Food for thought: Yoga & Mindful Eating
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Today, I want to tell you something about yoga and eating – two things that are really important for me in my daily life. Two things that have changed my entire perception of who I am and what I am here for. Two things that have turned my whole life upside down. It’s about the science of Yoga. And about the science of Eating. And also about some Psychology. After all, it is about connecting the dots between the three of them. So without further ado, I hope you will like it. 🙂
First things first: With mindful eating and cooking, I don’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing your meals, freezing big bags of bananas (which you should definitely do though) or planning each meal for the week ahead. What I mean with mindful eating is that a simple conscious thought has the power to make a huge difference!
With mindful eating there’s no right or wrong to eat. There are no good or bad foods, just increased awareness of the (preparation and eating) process. It’s actually quite simple. For me, mindful eating starts by being fully present when you cook – with all your senses that is. Moreover, it’s about transforming your food with tools you have on hand (knives, herbs, spices, you name it) – making it taste alive. Nourishing ourselves and those who dine with you.
Where attention goes, energy flows, and mindfulness grows
Just as on our yoga mat where we focus on how we feel in the pose, when we mindfully eat we pay attention to the colors, smells, textures, flavors, temperatures, and even the sounds of our food.
Moreover, both on the mat and at the table, we also pay attention to the mind. While avoiding judgement or criticism, we carefully watch when the mind gets distracted, pulling away from full attention to what we are practicing or eating.
The cool thing: whenever you are doing something with awareness, it’s like an echo – things will always talk back to you! So let’s connect the dots and have a look at what yoga, nutrition, and psychology have in common.
Connecting the dots: Yoga, Nutrition, Psychology
I believe that eating and cooking are not so different from a typical yoga practice. There are guidelines, practices, recipes, and everyone can choose a style that fits them best. With that in mind, I thought it would be nice to share some tips for fine tuning your dining practice. For a mindful mind, body, and soul.
Ever since I started my healing journey, I could slowly see the connection between my former studies in psychology the ancient sciences of yoga, and the latest research in nutrition.
Just as with yoga, cooking and eating routines will make us stronger, more flexible and healthy, if we start to trust the process. According to many practitioners from Ayurveda to modern psychology, daily routines are essential to maintain optimal health. It brings us stability in the middle of the storm. It brings us positivity and balance when things don’t work out as we had planned. And it helps us properly digesting all essential nutrients to fuel us with the energy we need.
But there is more. Routines save us so much time! Just as with my daily yoga practice, I have started to consciously make some time to prepare my meals (hint: meal prepping is the key!) on the weekend for the week ahead. Just as I take time for yoga as a way to calm my mind, I use meal prepping as a calming practice. Whenever I open the fridge during the week to throw something together that I made on a Sunday afternoon, I remember the fun time I had in the kitchen, listening to my favorite music, dancing around totally surrendering into the process. My advice: make sure to thoughtfully create some healthy (eating) habits.
Talking about connecting the dots. Yoga is about connection. But it is about more than connecting mind and body. My understanding of the ancient practice is to connect yourself with something that goes beyond your limitations of body and mind. Something that is greater than your physical limitations. Connecting the divine in you with the divine of the cosmic universe. Pure awareness is the key. Why should there be a difference with our food then? Why do we allow such a disconnection between the food we eat and where it comes from? Why don’t we be led by the people who are the experts: the yogi, the farmer, the master or guru?
In my opinion, we should all try to let them tell their story, to learn and be inspired. Just like we feel the connection of a group in a yoga class, we should connect to the people around the table. Appreciating all the flavors and all the different tastes that gather together to enjoy a meal.
Just as you adjust your yoga practice depending on how you are feeling that day, you can adjust what you eat. Be in the moment, go with where you are at and roll with the seasonal flow. One morning, I will have some simple overnight-oats for breakfast. The next day, I am all in for making a big batch of fluffy banana-pancakes or a creamy coconut smoothie bowl. I believe that those feelings you have while cooking, that is what gives the food its flavor. So never skip the secret ingredient: LOVE!
Make modifications. Be open. Try out new recipes. Step into the unknown. Challenge yourself and let go of any fear and expectations. No matter how long you have been practicing yoga – or cooking – you can always learn new things!
Just as we are using yoga blocks or other assistants, there are cooking tricks as well.
Once you are on the mat, you want to stay focused, right? You don’t want to run across the room in the middle of the class to grab your blocks and a strap. It is the same in the kitchen. Chefs call is “mise en place” – “everything in its place”.
