When I think about yoga, I think about food — and when I think about food, I think about yoga. One doesn’t come without the other. I happen to be a fan of Michael Pollan, David Lebovitz and Alice Waters, but I also love Kathryn Budig and Sean Corne (among others), and I often ask myself, "How do these two worlds fit together?"
How can I incorporate my yoga practice with the practice of eating and diet? As I keep practicing, I'm begin to find that food and yoga go seamlessly together, and there's no need to PANIC. They're both simply practices of listening. They both nourish our hearts, souls and bodies, and they're each a way of contemplating life.
In the past I told myself that I needed to pick one or the other. I couldn’t eat that because so and so wouldn’t, or I can’t eat that because yoga tells me I can’t. Oh no, no, no, my friends. There's no choice to be made here. We learn to accept and approach both with curiosity. Yoga gives us structure, gentle guidelines for how we live our lives both on and off our mats.
Traditional yoga tends to praise a vegan diet with little spice or flavor, while an Ayurvedic diet consists of different proteins, grains, herbs and spices that support different constitutions. The Western diet (a culture where yoga is relatively new but has become incredibly popular) has its own wacky take on what we eat, with mixed messages and pre-packaged foods. With these philosophies and cultural influences, I've seen a plethora of adaptations on what it means to eat, and I've found myself incredibly confused at times.
However, I continually return to a very basic global yogic guideline that translates into this: a practice of self-reflection through what I eat.
What feels good? Not just in taste, but in preparation, how we feel during, before and after. What emotions do we have when we approach our food? Anxiety, anger, joy? Through food and yoga we get the chance to examine ourselves and discover what feeds our souls. Based on these discoveries, we can create a diet of what feeds us to the highest.
There is a story within Patanjali's Sutras that tells us about the rigid tree in the flood that gets swept away, while the flexible, more grounded weed stays safe. Diet isn't something we put upon ourselves. It's something that we incorporate WITHIN ourselves. There's no set rulebook other than the one you create, what your body and personal values tell you. We all need different things, and rigidity gets us nowhere. A healthy relationship with food requires an open dialogue, just like any other healthy relationship we feed.
For so many of us, what feels good changes day to day. Our yoga practice is a means to help to tap into that intelligence, both on an emotional and physical level, and it really is magic! With the amount of history and current research on food out there, it's impossible to follow perfectly someone else's philosophy of eating. All we ask ourselves to do is approach our diet and lives with openness and curiosity. What works for us and what doesn’t? I challenge you with the next meal you provide for yourself or your family to ask this question first.
What truly feeds me? And: Is what I am eating align with that?