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” We don’t have to find a way to God. God came to us. My yoga practice is embodied worship in response to the reality that I have union with God through Jesus Christ. Yoga practice deepens my experience of my true state of being.

In other words, yoga keeps me from living lies.

Yoga cuts through the lie that I’m an autonomous individual ticking off the days til death competing for survival and success. There’s more to life than Darwinism. There are things more certain than death and taxes. Jesus rose from the dead and there’s no tax in his Kingdom. It sounds like a fairy tale, and it is. And it’s also true. God’s universe is more like a fairy tale than an essay on natural selection.

Yoga practice also dispels another lie, one I already mentioned: the lie that if only I am good enough I will find union with God. Every time I come to the mat, what do I face? Imperfection. Imbalance. Laziness. Lack of focus. Weakness. Pain. Mortality. Enlightenment? Ha! Enlightenment seems a long way off when you are toppling out of dancer’s pose and slinging your sweat on your neighbor. I’m reminded by experience not to think too highly of myself. Every day, I’m reminded that I’m no powerful divine goddess blessing the universe with my existence. And that’s okay! That would be a lot of pressure anyway. If I had to follow some code, achieve perfection, or master mindfulness to get to God, it would never happen. I practice yoga out of thankfulness that it doesn’t work that way. Unity with God is a relationship, not an achievement.

Some come to yoga for just a workout, and like it that way. That’s perfectly fine. It is a workout, but there’s more, if you look for it. I don’t always talk about the spiritual when I teach yoga, but I’m always operating within a universe where God is present. When you come honestly to the mat, and pay attention to truth of your being and body in the moment, you may find that God is right there too.

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More than Appetite: In Line for the Hunger Games

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I originally wrote this post after the first Hunger Games movie, but since Catching Fire is still fresh in my mind, I came back to this and decided to share it here on my new blog. When the first Hunger Games movie came out I was visiting my friend Elizabeth in San Francisco and we went to see it together. Elizabeth is  the kind of friend who will dig with you into every question of life and the universe while you are waiting in line for tickets. Appropriately, while in line for the Hunger Games, we ended up discussing the Appetite. We delved into health, diet, vegetarians, vegans, yelp, and how you end up eating what you eat, and what makes you desire what you desire. Instead of writing up some thoughts in a linear point by point fashion, I give you the spirit of the dialogue between me (Lindsay) and my friend Elizabeth. I confess that it’s not actually about the Hunger Games; it’s about human Hunger.

Elizabeth: I was sick as hell puking for days because I listened to Yelp. Yelp is like a religion to guide  your life by in SF. Everybody’s into it. Everybody on Yelp told me I should eat at this place. It just goes to show that what is good for other people may not be good for you. You should follow what your gut tells you to eat, not what Yelp says you should eat. I am deleting my profile.

Lindsay: The only time I’ve used Yelp was when I was managing a business’ page at a former job. I mostly go to restaurants because I hear of good vegan ones from other vegan friends.

Elizabeth: I keep wondering if I will end up vegan. I have been vegetarian for a while just because not eating meat feels good for my body. I just love the way I feel. I keep wanting more and more fresh vegetables and fruits.

Lindsay: I became vegan over a process that lasted a few months. My appetite slowly changed. First I was vegetarian for about a year, then I started slowly phasing dairy products out. Oh yeah, that was after that one experimental vegan month which I called F— the Food Industry February. I tried veganism for a month, then went back to eating some dairy. Then I slowly removed dairy products out of my daily habits over the course of a few months. During that time I kept learning more and more about the abusive, exploitative, and insanitary practices of the current factory farm industry, and I lost my appetite for animal products. I can’t support that stuff with my grocery money. And I couldn’t take in that kind of poison once I knew.

Elizabeth: I am afraid of becoming vegan, because I might not be able to go back if I need to, like if I live in a different country with different food culture. I don’t want to lose my ability to digest lactose. But I just don’t find myself having an appetite for milk. It just doesn’t taste good. I know I feel better without it. Maybe I will just follow my gut eventually though.

Lindsay: For me it wasn’t just about what felt good, or what my appetite drove me toward. It was the fact that animals and people and the earth are being exploited. My appetite followed the conviction. I couldn’t choose what I knew was bad.

