Yoga - Conscious eating
by Shameem Akthar
Making wise food choices is an integral part of yoga
Shameem Akthar has trained as yoga Acharya with
the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and
is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology.
Those who do not practise yoga believe that a hard-core practitioner can become fanatical about food. However, nothing is further from the truth. A practitioner becomes sensitive towards food. In essence this relationship becomes refined, civilised and is entirely determined by one’s practice on the mat.
For instance, when you eat a heavy or a late meal, almost certainly you will not be able to easily execute poses demanding flexibility – demanding poses like halasana (plough) or paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) the next morning. You will experience stiffness. Similarly, doing pranayama immediately after a heavy meal will clog up your exhalation (in fact that is what you feel while singing) and your breath retention. Non-vegetarian food can make your joints stiff – and not just the day after. In intense sadhana, salt and sugar are completely omitted from the meals since that will affect the cleansing process that you have set off. So also, stimulants like caffeine or cigarettes.
As a practitioner, my food choices and timing are determined entirely by my practice. This is because my body awareness has become so acute that I immediately sense the stiffness a particular food has created in the body. When on the mat you feel that sharp stiffness or pain and know it comes from a certain food, your relationship with that item changes forever. You look at it with suspicion when it is served on your plate, even if the rest of the world looks at you as a fanatic. However, you do not have to worry too much about this – it is established by behaviour scientists that it is a psychological need for those lacking discipline. Behaviourists observe that this is done subconsciously by those who make bad food choices. It is far easier to try to change someone’s healthy practices than introduce healthy choices for oneself! I am stressing this for a particular reason – at a particular stage in one’s sadhana, one encounters lots of such attempts to drag one off the path, even by those close to you. You have to be firm and clear in your mind
why the relationship between your food and your practice should not be sacrificed to the whims of others,
even seemingly well-meaning people. When your taste becomes refined you don't overindulge in food to enjoy it.
Seetkari pranayama (Hissing breath):
Sit in any meditative pose, eyes shut. Roll back tongue so it touches palate. Press down teeth gently. Inhale from the mouth, with a hissing sound, drawing in air. Release tongue and exhale from nostril. This is one round. Do up to nine rounds. Avoid if having respiratory problems and sensitive teeth. Also, avoid this pranayama in polluted areas.
Benefits: Is a calming and cooling practice. Controls hunger, thirst, anxiety. Is also used in treatment of heat-aggravated problems. Relieves arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Is believed to be anti-ageing.
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