What nourishes you?
This is the question in my mind during yoga practice this week. It bubbles up over and over like a fountain churning through the waters of my spirit. In these sessions I feel like I receive necessary sustenance. My stiff, sleepy body needed it and my spirit craved it. So, throughout the day I contemplate the idea of “nourishment” and came up with a few principles for my personal journey. I wish to share them with you.
First, Merriam-Webster defines nourish:
- To nurture, rear
- To promote the growth of
- To furnish or sustain with nutriment; maintain, support
At the core is the idea of expansion – a word that has ambiguous meaning for me as an American woman. The expectation for ideal womanhood in this culture is that we limit the expansion of our bodies so that we take up the appropriate amount of space and we limit the expansion of our personalities and maintain a passive countenance. Words like “bossy,” “pushy,” and “loud” stand in contrast with “sweet,” “gentle,” and “charming.” The first set conveys negative sentiments while the second upholds an underlying feminine standard. I cannot tell you how many friends and acquaintances over the years jokingly confessed to not being “feminine” because they are bold.
This is the question: How are we to nourish ourselves if we must also take up as little space (whether concrete or abstract) as we can? How do we expand?
Nourishment is for the purpose of expansion and so it is in support of continual change. It is not restricted to ingesting plants and animals for food. Nourishment applies to every area of our lives: physical, mental, and spiritual. Below are a few of my ideas for nourishing these aspects for expansion:
- Eat good, sustaining food. A great rule to live by is eat more plants. You don’t have to give up mea, but when in doubt, eat plants. Eat more of them than anything else.
- Drink water. I begin my day with a 20-ounce glass – before coffee, breakfast, or anything else. We are dehydrated after the long night. Starting this practice is easy and it will become a habit quickly.
- Move the body. It does not matter what you do, do something. For years I thought to be “fit” meant establishing a workout routine that had me rotating through days of running and lifting weights at the gym. I enjoyed it most of the time, but often I had days or weeks of boredom and would begrudgingly drag myself to the gym. Now, I get excited to practice yoga every day and my body has never felt better! When we align our body with our emotions and find the movement that really fits, our bodies respond.
- Be kind to your body. It is yours and no one else’s. Be kind to other people’s bodies for the same reason. We can nourish our bodies with compassion and expand in these areas for greater physical health. Again, our physical bodies respond to the innermost parts of our spiritual bodies.
- Expand your brain. Read books. Read smart long-form journalism. Watch documentaries. Challenge your mind and dive into that very clichéd phrase: be a life-long learner! It is a cliché for a reason. Never settle for being the same person year after year, but take the time to dive into what peeks your interest. Lately, I am consuming book after book about yoga and meditation, which eventually pulled me into fourteenth-century Persian religious poetry. I’m not kidding! Hafiz is my homeboy.
- Take time to sit quietly. Look, we are all busy. I know. I get it. It is difficult to find two minutes to breathe some days, but the importance of taking just five minutes to focus on nothing else but the sound of your own breath cannot be overstated. Just like finding time to eat and move, our brains, and ultimately our spirit, craves regeneration and nourishment. While establishing daily meditation for 15 or 20 minutes at a time is great, some of us cannot see a way to fit this in the schedule. So, here are a few suggestions:
- Take the time between the first alarm and the snooze to lie quietly in bed to assess, give gratitude, or just listen. (Suggestion by Faith Hunter.)
- Before lunch, close your eyes and listen to your breath for thirty seconds to begin mindfully eating your food.
- Before turning on the television in the evening, take five minutes on the couch to close your eyes and find your center. Your “center” is wherever your mind thinks it is located. For some it is around the heart, for others it is in the brain, and there are those who find their center in the stomach. Listen to your breath, then watch Jeopardy!.
- Use Yoga Nidra before bed.
We must expand. We must grow. We must nourish ourselves.
The current trend is to do a planned “cleanse” or a diet reboot. I am all on board for this kind of experience. I believe we all should re-evaluate our relationship to food every once in a while. A bit of self-restraint can be beneficial to spirit and body. What makes me uncomfortable is the intense focus on food as the primary means of nourishment. It is the most obvious, after all. In this restriction there is confusion about what to put in our bodies. I see product placement and American consumerism and little direction about lifestyle change beyond using a company’s commodity. I see nourishment sold as merchandise for the comfortable middle class and healthy lifestyles turning into luxury items. This is not to say that those who use these products should feel guilty about their nutrition habits. Rather, it is much, much simpler to nourish our bodies with. We are massively misdirected. We receive cues to limit expansion and hear messages that nourishment is something to buy alongside our SUVs, designer yoga pants, and household gadgets. I guarantee that if you try to balance nourishment as a body/mind/spirit practice, you will feel it. Granted, it is not a quick fix. Every day requires work and I am the first to say it is not always easy.
Nourishment means growth and expansion, so we cannot stop.