The Yoga of Eating: 4 Ways to Love Food and Stay Healthy
Yoga can be a gateway to health and wellness. However, the constant flux of dietary trends popular among yoga practitioners can lead to confusion, self-doubt, and self-deprivation. We can continue to love food while maintaining health by taking these four yogic principles off the mat and onto our plates.
1. Sankalpa: Eat with Intention
Sankalpa is the Sanskrit word for intention formed by the heart and mind. Often at the beginning of a yoga class, teachers ask us to set an intention for our practice. Sometimes this intention can be a dedication to a particular person in our lives who could use positive thoughts. Other times, our intention may be directed to a quality that we’d like to cultivate more of in our own lives, such as peace or self-love. The practice of forming an intention in yoga can allow us to move into or modify the poses in a way that honors our goals for the practice.
Similarly, setting an intention for eating can allow us to become more mindful of what we eat and why. For example, by setting an intention to choose foods that nourish our bodies, we can become better and more intuitively in tune to the nutritional quality of our foods. Each food that we put into our bodies can serve a purpose, whether that is its nutritional value or its ability to satiate us. By becoming more intentional, when we choose to eat a decadent slab of moist chocolate cake—or whatever other type of food that we love—it can be done with satisfaction rather than guilt or remorse.
2. Ahimsa: Eat with Compassion
In Sanskrit, ahimsa translates to “non-violence toward all living beings.” It is one of the yamas, or guiding principles for interacting with the world at large in Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga. By bringing more compassion to our plates, we can become more mindful about how our food choices may affect the world around us.
Each and every morsel that we ingest has a small yet meaningful impact on the larger global food system. From the environmental impact of packaging and food transportation, to the social impact of who is sourcing our food and how fairly they are being paid for labor, to the impact of our food products on animal welfare, to the impact of foods on our own bodies and minds, there is a tangled web of consequences to consider with each choice we make.
By cultivating compassion for other people, animals, the environment, and ourselves, we can choose foods that we truly love to eat for reasons beyond taste alone.
3. Aparigraha: Eat with Moderation
Aparigraha is another yama of yoga, and it translates to “non-greed.” Rather than adhering to black-and-white rules of portion or what can or cannot be eaten, giving ourselves permission to indulge in moderation in foods that we truly love can make us content with an amount that is appropriate to satisfy our cravings while still nourishing our bodies.
4. Svadhyaya: Eat Intuitively
Svadhyaya translates to “self-study” in Sanskrit, and it is one of the niyamas, or fundamental personal practices in Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga. Practicing yoga on the mat becomes a more powerful experience when we develop a better understanding of how our bodies and minds are influenced by the postures. Similarly, we can become more aware of the ways that different foods affect us mentally and physically by treating eating as a “self-study” of sorts.
Each time we show up to our plates, our bodies and minds may be in a slightly different state than the day before, based on how we slept, how active we were during the day, and what we ate the night before, among a whole host of unpredictable variables. We can make better decisions about what feels nourishing at any given moment by being present and aware of the effects foods have on our bodies before, during, and after each meal.
For some eaters, it may be helpful to keep a journal to track the mental and physical effects of food. Others can simply rely on experience and the intuitive nature of our teacher within rather than constantly looking to the outside world for dieting guidance.
We can eat in a way that honors our bodies and the world around us by taking our yoga off the mat and onto our plates. By practicing these four principles of yogic philosophy, we can eat foods that we love and that nourish us.
Another great start-the-new-year-out-right article from YogaUOnline and contributor, Lynn Crimando-Sankalpa the Yoga of Making Healthy Choices.
Study lymphatic health with Tias Little and YogaUOnline – Yoga for Lymphatic Health: Building Physical and Psychic Immunity.
Lacey Gibson is a Boston-based freelance food writer, a global health research consultant, an RYT-200 yoga teacher, and a certified barre teacher. She graduated in 2015 with a BA/BS in French and Physiology from Southern Illinois University, where she also competed as an NCAA DI track/cross country runner. Additionally, she holds a Masters of Science in Global Health and Population from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
As a writer, Lacey specializes in mindful consumption of chocolate, coffee, and wine. Her work has been published in the Journal of Wine Research, Gastronomica, Fresh Cup, Elephant Journal, Happy Cow, and DOYOUYOGA, among others. Lacey’s mission as a writer and as a yoga teacher is to inspire openness, compassion, and connection through mindful movement, living, and eating.