October 8, 2012

Potato Chips, Brahmacharaya, & Finding the Middle Path. ~ Sara McKeown

“I’m afraid I can’t eat just one,” I sobbed into my notebook recently after yoga class.

That morning’s asanas, or postures reminded me of the great Tantra teaching concerning Brahmacharya and potato chips. According to the tradition I follow, Brahmacharaya doesn’t just govern sexual behavior, but informs all aspects of life. It also isn’t interpreted as absolute celibacy, but as pleasure within limits.

In other words, Brahmacharya is like eating one potato chip. We believe Patanjali didn’t intend for us yogis to never ever buy potato chips again so long as we live, nor did he mean for us to buy the biggest bag possible and devour it all in one sitting. No, what he asks of us in his Yoga Sutras is much harder.

He asks that we eat just one. That’s right, that we buy a bag of potato chips and thoroughly enjoy just one. Then, close the bag and walk away.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not, thank you very much. I was raised in the all or nothing school of thought. If I’m going to go through the trouble of buying a bag of potato chips then you can be damn sure I’m going to eat the whole thing. Probably while watching TV and drinking a soda, because if you’re going to do it—do it right. Go big, or go home.

In the past I’ve almost always opted for going big. I’ve downed many chips whether actual or figurative. I’ve indulged in too much of everything—drinks, sex, negative thoughts, sadness, joy. Whatever the chip was I could never eat just one.

That propensity for largeness (and I was large), for excess (and I was excessive) is precisely what landed me in that morning’s class. I was overweight, miserable, depressed, self-conscious and full of doubt. I knew that if I wanted a go at a more balanced life, the pendulum was going to have to swing way over in the other direction.

I was going to have to close the bag and walk away.

So, I did. I packed up everything I owned, strapped it to my car and drove across the country to live in the back of a yoga studio for a year—where I haven’t bought a single bag of potato chips, much less eaten any. Instead, I’ve devoured a whole host of Brahmacharya like practices, including actual Brahmacharya at times.

I’ve risen at dawn to oil pull, tongue scrap, Abhyanga, shoot water up my nose and take herbs, and that’s all before doing yoga, practicing pranayama, meditating and blending my front yard up into a green smoothie.

I’ve watched everything I’ve eaten. I’ve gone raw, gone vegan, gone wild. I’ve abstained from alcohol. From wheat. From sugar. From dairy. Even from food, once subsisting on nothing but lemon and water for seven days.

I’ve minded what I say. Who I’ve said it to. I’ve cleansed, and purged, and pranamed and made up for a whole lifetime of bad living. I’ve done everything I could to be a good little yogi.

But all this moderation and no play has made Sara a very dull girl. I’m no longer as inspired by my practices as I once was. I’d like to huck my dinacharya chart out the window; I no longer care if I make both of my Neelakanta meditation sits and if all the world’s kale suddenly withered and died, I’d probably rejoice.

I have a spiritual hangover and I feel like the only cure is a bottle of wine, a bag of chips and a marathon of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo—not exactly what Pantajali had in mind, I don’t think.

Hence the sobbing into my notebook. Because we all know a real yogi does not eat chips (or meat, or swear, or use chopsticks). Yet, I have a deep desire to indulge. To say, “Screw what I’ve learned this past year.” To let the pendulum swing right back to where it started and rip into a bag of chips and eat every last one.

Because walking the middle path is hard. It’s much easier to swing one way or the other. To indulge too much, or not at all. To skip over the chips, or to eat them all in one sitting.

But if I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that we’re called to find balance. To buy the bag and eat only one. A task I’m afraid I can’t do. Yet, I know living at either extreme is unmanageable too, and not at all what Patanjali had in mind.

So, what’s a girl to do? What’s a yogi to do?

How do you buy the bag and eat only one?

It’s a question I’ll ponder over a glass of wine, a few chips and maybe an episode of Honey Boo Boo. Just as soon as I finish my asana, pranayama and meditation of course.


Sara McKeown is just like every other yogi, except she hates coconut water. When she’s not perfecting her Downward Facing Dog or teaching other people how to perfect theirs, she can be found eating avocados, doodling in her journal, talking with her hands, microwaving her non-dairy ice cream, daydreaming about having Ira Glass’s babies, debating which book to stick her nose in or helping people live their best lives through her work as a counselor and wellness coach. Send her love notes at [email protected] or come along with her on her journey by checking out her blog, My Great Leap.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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