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“The nature of yoga is to shine the light of awareness into the darkest corners of the body.” ~ Jason Crandell
Sandra has struggled with obesity her whole life—she’s a compulsive overeater.
The queen of yo-yo dieting since she was a teen, she would gain the weight back no matter what diet she tried, often adding more pounds than before the diet.
Then, two years ago, her life changed when she found the keto(genic) diet, a diet that is a very low carb and high fat. When carbohydrate intake is reduced and replaced with fat, the body goes into ketosis, a metabolic state of elevated levels of ketone bodies in the blood or urine. When this happens, the body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy and the pounds slip off.
Within a year on the diet, Sandra lost over 100 pounds. She threw away her “fat clothes” and bought a new dream wardrobe that she had fantasied about her whole life.
“You must feel great,” I said.
“Not really. I don’t know how to describe it. Having extra weight was oddly comforting.”
“It kept me grounded. Now I feel as if I’ll suddenly float into the air.”
Two months later, she was off the keto diet and regained most of the 100 pounds.
What was going on?
Obesity creates grounding:
Sandra had a floppy body with low muscle tone and weak musculature. Clumsy and uncoordinated, her arms hung limp from her shoulder sockets, her posture was slumped, and she paddled as she walked. “My body feels more like moving arms and legs. I have no idea what it feels like to move my body as a solid structure.”
All this added up to poor body awareness which is why she was unable to feel her feet touching the ground. Body awareness comes from proprioceptive input into joints and muscles.
People with low muscle tone who lack musculature are unable to easily resist gravity. Getting their bodies moving takes enormous effort and concentration. In fact, occupational therapists have discovered that it takes nine times the effort of those with normal muscle tone to get enough punch to use the information taken in by muscles and joint receptors.
Little wonder those with low muscle tone hate exercising. It’s hard work! And so Sandra rarely did anything more than a walk through the park with a friend.
Obesity pushed her body into the ground so she could feel the earth beneath her feet. The heavier she was, the more gravity had to work on, and the firmer her grip was to the earth.
When she lost weight, she lost that connection to the earth and the feeling of being inside her body. She felt an unbearable lightness of being as if she would “float off into the air.” Not surprisingly, she often had fearful dreams of flying off into space.
And so, again she failed on a diet and went back to devouring food with intense taste, especially rich food that was greasy, fatty, and sugary, and the pounds piled on.
Like Sandra, some obese people unknowingly overeat to feel more grounded and secure and invariably regain the weight. Some women become frequently pregnant because pregnancy adds weight and therefore body awareness, as does holding and carrying a baby.
What can Sandra do to get better acquainted with her body, regardless of what size it is?
The purpose of muscles is to allow us to move against gravity.
Yoga builds body awareness to ground us:
There are, of course, many activities to build muscle: weights, mountain biking, running, and so on. To me, though, nothing beats yoga for both building muscle and body awareness.
Yoga asanas (yoga poses) push against gravity. This takes strength and builds muscle. As strength builds, proprioception (our sense of self in space) improves and, with it, body awareness.
The more body awareness, the more grounded we feel—
—and the more connected we feel to self. The feeling of being connected to the earth provides a sense of self as whole and present. Stabilizing and comforting, this connection allows us to feel our edges and to distinguish self from non-self. Alpha brains waves—the brain state that allows us to feel the stability of solid earth and to feel present—stream through our brain.
To get a sense of what it means to feel grounded, try this exercise by Alexander Lowen, who is the creator of bioenergetics, a system that works with body and breath to release emotions.
Stand with your feet about eight inches apart, knees slightly bent. Reach out as if to shake someone’s hand. At the same time, press the corresponding foot into the ground and lean forward slightly as you extend your arm. You should feel the movement extending from the ground up through your arm and a lifting and elongating through your center.
By building muscle, and especially through yoga, we can enhance body awareness. For those who suffer low muscle tone especially, yoga will help feel the earth, so we don’t require the extra weight on our body to do so.