Are you vegan?
Have you heard of this juice cleanse?
Are you gluten free?
Have you heard of that juice cleanse?
What do you do for cardio?
How often do you run?
Do you do Pilates?
What do you think of Crossfit?
Do you lift weights?
Do you wear a heart rate monitor, Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone, etc.?
Which yoga poses will strengthen my core?
And lift my butt?
Do you think I should do a juice cleanse?
I get a lot of questions about my personal and professional approach to fitness, including those above and many more. Each time I’m asked by a reader, yoga student, Om Athlete, curious media type, or casual acquaintance at, say, a dinner party, I’m delighted to–forgive me– weigh in. I enjoy the fact that people trust me; it means I’m doing work I’m meant to do, helping people become more healthy and mindful, and I’m happy to share knowledge acquired over the years. I’ve studied a lot, experienced a lot, and been exposed to a lot, through a lifetime of playing sports, 18 years of practicing yoga, 13 years of teaching it, and the privilege of working with some of the fittest and fastest athletes in the world about what it means to look, feel, and perform your best.
But my favorite piece of advice is the same for everyone, and it has nothing to do with explicitly choosing a diet or type of exercise. It’s about choosing a mindset or, possibly, a heart set. Because the truth is not about what you do, but rather, why you do it.
I believe the intention behind anything colors everything, which is why my diet advice is not a diet. My most killer workout secret is not some grand secret. I’m not hiding stealth spa procedures or supplements in my bicycle basket. I’m not fired up by fitness fads or new technology that tracks my every calorie taken in or burned off. (I respect that many people like and benefit from health trends and technology; I just don’t think they’re essential to my point or your wellness). Personally, I do a lot of yoga. I run a lot. I eat a lot. What I eat has read like Michael Pollan’s advice long before he wrote In Defense of Food and other books widely regarded as manifestos for eating mindfully: eat real food, not too much. Mostly plants. But, sometimes, chocolate covered salted caramels. (I added that last part). Professionally, I’m like a sherpa for surpassing mind/body limitations, and my approach to yoga might cause your kid to turn to you and say, “Wow, Mom, you’re STRONG! You’re stronger than Daddy,” as the child of one of my client’s did at the beach over the weekend when she tossed him high in the air so that he landed in the ocean with delight like it was no big deal.
In the past, I’ve been too thin and too heavy. I ended up too thin by accident, at a time when I felt very heavy—as in emotionally. I wasn’t trying to lose weight. It just happened as a result of the stress of what was happening in my life. I couldn’t have cared less about scales or pant sizes. Ironically, I was too heavy while trying too hard to be thin. Roughly around college, as the current often pulls women that age. It was my personal heyday of low fat frozen yogurt, Diet Coke, and other fake foods about which I didn’t know better and were the diet de rigueur of the time. Now, I know better, and I stay away from that stuff. It’s not a diet. It’s chemical junk that messes with your hormones and doesn’t add any nutritional value anywhere. I don’t eat other non-food stuff like Play-Doh or glue. That’s not a diet. It’s common sense.
And, ultimately, that’s the secret weapon I want people to rediscover. Good sense. Stop cleansing. Start sensing. Ask yourself this one essential question:
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO EMBODY?
Seriously. Think about it. Because the answer will be telling, and the actions needed to achieve your desired state will be clear. If you know how you want to feel, you’ll intuitively know what to do to get there. You don’t want to embody artificial colors, flavors, or feelings. You don’t want to embody scarcity and deprivation.
If you want to embody strength or confidence, you can’t choose diets, fitness inspirations, or yoga teachers that encourage diminishment or depletion. It’s that simple. If you want to feel joyful and light, you can’t choose workouts that are drudgery or self-talk that is demoralizing. Maybe you’ll lose weight on a certain diet, cleanse, or workout regime, but will you feel light? Will it last? Or, will it dissipate—like anyone’s capacity to stay on a diet or regime, and you’ll have to search for the next fitness fix during the next dinner party conversation. If you want to embody speed or endurance, your workouts must prioritize the same. If you want to feel energetic and endorphin-drunk, then you’ve got to get up and move like your life depends on it (because it does). If you want to embody beauty, you’ll have to do things that genuinely make you feel beautiful. They are not usually available in stores. They frequently include smiling or laughing. Remember: mindset. Heart set.
The way we move our bodies and how we nourish them are beautiful opportunities every day. Meanwhile, getting too caught up in how we label ourselves according to what we eat (i.e. vegan, paleo, gluten-free, etc.) and forgetting that the best wellness resource we have is our own mind only leads to more of the same. Change how you think. Start with what you want to embody, and let that word, feeling, or mantra dictate the health choices you make.
Embody grace. Eat energy for breakfast. Run with heart-pumping, leg burning, soul exhilarating speed. Balance with confidence. Breathe with love. Put on your clothes with joy. Take them off with acceptance. Embody yourself fully. It’s a beautiful thing.