It’s time for us to get real about food.
As asana practitioners, most of us are delicately aware of what we use to fuel our bodies, and how that fuel directly impacts our health and well-being. This is one of the gifts of the asana practice—an intimate knowledge of what our bodies need to function optimally.
If practiced without compassion and constant ego-checking vigilance, however, it can lead to increased rigidity and an amplification of food-related neuroses that most of us have struggled with throughout our lives.
There’s no doubt that eating disorders run rampant in modern day society. I wonder, though, how many more of us engage in disordered eating.
We may not starve ourselves, but I certainly know women who truly eat only one meal a day. Not because of lack of resources, but because we’ve told ourselves that we don’t need or deserve to be full.
I was recently volunteering at a yoga conference and felt ashamed of bringing down two slices of pizza from my hotel room to eat in front of my fellow volunteers as we completed our shift.
I felt ashamed!
Would they judge me for eating gluten? Would they judge me for eating cheese? Would they judge me for eating more than one slice?
In the end, I fought my way through the shame, brought the pizza down, and ate it anyway…but I found myself thinking—how has a practice designed to build love and acceptance turned into a hotbed of judgment?
It’s time for us yoga practitioners to take responsibility for wearing our dietary choices like badges of honor.
Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, raw, sugar-free. The list these days is endless. These diets surely help some people come into their optimal health but none of them is a cure-all for what ails us.
Too often, I see social media posts extolling the virtues of a dietary lifestyle based on restriction.
I joke with some of my friends that I should start a new hashtag to counter all the ones currently on Facebook—#AshtangisWhoEat. I understand the desire to want to share the things in our lives that have helped us, but I question the efficacy of promoting lifestyles that encourage us to deny, restrict, and abstain.
Can we stop glorifying symptoms of supposed detoxing and call them what they really are? Symptoms of hunger. A consistent asana practice already improves digestion and purifies the body on a daily basis.
I understand the benefits of an annual or semi-annual cleanse, but living in a constant state of “cleansing” promotes a distorted ideal of perfection.
After all, yoga practice is not about attaining perfection. It’s about attaining presence.
I’d like to shift the conversation to how we can learn to eat in accordance with the ethics laid out in yoga philosophy. How can we eat in a way that’s non-harming to ourselves and to the world around us?
The answer is going to be different for different people, and that’s ok. There is no one-size-fits-all magical diet, just as there is no one-size-fits-all method of practice. Same destination, many paths.
I currently eat a vegetarian diet, with varying amounts of eggs and dairy depending on my needs and desires.
Ghee is important to my well-being and I find joy and peace in making it out of organic butter from healthy cows. I revel in buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market, and cooking them in nourishing ways. My husband is an ethical omnivore and does his best to eat meat that’s raised sustainably and with concern for the animal’s well-being. We both experience food as an integral part of our lives, and have some of our most joyful moments sharing a meal with loved ones.
My raw, vegan friends may not find the same value in our choices but I hope they would see them as valid, rather than as an affront to health and wellness.
Diet is an evolution.
As our practice evolves and we flow through the stages of life, our needs and our bodies change. My diet now, as I continue to advance in the asana practice, for example, is likely quite different from the types of food I’ll find nourishing when I’m pregnant.
Our practice teaches us to be strong and flexible, in body and mind. Let’s find a way to honor the structure we each need in our own lives, and be accepting of others as they find the food that fills them.
Before most meals, I take a moment to honor the sacred act I’m about to partake in by chanting this Sanskrit mantra:
brahmarpanam brahma havir
brahmaiva tena gantavyam
The act of offering is Brahman
The offering itself is Brahman
The offering is done by Brahman, into the sacred fire which is Brahman
He alone attains Brahman who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman
This mantra is traditionally said before meals and is a reminder of gratitude for the nourishment in front of us. In my humble interpretation, I experience the act of eating and digesting itself as a source of wonder.
I view each bite as an offering to the body. I bow in gratitude to all the resources it takes for food to reach my plate, and I remind myself that the only way to unconditional love and acceptance is through the practice of unconditional love and acceptance. There are such rich lessons in this mantra for all of us.
Our bodies are vessels that we must keep healthy, flexible, strong, and capable of meeting life’s demands.
Let’s encourage each other to eat holistically, in a way that nourishes our bodies, our spirits and the planet.
Let’s reclaim the joys of eating—whether the food be cooked or raw, animal or vegetable, spicy or sweet.
Let’s set aside our judgment and embrace food for what it is—messy, complex, comforting, and delicious.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor Apprentice: Emma Ruffin / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Provided by Author