April 4, 2016

When It’s All Too Much: Yoga & the Case for Moderation.


My puffy, red, crusty eyes were proof that the final glass of wine had not been a good idea last night.

Now with work to do, my foggy brain was slow to get going as I admonished myself for staying out too late.

I’ve been on this playground before, floating up and down on the seesaw of excess and guilt. I shouldn’t have drank that, ate that, did that, said that.


The Sanskrit word is brahmacharya. Yin and yang. Sun and moon. High and low. We need all of these things in balance to survive and thrive, but we often swing between excess and deficiency. It’s either too much or too little. And then we beat ourselves up over it.

I have practiced and taught yoga for more than a decade, yet I still struggle at times with moderation, and I can tell my students do, too.

On the mat, excess can show up in many ways: practicing frequently without rest, or repeatedly pushing our bodies into poses that, anatomically, may not make sense for us. The result is a drain of mental and emotional energy—“I should have listened to my body”—and likely physical injury.

Outside the yoga studio, excess can take shape in the form of shopping, eating, drinking, gossiping—you name it. But the same cycle of action and guilt keeps spinning.

We can see more clearly and make better choices if we are not always bouncing back and forth between excess and regret like a ping pong ball.

But for the love of Patanjali, why is moderation so hard?

How do we find the strength and wisdom to know when and how to back off? How can we spend time doing what we love without turning every bit of food or drink or yoga pose into a land mine of shame?

The yoga sutras teach us to balance effort with ease. Be challenged, but be able to breathe.

How do you avoid toppling over in Warrior III pose? By balancing strength in the upper body with the lower. By moderating the muscles along the front and back of the body to float evenly in the air while standing on one leg. By simultaneously holding strongly to your core and extending through your limbs.

Sometimes our lives can feel like a wobbly Warrior III pose. Where do we need to moderate? What areas can we pull back on? Where can we push harder?

The next time you start to feel the magnetic pull of excess, stop. Use the teachings of your practice to notice if you are you balancing effort with ease. Can you do [fill in the blank] and still feel at ease, or will you plunge back onto the excess/guilt seesaw?

Rather than acting as hand cuffs, moderation actually frees us from the all-or-nothing loop of excess and guilt. Practicing brahmacharya can stop the cycle, and free our bodies and our minds.


Author: Kathy Baum

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: dr_zoidberg/Flickr

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