What (and where) Is Moderation?
In order to lead a reasonably happy, healthful and productive life you need to practice a certain amount of moderation. We all know when we don’t have it. Just what is moderation, and how can you be moderate in our anything-but-moderate world? Moderation seems both out of style – sort of quaint – and our lack of it the reason for so much that ails so many.
Many of us can reel off the basics of a moderate lifestyle: generally sticking to a way of eating rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, things like maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding too much sugar and salt, and working with a nutrition professional if your medical condition necessitates lifestyle change.
Physical activity is another anchor of a moderate lifestyle. National fitness organizations recommend we get at least 30 minutes of moderate (there’s that word again) activity on most if not all days of the week. Yet most Americans are not moving this much.
Definitions and examples of a moderate lifestyle are clear and widely available, but the majority of Americans can’t seem to incorporate it into our daily lives. Cultural norms present moderation as passive, a little boring, and even undesirable, as Oscar Wilde’s famously observes: “Moderation is a fatal thing” and “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Something one of my agents said, a gal who works with big writers, haunts me to this day. She said not to say that word – moderation. No one wants to talk about that, she insisted. We’re not working together anymore, though she’s an amazing agent, but I am so very clear that I’ll gladly leave some worldly success on the table to insist that we need to relax, mellow out and cultivate the middle path between too much and too little.
Yogic Moderation: Standing in the Fire
Yoga’s philosophical framework of the yamas and niyamas richly and clearly describe the mental framework of a moderate approach to lifestyle. While national health recommendations provide general outlines as to what a moderate lifestyle is, the actual how-to is much harder to find. Yoga gets into the nitty-gritty.
In yoga, moderation is not a passive state easily achieved.
The moderate yoga practitioner is a spiritual warrior constantly challenged by his or her own attachments (things he or she is drawn to, appetites) and aversions (things he or she pushes away from, dislikes). If the practitioner can begin to attenuate his or her appetites and dislikes through following the yamas and niyamas, and direct his or her passion (tapas) toward self-study(svadhyaya) or self-care, a more moderate lifestyle may be achieved, and his or her spiritual journey will proceed unencumbered. This cognitive restructuring, the re-weaving of your thinking process, is a difficult undertaking. In yoga it is sometimes referred to as “standing in the fire” between the two poles of attachment and aversion. Or, standing in the middle ground between too much and too little.
Modern yoga culture itself, unfortunately, is not immune to duplicity. With the tremendous gain in popularity of the practice and resultant explosion of commercial yoga endeavors, there is a booming yoga media culture that implies that if you purchase certain yoga products you will easily find unending bliss, happiness, and a perfect yoga butt.
In these image-pitches there is no hint of the hours of sadhana (practice) or the years of self-development necessary for the average practitioner to reach the states of bliss and physical perfection being peddled. This body-ism of getting overly attached to our physical appearance is prevalent in the yoga world (and is one reason we are seeing a jump in eating disorders in some yoga communities), but it is simply another distraction blocking your path to becoming a fully aware human. Look for teachers and practices that focus more on feeling great in the body you have right now, as opposed to practices and teachers encouraging you to aim for something you are not.
Enjoy your fit (or imperfectly fit) body, your vibrant (or somewhat less than vibrant) energy, but remember not to take it too seriously. The journey is the practice, and there is no goal or destination other than being in the present moment in practice and in life.
I’m hearing more about lifestyle medicine these days (thank goodness!), including another movie “What the Health” on the problems of “big health” (pharma-central health care and advocacy, processed food and other areas where $ over-rides health). Like life itself, it’s more complicated than good guys and bad guys. I love health advocacy groups, and taking funds from big pharma, is well, OK – so long as it funds lifestyle – and while pharma is often used when lifestyle ought to be the first line of treatment, drugs do save lives (with side effects). It’s just not black & white.
The American lifestyle – including:
- An over-processed, nutritionally devoid, inhumanly raised food supply,
- More sedentary lives,
- And inadequate ways of handling stress (we love us some comfort food & screen time).
All add up to bodies more likely to express the chronic disease tendencies in our family histories. We have so much room for improvement!
In the post-truth age, I am going to do my best to tell you my whole truth on this.
It’s hard to live well today.
It’s nearly impossible to eat well all the time. That’s OK, because you do not have to be perfect. If however you have biomarkers of disease (like high fasting blood sugar and A1c, lipid labs suggestive of cardiovascular disease) or symptoms (achy joints, weight gain, skin issues) that something is out of balance, you’ve gotta give it a try. You’ve just gotta keep trying. I love to eat and sometimes overeat (my 55 year-old metabolism is slowing down down down despite exercise, and that’s probably a good thing in the long run) so managing my weight is a constant companion. So, I practice.
It’s hard to get adequate physical activity. The evidence and advocacy groups say you need at least 30 minutes of moderate movement most days of the week. Ten-thousand steps might need to be elevated to fifteen (which doesn’t matter if you, like me, sometimes come in at the 1,000 range!). In order to be healthy, as you age, you’ve got to move. Quite a bit. As much as you can. Your life needs to be physical (even if you have limitations – if you can use your arms but not your legs, use your arms. There are a million ways to do it (I walk and clean and garden and do yoga and even, recently calisthenics classes – weights). I still need more. I sluff off. When I do it I feel better – less achy, higher energy. So I practice.
It’s hard not to get stressed out. Life is upsetting. We are past the Co2 tipping point, for goodness sake. That’s really bad news. We are losing a lot and need to learn to let go. But what we are losing often feels really important. And so it is. That’s why I carry around a book that helps me work on non-attachment. My own personal practice is non-attachment while caring. It’s tricky, but a really good practice. It works for me. So I practice.
So, what to do?
- To work lifestyle medicine – the heart of preventive health, or being in balance with the earth and our own bodies, we do need to wake up. To not buy the cultural norms being sold to us. To know that both fake news and true healing are alive and well in the food and health industries. Health is in the nuance – in the middle ground between fake and true.
- We have to know who we are and show up for our own lives in a real way. To be honest, I don’t care what you eat in any given moment. I do care if you enjoy it, and very much hope that you do. Whatever you decide to eat, decide to do, decide to be, do it all out, have fun with it, learn from it and carry on. There is a full, true, healthful version of you in there, and I so wish that you dance in that version more of the time.
- I can’t see a way around getting up. We have to participate in our lives in a physically and mentally active way in order to be healthy. We need to dance and clean and hunt and play golf and badminton and what ever else we love to do.
At this point in time, lifestyle medicine is a little radical – a little against the grain. It’s a little uncomfortable and might feel a little judgmental – who do you think you are, doing all that self-care?! That’s a really good questions.Pinterest
Here’s my answer of who you are: you are a divine expression of God. That’s why you deserve to be your fullest expression. That’s why you deserve to take fantastic care of yourself.
Go forth and practice! Let your freak flag fly!