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becoming aware of what we eat and the effects on our yoga practice
Photography by mensfitness.com

becoming aware of what we eat and the effects on our yoga practice

by sarah vanis sarah vanis
Practice Yoga | What is Yoga?


ayurveda yoga

Have you heard of the saying ‘You are what you eat?’ Have you ever thought beyond this?

We hear so many wives tales we often become immune to the actual meaning. For example my Croatian mother-in-law would tell me to bathe my child’s eyes with cool chamomile tea when he was suffering with conjunctivitis. To my ignorance, and that of my husband’s, we hightailed it to the doctor who prescribed a course of antibiotics. I ignored the advice at my fingertips. The food source, the natural source from the earth provides the healing my son required through the qualities of the plant. Chamomile is cooling. It is sweet. Just the antidote to the hot, inflamed eyes of conjunctivitis. And yet I feed chemicals into my son.

It is one thing to hear words, it is another to apply it to ourselves. Often we need to know why. Why is chamomile good for the eyes, an upset tummy, and difficulty sleeping? What is it about chamomile that makes it work? I need to try and put it in practice, then I can begin to see for myself and begin to make sense of how the sweet, cool qualities of chamomile can help to soothe the heat in the eyes, the churning in the stomach and the turning of the thoughts. I become empowered in my knowledge through observation.

We can discuss the science behind this and run the risk of getting lost in the theory. Again, we can loose track of what we are trying to do and get technical and analytical. Instead we may choose to take another approach. We may decide to trust. To try something out and through our own observations, make judgments on its effectiveness for us. This can be scary. Where do I start? Trust yourself. Allow yourself to have space to open and listen.

This is where yoga enters the stage.

Yoga teaches us to be aware. You may come to yoga for a variety of reasons. It may be for fitness, to increase flexibility, to be calmer. Whatever approach brings you to yoga, you will experience the same growing awareness of yourself. As you move through your asana you become aware of how to make the muscles more firm or relaxed. You become a little more insightful into your own limitations. And you learn not to judge yourself but be aware of the experience. And gradually you may find your body changes, and you look forward to coming to the mat for something beyond the physical poses.

You may be taught to use the breath in your yoga class. The breath draws us inwards and is a link between our physical existence and our internal self. Our breath has a profound effect on our mind. If we link our breath to our poses, again our experience of asana may change. We become more aware.

As we become more aware, we may start to notice things we just used to walk past – Yoga moves beyond the mat. ‘Stop and smell the rose’. Another wife’s tale. How often do you do this? From an Ayurvedic perspective the sweetness of the rose can help to cool the fire in the mind. But we want to be aware of our experiences without the theory clogging the actions. The time out of our day, just for a moment, the reconnection with nature, the space that is created for us brings us a moment of reprieve.

What if we could enhance this?

We are what we eat. It becomes part of us. Again we could get down with the technical theory - The food breaks down in our bodies and becomes a part of each cell. If our digestive system is working at optimal order, our cells are nourished and we are healthy. If our digestive system is not working properly our bodies can’t metabolize food properly, no matter how healthy we eat. We run the risk of clogging our systems. This is the first stage of disease formation.

Our bodies are a series of pipes, fluids and tissues. We need the pipes to be open, the fluids to lubricate and transport the food to the parts of the body, and optimal tissue development to stay healthy. The clogging in poor digestion creates blockages. This build up clogs the pipes and can lead to cholesterol, impurities in the pipes preventing the space for the fluids. So there are ways we can keep the pipes open, and if we need to, ways we can begin to unclog the pipes.

BUT- we want to experience it. We want to bring our awareness that is cultivated in an hour or so yoga class into our everyday lives.

Food has qualities. It can be hot, cold. Wet, dry. Sticky, loose. The food we choose has qualities. It can either increase qualities already in the body or it can help to balance them. For example, granny smith apples are yummy. Uncooked they are quite astringent – lip puckering. When cooked, they change and become sweet. Think about how you feel. If you are feeling flighty, anxious, constipated, uncooked apples will increase this feeling. Cooked apples would help to reduce the feelings.

Think about how you feel when you eat. Before you eat take a moment. Look at it. Listen to it- and yes you can hear food- Rice Bubbles. Smell it. Touch it. Is it appealing to you? Eating is a sense experience. Become aware. Here we find the link to yoga.

Eat with awareness. Be aware of how you feel afterwards. If you feel bloated, how did you cook your food? What time of day did you eat it? Did you cook it or buy it? Was it fresh and seasonal? This awareness can help you to make changes in your cooking and eating naturally without getting weighed down in the theory of it all.

Certain foods help us to become more aware. Food that is natural, fresh, prepared with love. Certain foods can make us feel irritable, aggressive. Food that is too salty, frozen, processed, microwaved. Some foods have no life at all, are fillers and clog the pipes. This food is stale, rotten, and bad. This can either help to lift us up in our yoga practice or bring us down. It can help us to become more receptive to what is around us or keep us insular.

Food is personal. It is not directive. What is good for one person may not be good for another. When we experience this we can use our knowledge to enhance not only our health but our yoga practice. For example, a banana has qualities of sticky. It is solid. Feeling heavy, eating a banana and participating in a grounding yoga practice may be highly beneficial for someone who ‘lives in their head’, ‘ has their head in the clouds’. Consequently someone who is ‘stuck in the mud’ would increase the already sticky ‘stuck-like’ qualities they already have.

By understanding the connection between what we choose to put in our mouth, the first moment of digestion, the way our bodies digest food and the outcomes both physical and mental we set ourselves up to become more aware of how this impacts not only on our yoga but also our lives. Yoga moves beyond the mat.

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