The standard advice for people who want to lose weight goes something like this: “Eat less saturated fat, starchy carbs, and simple sugars, and get more exercise.” The trouble is, the system is simple, but people are complex.
If losing weight were that easy, the world would be filled with people who look like the cast of “Baywatch.”
Why is it hard to achieve our weight loss goals? We may know a lot about the science of losing weight, but the truth is, few of us know about the hidden mental, emotional, and spiritual factors involved in weight-loss. And that’s where the sages of the ancient East can lend a hand.
Weight loss begins with facing reality as it is, and dealing with it. And that’s what Indian philosophy does – it reveals how we can harmonize our lives the way things work in the real world.
Indian wisdom begins by asking some very basic questions about life. For example: “What are we looking for?” And the answer the ancient sages give is based on a simple insight into human nature: “Everyone, everywhere, for all time, has wanted to experience greater happiness, and to avoid sorrow.”
The yogi-philosophers then asked: “How can we find a happiness that lasts?” And the answer came by observing people’s actions and the results. By watching life with eyes wide open, the yogis formulated the basic “rules” for achieving happiness and ending sorrow.
The longing for happiness is very powerful. It’s our deepest, most enduring urge. And if you can harness your weight loss goals to that most fundamental drive, you’ll greatly increase your chances of success – of becoming a thinner, happier person.
What kinds of actions truly deliver enduring happiness? Let’s look at some simple examples of things that increase happiness – things that you may have done many times, perhaps without even realizing their happiness-giving power:
You reached out to help a friend in need, and your heart mysteriously filled with joy.
You overcame a difficult test by applying undaunted courage and perseverance, and in that victory you basked in an aura of joy.
You applied your mind to a problem at work, and after concentrating intensely for several hours, the solution came — accompanied by a quiet inner joy.
You began eating better and exercising regularly — you lost 10 pounds, and the response, from some deep core of your being, was joy!
What is the common factor in these little victories that invariably gives us joy?
Whenever we expand the range and sensitivity of our ordinary human abilities, we experience joy, without fail.
Yoga philosophy tells us that the key to unlock the gates of happiness is “expanding awareness.” Happiness arrives at our doorstep with when we become healthier, more loving, more inwardly strong, more wise, and more deeply in tune with the divine. But yoga doesn’t leave us to ponder the rather puzzling exhortation: “Be expansive!” Instead, it compassionately describes the practical steps we can take to make ever-increasing happiness a regular part of our lives.
The Happiness Toolbox
The ancient yogis observed that, as children grow up, they pass through five stages, each of which lasts six years. During the first stage, for example, from birth to age 6, the child learns to use its body and senses, while from age 6 to 12, the feelings come to the fore. This is the time when children enthusiastically embrace the “media of feeling” — stories, music, art, and dance.
From 12 to 18, teenagers work eagerly to expand their inner strength and sense of personal independence. Then, from 18 to 24, the intellect assumes center stage. This explains why college students are so fond of discussing philosophy, politics, art, and science late into the night. Finally, around age 24, many people experience life changes that may usher in a spiritual awakening.
The system obviously isn’t mechanically precise. Thus, a three year old doesn’t lack the feeling quality, simply because its main task is familiarizing itself with the body — in fact, the infant is likely to express its feelings often and at maximum volume! But the main developmental tool tends to dominate the others during each six year phase.
The point is, nature has given us five wonderful tools to achieve whatever we want in life, including happiness and/or weight-loss. Let’s put the tools in order:
- Body (1-6)
- Feeling (6-12)
- Will (12-18)
- Mind (18-24)
- Soul (24-30)
An interesting thing about these “tools of transformation” is that they tend to pop up in the same order in most natural processes, from falling in love, to starting a business, to running a marathon, to losing weight.
When people fall in love, the first attraction isn’t always physical, of course, but the sequence of events is usually set in motion by physical attraction. I’m at a party, and I see a person across the room who appeals to my sense of beauty. My feelings become aroused, and I resolve to use my will to act on those feelings. I walk over and strike up a conversation. As we talk, my mind probes for details: Is she married? What are her interests? Does she like children? Does she drink or do drugs? Finally, if I’m wise, I’ll consult my inner guidance for this most important life venture. Perhaps without realizing it, I’ve navigated the natural sequence: body, feeling, will, mind, and soul.
