Outliving Your Cravings

Posted on February 22nd, 2014 by in Words from the Wise

centerLike many of us, after dinner and before bedtime is the part of the day in which I might find myself hungry—not necessarily physically hungry, but wanting something to fill me up.

As I trolled around my kitchen one night, some years ago, an extraordinary thing happened. I noticed that my hand was reaching, as in an out-of-body experience, toward the cabinet! It was a startling moment of self- observation. I was able to stop, arm in midair, and ask myself that $64,000 question: “What am I really hungry for?”

This stopped me in my tracks. I realized there was nothing in that cabinet, nothing in the house, actually nothing on the planet, food-wise, that I was hungry for. Standing in my darkened kitchen, I realized that my hunger came from something else: I was lonely and perhaps a little anxious about the big work week looming. My feelings had nothing to do with a physical hunger.

Awed, I walked out of the kitchen. I picked up the phone and called a friend—nobody answered, but I left a message. I headed toward the bathtub, soaked for a bit, then got into bed and read. As I reached to turn out my light an hour or so later, I recognized the miracle: I had outlived the craving.

Because I didn’t act on it, because I didn’t feed it, the feeling integrated. It released and changed.  Because I didn’t kill the messenger by stuffing it down with a bowlful of chips, the messenger was there to tell me to slow down, connect with someone, and be with myself. And by substituting the habitual snacking with the phone call, the bath, and the reading, the feeling changed.

In the Kripalu model of riding the waves of sensation, the feelings are not the problem. The feelings don’t hurt us. It’s what we do to try to control the feelings, to change the feelings, to push the feelings away—this is the problem. The feelings are “coming to pass,” as the Bible says; they are not coming to stay. If we allow ourselves to soften around the feelings, just as we do on the yoga mat, using the breath and relaxation mindfully, the feelings will integrate.

For those of us challenged with habitual snacking patterns, riding the waves of feelings carries us to the freedom of new choices. Neuroscience encourages us with research about the plasticity of the brain—the brain’s capacity to re-create its response to the moment by creating new neuropathways. Yoga on and off the mat gives us that leverage to change. “Self-observation without judgment,” Swami Kripalu’s core teaching, forms the foundation of our mindful model of transformation: Notice. Relax. Realign.

Consider some substitutions. What might you do when you feel pulled toward your cabinet? Consider some ideas: Might you take a bath? Do some journaling? Call a support person? Go for a walk? Hug a cat? Practice putting these substitutions in place when you feel the strong pull of your habit patterns carrying you forward.

Remember—you have the final decision. How do you choose to be in your moment? 

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About Aruni Nan Futuronsky, Life Coach, RYT

Aruni, Senior Life Coach and Program Advisor for the Kripalu Healthy Living programs, is a certified professional-level Kripalu Yoga teacher. She has been teaching in a variety of diverse venues for more than 35 years and has been on the Kripalu faculty for more than 20. Author of Recovering My Voice: A Memoir of Chaos, Spirituality, and Hope, and her latest book, Already Home: Stories of a Seeker, Aruni has also developed the Kripalu coaching methodology, based in presence and right action.
  • Sandy DJ

    My issue with cravings have more to do with during the daytime, specifically at work when pressure mounts. I can go an entire weekend without craving sugar, without trolling for the next mouthful, but put me in the office for 1 hour and it’s a rolling series of stuffing my mouth: Chai, bagels, lunch, snacks. And the answer is the same: PAUSE and ask myself what I am REALLY hungry for? More likely the answer is space, time to inhale & exhale, time to step back, step away from the keyboard and pinging e-mails.

    • KripaluEditor

      Thanks for sharing, Sandy DJ!

      Sometimes we just need to stop and breathe and find the quiet calm. Things move so fast in our culture, we simply have to cultivate peace.

      Best to you!

  • Karen C

    Thank you. I think this all the time but have not stopped myself, thinking I am feeding a craving. Then I find myself with the resentment knowing it was not the right choice. I will tuck this into my arsenal to better equip myself when I find myself in front the the cabinet!

    • KripaluEditor

      Glad it was helpful, Karen!

  • Maggie S

    Sometimes we need to be reminded…and reminded and reminded! I took the Wave Work workshop with Sandra Scherer back in the 90′s, and it has served me well over the years. Your post is an excellent reminder…thanks!

    • KripaluEditor

      Maggie,
      You’re welcome! We all need reminders, don’t we?
      Sending you the best!

  • Contemplate

    What do you do when the wave doesn’t pass no matter what? Or if it does… it comes full circle again with the same intensity? Unbearable…

  • Elise Cantrell

    I LOVE this blog! I wrote the book: 40 Days to Enlightened Eating and there I talk about this very thing-samscaras and how to override them. I too have these moments where awareness of what is really there gives me the strength to overcome cravings! I teach this to my students! Beautifully said!

  • Tina

    I must apply this to smoking. It’s the most logical and mindful way to outlive the cravings. Brilliant

  • Diane

    My problem is that I don’t stop to think until after I’ve already binged. Then I hate myself for not stopping to think of something else to do. How do I make myself stop?

    • Lynda

      I have noticed this in myself. If I stop… and wait…. a bit, the craving passes. Distract yourself for 5 min. folding clothes,watering plants, loading dishes, anything.. then recheck yourself.

    • KripaluEditor

      Hi Diane,
      Here is a response from Aruni:

      Dear Diane,

      Congratulate yourself for being in the process. And whenever you notice, that’s the moment to breathe and relax. Remember, cultivating kindness toward yourself is the transformational journey; befriending the binging. Swami Kripalu said, “Beloved child, break your own heart no longer.” Being mean and hard never works to sustain change.

      Whenever you notice the behavior, breathe and relax!!!
      Warmly,
      -Aruni

      • Diane

        I will keep this with me, at all times! Thank you!

  • roma

    diane….you may binge, yet the fact is that you realized after…the more you realize after it happens…that is developing awareness…so soon…the awareness will kick in before you binge. i think the “problem” is when we do not see or feel the awareness at all. also…take time to check in with your breath as much as you can. and before you reach for something and binge…breathe…even if it is between a mouthful of cookie….breath, finish the bite or spit it out, whatever….just feel good that you are asking question and creating awareness… remember…self observation without judgement. you got this.:)

  • Coleen Davidson

    The cravings are so much more than food, I love Aruni’s line about not trying to control the feelings, they will pass. Allowing the energy of feelings to ride the wave of the breath in my Yoga practice is key for me. Integrating, mind, body, heart, soul is a daily and lifelong practice.

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