I have just finished a Hatha Yoga teacher training. No less than 350 hours which has taken place over a year and a half. I must say that it was very enriching, both personally and professionally. Although my first job is a nutritionist (yes, I have been practicing it for 25 years), yoga and food definitely have more in common than we think.
Our hectic life rhythms often lead us to eat without being aware of the real needs of our body. We eat according to the time and not according to our hunger and satiation signals. Add to this, the desire to control our weight and our health via diets or eating habits. We then submit to rules, while ignoring our tastes and desires. We become eaters on autopilot!
Over the course of my yoga training, this became obvious: practicing yoga in its broad sense necessarily leads to eating in a more intuitive and conscious way!
Discover self-awareness through yoga
Much more than just physical activity, yoga means “union” or connection between body and mind. Simply put, it aims to become more aware of what we are experiencing, feeling and who we are as individuals. It is thanks to different techniques (physical postures, breathing practices, meditation and relaxation) and ethical precepts (yamas and niyamas) that this discipline helps us to cultivate balance and promotes self-discovery.
In fact, yoga increases “interoceptive” awareness or interoception. It is the ability to become aware of the sensations in your body. We then develop listening “in tune” with our physiological state. This allows us to reconnect to our body by directing our attention to “our inner home”. We thus have access to a whole world of sensations and riches.
And there is no pressure in yoga: we are essentially looking to feel and not to accomplish or reach a goal!
How a yoga session works
- We always start with a moment of centering, which allows us to leave our worries aside and reconnect to ourselves and our bodies in the present moment. During the centration, we are invited to contact and observe our natural breathing as well as the different sensations in our body, without judgment.
- Thereafter, we start yoga postures. We are then led to pay attention to the different muscles, joints, ligaments used and to find the right balance between effort and ease (Sthira Sukham Asanam). It is essential to respect the limits of your body. Breathing, very important in yoga, supports the practice of postures.
- The session always ends with the Savasana posture (corpse pose), which allows you to integrate the benefits of the poses into your body and take you towards relaxation.
- There often follows a short moment of meditation, which ends with the Namasté, a gesture of gratitude towards others and towards oneself.
But that’s not all, on and off the yoga mat, the practitioner is invited to observe moral precepts that they must try to apply for themselves and others, such as non-violence, benevolence, honesty, discipline, truth, gratitude, etc.
Understanding mindful eating
Mindfulness is about intentionally paying attention to the present moment without passing judgment. Eating mindfully therefore consists of eating carefully, appreciating food and its effects on our body. Of course, everything is done with the intention of taking care of yourself. We adopt an attitude of curiosity, openness and we give ourselves the unconditional right to eat. Obviously, mindful eating is anything but a method of losing weight and has no rigid rules.
The benefits of mindfulness eating:
• The pleasure of eating
• Positive perception of the body
• Physical and mental well-being
When we eat mindfully, our three meals a day can be an opportunity to experience the different aspects of yoga.
Example of a “yogic” mindful eating practice
- First, you assess your hunger level to make sure you eat at the right time and not just because it is meal time.
- When you are hungry and ready to eat, you are sure to take a sitting posture favorable to digestion. The bones of the buttocks are in good contact with the chair, both feet on the ground and the back is long and well supported. You should ideally avoid having your legs crossed or wearing a belt that is too tight.
- Subsequently, we close our eyes and contact our natural breathing to focus on the present moment and relax before eating.
- Before taking your first bite, you look and feel your meal. One wonders: Is it appetizing? Does it smell good?
- From the first bite, attention is paid to flavors, smells, textures and the speed of chewing.
- During the meal, we regularly pay attention to our stomach and the decrease in hunger to know when to stop eating or to refill if we are still hungry after having finished our plate.
- At the end of the meal, we practice gratitude towards life which allows us to have access to so much abundance and variety of food.
- We then take stock of this meal. Was there something missing, was there something extra? Was the choice of food in my dish consistent with my values (environment, health, ethics, etc.) and my tastes? This reflection must be done with kindness and non-judgment. No question here of feeling guilty for anything!
- Then, in order to promote good digestion, you can get in motion by picking up the table and doing the dishes, or by taking a moment to go for a walk.
A strong link between these two practices
No doubts, the common points between mindfulness eating and yoga are present in:
• Body awareness
• Respect for the needs of the body
• Feel without judging
• Discovering yourself
• Do yourself good
Even more, the practice of one could even influence that of the other! A study published in 2009 demonstrated that regular yoga practice is associated with a higher mindfulness eating score among yoga practitioners compared to those who practice other sports such as walking.
We may not have enough time to do yoga regularly, but we have no choice but to eat every day. Each meal can become an opportunity to stop and experience the present moment.
In closing, I love the theme of Nutrition Month this year. It’s titled: Beyond Food – How You Eat Matters! This theme reminds us all that healthy eating goes far beyond food as we have just seen in this article!
To find out more about nutrition month, visit this site:
By Hélène Baribeau, nutritionist and Hatha yoga teacher, www.helenebaribeau.com
This article was reviewed by Mélanie Pronovost, nutritionist.
- Framson et al. Development and Validation of the Mindful Eating Questionnaire. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009; 109 (8): 1439 DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.05.006