What I told the tiny little hippie sitting on my shoulder

Monday, August 6, 2012 at 11:42AM

Yoga teaches us to find balance in all aspects of life. But have you noticed the yoga world can be rather extreme in some of its ideals!? Sorta dramatic in its fashionable sacrifices? Current information and trends urge us to lead a mindful, all-natural, eco-conscious, BALANCED life with tempting images of a clutter and toxin-free home, diet, and mind. I fall for it constantly. I catch myself comparing my world to this idyllic lifestyle, taking unreasonable, inconvenient and often impractical actions to try and live up to it.

It’s like there is a tiny perfect hippie sitting in lotus pose on my shoulder. Drinking tea (not coffee) and dressed in hemp, or lululemon, she whispers to me: Don’t let your kids eat that! You’re poisoning yourself! That causes cancer! That ruins the environment! Those chemicals will make your children barren! You aren’t doing enough! You don’t practice enough! You are a horrible yogi if you do that!

Last week I did a little research on cosmetics and personal products. Did you know they are incredibly toxic? Nail polish, eye shadow, lotion, soaps (not to mention household cleansers)…all worse for you than a Big Mac. I found this realization terrifying, as I have rarely gone a day without nail polish or gloss. I immediately started disposing of everything that wasn’t completely natural. Every time I washed my hands or put on mascara I asked myself if it was worth the risk. Repeatedly I’ve wondered if I could live without make-up forever. I made lists of all the products I needed to replace. I heard the tiny hippie repeat over and over You must get rid of everything toxic in this house.

I’ve noticed she’s a drama-queen. (A decidedly un-yogic trait.)

I know I am not alone in the pursuit to take responsibility for my own and my family’s health. The nutrition information is so vast. I feel vulnerable to each new finding—supplements, food dye, genetically modified, acidity levels, hormone levels, environmental changes, sugar—oh gawd the evils of sugar! After many stringent bouts, (shunning coffee, corn syrup, gluten, fat, animal protein, dairy), I am starting to weigh how detrimental these “healthy” measures are to my sanity. And isn’t sanity important?

 The sane, and practical side of me wonders if all the time I’ve spent gathering healthier foods, learning new recipes, researching diets, cleaning out cabinets, juicing and blending could have been better spent playing games with my kids? Would that extra hour running around with them outside have had the same impact on our health as the local, organic kale I drove 25 miles to buy and 30 minutes to prepare? You have to know—if you’re a juicer, those are just hours and hours of your life gone, gathering, washing, peeling, pulsing. But then the tiny hippie, holding bakasana on my shoulder, asks with a knowing smirk Well, unless you live longer from that juice, right?

Historically I’ve been the same way with exercise. before she was a little hippie, I had a coach sitting on my shoulder, telling me to go longer, faster, harder. Oddly, for the longest time my yoga practice didn’t diminish that struggle. Rather, that little coach-turned-hippie told me that instead of running ten miles, I needed to accomplish certain poses (and look peaceful doing it). To satisfy my desire to be like her, I searched for the bliss in waking up at dawn for an hour of vinyasa and meditation. I searched for the perfect yoga scarf.

No matter how much I want it, or how much effort I put in, it seems that just tiny bits of me change at any given time. I’ve been practicing yoga for about ten years. Only now am I starting to realize I can shush that little judgmental hippie. You have to love and respect how gradual, now NATURAL that process is. My body has responded to the movement of yoga so steadily that I forget it was ever different. My resolve and instinctive tendency to push myself, to set goals I was ensured not to meet, to only love myself when I was practically dead from exhaustion didn’t just disappear. It has dripped off me like slowly melting snow…on a 40 degree day.

The other day I was walking. And I was enjoying myself! I was pacing my music, feelin’ fine when it occurred to me that I was satisfied. I instantly caught myself wondering if I should work harder or if I’d gotten lazy. I heard the tiny hippie: Do you try hard at anything anymore Gretchen?! Then a brief moment of doubt…Do I? But panic quelled when I easily felt Yes. You try damn hard at about every single thing you do. I analyzed: Relationships? Parenting? Morals? Becoming a more mindful person? Eating wisely? Teaching yoga? Learning yoga? Bringing Peace? And I admit I was a little shocked and totally pleased that this statement was true in each case. Yoga had found a way to seep into every part of me. So why do I let that tiny little haughty hippie make me feel bad!? Why do I let her dictate my grocery list or tell me how to raise my kids? Maybe I like the idea of that faultless, natural, eco-friendly vegan yoga-girl because I’ll never get there. Maybe I like comparing myself to her because it keeps me from accepting and owning what I actually am.

This really was an “A-ha” moment. I happily could see that while that nudge to be more extreme is still there, I’m making progress! I am learning what it feels like to live in a more balanced place. I’m slowly, tiny bit at a time, becoming comfortable in moderation: not overly-pleased with my lofty intentions and goals, but actually acknowledging my honest efforts and letting the rest fall away. While I do feel good when I eat clean and practice regularly, I also I like coffee! I like wine! I like swearing occasionally and lazy Sundays spent watching television. With all my less-than-perfect, totally non-hippie, indulgent parts, I LIKE myself this way. And more than the flawless little hippie, I like that example for my children (and my students). The stress of trying to live up to these ideals just isn’t practical anymore. Just as I don’t have time to run to ten different farmer’s markets, I don’t have time to berate myself about it.

While I know that tiny hippie won’t jump off my shoulder for good, it’s up to me to take or leave her advice. So I imagine her more disheveled—running late, a couple pounds heavier, her Target pants stained.

I feel the need to declare to her:

At this stage in my life, I am going to do the best I can. I will give myself and my kids as many veggies and as much exercise as possible, cook the most quality meals, and manage our sugar and unwanted chemicals to a reasonable degree. But for now I’m releasing the need to make yogurt, bread, or pasta, harvest an expansive vegetable garden, raise/butcher/process my own chickens/pigs/cows, guarantee that every single item we purchase is organic and local, verify the ingredients in every item we eat or use on our body, recycle every recycle-able, as well as the idea of ever totally living without real toilet paper, coffee, chocolate, or wine. I’ll probably give in to the occasional use of nail polish and mascara too.

Namaste’ she said with a smile.