How does yoga philosophy apply to healthful eating? According to Kripalu Lead Nutritionist, Annie B. Kay, MS, RD, RYT, in her R&R retreat lecture, The Yoga of Nutrition, examining our nutritional choices through a lens of mindfulness can help us become more aware and empowered.
When there’s balance in all areas of our life, Annie says, when we’re eating whole plant-based foods, getting enough physical activity, and managing our stress, we are nurturing our whole beings—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and nourishing our deepest selves.
One of the cornerstones of the yoga of nutrition, Annie points out, is mindful eating—slowing down, paying attention to what’s happening by focusing the sensations occurring while we eat. “Are you a fast eater, or do you savor every bite? Do you zone out and eat in front of the TV?” Annie asks. These questions can lead us into a new understanding of what guides our choices and allows us to examine our cravings.
Mindful eating is a type of meditation, Annie says: By bringing our awareness to the present moment, we remind ourselves to slow down, dive in, eat with all of our senses; after all how we eat is as important as what we eat, and as Annie also points out, “Mindful eating is an incredible tool for those who struggle with overeating.” By building awareness, we shift our internal environment, and in the process we often discover how our emotions affect our food choices.
Because the standard American diet is toxic, full of processed foods, and sugar-laden, “We have to be conscious to be healthy,” says Annie. The repercussions of mindless eating are more than just physical; they affect all aspects of our being. Mindful eating, like yoga, is a practice of compassion and self-observation. What’s our desire for sugar all about, for example? Is this a reflection of a deeper need?
Digestion plays an important part in the mindful-eating process. Digestion is a complex biological process, and a primary way in which we interface with the world. As Annie notes, quoting Executive Chef Deb Morgan, “food is a carrier of prana,” the life force that sustains us. When we’re stressed, our digestion gets out of synch, which can lead to a host of maladies, both physical and emotional. Plus stress can promote weight gain—many people turn to food when they’re stressed, and the choices made are often to the healthiest.
Luckily, yoga can help. Along with mindful eating, the physical asana (posture) practice can combat stress, alleviating digestive ailments. And yoga tones of the musculature of the digestive system—think detoxifying twists and core strengtheners.
Ultimately, the power of mindful eating is that it helps us to dive in and listen to our body, and how we fuel our body in the present moment, both with the foods we consume and the intention with which we approach their consumption. “Take time to eat,” Annie says, “to pay attention and be fully aware of the experience of nourishment that you’re having.”