Starvation, Contortion, Self-Regulation • 29 February 2008

I almost broke my policy on comment non-deletion. There was something I said among friends—among ashtangis—a while ago, and later it caught the attention of another group of people and raised a bit of looky-loo, clicky-click. Oh yeah, it’s the internet. More than just your friends.

The comment had to do with the practice of intense calorie restriction, and what other people's "research" shows to be negative effects on sociability, energy and mind. As with ashtanga, some people have given their own bodies to this research, so we can know in physical detail how it works. But with both of these radical programmes (one of which is fun, one of which sounds to me like torture) :), I wonder if practitioners ourselves should be the only reporters of our research… or if feedback from the world would help to balance our self-reported results.

I commented along these lines because I was thinking of the simple but deep Being in the World chapter of Desikachar—a piece of writing I take as a praise for householder yoga along a middle path and a call to engage deeply in relationships as—among other things—a way to gain “objective” information about oneself.

With ashtanga, very strange desires are born—for lightness and flexibility of body—and images the world deems gut-wrenching become, to us, iconographic. We are only humans—we want to be the most and the best on the dimension we travel—and in the context of ashtanga this can lead to self-harm quite easily.

Starvation or contortion: choose your poison.

At the beginning, the striver-impulse is to look at others’ edges and seek to internalize them. This is such an easy way to avoid working from inside, and maybe to get hurt.

So we listen to the world when it tells us we are being crazy. Say, with the not necessarily bad ashtangi tendency to undereat. One becomes aggressive, hard, and one-track-minded for lack of food… or lacks the energy to keep up in conversation much less on a hike: we might not be able to see this directly but we can see it reflected through the eyes of others. Helps define the edge.

But that is an internal process. To dispel my personal regret about making any comment about a practice, CR, in which I do not even engage because I love eating and need a good lot of daily carbs to do intellectual work, I want to say that I’m sorry. I do have some objective data here, but no subjective data. Sociology tells me the former are enough; my gut tells me they are not. I overstepped.

There is such a fine line for me between honestly reflecting back to others what I see and actually reaching to participate in their self-regulation. Who the bejezus am I? Just another data point for you. Not your ultimate witness, not your judge. Screw me! 🙂 I want to trust others to do their personal practice with honesty and grace, not intrude upon them. What's the use intruding?

All of this is about playing our own edges. This is what I do—consummately, compulsively; lovingly, excessively. It’s how some of us move and grow. Edges are scandalous and rarely pretty. The only way to work there for any length of time is if you can regulate yourself. I am remembering that for most people who are mindful self-researchers of this sort, they instinctively know themselves better than I ever can.