The Visionary’s Manifesto Presents Shayna Hiller: Superfood for the Soul
HoC: What is bio-individuality?
SH: Bio-individuality means that one person’s food can be the next person’s poison. And ‘food’ comes in many forms. In other words, what nourishes one person may not nourish another. This is important to understand in a culture obsessed prescribing one dietary theory or lifestyle suggestion for a mass of people, as if we are all the same. Bio-individuality literally takes the individual into account. We each have our own history, a unique body and mind, interests, desires, etc. And if we yearn for optimal health we must honor our unique path and truly understand what we need in order to feel balanced in body and mind. Bio-individuality is the path of trust and truth. There is no path ‘outside’. The ‘map’ is within…
HoC: You went through a dramatic weight loss early in your journey. What symptoms were you dealing with and how did you overcome the mental stress of that physical burden?
SH: This is such a magical question. Thank you. Yes, my weight loss began when I was in college. I started working out when I was in college since it seemed like that’s what everyone else was doing. I liked to follow the crowd. People began to comment on my physique and that led me to more and more working out. Because more is better, right? 😉 I then began dieting as this was literally the first time in my entire life I was even aware I had a body and that I had some sort of ‘control’ over it. However, I took that control our of control. I had no idea what was healthy and was living on sugar free energy drinks and over-exercising. This did cause weight loss and very poor health and a great deal of anxiety and stress. While I was living abroad in Australia during my senior year of college, I MISTAKENLY walked in on a yoga class, thinking it was going to be kickboxing. I was upset because I wanted an intense class. The yoga class changed my life. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced and left me asking myself the deeper questions about life and existence, which was so NOT my typical way of being. I spent the next few months exploring the countryside of Australia while taking up yoga and learning about holistic living and healthy eating. Upon returning to the states, I enrolled in a 200 hour yoga teacher training program and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to learn more about food and to become a Health Coach. One would think this would be just the ‘medicine’ I needed, however it only further propelled me into the illusion of control and obsession. My mindset was the same. I took this new lifestyle to the extreme and was micro-managing every morsel of organic food I was eating. I knew I wasn’t anorexic because I now had a newfound awareness and knowledge about the importance of eating however I was overly meticulous about the way in which I was eating and the quality of the food. I would never eat out or with people. I had a ritual of breathing practices before every meal and my mind was fixated on food 24/7. I dreamed about food. I had no energy for anything else. This was exhausting. I was down to 67 pounds. I was so curious about why this was happening to me, as I had never experienced issues with my body image or any history of eating disorders among family and friends. I was confused at my own being. I happened to stumble across a book called ‘Health Food Junkies’ which accurately described my situation: Orthorexia– an obsessed with being perfectly ‘clean’ and healthy. Go figure, even healthy can be unhealthy…
One huge benefit which propelled my self-healing is my meditation practice and reading certain spiritual books. They were the light in my darkest days. I never thought I was going to die from Orthorexia. I felt it was a necessary shedding of an old version of myself and an experience that now allows me to serve others from a place of empathy. And another factor that contributed to alleviating the mental stress from so much burden placed on my body from overexercising and under-eating was literally eating more and exercising less. It was difficult, but my higher self know it would help not only my body but re-structure my mind.. which it did! And, I chose to re-gain my ‘self’ with all organic whole foods and healthy fats, so I literally re-built my brain… or so it feels at least. 😉
HoC: What is your “yogic philosophy”?
SH: I teach yoga and weave yogic philosophy into all of my classes. I like to live yoga, so my philosophy is simple. Yoga is the practice of stilling the mind. The mind is at peace when the body is in balance and we are living honest, simple lives. I incorporate the philosophy of yoga into my every day life as best as I can by making choices that serve my highest intention, eating simple foods, practicing yoga, listening to soothing music, surrounding myself with loving people and taking plenty of time for rest and nature. Yoga is a way of living in harmony. That doesn’t mean we do not experience stress or negative emotions but we identify less with them and become the witness to our experience. The witness is always at peace. Everything else is temporary. My philosophy is also based on pleasure and joy. If we do not feed ourselves with joy we will never be healthy. So mindfulness is the key to avoid deprivation and over-indulgence. Balance is the goal, and we are each our own teacher and healer.
