Like 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 approach 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?