The Yoga of Eating
From morning until nightfall and sometimes beyond, the practice of eating can either be done consciously or unconsciously. When done without awareness, eating can contribute to symptoms of dis-ease in the body, but if approached with care and conscious attention, eating can be yet another way to practice yoga.
Yoga is a term which denotes a union of the different aspects of self: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Who can deny that each one of these faculties could be engaged each and every time food is consumed? But are they - always?
How many times is mealtime accompanied by a task on the laptop, a movie on the screen, something that needs reading, driving in the car or some other action or emotion which divides attention from the food in hand? When eating is not given full awareness it is unable to nourish in the way it is able to on every level. By giving full focus to meals, and to the food itself, suddenly yoga is engaged and a new level of life practice is attained. Here's how:
Physical Level -
On a very basic, physical level, food is taken into the body and nutrients are absorbed. However, if food is a secondary focus, the body will not produce the same amount of enzymes for digestion. With a lack of essential enzymes, indigestion, heartburn, gas, and a myriad of other physical ailments can result. If this unconscious act is repeated regularly, more serious ailments can result.
When full physical attention is placed on the food and everything else is “logged out,” energy is conserved and placed on the task at hand, which in this case is the food and digestive process. By fully getting present with the physical act of eating, the body is able to function at top performance and derive not only all potential nutrients from the food, but one hundred percent pranic intake from the moment, leading to optimal health and well-being.
Emotional Level -
Have you ever heard the phrase “don't eat when you are sad”?
Why do you think this is?
When the body is engaging in strong emotions such as anger, sadness, bitterness, remorse, worry, anxiety, fear or the like, certain hormones are produced in the body which do not assist in the proper digestion and assimilation of food. By the same token, eating while engaging in negative emotions causes the body to make the mistake of associating the food with the emotion, which can lead to food allergies and other auto-immune disorders, not to mention indigestion, nausea or the like.
Emotions, when not fully allowed the attention and energy to properly process and release, can get stuck in the body and cause distress later on. If eating while emotional, the body is confused and can send mixed signals to the brain as to how to deal with both the emotions themselves and the food.
Can you see how this poses a problem?
Emotions take attention. They should be given our full attention, when felt, and so should food. Emotional eating is the cause of numerous disorders, including obesity, and is the result of not giving the proper attention to the emotions in the first place.
Eating while in good spirits and with the ability to give food full attention allows one to truly enjoy and revel in the beauty of the colors on your plate, the aroma and the flavors on the tongue. Engaging food in an uplifted state of mind is crucial to a healthy life. When the emotional body can merge with the physical in the act of eating and lend full, positive attention to food, the yoga of eating has begun.
Mental Level -
The mind is a powerful thing. It can be said that wherever thoughts go, there the energy goes, and with the energy, the life-force – or prana. Wherever the mind is, is the direction of one's energy, and if concentrated on the past or the future, the present moment is robbed of the very element that makes it so – and that is presence.
When eating, it is often challenging not to reach into the future, mentally, and plan the next event or the rest of the day. How many businesses do planning meetings over a catered lunch? Another commonality is the act of reviewing the day or contemplating that which has already occurred. How many people sit around the dinner table or over a cup of tea and “catch up?” By eating while thinking of the past or the future, the mental energy is drained from the moment and divided out to that which is not happening. This takes energy away from the food and the potential it has to strengthen connection with the present moment. The here and now is the only place from which we can derive health and healing.
By bringing mental energy to the food being consumed, and thinking only of it – the taste, texture, smell and appearance – a new level of health opens up. The yoga of eating is engaged more deeply by merging the physical, emotional and mental aspects of self together while consuming food. Considering the space in which food is being served, observing those around you, feeling the chair and seeing the changing shape of the meal as it is consumed, are all mental acts which allow the yoga of eating to deepen.
Spiritual Level -
The yoga of eating would not be complete without bringing the spiritual element into the conversation. Spiritual is defined, perhaps differently, by every individual. This is where a very personal element enters the scene. Each and every person has a unique way of connecting with the present moment and with food. By tapping into what that is, the final element comes into play and yoga has been accomplished on the dinner plate.
What is spiritual about food to you?
Perhaps it is the sense of where food comes from, a higher source or the earth herself. Maybe it crosses your mind that food is sacred and made as an offering to your body for health and presence. Another concept might be gratitude for the plenty on the table, the ability to afford it and the well-being of those in the family. All of these ideas are the spiritual aspect of eating.
By engaging all four elements with consciousness into the daily act of food consumption, the yoga of eating progresses and a new level of reality and practice is unveiled. It may be recognized, at first, that it takes some effort to engage all four areas of self into the act of eating, but after a short while of practicing, it becomes as natural as tree pose and a full yogic breath.
Here's to bringing yoga into the humble act of eating – for peace of mind and for you and your family's health!