The Yoga of Food – Choosing Wisely Using Three Simple Principles

nutrition-allIt’s the start of a new year, a time when we more freely release burdens from the past and vow to do things differently feeling encouraged by the untarnished days and weeks before us. We’re recharged; we’re alive, and it’s time to make positive changes! For many people, those changes involve healthy lifestyle improvements including weight loss, exercise and eating healthy. While there is a lot of hype around the latest fad diet du jour – gluten free, high protein, paleo, <insert your favorite here> – there are some compelling reasons to rethink your food choices in 2016. Here are three perspectives from a yogic point of view.

  1. Environmental – Small changes in your diet can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint or in this case, foodprint. Your carbon foodprint refers to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by growing, rearing, farming, processing, transporting, storing, cooking and disposing of the food you eat. Food makes up one of the top three contributors to your household’s footprint along with housing and transport. It’s no surprise that meat, eggs and cheese are shown to have the highest carbon footprint.

A plant-based diet cuts your carbon footprint by half. Totally embracing a plant-based diet may be a stretch for some. But even starting small by adopting Meatless Mondays can have a big impact for both your health and the planet.

Here’s a statistic that will really get you thinking. According to Cowspiracy, one hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to be produced. That’s equivalent to the amount of water used by the average person showering for two months! Maybe a good goal is to reduce your hamburger intake to no more than one a week? A month?

The yama or ethical principal of yoga called Brahmacharya, meaning nonexcess, perfectly applies here in considering how one small change we might make can dramatically reduce the expenditure of environmental resources leading to a life of less excess.

  1. Energetic – The food we eat is digested by the body through extensive chemical reactions and bodily processes that actually begin as soon as we put food in our mouths. We break down food into the tiniest particles to nourish our cells and give us energy to function. Our food literally becomes us, as Steve Gagne explains in his book, Food Energetics. Those tiny particles impart energetic aspects that are beyond the science of calories and fat grams. Ancient civilizations understood this very well and lived in harmony with the plants and animals that provided their fuel. I saw this first hand in a trip to Peru last fall where people of indigenous villages truly lived from the land and were not afforded the ‘luxuries’ to even think of living otherwise.

To provide a few examples, think of green leafy vegetables that rise up to greet to sun. The energy they provide is full of light, flexible energy. Root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes provide groundedness; while chickens provide us with lively, alert energy, hence eating chicken noodle soup when you are sick. With the rise of industrialization and conveniently packaged processed foods, we have become so disconnected from real, whole food, begging the question that these conveniences are not really the ‘luxuries’ we think they are.

Experiment with eating whole foods for one day and pay close attention to the quality of energy different foods provide. Or try it for a whole week if you dare! The longer you can commit to this exercise, the more you will begin to notice the difference when you opt for something processed. You can taste the artificial aspects of those foods and you will feel a dull, dragging, even artificial energy.

Considering the energetic aspects of our food relates directly to the niyama of yoga called Saucha, meaning purity. When practicing Saucha we are invited to purify our bodies, our thoughts and our words. As we purify our physical body by eating clean, whole foods, we develop lightness and live with greater vitality.

  1. Non-violence – It is well known that our modern day practices of raising livestock for food production is full of horrific treatment to animals. If you have ever watched one of the readily available documentaries such as Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, Farm to Fridge or Fast Food Nation, to name only a few, you have become well acquainted with the dark side of the food industry that usually never even occurs to us as we nosh on whatever our heart desires. We have become so removed from where our food even comes from. These animals are living beings with a living soul. Their distress is encoded in their cells and that energy literally becomes us (back to #2 food energetics). Are we really wondering why there is increased violence including unthinkable acts like teenagers shooting up their classmates in school when we unabashedly cage animals with no room to move, allow them live with disease, pumping them with antibiotics until they are then ready to be mutilated, eventually making their way to some delicious menu where we indulge in the appetizing plate that some chef whirled together for our delight?

Maybe I’m a little passionate about this one. But this directly relates to the most fundamental yama in yoga called Ahimsa, non-violence. In Eastern thought, non-violence is so valued that it stands as the very core and foundation of all yoga philosophy and practice. If you eat meat, consider choosing animals that have been humanely raised. Ask questions about where food comes from, and consider non-violence as you think about what you feed your body.

Calories and nutrient values are only part of the equation when it comes to how we nourish our body, mind and spirit. By applying yogic principles to everyday food choices, you can begin to improve your health and the health of our planet. You can  begin to elevate your level of consciousness in new, perhaps unexpected, ways.

To a happy, healthy and thriving 2016!

Sarah Balmer BS, RYT-200
Certified Health Coach
Instructor, Yoga Integrated Science Wellness Center
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