Nature’s Way to Weight-Loss
What’s the first thing people usually think about when they decide to lose weight? The first thing to do is, obviously, to go on a diet — right? But, in fact, that’s the worst possible choice, because it isn’t in harmony with nature’s way.
The body’s first concern when isn’t losing weight – it’s survival, which has a great deal more to do with health than with shedding a few extra pounds. If you follow nature’s wisdom, and take the time to focus on improving your health before you start a weight loss program, you’ll be setting yourself up for easier weight-loss later — and you’ll have more fun in the process.
People who begin a weight loss program by gutting-through a diet and exercise regime with hardnosed will power are going against nature. That’s why so many fail, or never really get started. It’s vitally important to know what to do first.
Losing weight takes a level of motivation that may be difficult to muster at the start. In fact, dieting does requires determination and will power.
Remember the sequence of the child’s growth? Notice that will power comes third, not first.
Nature, in its wisdom, has made the process as easy and as fun as possible. Instead of beating ourselves up with difficult dieting and hard-nosed exercise, we can increase our odds of success by focusing on some simple, enjoyable strategies for improving our health and energy. Getting healthy fit is a lot easier than dieting — and it lays a solid foundation for future success in taking off the weight as you’ll see shortly.
Let the Body Be Your Guide
Let’s take a look at what happens when you forget about losing weight in the beginning, and put your body’s real needs first.
What realistic steps can you take to become more healthy and energetic? For starters, you can make some simple, enjoyable changes in your eating habits. Please note: This is not dieting! It simply means that you make a list of the most delicious, health-promoting foods and begin eating them. It’s up to you whether you also gradually (or immediately) give up the less-healthy choices in your diet.
We’ll help you draw up the list. Among the tools that can help you are some excellent books. The one we recommend most strongly is Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.
Next, you can begin a gentle, enjoyable exercise program. We are not talking about hard workouts at the gym, or an intense running program. Walking and bicycling are fine.
Anyone who’s spent years avoiding exercise is sure to feel lots of resistance to starting a fitness program. That’s natural. If it describes you, you need to memorize the Exercise Prime Directive and repeat it mentally every day: “If it isn’t fun — Just Avoid It!”
When it comes to a fitness program, pain is the old way. Today, no fitness trainer in his right mind would tell a beginner to “gut through” a tough workout. In fact, scientists at the renowned Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas have discovered that the people who stick with an exercise program longest, enjoy it the most, and become fit the fastest, are those who exercise gently, no more than every other day.
Nothing makes you feel better faster than making small, pleasurable changes in your diet and beginning a moderate exercise program. Remember, the important thing about dieting and exercise is to “increase happiness and decrease pain.”
Where do the good feelings come from? And do they come to everybody? Yes, they do, because it’s an inescapable law: If you expand your abilities in any area of your life, the result (guaranteed) is a fresh sense of joy and happiness.
Let’s take a closer look at what happens as you pass through the five stages of weight loss.
In the “body stage,” you’ll begin eating better, and you’ll start exercising mildly. And, surprise , your body will immediately reward you with good feelings. After a few weeks, you’ll feel changed. Your body will feel more alive, your emotions will be more positive and stable, and your will power will be infused with fresh feelings of “I can!” Your mind will be clearer, and your soul will respond by trickling joy into your life.
Energy Makes Change Possible
Where do these profound changes come from? They come from energy. As your body becomes more fit and healthy, it can pump more energy into all five channels of your being: body, heart, will, mind, and soul. With greater energy flowing through your entire system, you begin to feel happier, stronger, and smarter. And remember, that’s the second stage: feeling.
Feelings are so important! Why? Because feelings drive us forward. With joyful, positive, confident feelings, we have tremendous power to succeed in a weight loss program, or in anything else. Positive, supportive feelings are the mainspring of successful weight-loss. And they arrive naturally when you follow nature’s plan — gradually coaxing your body to supply you with the energy that stimulates those feelings of confidence and enthusiasm. You’ll need those happy feelings when it comes to exercising your will power to lose weight.
