A main part of my job is to facilitate the development of a mindfulness practice for our members, and to support them as they grow in this process. Ultimately, as people become more mindful, they are led from within themselves to make their own necessary choices toward improved health.
As people become more mindful, self-care naturally emerges. Unhelpful, self-defeating habits are exposed to the light of clear awareness. This process allows for lifestyle changes to arise from within the person, rather than be dictated externally. This allows for self-motivation to grow, which prevents the “yo-yo” dieting that people frequently experience. It is also a lot more fun!
Members frequently report a weight loss of about a pound a week, with some plateaus and setbacks along the way. But overall, they maintain the downward trajectory by adopting some degree of the basic principles of a Mindful Life: eating real food, meditation, exercise, journaling (both personal journal and food diary), noticing connections between parts of their life, keeping track of their weight, and lots and lots of mindfulness. None of these things are assigned in a rigid way, but rather emerge organically from the group and individual process when mindfulness became activated.
In order to facilitate the process of being led from within, two presuppositions are necessary. The first is that people are capable and strong: starting from a place of what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. The second is that everyone possesses an innate propensity toward positive self-growth, and mindfulness fuels this process.
Contrast this with the way weight loss typically happens: People may start from the standpoint of hating their body, feeling shame, feeling like something is “wrong” with them, that they “lack discipline or willpower,” and expecting something external to supply what they are lacking. This world is full of products and diet fads that will fall in line with that “sense of lack” way of thinking: “something is wrong with you and if you just buy our pre-packaged meal-in-a-bar/diet pill/powdered drink/2-week cleanse, you will be fixed.”
Traditional weight loss methods that prescribe diet plans, workout regimens and other lifestyle changes work best if they see people as strong, whole, and capable, albeit having a problem to solve (weight loss). Change is most effective when people are connected to their best self—the source of endless motivation. Every good coach, trainer, therapist, and nutritionist knows this to be true. A diet/workout type of plan can go either way: it can be great if the leader helps the participant access their best self, or it can be humiliating and short-lived if it makes people feel like they are “the biggest loser” (pun totally intended).
Sometimes our group sessions have “homework,” i.e. either Steve or I will suggest something, or point someone in a direction, for the week based on what we think will work well for a person. Some people do the homework, others do not. Often, people come in and apologize for not doing the homework. We always say “that’s okay.” It’s great to do homework, but the real value in homework is that it activates something inside of you that propels you forward toward new habits. That may take the form of doing the homework, or it may take the unexpected form of a new insight or connection that was discovered. It’s all good.
At the core of this philosophy is the notion that our innate wisdom is perfect. It knows what foods are good for us to eat, how much exercise is best, which situations are too stressful for us, which habits are helping us, and which are hurting us. The process is one of stripping away whatever mental/emotional/external clutter obscures the body’s wisdom. One member remarked that his life was so busy that he could not find structure to maintain healthy eating. Steve said: “You have all the structure you need available to you at every moment: your own body. Listen to it.”
As a yoga teacher, I’m aware the phrase “listen to your body” has been repeated so much that it is a cliche. Yet I still say it….because I mean it and it is really necessary. Just about everything else—advertising, media, culture—prompts us to be led by external forces. Cliche or not, once you get a taste of being led from within, you have something of real value that branches out beyond the issue of losing weight.