The gift of mindfulness practices is that we start to develop an ear to hear the body’s subtle messages. The body never lies, so if you want the real information, take the elevator downstairs out of the mind to feel what’s happening in the body. – Clara Roberts-Oss.
There are so many ways to nourish the body—a warm bath, sunshine, cozy blanket, yoga class, body lotion, a hug from a friend, all unique experiences to tantalize the senses and make us feel good. The so-called happy hormones—serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins—are released when we indulge in pleasing ourselves through various activities and affect the vital processes of the body, including heart rate, digestion, and how we feel.
Food is one way we feed ourselves; it’s the most basic and primal form of caring for our bodies and caring for others. We create familial bonds through food, establish culture and community, and sustain the local environment and agriculture. Eating is a quick and easy way to attain instant gratification and make ourselves feel good after a long and tiring day.
“Food is such an easy way to feel comforted because it’s instant gratification. We need it, and once we’ve eaten, there’s an immediate physical change. What was so interesting for me to observe in my youth, was the emotional void or emptiness that I was feeling, and how I would eat something to fill that emotional void.” – Clara Roberts-Oss.
On October 1st, we launched Feed Your Whole Self—a 30-day yoga challenge— to feature all the ways we feed our body, mind, and spirit. This event focuses on highlighting all the ways we create pleasure and harmony within the body through movement, diet, community, and holistic practices such as acupuncture, that treat the physical and energetic body.
This week, we had the pleasure of interviewing fellow yoga teacher and Holistic Nutritionist, Susanne Mueller of Undrgrnd Yoga. An empath and one who’s sensitive to those around her, Susanne used food to cope with the anxiety she felt growing up. Food became a means to manage extreme emotions before Susanne discovered yoga.
Susanne’s work with clients in addressing eating patterns, diet, and the emotional inconsistencies creating habits around food that don’t serve the body. “As I continued practicing yoga, I noticed that my eating patterns softened, I felt calmer and began to make choices that felt better both with food and with life.” – Susanne Mueller.
Meet Sussanne Mueller
I ventured into holistic nutrition and then eating psychology to better understand how and why so many struggle like me with food, eating, and their body. I now use this knowledge and experience to support others in finding more peace on their journey. – Susanne Mueller.
What’s your favorite season to prepare meals?
SM—I prefer fall because I feel like it’s cozier with the rain, especially here where we live in British Columbia. I like squash and warm foods. Coming into the fall is really like an invitation to step into the kitchen.
What are the self-care practices you indulge in your family?
SM—Something I like to do with everyone before we eat is to talk about one thing that we’re grateful for that day. I feel like that’s a great bonding experience. We enjoy family reading time before bed, where we all read the same book together. Right now, we’re reading Amelia Bedelia.
What has yoga taught you about your body?
SM—When I started doing yoga, I realized what was happening around my relationship to food wasn’t alright. I began to feel like I needed to control what I was eating because I knew it wasn’t good for me. I didn’t want to binge eat anymore. It just didn’t feel good.
When I started practicing yoga, I became more aware of my body, and I wanted to change, but then the next stressor would come, and something would show up that I wouldn’t know how to deal with. Food was my fallback when I didn’t know how to manage stress.
As I kept practicing yoga and my practice became more consistent, I saw how much better I felt and how I felt more comfortable in my body. There was this direct experience between what I was doing and how I felt. I didn’t need food anymore to make me feel good, because yoga made me feel good.
I started to realize how food is just one of the ways we feed ourselves. We may think that food is the problem, but it’s really that we’re lacking in taking care of ourselves in other ways, and we use food to fill that void.
CRO—When I was an emotional eater, I noticed how there’ was a void in one part of my life. Instead of trying to work with the void, we try to fill it up in a different way, and the easiest way is through food.
Food is such an easy way to feel comforted because it’s instant gratification. We need it, and once we’ve eaten, there’s an immediate physical change. What was so interesting for me to observe was the emotional void or emptiness that I was feeling, and how I would eat something to fill that emotional void.
SM—That’s a pretty intelligent response. We’re feeling low, or we’re feeling something, and we seek something to make us feel better. Food is meant to nourish and nurture us. Right from the beginning of our lives, we cry as a baby, and we’re comforted with milk, so we’re designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. What’s important to remember as adults is that what’s happening is OK and that there’s nothing wrong with you. There may be something there to look at and explore, but essentially we are safe, and there’s nothing wrong with us.
How do you introduce a more mindful approach through the body to clients?
CRO—One of the coolest things that I’ve learned through mindful practices and yoga is how the body innately wants to heal itself. That’s its job, not only to survive and stay alive but to run at its most efficient form. I feel like sometimes, our minds get in the way, which is why following the current diet trends and fitness fads may take us away from what’s good for us.