In general, any yoga practice begins with a gentle warm-up, moves on to standing postures and finishes up with a twist and Savasana. Cooking can also be a vinyasa flow in its own way. I always start with a clean, empty mat aka kitchen – and proper comfortable clothing as well as clean hands. When I prepare my meals, I start with grains and legumes that need longer to cook. While they are cooking, I chop the other ingredients and finally pick fresh herbs to accomplish the meal. This will give you the best results and saves a lot of time. Even if this sounds like common sense, in reality, it can often be improved!
Proper sequencing will also make the cleanup much easier, as you will have more time in between steps to wash a dish or put away ingredients that you have been using. If you can make a meal in just 20 minutes, but then it takes you 3 hours to clean up, that doesn’t count as proper time-saving. Unless – of course – mindful dishwashing is a practice for you.
My main message: remain calm. Don’t rush. Remember that we have to do things properly and with a clear and calm mind.
As your experience grows, so does your confidence. Just as in your yoga practice, intuition in the kitchen requires trusting in yourself and in the process. No matter what comes up on the mat. No matter what ends up on your plate. Letting go of perfection in a dish is like letting go of perfection in a pose. You might strive to reach a certain goal, while being aware of your limitations. You explore your edge and find the beauty in your abilities, accepting your experience for what it is.
Now the fun part begins: Eating! Well fun can be quite complex for most of us. Speaking of moderation, enjoying, digestion, values, and so on. But still it is something really important in our daily life. To live, to thrive, to survive.
Mindful eating means paying attention to the smells, colors, taste and feeling of your food. It helps us digest it more easily and become more aware of when we are full.
There are so many advices on healthy eating out there, that we easily get confused. But what it all comes down to is this: All you have to do is show up and be truly present at the table – just like you are on your yoga mat.
Last but not least: Don’t judge. Don’t judge yourself or anybody else. Food judgements are a constant yet ever-changing part of our culture. My advice: Just ditch it!
The thing is that being judgmental is not a behavior that serves us. Let’s face it: We judge others because we need to feel better about ourselves. It may make us feel superior or secure in the short-term, but the long-term stress of feeling “good enough” can lead to a host of serious issues.
Everyone has his or her own story. So let’s focus on ourselves, our very own story. Instead of judging, let’s listen to the stories of others. And learn. Compassion is the key. Flow and eat with your heart.
In Buddhism, compassion is the wish for others to be free from suffering and its causes. We can only really understand others when we really understand ourselves. We can feel for others when we can feel ourselves.
Practicing yoga can be the key ingredient for mindful eating. It can be the start of a journey, or the end, or both. And it has the power to make or break your success of eating well.
The old habits of eating and not paying attention are not easy to change, I know. Don’t try to make drastic changes overnight. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes to accomplish first. So let’s start simple.
Here is a list of short practices that I use whenever I feel that I am not paying attention to what is on the plate in front of me. They are short, simple, yet affective. Feel free to pick your own little mindful eating homework. 🙂
List of mindflulness practices
- In the morning: Try taking the first three sips of your cup of hot tea or coffee with full attention. Not doing anything else.
- At snack-time: If you are reading and eating, try alternating these activities, not doing both at once. Read a page, then put the book down and eat a few bites, savoring the tastes, then read another page, and so on.
- During lunch: Look, touch, appreciate and then savour the meal. Use this simple sequence for every bite you take.
- At dinners with friends or family: You might ask everyone to eat in silence for the first five minutes, thinking about the many people who brought the food to your plates. Then you can continue with your conversations.
- For desert: Enjoy your (banana) ice cream with closed eyes, like you would do during your meditation practice.
- At all times: Don’t take it all too serious. In the end you are just one in 9 billion people nourishing your body, mind and soul with all the nutrients that mother earth has to offer. Say “thank you” and really appreciate what you are gifted with. After all, it is not something that everyone on this planet is lucky enough to (mindfully) experience.
Whenever you are ready: let’s get off your mat and into the kitchen.
And remember to share your meals and your practice! Yoga and Food unite. They bring people together – on and off the mat. 🙂
Namasté and Bon Appetit 🙂
PS: For anyone asking, this is a delicious raw (!) cake I enjoyed all by myself last year at Sayuri’s in Ubud, Bali. I will be back this year and can’t wait to consciously indulge into all the goodness that mama Bali has to offer 😉