On Sunday, November 1, 2015 I arrived in India to begin my 200-hour yoga teacher training course with Samyak Yoga. For four weeks, I’ll be living at the Samyak yogashala in Mysore, Karnataka and learning what it means to be a yogi in mind, body and spirit.
In this series, I’ll be sharing the day-to-day details of my life in training, along with the mental and spiritual discoveries I make on this new path. To see the rest of the series, click here.
On day one, I woke up for breakfast at 8:00am. My jetlag was fierce and I felt like I hadn’t slept at all, but the bright sun and chirping birds gave me the energy to get out of bed. Also, breakfast.
All our meals are served buffet-style in a common room on the first floor. We have a private cook, Pratap, who prepares everything for the 20 (or more) of us with an amazingly humble setup. Breakfasts consist of toast, butter, jam, milk, cereal, fruit, tea and chai. There’s also peanut butter and Nutella but since I’m allergic to nuts I stay away from those. Occasionally we have a few slices of cheese or some plain yogurt, but not too often.
I’d been waiting for this moment. Prior to my arrival in India, I’d been traveling through Ireland and had very little trouble eating within my paleo framework (no grains, dairy, legumes or sugar). I knew that once I got to India, things would be different.
For one thing, our yogashala is 100% vegetarian. Eating paleo + vegetarian is difficult as it is, and Indian food is heavy on the grains and legumes so there’s really no avoiding those. We’re also a 20-minute taxi ride from the nearest market or shop, so providing our own food is a challenge. Clearly I had to choose to either spend the necessary time, money and energy to stick within my paleo comfort zone, or let it go and accept what was offered.
I’m very fortunate not to have an autoimmune condition or list of serious food allergies limiting my diet. I just know that my body runs well without grains, legumes, etc., so that’s how I’ve eaten for the last two years. But before I enrolled in this training, I thought long and hard about the experience I wanted to have and the approach I would take. I knew that creating strict parameters around my food would not only impact my cultural experience, but also my relationships with my fellow yogis. Shared meals are opportunities for social connection that just can’t be replaced and I didn’t want to give that up.
Also, for quite a while now I’ve been noticing my anxiety around food start to grow, which I know is closely tied to the body image insecurities I’ve felt since I was a teenager. I’m finally coming to terms with this and before I left for my trip, I made the decision to dedicate this time to practicing intuitive eating.
For those of you who already eat intuitively (or perhaps always have), that probably sounds like a silly intention to set. But for those like me living deep in the health food world, it can be a challenge! For me, taking this time to experiment and wholeheartedly embrace my surroundings was exactly what I needed. (More on how my training is changing my food philosophy to come.)
So, what did I eat on that first day? Wheat toast, butter, yogurt, fruit, cereal and milk. And the world kept spinning. I was grateful for every bite and I felt plenty satisfied.
As I ate, I tried to think back to the last time I went a day without eating meat. (Or the last time I ate a slice of bread for that matter.) I couldn’t remember! For so long, I’d gotten used to running through my list of pros and cons before putting anything into my mouth. Grains, sugar, dairy, protein, FODMAPs, carbs…food wasn’t just food. There was always something I “couldn’t” eat.
But now, the ONLY question I was asking myself was, “Would this feel good in my body right now?”
I’d be lying if I said this was easy. It made me really uncomfortable and I had to actively turn off the critical thoughts. But that’s the funny thing about surrendering control: it feels so wrong at first, but there’s freedom on the other side. And it was only breakfast!
Lunch and dinner were even more fun. Indian food has always been my soul food, so the surprise of each day’s new meal is really exciting. Lunch on that first day was spinach curry with corn, brown rice, wheat chapatis, and a beet/carrot/cabbage slaw with dressing.
For meals we sit in the first-floor common room on thick foam pillows, each of us with an individual traytable that stands about a foot off the ground. I like eating on the floor like this and I enjoy sitting cross legged. It feels so…primal!
Speaking of primal, it’s traditional in India to eat with your hands and I’ve totally been embracing it! It takes practice, especially with the soupy curries and crumbly rice. The technique involves using your right hand as a scooper with your fingers pointing toward your face and your thumb sort of like a hoe that pushes the food into your mouth. It gives you a chance to connect with your food in a totally different way. You eat slower and appreciate the nourishment entering your body on a more visceral level. It’s really fun. Licking your fingers is allowed and encouraged.
So, along with my taxi ride to the shala, mealtimes have offered my second lesson in letting go. More lessons in my next post!