Whether or not you roll out your mat to practice yoga, we all can learn a lot about our relationship to food by applying some of the principles of this ancient Indian practice to the foods we eat and how we eat them.
One of the great misnomers about yoga is that you must be a vegetarian to practice yoga. Nothing could be farther from the truth. What is more important is how do we use food? Do we use it solely to nourish us? For enjoyment? An escape?
Hatha yoga teaches us to tune our ears and eyes inward and listen to what our mind (the ego), our heart and our body is telling us. Rather than mindlessly reaching for that fifth piece of pizza or reacting immediately to a fight with our spouse by racing to the fast-food drive-thru, yoga tries to teach us to cultivate patience and observe our thoughts first, rather than quickly reacting to them.
Yoga’s ability to help heal the body and the mind is garnering the attention of medical and mental health professionals. A few years ago, a notable study showed that women who practiced yoga had greater body satisfaction, less body objectification and fewer symptoms of eating disorders than women who regularly practiced cardiovascular forms of exercise like jogging or aerobics.
Yoga is probably not the panacea to all eating disorders but its underlying message which teaches us to become more sensitive to our thoughts, feelings, and cravings opens up more pace for us to simply observe them, notice their fleeting nature and allow them to pass.
“This heightened sensitivity and responsiveness to bodily sensations is associated with less preoccupation of physical appearance, more positive views of the body, and more healthy regulation of food intake,” says the lead author of the study, Jennifer Daubenmier.
This is not to say that all of us need to assume the stance of a detached monk when a warm plate of rich chocolate brownies is placed in front of us. Who can or should resist that? But yoga tries to help us to slow down and enjoy our food, whether we’re indulging in one brownie, one bite or merely the smell of them.
The yoga of eating works its way from the inside out. Rather than focusing on the behavior of what we eat or how eat, yoga tries to get us to connect with what is going on emotionally that enables us to make food choices. In this manner, we become more aware of the actual feelings of hunger, the internal chatter in our minds that may drive us to make unhealthy food choices, and a clearer recognition of how our food choices affect us physically and emotionally. Do I really “need” that Krispy Kreme donut, or am I rather in need of something else that feeds me in a far deeper manner than fried and sweetened dough?
By applying some of these principles of patience, observation and introspection, you too can begin to alter your relationship with food for the better.