We live in a society that discourages fullness. We are conditioned to be hungry – for food, for a particular body shape, for certain accomplishments, or for products. Rarely are we encouraged to feel satisfied, to be content just as we are in the present moment.
In my personal and professional experience, women in particular (though not exclusively) feel ambivalent about physical and emotional sensations of fullness. Though as infants, we have an intuitive sense of when to eat, and when to stop eating, we live in a culture that interferes. A baby cries when she is hungry and turns her head away from her mother’s breast when she is full. She has a bodily sense of what she needs to feel satisfied. It is instinctive and non-verbal, grounded in awareness that the body is trustworthy and resilient. As she develops, she takes in her environment. She hears messaging from the media, from peers, and sometimes from her family, that tell her to eat less, eat more, or to eat particular things for optimal health. She learns how she should dress, what she should say, and how often she should exercise. She learns to take care of others, and to swallow her own needs. Somewhere along the way, feeling full can become a bad thing, an indication of having taken in too much. It can bring up anxiety around themes of body image, vulnerability, entitlement, and control.
What would it be like to reconnect with hunger and to enjoy feeling full? Try the sequence below to experiment using breath. Notice what feelings come up. Where in the sequence do you feel peaceful? Where do you feel anxious? Any surprises?
Note: Do not do this exercise if you have asthma, trouble breathing, or if you are pregnant. Stop if you feel dizzy or light-headed and take several long deep breaths to recover.
Find a comfortable seat. Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, or sit up on a folded blanket, yoga block, or any other support that allows your shoulders to stack over your hips and your knees to drop comfortably. Let your hands rest on your thighs with your palms facing up.
Begin by taking several long, deep inhales and exhales through the nose. Pay close attention to where your body holds tension, and focus your breathing in those places for a moment at a time.
On your next inhale, fill yourself up all the way. Expand your rib cage, allow the belly to inflate, and root down through your seat. When you think you are entirely full of breath or have the impulse to release it, suck a few more breaths of air in through your nose. Subtly draw your chin toward your chest. Hold for two counts.
Release slowly. Try to take up a full five counts before finding empty. Release your chin to neutral. Stay there. When you have the impulse to suck air in again, push just a little bit more out through the nose. Hold for two counts.
To release, take breath in slowly, and resume long, deep inhales and exhales.
Try this exercise several times, with at least three recovery breaths in between. If you would like, you can increase the number of counts that you hold the breath in and out to four, and then five. Do not practice retention on concurrent breaths.