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The Fallacy of Willpower
an excerpt from The Yoga of Eating

Fall 2003

by Charles Eisenstein

Often we try to use willpower to improve ourselves: our diet, our bad habits, our selfishness, our temper. The fact is that any effort at self-improvement or change—including dietary change—relying mainly on willpower is destined to fail. If you resolve, "I will make myself do it," then you are fighting yourself. It means that you are divided, that on some level you do not want to do it. Sooner or later, in a moment of weakness perhaps, or a moment of self-forgetting, your true desires will express themselves as actions. The dieter will snack, cheat, make excuses, start again tomorrow. In a divided self, willpower is a puny thing.

The yogic approach to eating and diet is to bring oneself into wholeness, to illuminate and repair the self-division, to stop fighting oneself. Yoga, after all, means "union."

Even if you had an iron will, what a shame it would be for eating to become a regimen of self-denial! So many diets are defined by what you cannot eat. Who would not find the words "Yoga of Eating" intimidating? They seem to suggest a kind of discipline, purity or austerity. It is significant that the very word "diet" in our culture has come to mean a diet of restriction—usually to lose weight. So you may think that the Yoga of Eating is yet another chore, an incursion of self-denial into one of life's great pleasures.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Given the futility of coercive willpower, the Yoga of Eating offers an alternative: to align joyful, nurturing eating with the authentic needs of body and soul. To bring into alignment, into union, what you need and what you crave, what your body wants and what you actually eat. To integrate your diet with your life directions and role in the world.

Healthy eating is not a matter of clamping down on unruly appetites. It's not a matter of the rational mind using its sophisticated nutritional knowledge to overrule a stupid body that craves foods that are bad for it. Second-guessing and ignoring the body is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place, and we will not get out of it by imposing on the body yet another set of dietary principles, no matter how new-and-improved they may be.

Whereas willpower implies pitting mind against body, in the Yoga of Eating we develop greater sensitivity to the body, greater sensitivity and trust. We stop seeing the body and its appetites as the enemy, but instead listen to the messages encoded in cravings, appetites and tastes. As we develop trust in these messages, we discover subtler levels of sensitivity and greater unity of mind and body. The Yoga of Eating does not sacrifice pleasure; on the contrary, it uncovers unimagined dimensions of it.

The Yoga of Eating requires courage. To abandon the habits of distrust, restriction and denial; to emerge from the shadow of willpower and trust that the body is a friend that speaks truth; and to enact that truth even if it contradicts received beliefs about what is good and bad for you—this is no small step, but truly a leap of faith.

KYTA member Charles Eisenstein teaches yoga in State College, Penn. A new edition of his book, The Yoga of Eating, is available from NewTrends Publishing at 877-707-1776 or www.newtrendspublishing.

Complete list of articles by this author:

YOGA IN EVERY BITE: The Fallacy of Willpower

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