Big, Bad Will Power
People have lots of wrong notions about will power. Paramhansa Yogananda, a great master of yoga, and the author of Autobiography of a Yogi, gave a refreshing definition: “Will power is an increasingly smooth flow of energy and attention, directed toward a desired end.”
Notice how this definition lacks any suggestion of the kind of grim, fist clenching determination that many people associate with will power. “A smooth flow?” Well, that sounds more like something we can do, doesn’t it?
Sports psychologists who study champion athletes are totally in agreement with this definition of will. They urge their world beating clients to create a powerful “volition” an increasingly smooth movement of their entire being toward their athletic goals. Body, feeling, will, mind, and soul all must move in the same positive direction.
Notice, also, that Yogananda’s definition includes all five tools of transformation:
“Will power is an increasingly smooth flow of energy and attention, directed toward a desired end.”
- Body: “Energy”
- Feeling: “Desired”
- Will: “Directed”
- Mind: “Attention”
- Soul: “End”
The most important tool for building will power is feeling. We can only create an all-consuming volition if we have a deep, heart felt conviction that weight loss is something we really desire and can achieve. If you can convince your feelings, you’ve won half the battle. The other half is convincing your mind – we’ll talk about that next. Just remember – as you become fit and healthy, you’ll have fresh energy that will stimulate enthusiastic feelings, and magically draw your energy and attention into a natural, focused flow.
Mind: the Helper
The mind isn’t a very good motivator, but it’s a wonderful tool figuring out how things work. Once you’ve started to become fit and healthy, your mind can help you understand the details of how weight-loss works. That’s tremendously important – because understanding makes weight-loss seem possible. The mind may lack the fire of feeling, or the force of will power, and the wise guidance of the soul, but it can help you understand how your body works, and how you can work with it to achieve your weight-loss goals.
Every human body works pretty much the same — whether it’s Black, White, Brown, and whether it lives in Africa, India, or Illinois. Knowing the body’s laws clearly with your mind makes it much, much easier to lose weight.
For example, when you eat saturated fats and simple sugars, the body finds it veeeery easy to turn those particular foods into fat. It’s almost as if there’s a special “fat tube” connecting your mouth to your butt, if you’re female, or to your gut if you’re male. But if you eat green, leafy vegetables, fruit, and complex carbohydrates, the body has a much harder time turning those foods into fat. Understanding this clearly will help you become fully persuaded that these foods are simply not worth eating.
You’ll get the best support from your mind, if you study the science of weight loss over and over again — until you’ve absorbed the facts with every fiber of your being. Ideas are hard to resist when they’re crystal-clear to you. On the other hand, fuzzy ideas tend to break down in a crisis. When you arrive home late, and you’re looking into the fridge at 2 in the morning, tired to the bone and staring at a bowl of cold enchiladas, it’ll help to have a mind that burns with the clear flame of truth. Sure, you’ll think “Oh boy, enchiladas!” That’s natural. But your well-informed mind will reply, “I’ll pass. Eat it today, wear it tomorrow! Instead, I’ll make a great-tasting salad with Romaine, spinach, carrots, avocado, beans, and a dressing of orange juice, Bragg’s, and almond butter.” (Notice how feeling, will, and mind cooperate?)
Fuzzy mind is wimpy mind. To develop a fiery, laser like mind, you must feed your brain with positive, helpful, smart thoughts about weight-loss, until those thoughts are strong enough to carry you past the enchiladas.
How to get smart about weight-loss? Read the books in the Resource List at the end of this book (especially Eat to Live). Talk with health-smart friends. Be around people who radiate will power and intelligence. Hang out with healthy, fit people. (Hire them, if you have to!) Read books and articles. Watch exercise videos. In all these ways, you’ll sharpen your mental awareness and clarity.
Every one of the tools of transformation has a positive and negative side. Your mind can help or confuse you. Your feelings can inspire you, or mire you in depression. You can use your will power to trample others (and hurt yourself in the process), or to serve lovingly.