Elizabeth: The external- someone telling me that this is bad- is never very compelling to actually make me change. For me it has to be more internal. If we change our souls and our appetites, the external abuses in the world I think will also be changed.

Lindsay: That seems true, but I think its good to learn the truth of what is going in the food industry, at the same time that your own desires are changing for the good internally.

Elizabeth: I just want the good. Lindsay, I’m convicted now. I can’t just be driven by my appetite, even if my appetite happens to reach for the good at the moment. It might change, and then I might be driven by my appetite to what’s not good. A slave to the appetite. It has to be a choice, doesn’t it? I know what is good. I want the power to choose it. Not because my appetite drives me to it, but just because it is good.

Lindsay: Yeah, you don’t want to have the Raging Beast within, like Plato talks about in the Republic. Humans are more than just appetite. We have three parts to our soul: mind, heart, appetite. The appetite should be ruled by our heart and our mind. If the appetite rules instead we become the raging beast. Or, for another way to look at it, it’s like the 7 Chakra system. If you are ruled by the solar plexus chakra, you become a selfish violent person who uses power to get their base needs and sexual desires. If the chakras corresponding to the heart, voice, mind and spiritual union are lined up, you will be guided by love or spirituality or something instead of driven by food/sex/power lust.

Elizabeth: Yes, I don’t want to eat salad just because my appetite is naturally inclined to salad right now. I want to see the salad, know it is good, and choose it. And enjoy it. Because that’s what’s awesome: what is good, feels good and tastes good. If anyone ate healthy like I have been for a month, they wouldn’t want to go back to the Standard American Diet. The appetite will eventually be in alignment with the choice of the mind and will for the good.

Lindsay: Let’s write a dieting book on controlling the appetite, Elizabeth. We can call it, The Hunger Games Within.

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What Does “Fitness” Mean?

I teach fitness classes. I think fitness is awesome. As an active participant in the fitness world I hear a lot of phrases like this: get in shape, pump some iron, work on our core, build lean muscle, and get a healthy BMI, and get fit. When you are in the fitness industry you find yourself using so many of these phrases that they start sounding regrettably cliche.

Let’s think about the word “fitness” for a minute, and see if we can understand what’s behind the cliche. What does fitness mean? The word “fit” is in there with a suffix tagged on the end. When I google the word “fit” here is the first definition, “Adj. – Of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose: ‘the meat is fit for human consumption’.” As a vegan, I would contest the part about the meat, but the rest sounds pretty good: of suitable quality, meeting a standard or required purpose. Now lets look at the synonyms: “suitable, proper, apt, appropriate, fitting, right.” So in the world of gyms and health clubs, we apply this to our bodies. We want our bodies to be of a suitable quality,  to meet a required purpose. We want our bodies to have a “proper” appearance, “apt” at physical activities, with “appropriate” amounts of body fat and muscle, “fitting” into our clothes.

The question is, how do we define what is suitable for our bodies? And even more important, what is the “required purpose” of our bodies? When it comes to your personal fitness, don’t let a media myth of beauty or physical perfection tell you how to answer these questions. Don’t even let a personal trainer tell you how to answer these questions. Let the answer come out of who you are and what is fitting and suitable for you. Discover for yourself the purpose of being fit.

The word fitness also has to do with the relationship between things, and whether they are harmoniously arranged. Try asking, “Where does my body fit?” not just, “Is my body fit?” Here’s my answer: I fit in a yoga class, Feeling the energy of a steaming room of yogis while devoting myself to the discovery of new self-knowledge as I experiment with each pose. I fit in running shoes on a good long trail run, enjoying nature and fresh air. I fit in a community, using my physical health and energy to focus on bringing good by volunteering or educating others about health, or simply being a friend. These are some of the suitable, proper, right and fitting purposes of my body.

Your answer might be similar, or it  might be completely different. If you don’t know the purpose of fitness for your body, I encourage you to search yourself before you start your next “fitness” plan.

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You Need Yoga

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Really, everyone needs yoga. And also, everyone can do yoga. That’s the beauty of it. It’s accessible to someone in a wheelchair, and it’s challenging for the most elite athlete. If you are somewhere in between, and you just want to stay healthy, mobile, and feel good, then yoga is seriously the best thing you can do for yourself, and the only fitness plan you need. Now is the time to give it a try.

If you live in Bartlesville, come visit my classes listed on my calendar, or contact me for private lessons.

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