HoC: How does proper food intake play a role in the mental and physical dynamics of our growth and spiritual alignment?
SH: My teacher from India says the meditation is not possible until the food is correct. And I agree with him wholeheartedly. It may seem insignificant because food is so widely available and so normalize din our culture. Even eating unhealthy processed artificial junk food is tolerated by most people. The subtle yet powerful physiological effects of food are misunderstood and often neglected at the sake of the physical effects of food. Eating is often seen as a means of losing or gaining weight. But what we eat also builds not only our bones and muscles and nerves but our thoughts and emotions and feelings. Take the example of coffee and alcohol. Enough of either of those will change your consciousness. The same with a piece of broccoli. The same with a hamburger. Over time, it shifts our DNA and aligns us with different frequencies. Food is energy. We are energy. What are we aligning ourselves with? How clear is your mind? What if food, perhaps more vegetables or perhaps less fried dense foods could contribute to peace of mind…? These are worthy topics to explore for yourself… for your journey is unique and no one can teach you but YOU!
HoC: How does the practice of yoga heal those complex inner wounds i.e. heartbreak, depression and frustration?
SH: Yoga allows me to feel all of my emotions without judgement or repression. Repression leads to depression. For years I denied my authentic feelings because I did not have the tools of conscious self-expression. I also felt a victim to my situations and was unable to let go and forgive. Letting go, surrender and forgiveness are pure magic. We must forgive ourselves and see ourselves as new each moment… not only when we wake up in the morning but each new breath we take is a gift and an opportunity to start fresh. Yoga taught me to truly love and honor the miracle of life expressing itself through me AS me.
HoC: What type of characteristics did you exude as a young woman navigating her way through life before you were introduced to the teachings of yoga?
SH: Oh wow, another amazing question! I often tell people I feel completely re-born since starting my yoga journey. I believe that practicing yoga AND changing my diet literally changed me as a person. Not only physically, but my entire way of being and thinking is so drastically different form my younger years that I almost don’t recognize myself. It’s like another life. It’s kind of cool actually and a bit trippy. First off, I was a follower. I did what other people did. I was extremely materialistic but for the wrong reasons. I hid behind fancy labels and fancy clothes and layers of make-up in order to impress others. I ate fast food my entire life and if someone told me it was unhealthy, I’d tell them to F** off. 😉 I also smoked cigarettes for five years, again in order to be cool. I’m originally from New Jersey, so I guess you could say I was a total Jersey girl. And for you NJ peeps, I’m STILL a Jersey girl at heart. I still love nice things, I love getting my hair done and I love looking good… BUT if I didn’t have nice things I STILL am all good! That is the secret! Indulge mindfully and be okay with yourself as you are at the same time. This material existence is so much fun to play in, as long as we are moving from a place of self-love, non-attachment and honesty.
HoC: What has been the guiding force behind your ability to always se the so-called glass as half full?
SH: This questions reminds me of a great quote by one of my late teachers, Jiddu Krishnamurti which says: ‘My secret: I don’t mind what happens.’ 😉 I identify less with my body and my mind since practicing yoga and meditation for so long. That’s partially why my eating disorder is long gone. I have a body and a mind but I am not them. It is impossible to be the very thing you are aware of. So in that sense, I am not attached. I allow emotions to flow through me, experiences, etc. So many people thought I was going to die from my eating disorder but I intuitively knew I wasn’t going to and that this challenge would lead me to something beautiful down the line… so I guess you could say that surviving a life-threatening experience is fuel to continue seeing life through grateful eyes. The sun is beautiful. The trees are majestic. Life is so abundant when our eyes are really open to the miracle we have been given. Everything is perspective. Nothing is inherently ‘bad’ or ‘good’ ; it’s the label we place that indicates our relationship to a given situation or object. Instead of a negative experience being a ‘problem’, I now view it as a holy teacher.
HoC: What final thoughts would you like to leave with our audience?
SH: Trust yourself. Trust life. Let go of labels. You are unique and in this body lies so much magic and mystery that is worth exploring. Anything you could possibly desire on the outside… any person, object, any amount of money, etc. can and will ever fulfill the real desire which is to know and accept and love oneself from the inside out.