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.
You are already there, perfect in your imperfections, regardless of your brand of yoga pants.
Dive into the experience of yogic moderation and how that ties into nutrition at my upcoming Kripalu weekend, Every Bite Is Divine.
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