As the title of this blog indicates, Yoga is being fully present. In other words, real Yoga is not about being a good contortionist but about living consciously, which can be interpreted as immersing ourselves fully in the flow of life. The flow of life is predicated on eating, because eating provides nutrients to our physical bodies. As a Yogi or Yogini, it is important that we are aware that having food to eat is a luxury not enjoyed by many people in the world.
Sadly, the number of people in the world who are hungry continues growing. And even in wealthy countries like the U.S. –where obesity is a serious epidemic– hunger still affects almost 12% of the population. In my opinion, as Yogis or Yoginis, it is our responsibility to help
however we can. And also, it is our responsibility to relate to food in a conscious, life-affirming manner.
A couple of years back, while attending a Yoga workshop, one of the presenters, Dr. Gurleen Grewal, talking about nutrition and food in Ayurveda, asked a simple question, when should we swallow the food we are chewing?
The faces of the people attending the workshop showed signs of puzzlement indicating that we might not have a clear and logical answer. We offered various answers but nobody produced the answer Dr. Grewal expected: we swallow our food when its taste is gone.
These words really resonated with me. I love eating and trying different types of food but I was not sure that I was ever mindful enough in my eating to keep chewing my food until it had lost its entire flavor. Over the next few days I set my intention to observe carefully my eating habits. I was shocked to notice my lack of attention to the act of eating, it just seemed that I was eating mechanically. For instance, quite often I filled up a fork and directed it towards my mouth when I was just starting to chew my food! In many cases it was clear that I was eating without immersing myself into the experience. I was disappointed to find out my lack of awareness in my eating because it made me feel like I was not really honoring the food I was privileged enough to have.
I decided to try to make the change from eating mechanically to eating consciously. The results were immediately favorable as many flavors I had not taken the time to savor before, started to emerge and become noticeable. Another immediate effect was realizing very easily when I had eaten enough. It was also clear that some foods that I ate were not that enjoyable or beneficial. In addition, it was clear that masticating more thoroughly seemed to have beneficial effects on my digestion. As I think about the numerous effects of this simple change in my way of eating, I find a parallel between my actions then and the practice of Yoga, we pause, observe attentively, notice what we are doing and its effects, then we act in a way that is life-affirming and not mechanical and finally we observe the effects of our actions. I have to say that it is not always easy or even possible to be attentive to what we do, but it does help us participate more actively in our own lives.
By taking the time to honor the food we eat, we can appreciate all the love, work, effort and resources involved in growing, harvesting and cooking our food. The tastes, aromas, textures and colors of the food we eat are the result of the intricate dance of life. When we eat consciously, besides enjoying the myriad tastes, aromas and textures, we are celebrating the deep link we have to the food sources and to the dance of life.
Over the past couple of years, I have talked to many relatives and friends about this “Yoga of eating”, eating mindfully, chewing our food until it looses its flavor. I have found that many people, including self-proclaimed food lovers, (unless they are part of the slow food movement ) are not mindful of how they eat. Making a simple and free-of-cost change to our pace of eating challenges our deep seated habits. As such, it requires our focused attention, and this is what Yoga is all about: integrating our actions and establishing a connection between ourselves and the world.
he “Yoga of eating” beckons us to establish a meaningful connection with our food. This, in my opinion, is a transformational step that can have profound impact on what we eat and how we eat it, with effects that range from the individual level (such as health and nutrition) to societal levels including the economy, the environment and public health. At the individual level, making this change can help us relax and enjoy our food more while opening our sensitivity to taste, showing us the foods that best agree with us, improving our digestion, helping us realize when to stop eating, and perhaps making us grateful for having food on our table.
There are numerous resources that can help in the process of thinking and learning more about our own relationship with food. For instance, you can learn about specific aspects of eating and chewing, in the classic treatise from the 19th century, The Physiology of Taste, written by Brillat Savarin, where numerous aspects of taste are explored in painstaking detail. You may find interesting to learn about The Great Masticator, Horace Fletcher ,
and his dogmatic approach to eating. Or, you might prefer the clarity of Fisher and Fisk’s work on mastication , or Dr. Kennedy’s clear explanations of common food myths. You might also enjoy reading on Ayurvedic tips for good digestion, or learning about the relationships between our food choices and social, political and economic practices, like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.
Eating, like any Yoga practice, if done mindfully is a simple act that can be transformed by our conscious awareness.
I hope that you enjoy thoroughly the taste of your next meal.