Eating and Yoga
What Does Eating have to do with Yoga?
Recently, at the One Whirl Yoga Fest at Point Park in Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to team with my business partner, Raj Patel from Yogastart, to give a talk titled, “Eat, Pray, Yoga”. Being asked by Whirl Publishing to give such a talk at their first annual yoga festival gave me an opportunity to look further into how yoga and eating are all part of transforming your whole lifestyle. Yoga is not some strange religious cult, as some mistakenly believe, but rather a way of incorporating concepts to balance your body, mind and spirit.
So what does eating and yoga have to do with each other? Well, actually, more than you ever imagined. As Scott Blossom, a well known yoga expert and practitioner from Berkeley, CA once said, “Eating is perhaps the single most important act for one’s yoga practice”. How can this be so? Proper nourishment of the body forms a foundation for nourishing the mind and emotions and this has a significant impact on your yoga practice and your ability to achieve balance overall. How can you devote yourself to a beautiful yoga practice if you are feeding your body fat, sugar and processed foods that are filled with chemicals? Being in balance at the level of your body, mind and spirit is easy to achieve with the right food choices.
Yoga originated in India and from the country’s Ayurvedic tradition. According to Wikipedia, Ayurveda is defined as “the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.” According to Ayurveda, the best foods to support your yoga practice are foods that are considered more sattvic, which are fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), whole grains and some include sea vegetables, nuts and seeds and fermented foods. These foods keep your body light and your mind clear. This is what I and many others call “the plant based diet”. As many of you know, I am a strong supporter of teaching the health benefits of the plant based diet (or eating mostly plant foods) for preventing and reversing illness. I see it all the time with my clients, that when they move to a diet filled with whole plant foods, their health improves, their weight balances naturally, and their emotions improve too. Everything comes into balance. I am not the only one that teaches this. Michael Greger, M.D. creator of Nutritionfacts.org has stated:
“There is not a different diet for each illness, a plant based diet works for everyone. Go to WHO (World Health Organization), ADA (American Dietetic Association), AHA (American Heart Association), AICR(American Institute for Cancer Research), and nobody says eat more meat or chicken to fight disease. They all state the importance of plant foods for improving health.”
I’ve seen clients reverse heart disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, and even advanced cancers by incorporating this way of eating.
I’ve even experienced cases where clients came to me with a physical health challenge like cancer or diabetes and when they move to the healthier lifestyle I recommend, their chronic depression and their emotional disorders go away and they are able to get off medications for those issues.
“There is no question that largely vegetarian diets are as healthy as you can get. The evidence is so strong and overwhelming and produced over such a long period of time that it’s no longer debatable,” says Marion Nestle, Chair of Nutrition Department NY University and director of nutrition policy US Department of Health.
But again, what does this mean for your yoga practice? First of all, you want to consider what you are eating prior to doing yoga. It is very important first of all to be properly hydrated before doing any type of physical activity, even yoga. It is smart too to make sure that you eat something that will give you sustained energy without over stuffing your belly, which would not be best for many yoga poses. Consider having some non-acidic fruits such as apples, pears or bananas. Adding some raw nuts or seeds or nut butters would help to balance your blood sugar and provide long-lasting energy. Having a healthy trail mix in your gym bag or purse is part of a smart plan to make sure you have something healthy while on the go.
I really like a morning smoothie before yoga. One that has some great tasting fruit, some hemp seeds for protein, some ground flax or chia seeds for omega 3, and a handful of greens with water or almond milk. This is delicious, energizing, and contains easy to digest healthy fats and proteins to again, balance blood sugar and provide sustained energy. My smoothie is blended in a high-power blender like the Vitamix which makes it easy on the tummy and a perfect way to start my day or prior to yoga. Fresh vegetable juice is a great option too if a smoothie is too heavy for you prior to bending and stretching in a yoga pose. I also love a sweet hydrating summer drink made with blended watermelon or cantaloupe. Be sure to see my video from last summer where I introduced these great refreshments.
Best snack before yoga:
- Coconut water
- Fresh fruit with nuts or seeds or nut butter
- Trail mix
- Fresh vegetable juice
Follow your own intuition to find what foods are best for you. Try to make choices in a positive frame of mind without being too fanatical. Being extreme in your thoughts to food and eating does not promote balanced living.
Being mindful of your eating practice is a wonderful way to enhance your yoga practice. It brings concepts of yoga into your daily living. By mindfulness, we mean slowing down, paying attention to the quality and source of your food,giving thanks for everything that went into producing and providing this food for you, look at colors and smell the aromas, and chew slowly to fully experience the textures and flavors. When you learn to eat mindfully, your food will be more fulfilling which will help to prevent overeating or cravings for things that are unhealthy.
If you do choose to eat animal foods such as meat, poultry, fish or dairy, source it with great care. Choose organically grown and humanely produced. Try to follow a concept of “do no harm” in tradition to yoga practices. Food choices reflect one’s personal ethics and these can impact your spiritual development. In summary, follow your intuition and choose consciously for your body, mind, and spirit, for the animals and for the planet.
According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, the science of yoga originated from the Vedas and as part of a spiritual path, they followed a vegetarian diet. This sattvic diet, as mentioned previously, is thought to enhance inner peace and spiritualdevelopment. Furthermore, he states that the primary force behind vegetarianism in India is a life of nonviolence and compassion for all life. Vedic teachings are of compassion and respect for all of god’s creations.
When food is pure, the mind is pure, concentration is steady. We can no longer ignore the role of food in our consciousness. According to Cousens in an interview he did for our soon to be released documentary, Bethany’s Story, he states that eating a vegan diet helps you to become a vehicle for the divine energy.
To further increase vitality, consider including as many raw foods in your diet as possible as it is thought to encourage Prana, or life force energy. By raw foods, we simply mean fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds in their fresh uncooked state. The theory here is that by eating these foods you gain the benefit from the natural enzymes that are contained in the fresh fruits and vegetables; you are getting higher amounts of nutrients as many are lost when the food is cooked. Some scientists from Germany have discovered what they call biophotons, or energy from the sun, that is digested and assimilated by the body thus providing you more energy. The sun gives light and plants store the light through the process of photosynthesis. When you eat fresh plant foods, you digest and assimilate this light, which according to Cousens, this activates your inner light and thus enhances your emotional and spiritual growth.