Dear yoginis and yogis,
Your yoga practice can influence what you eat, and what you eat can influence your yoga practice. Did you know that? Many aspiring yogis have reported to me that as their practice deepens, they become more sensitive to caffeine and alcohol, and have less desire for red meat, even if their teachers have not told them that meat eaters tend to be stiffer and have achier joints. The yogic practice of ahimsa (non-violence) which encourages yogis not to harm other living creatures, and the environmentalists’ call for a meat-free diet to combat climate change are further reasons for many yogis to become vegetarians or even vegans.
Actually, ahimsa applies to ourselves, too, and the more we practice, the more we become aware of the effects of certain foods and drinks on our system – some make us feel calm, energised and centered, others may create euphoria before crashing our energy levels down, or have us longing for a siesta straight away… and as it happens, these foods are not the same for each of us!
Take porridge, for example, a favourite breakfast staple for Western yogis – many people report it keeps them energised and happy until lunch – whereas I unfortunately get a sugar crash around 10.30 am … and my family doctor explained that this is due to people’s bodies’ varying management of insulin. This same doctor insists on the importance of chrononutrition – that is “when to eat what over the course of a day” in order to support our body’s production of neurotransmitters (a savoury breakfast with plenty of protein after some medium-intensity exercise, preferably in daylight, would be his ideal recommendation for a great start into a productive day, whereas protein in the evening is not great for a good night’s sleep).
Or take the raw diet – a friend of mine with a serious genetic condition has found it incredibly helpful, whereas another friend with different health issues has benefitted from her nutritionist’s advice to avoid all raw foods for a while.
The yogibanker recently came to a similar conclusion in his blogpost about “choosing the diet that is right for you”, where he warns against following a diet just because it is currently trendy.
Apart from that, many modern nutritionists will also emphasise the importance of how you eat (do you chew well and take time to breathe between bites?) and how much you eat (your stomach is more or less the size of your cupped hands, to give you an idea). Health coach Sheila Bennett goes as far as saying that healthy eating is “20% what you eat and 80% how you eat”.
The only way to find out what works for you is to use the yogic skill of awareness: observe your reactions right after a meal and again two hours later, and if you tend to snack on things known to cause you trouble, ask yourself: “why am I craving this right now?”. If you write your observations down honestly, this “Food Journal” can lead to interesting revelations about your emotions and your habits! This is how I realised my beloved porridge wasn’t the right choice for me.
After lots of trial and error and studying the subject of nutrition in detail, I see the wisdom of the traditional yoga lineages which put food right up there with the practices of asana, breathing, relaxation and meditation. You cannot achieve health if your digestion is malfunctioning and you are not absorbing the right vitamins and minerals.
Certainly in terms of hormones, you will not experience great results no matter how many shoulderstands, twists and fish poses you do, if you lack vitamin D, selenium, zinc, vitamin B12 and many more. A therapeutic “hormone yoga” practice must have a nutritional component, whether you are trying to heal your thyroid dysfunction, wishing to alleviate menopause symptoms or hoping to get pregnant.
It starts with blood tests, and only a qualified nutritionist or doctor can interpret them correctly (hint: functional medicine may recommend much higher levels of vitamins and minerals than the “normal range” written on the lab results). No matter how organic and lovingly cooked your meals are, if your metabolism isn’t functioning properly, the precious nutrients will not reach your cells. Health (including mental health, by the way) starts in the gut!
So turn your awareness to your nutrition, yoginis and yogis, and enjoy a new level of wellbeing!