Asking how you want to feel is a great question to always start. How do you want to feel right now, and how do you want to feel moving forward?
When we ask these questions, not only around food, it also asks us to consider every detail and pay attention to each experience’s sensation. This way, we can better decide how to move forward in the best direction for ourselves, which includes consideration for the body.
We’re so bombarded by the media with images of how things should look, and so we move forward with that consideration from the mind. When really, we should be asking how we want to feel. Food is just one aspect of a bigger picture.
SM—Exactly, in a way, it’s such a small piece. Sometimes I laugh with clients because we’ll go through a whole session, and we didn’t even talk about food. We’re taught to believe that food and our body is the problem. The message becomes, my body is the enemy or food is the enemy. A lot of people walk around with this mentality. I teach clients how our bodies aren’t against us; they’re there for us; they want to do all they can for us.
We’ve been taught to live in our heads, so I ask clients to get into the body or any subtle feedback they may be experiencing. At the moment, it may just be that how you’re sitting is uncomfortable; that’s body feedback. That’s your body telling you what it needs. I want to address how to listen to the body and subtle feedback and manage it in a way that isn’t popping a pill or numbing the sensation.
CRO—The other thing that I think is so interesting is that when we feel something very intense in our body, it’s your body sending a really loud, really obvious message. The messages start subtle, but if you don’t listen, it gets louder and louder and more intense.
The gift of mindfulness practices is that we start to develop an ear to hear the body’s subtle messages. The body never lies, so if you want the real information, take the elevator downstairs out of the mind to feel what’s happening in the body.
Call upon the power of Shiva to transform and transcend in this mantra and meditation class. Shiva, also known as The Destroyer, Is the patron saint of yoga, meditation, and the arts; his whole mission is to transform reality and transcend consciousness. Sit in meditation and observe before joining Clara for Shiva’s mantra, Aum Namah Shivaya, which translates to the idea that we bow to Shiva and the eternal Self as we continue to shift and transcend our current consciousness.
How do the koshas relate to the body?
CRO—The koshas are from Vedantic philosophy. Kosha usually translates as the sheath or the layers of ourselves going from the grossest to the most subtle.
The first and grossest kosha is the Annamaya kosha, being the physical body. It deals with all the things that we take in, such as what we feel and eat.
The second kosha is Pranamaya kosha, being the layer just below. Pranamaya kosha is your energetic body. We work with this kosha through the body’s energy lines; in yoga, we call the energy lines nadis, and in TCM and acupuncture, they’re called meridians.
The third kosha is Manomaya kosha, which represents your emotional body. It represents the mind and emotions, and who we think we are.
The fourth kosha is the Vijnanamaya kosha, which represents the intuitive or wisdom body.
The fifth kosha is Ananadamaya kosha, the bliss body, or what I like to call the soul.
The practice of Vedantic yoga would be to deal with all of the layers; all the various bodies that contribute to the individual. Generally, we’re more preoccupied with one of the layers, so for example, for those of us preoccupied with the physical body, we would be working with Annamaya kosha. The koshas can be a gateway into your practice to connect you with that specific body, so for meditation, it would be a practice for Manomaya kosha.
What do you hope to teach your children about body awareness?
SM— I hope to teach them that their body is amazing, that all parts of their body are amazing, and that their bodies are really cool and not something bad.
CRO— I like to think of their body as a celebration, to think of her body as a celebration and a way to feel and to experience joy. We do a lot of dancing as a family, and I hope that my daughter gets into it because I feel like it’s such a beautiful way to celebrate and to connect to freedom.
SM—We have to remember that our kids are listening to us, but way more than that, they’re watching. And what they see is what they’re going to take in and internalize. We can tell them whatever we want, but it only goes so far until they see us doing it.
What is your experience of seeing versus being present in the body?
CRO— I’ve never enjoyed looking in the mirror, and the reason is that I find it very distracting. I feel like it’s always taken me out of my experience. What I feel and what I see are never the same thing, and I used to find that very upsetting.
I studied dance for a long time, but I didn’t dance to be a professional dancer. I dance because I love moving. I remember in school, when we were doing the choreography, how I felt, how free I felt. When I would look at the videos of myself dancing that we had to watch afterward, I would cry because of how I felt and what I saw were two different things.
I eventually came not to care because I’m not trying to perfect my technique; I’m there to dance my heart out. To this day, I prefer yoga studios that don’t have mirrors in them because I don’t want to see what I look like. I want to feel it.
SM—If there were a mirror in the first yoga class that I did, I would have never gone back. I think it would have been way too confronting because, already, I felt so awkward. I think how many people likely don’t come back, just because they didn’t want to look at themselves in practice.
Yoga isn’t about how it looks, it helped me feel good, but you can’t see that from the outside. It’s like Clara said, yoga is all about the feeling that it brought for me.