By Shameem Akhtar
As your yoga practice stabilizes, your need for food reduces, says Shameem Akthar
There are several things that happen to your appetite once your yoga practice becomes truly established. It drops drastically. Often, I would hear students complain that it appears, as they advance, that they have begun putting on weight. Then others, usually beginners, often have to struggle with letting go of the conventional advice that they must eat something before physically exerting themselves. In yoga, matters concerning the appetite, as with other things, are almost opposite to conventional practices and theories about energy and eating and preparing for a work-out with a full stomach.
The first concern, about weight gain, happens only because once your practice has become established, your fuel (read food) needs are reduced. To continue eating as before, obviously means you are overstepping your needs, and thus the body has no option but to stack up the extra food as fat. A really steady yoga practice’s first impact is on your appetite: it becomes reduced simply because your metabolism is at its best, and your energy levels are higher than before. Your prana – life force – is something that is unquantifiable, yet felt and vouched for by all practitioners, including the irregular ones. When the prana levels go up, your food, water and sleep needs are hugely reduced. You become an efficient machine with high fuel efficiency!
The other aspect of filling up the stomach before a work-out, as gym trainers advice, is counter-productive. For yoga, it is advised that you must not eat two to four hours ahead of practice. To eat before a yoga practice invariably means cramps and acid reflux in ordinary poses. In inversions, having something in the stomach would be outright dangerous, as it is while swimming or doing an exhausting marathon. In the case of the latter, the belief of avoiding food is also based on scientific facts.
Your body has limited resources. If you run or physically exert, the bio-organism (that you are) must focus on the limbs, and their exertion. So, the food that you eat will not any case be digested. Instead, confusing many systems is likely to cause a cramp. It will also interfere in many poses by bringing the food up, suggesting the digestive tract is on a strike! In several practices, including pranayama, having food in the stomach would compromise the depth of the practice. In a headstand, it can even cause death if the food chokes back into the gullet!
Most yoga practitioners can do with two or even one heavy meal and plan it around their practice. The sense of lightness and litheness that this habit inculcates is what makes yoga practice special.
Seetali pranayama (Cooling breath):
Sit in any simple cross-legged position. Shut your eyes. Keep your hands in chin mudra (tips of index and thumb touching lightly). Roll your tongue back, to touch the palate. Keep the upper and lower set of teeth lightly touching, inhale from the mouth. Then hold your breath as you relax everything back to normal at the mouth. Then exhale from the nostril. This is one round. Do up to nine rounds.
Benefits: Keeps you calm. Is said to control hunger and thirst. Controls anxiety and anger. Lowers blood pressure. Used to heal from overheated conditions, including sunstroke or heat exhaustion.
Avoid: Doing this in polluted places, since mouth-breathing is involved.
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