It may sound strange, but I have eaten on my yoga mat many times. During a break in a recent yoga teacher training, while laying out a “picnic” on my yoga/place mat, I noticed the parallels between yoga and mindful eating. We may learn more about our eating from our yoga experience than we realize.
There is an interchangeable, mindful nature in preparing for a yoga practice and sitting down to eat. Picture this. You carefully select the class, the teacher, and the time that is optimal for you on that particular day. As you wander in before class, you take a deep breath, a conditioned response to the comfort of the studio and the anticipation of the experience ahead. Perhaps it’s the first deep breath you’ve taken all day. You scan the room, choose your favorite spot, stroll over, and unroll your mat. You collect your yoga props then arrange your water bottle, props, and towel just the way you like them for easy access throughout class. At last, you sit on your mat and take a deep breath. You’ve arrived at yoga. (Yay!) You settle in, breathe, set your intention, making small adjustments, and prepare your body and mind for the class offering you know will nourish you.
Now what if you practiced this same devotion in preparing for a meal? It might look like this. You notice that you’re hungry; you take a deep breath and become aware of the characteristics and depth of your hunger. You identify the foods that will best satisfy what your body wants and needs so you can choose from what you have available. You survey your environment, choose your preferred spot for eating, and lay out your placemat. You arrange your glassware, silverware, and napkin just the way you like them for easy access throughout the meal. At last, you sit down and take a deep breath. It’s time to eat. (Yay!) You settle in, breathe, set your intention, serve your food, and take in all of the colors, textures, and aromas of your food. You prepare your body and mind for the food offering you know will nourish you.
How often, even as a yogi, do you approach your meals with the reverence you approach your practice? Even when you drive like mad to get to yoga class and rush in, you probably still take a moment to breathe and get centered. You have carved out this time for relaxation and you acknowledge that it’s important because you know you’ll feel better when you’re finished that you did when you started.
The practices of yoga and mindful eating
Breath is the foundation for both yoga and mindful eating. Yoga typically begins with deep breathing then you focus on your breath while moving through poses. Deep breathing affords you moment to moment awareness of your needs during yoga, and it will do the same while you eat. Take deep breaths throughout your meal to connect with awareness of the sensations in your body.
Set your intention but let go of expectations. Setting an intention for a yoga practice (such as peace, presence, joy, and so on) gives you a focus to return to throughout your time on, and perhaps off, the mat. In Am I Hungry?, we learn to set an intention before eating, such as “I want to feel better when I’m finished than I did when I started.” Setting an intention helps guide your eating, but one of the most important lesson you’ll learn from yoga is non-attachment: deliberately letting go of expectations that drain your vital energy.
Pause frequently. Maybe in the middle of a yoga class you’ve felt overwhelmed and recognized the need to pause and rest, so you sit or kneel while sensing when it’s appropriate to continue. Halfway through eating, practice this same technique by setting your utensils down, taking a breath, and assessing how your stomach feels. Notice whether you are enjoying what you are eating. Reconnect with the experience before you continue.
Allow yourself to integrate the experience. Yoga classes conclude with savasana, a resting position in which you lay flat on your back, close your eyes, breathe for 5-10 minutes, and allow your body and mind to assimilate the practice. This can be applied to eating too. After your last bite, sit, feel the development of satisfaction, be still for the initial stages of digestion, breathe and rest before moving on to your next activity.
Whether you are practicing yoga or mindful eating, there are times when it will come naturally, and times when it is challenging. This is precisely why they are both called a practice—a repeated action in order to evolve.
If you already practice yoga, play with merging your practice with mindful eating. If you’re new to yoga and curious, perhaps mindful eating is the gateway through which you start becoming more aware as you learn yoga. Either way, notice that with yoga and mindful eating, you feel more satisfied when you practice with intention and attention.