How you use the tools will depend to a great extent on how much wisdom you can bring to your life. And wisdom depends not on health, good feelings, and mental smarts, but on how much inspiration you can draw from the all-knowing higher power that is your soul.
In a weight loss program, as in life, nothing – nothing — will help you succeed more surely than the soul’s inner guidance. Having wise intuition to guide your feelings, will power, and mind makes a world of difference. Lacking that guidance, we can find ourselves often wandering down pointless side-paths and dead-ends.
When I began my own weight loss program, I tried relying on my own resources. Instead of asking for inner guidance from the get-go, I analyzed all of the currently popular diets and chose a radical, no fat regimen, simply because it seemed like the fastest way to attain my goal.
For the first four months, the diet went reasonably well, and I lost about 30 pounds. But then I began to get mysterious bronchitis and sinusitis episodes — in the middle of an unusually hot summer. Exasperated, I finally prayed, “What’s happening? What should I do next?” A quiet intuition suggested that I call a friend who’s a professional nutritionist. When I told him about my health problems, he exclaimed, “You’ve got to get some high quality fat in your diet! It’s absolutely essential for the health of your immune system.”
My intuition told me that it was true. But I needed to understand it with my mind. So I prayed again for guidance, and then I discovered two books that explained the importance of the “healthy fats.” (The books were The Facts about Fats, by John Finnegan, and Fats That Kill, Fats That Heal, by Udo Erasmus, Ph.D.) Within days of adding only a teaspoon a day of high quality fat to my diet, I felt miraculously healed and energized, and I had no more problems with bronchitis.
Relying solely on the “lower” four instruments of our being body, feeling, will, and mind –seldom works well in the long haul. Sooner or later, we invariably run up against problems for which those tools simply can’t give us answers. The facts are either too deeply hidden, or too complex, for our mind, feelings, or will power to get at them.
I remember a period when I was training for my first ultramarathon, a difficult 31.1-mile race with 9200’ of climbing in the High Sierras. Excruciating heel pain suddenly threatened to end my running career altogether. After searching high and low, I finally stopped searching with my mind and prayed for help, and the answer came in the form of a quiet intuition: “Go see the podiatrist.”
I protested, “But money is very tight now, and the podiatrist will prescribe shoe inserts that cost $400.” The inner voice was unrelenting. Again, it said: “Go see the podiatrist.” Seizing my faith in both hands, I made an appointment, and sure enough, the bill came to $440. Then, two days later, an old friend that I hadn’t heard from in years called and said he wanted me to take some photographs for a book he’d written. He needed the photos quickly, and he’d pay $500.
The mind can’t know, the feelings can’t feel, and the will can’t always push hard enough to deliver the solution. But the soul knows for certain, unequivocally. And the soul always has our best interests at heart.
Some people imagine it’s “wrong” to ask for God’s help in such trivial matters as weight loss and exercise. But they’re quite wrong. God wants our highest happiness and is deeply concerned with the details of our lives, lest they contribute to our unhappiness. If you think that God is too busy, running hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars, think of it this way: God is not only infinitely large, but infinitely small. No detail of our lies is too trivial for His attention.
If you would care to experiment with the soul aspect of weight loss, let me suggest a simple experiment. Spend a few minutes each day talking informally with God. Cultivate the habit of reviewing your problems with Him. You can do it anywhere, anytime – while walking, shopping, driving, before you go to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning.
You might also consider learning meditation, which trains the mind to be calm so that you can better hear the soul’s intuitive answers. When you learn to still your mind, it’s easier to find that quiet presence within.
God will be your personal trainer — but only if you ask. You have to start the conversation. Don’t chisel out your prayers, using fancy language. Talk to Him as you’d talk to a friend. A friend of mine prayed for guidance when she was facing a desperately difficult divorce. For the first time in her life, she received God’s answer — an intuitive calmness descended over her, and a clear intuitive voice whispered: “You might as well face it, honey — it’s just one damn thing after another.”
Weight loss is just one thing after another, too. But if you use your God given weight-loss tools in cooperation with your inner guidance, you’ll find the answers you need, exactly you need them.