February 27, 2015

Yoga is a Super Primary Food: Why we need Yoga as Sustenance.

hot yoga woman sweat

Someone once asked me if I thought Yoga was a fad, like some other fitness modalities that have taken society by storm and disappeared just as quickly. I took a moment to listen and contemplate.

Think about step aerobics, Tae Bo, or even the popular Richard Simmons program. Yoga could easily fall into that chasm. Then a light bulb clicked: Yoga is not just fitness. It’s much deeper.

Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the largest nutrition school in the world, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, coined the term “primary foods.” Rosenthal points out that the things that truly nourish us have nothing to do with what we put in our stomachs. He calls those “secondary foods.”

Because we consume them, most of us think of secondary foods as the primary ways to nourish ourselves. We spend years trying to decide between a vegan diet or an Atkins diet. Should we eat cereal for breakfast or a smoothie? While these choices affect our energy, mood, and weight loss (or gain), these foods are secondary foods, and your preferences will change as you age.

In contrast to secondary foods, primary foods are items of nourishment that he considers to be more vital than the choices we make to put on our plate.

So what are primary foods?

Exercise – This refers to movement of the body. Each exercise has different benefits. Running every day works only certain muscles in the body, but improves cardiovascular health, while Yoga’s Sun Salutation sequence works every large muscle in the body and lubricates the major joints.

Work – The poet Rumi wrote, “Let the beauty you love be what you do.” A thousand years ago, he understood that if we don’t love what we do, we feel separate and alone, leading to despair and aging. As a health coach, I help my customers face this question. Together, we explore possible solutions. Sometimes, this means quitting one’s job and, other times, just reframing the way we look at our day-to-day routine. The bottom line is, if you don’t like what you do, chances are that the healthiest nutrition plan will still fail. When you practice Yoga regularly, when you connect breath to movement, like in sun salutation, you gain insight into your day. You develop the confidence to change things, and you are not afraid of the challenge of trying something new. Even if you have all the money in the world, if you are not doing something that you find meaningful, which could be as simple as working your garden, you don’t feel healthy.

Intimacy – Do you like the person you are with? While I am not suggesting you change partners whenever you don’t enjoy their company, it is very important to answer the question. Many people live with a deep resentment of their relationship, or they feel that their needs are not met. We tend to suppress those feelings, as we have chosen to commit. This can threaten your physical and emotional well-being. Psychologists know that we project our own tension onto others. If we don’t like the person we are with, we must first look inside. While the relationship itself might have to end, exploring our ability to feel complete with ourselves and love ourselves is critical to a healthy and happy life.

With its inward concentration on our internal sensation, from the physical to the emotional, Yoga allows us to accept, love and respect ourselves more. As that develops, we can let go of what is not serving us, while giving much more. Whether your relationship changes, or you are able to deepen it, your personal health and happiness expands when you examine how you feel in your relationship.

Spirituality – The last primary food we address in our sessions is the idea of a higher meaning to life. Again, I am not trying to indoctrinate my clients with one belief system or another. However, having a sense that there is something larger than this life is important. I have seen clients who eat healthy, work out regularly, are in a loving relationship, and feel abundant with their money. Yet, they still struggle with feeling fully content in life. As we progress from one primary food to the other, we arrive to spirituality, and they quickly box it into religion or mumbo-jumbo. As I listen and ask targeted questions, they are able to evaluate their position. As they begin to “fill up” with this primary food, they experience a renewed sense of energy, satisfaction and joy.

At its core, Yoga is a spiritual practice. Let’s consider Sun Salutation again. You move your body, you connect with your breath, yet you are reminded the Sun’s daily rhythm. You are drawn to a larger power than your own being that helps keep the sun in its cycle.


“Super food” is a marketing term used to describe foods with supposed health benefits that may reduce the risk of chronic disease, prolong life and manage weight. These foods have a large dose of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals but no legal or medical definition. Examples of super foods are goji berries, blueberries and tomatoes, among many others.

Now that we know that what we put into our stomachs is only “secondary food,” and we have a rough idea of what “Primary Foods” are, the analogy can be quickly understood. As a physical practice, Yoga offers so much more than just a fitness routine. Much like some foods pack a higher density of nutrients, Yoga packs all four primary foods, making Yoga a Super Primary Food!

Will you go a day without eating?

Why go a day without Yoga?


Author: Gabriel Azoulay 

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Flickr

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