From an ancient Indian practice to a beloved fitness practice the world over, yoga has withstood the test of time. Today, yoga is more popular than ever, offering people a way stay healthy and relieve stress through breathing (pranayama), movement (asanas) and focus. Of course, a healthy practice is also supported by a healthy diet. Find out how yoga and healthy, organic eating work together to bring out the best you.
At the heart of yoga
Yoga’s principles align with healthy eating. ‘Ahimsa’, the yogic base of non-violence stresses that we protect nature and chooses wholesome foods that bring joy. Eschewing meat, dairy and other animal products is one popular way to practice ahimsa – and get healthier at the same time.
Some physical concepts of yoga are associated with eating healthy. For instance, yogic practices give you an easy way to measure how much you should consume every day. Your hands are called the “measuring cup”, and the amount you can cup together in them is your ideal diet for the day. In Ayurveda, this amount is called ‘anjali’. The Indian practice of eating with our fingers is also rooted in the idea of physical wellbeing. It is said that the act of bringing the fingertips together to gather food represents uniting the five elements in our body, activating agni or digestive fire.
Yogic concepts like ‘asteya’and‘aparigraha’, or non-stealing and non-greediness are also linked to healthy eating. Eating junk food could be viewed as ‘stealing’ your own health. Similarly, larger, unnecessary portions can be viewed as greediness. Yoga advises eating the right quantity, the right type of food, at the right pace – so you feel healthy and light and thus are awake and aware, with clarity of thought.
What the Experts Say
Suzanna Gayatri Kurian, Yoga instructor, recommends the practice of yoga for three reasons. “To know oneself better, to learn to interact with the world around in a wiser way and to feel good.” She also draws clear links between her yoga practice and healthy, organic eating.
Suzanna went vegan a while ago and says that going can make a difference for those who do yoga. “The presence of pesticides and additives in the body is not normal. These actually play a subtle role in affecting the energies in the body, creating restlessness and tension. Organic food is very tasty. Even something as basic as salt makes a difference. Your eating is more a joy because you have taken the effort to go out and find the best in organic fare to give your body what it needs – natural nourishment. Just that knowledge, I think, makes you love yourself more.”
Zubin Atré, Yoga Instructor, has an interesting take. “Yoga is good for your breath, your mind, and gets rid of the excesses of our modern lifestyles. Listen to your body. When you feel like not eating junk, your body is telling you it needs nourishment. When you eat regular food and do yoga, your body heals quicker. But when you’re eating organic food, your body has less to fight against and more time to be healthy.”
Zubin is a vegetarian and finds that he has fewer allergies, more taste and better digestion. “For people with issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, knowing where your food is coming from and what has gone into it is very important and helpful.”
Yoga and Mindful eating
Regular yoga practice is also associated with mindful eating, and people who eat mindfully are less likely to be obese, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre have found.
Says Zubin, “Mindful eating is a luxury today. It doesn’t have to involve just eating. Mindfulness when it comes to food, can start from the ordering, how it’s cooked, how it’s plated and more. The entire process can be a meditation. I think that even making food or cleaning the kitchen can be a healing process related to food.
Agrees Suzanna, “Mindful eating, according to me, is just being aware of what’s going into you, where it’s coming from, what it contains and how your body receives it. Yoga helps you lead a mindful life, because when one is on the mat and doing their asanas you are very aware of the now. Over time, you carry this nowness with you to the rest of the day.”
We are what we eat
You are what you eat, and that includes your brain. In other words, you’re influenced physically and mentally by what you’re eating. More and more scientific studies are showing the effects of eating healthy, and eating unhealthy, on the brain.
In a study of several hundred Australian women, those who ate the most whole foods (fruits, veggies, unprocessed meats, and whole grains) were found less likely to be diagnosed with issues like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, as compared to those who had a low intake of healthy food. Two large studies later done in Norway and another here in the United States discovered much the same thing.
Now, imagine the benefits of the whole food diet, but also without chemicals, pesticides or additives. A whole new science called nutritional psychiatry is slowly gaining prominence as they examine the deep relation between well-being and healthy eating. Mediterranean and Asian diets, which involve more vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods, are seen as better suited to good mental health than typical Western processed food diets. Fermented foods like kimchi, miso, and even idlis, are seen as friendly foods that help promote a healthy digestive system.
While whole, natural foods are linked to good health, other studies are showing the harmful physical effects of junk food. Studies suggest that when someone eats high-carb junk food, they get a temporary boost of pleasure from the relase of dopamine and seratonin, the chemicals that regulate a positice mood. However, this food also increases digestive inflammation which in turn causes causes oxidative stress in the brain, leading to lower levels of dopamine and serotonin in the long run. When people feel low, they reach out to high carb food for the temporary high again. Did someone say vicious cycle?
Get healthy this world yoga day
Try these tips that being the best of healthy eating and yoga together for an all around healthy lifestyle!
- Focus on portion size and diet: Eat more fresh veggies and fruits, and not more than what would fit in your cupped hands at one sitting. The stomach expands to fit whatever you eat, but that doesn’t mean it should!
- Pranayama and asanas can help: Breathing exercises can oxygenate the entire body, and the combination of asanas, breathing, hydration and heat promote peristalsis, the process of moving waste and toxins through the colon.
- Up your enzyme intake: The biologically active proteins found in raw foods are especially needed for good digestion. Overcooked or over processed foods can lead to indigestion.
Asanas for Healthier Digestion and All Around Well-Being
Get healthier with Vajrasana or Diamond Pose after meals.
- Sit on the floor and fold your legs below you.
- Keep your spine straight and close your eyes.
- Bring your right palm to your right knee and left palm to left knee.
- Now start to inhale slowly then exhale.
- When you exhale try to imagine that your disorders are coming out from your nose.
- Repeat these steps for 5 minutes and take a rest. Repeat up till 15 minutes.
What it helps
The lower back and your lower abdomen.
Do the Paschimottanasana, or seated forward bend, before meals or in the morning to rev up your metabolism
- Sit up with your legs stretched out straight in front of you, keeping your spine erect and toes flexed toward you.
- Breathing in, raise both arms above your head and stretch upwards.
- Breathing out, bend forward from your hips, trying to touch your chin to your toes. Keep your spine erect, focusing on touching your chin to your toes, rather than your knees.
- Place your hands on your legs, wherever they reach, without forcing. If you can, take hold of your toes and pull on them to help you go forward.
- Breathing in, lift your head slightly and lengthen your spine. Breathing out, gently move the navel towards the knees.
- Repeat two or three times. Drop your head down and breathe deeply for 20-60 seconds.
- Stretch your arms out in front of you. Breathing in, with the strength of your arms, come back up to the sitting position.
- Breathe out and lower the arms.
What it helps
The lower back, hamstrings and hips, the shoulders, the the abdominal and pelvic organs.
Do the Sheetkari Pranayama or The Hissing Breath to cool down.
- Sit in a comfortable asana with your palms on your knees.
- Roll your tongue upwards so that the lower part of your tongue touches your mouth’s upper palate.
- Clench your teeth together. Pull your lips apart and expose your teeth.
- Breathe in slowly. First fill your abdomen, then your chest and finally your neck. When breathing in, a slight hissing sound is produced, similar to that of a snake.
- Bend your neck forward to do a chin lock, also called the Jalandhara Bandha.
- Hold your breath for some time, for as long as possible. Release the Jalandhara Bandha and exhale slowly through your nose.
- Repeat as many times as feels comfy.
What it Helps
- Creates a cooling effect on the body.
- Relaxes the body and the mind.
- Good for health of teeth and the gums.