March 2015 By Shameem Akhtar Shameem Akhthar explains why food before yoga practice is contra-indicated Yoga advises against eating before one’s practice. Many people think it is because yoga is an austerity practice and denial is part of its allure. Actually, yoga is very scientific. Denial, when initiated, is not for the sake of denial but to facilitate mental tone and physical longevity. In fact, yoga (unlike ayurveda) does not advise fasting per se. Fasting may only be done with proper post-fast planning and thorough preparation. Similarly, yoga’s advice against food before physical exertion is based on scientific wisdom. It is an advise that all those who exert physically would do well to heed. In fact, in the confounding world of modern nutrition and exercise, most gym-trainers unwittingly advise food before doing exercise. Many people who do yoga also follow this (despite fully knowing that it is contra-indicated), through some strange misplaced idea of self-caring. Even those with blood sugar problems (those with low blood pressure and diabetes are the only categories which are allowed some food prior, to maintain a blood sugar balance) may not eat anything with a high sugar (in case of low blood pressure) content or too easy assimilation (for diabetes). Foods that release energy slowly (called low glycemic index) are advised for those with special problems. This way there will be no sudden blood sugar yo-yo which can, in fact, be dangerous. Others with no such problems should avoid eating before practice because all poses exert pressure on the digestive system, and can cause acidity which can lead to chronic acid reflux. Seeing that stomach acids are strong enough to burn up a kerchief, it is a situation one would want to avoid at all costs – to have acid flow back into your throat and cause permanent damage. Also, if you are doing inversions (and what is a yoga class without inversions) having food in your belly would cause it to be regurgitated, plus loosen the oesophagal flap at the throat permanently, further causing acidity and reflux, and on a permanent basis. The most important reason is, of course, that instead of powering your practice, the food you just had will trip you. If you have eaten, blood flow must be directed to the stomach. The limbs, due to exertion, also need a high intensity of blood flow. Two major systems will confound each other. Most people will experience cramps as a direct result of food just before practice. Others may feel dizzy or clunky. Also, the digestion of the very food you lovingly ate would be compromised. In any case, anything you eat passes a 32-feet tract that needs time to absorb the nutrients. How silly then to expect the food you eat to power your practice! This is why yoga advises a two-to-four hour gap between meals and practice. Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose) Sit on your knees, in the kneeling prayer pose (assumed in most religious practices). Palms on top of each other, facing up, or in any mudra (hand gesture of your choice). Sit in this pose for three to five minutes after each meal, to ensure more efficient digestion. Benefits By shutting off the flow of blood to the legs, this pose powers the digestive tract towards which blood is directed. This harmonises and powers both metabolism and digestion. This is amongst the very few poses allowed immediately after a meal. Avoid If having knee problems. About the author Shameem Akthar has trained as Yoga Acharya with the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, Kerala, and is a master-trainer in neuro-linguistic psychology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, http://jaisivananda.blogspot.com
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