THE YOGA MEAL
Going through a 200 hour yoga teacher training program taught me a number of lessons I am not sure I would have learned anywhere else.
I learned the foundations of Ashtanga yoga, a variation of what we practice at Better Buzz Yoga. I learned how beneficial, and challenging, it is to maintain a daily meditation practice. I learned how to strengthen my ujjayi breath.
I also learned that I eat like an absolute barbarian.
As we enter a season of abundance, and with the holidays fast approaching, it struck me as an opportune time to share an exercise that has become a daily ritual in my life and a perfect complement to my yoga and meditation practices.
Enter the yoga meal.
With the intention of slowing down and heightening awareness, a yoga meal is not so much about the type of food on our plates as how we eat the food on our plates. The yoga meal is comprised of seven practices that are to be enlisted during at least one meal per day, and of all the homework assignments required of me during yoga teacher training, this proved to be one of the most difficult.
Up for a challenge? Incorporate a yoga meal into your routine by abiding by the following seven practices during one meal per day. This can be a solo exercise or a team effort, and there are different challenges associated with doing it individually and as a group. Whether you make your yoga meal a solo venture or recruit your loved ones to try it on with you, don't be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the practices; bringing awareness to the table is harder than it seems.
Practice Number One: Sit down, and remain seated, for the duration of the meal.
This practice isn’t designed to keep you from refilling your water or grabbing a napkin mid-meal, but rather to discourage multi-tasking and encourage stillness while you are eating. This means no getting up to move laundry from the washer to the dryer, no getting up to answer a phone call or a text, or completing any other task or chore while eating.
Practice Number Two: Pause before beginning the meal and taking your first bite.
With the aim of bringing awareness to the table, this practice also allows the opportunity to have a moment, even if only a brief one, of gratitude for the food on your plate. This can be as formal as a spoken acknowledgement of thanks among friends and family at the table, or as informal as an inner, silent acknowledgement of thanks by yourself. Giving a moment’s pause before diving in helps cultivate gratitude for something we all fall into the habit of unconsciously taking for granted: a kitchen, and ensuing belly, full of food.
Practice Number Three: No distractions.
Eating can often become secondary to an activity we are doing while eating, whether that activity is working, watching a movie, or perusing social media. This practice invites us to shut out all distractions and eat with intention. This means no TV and no cell phones, no magazines and no books. The focus is to be shifted solely to the meal. Eliminating all distractions while eating can be particularly challenging, and even a little uncomfortable, if you are eating by yourself, but try it on at least once. Notice what happens when you shift all of your attention and energy simply to eating.
Practice Number Four: Begin with no more than two fistfuls of food.
It’s easy, especially when ravenous, to load our plates and bowls full to the brim. Sometimes, everything on our plates get wholly demolished. Other times, we end up scraping what we can’t eat into the trash can or down the garbage disposal; this practice aims to eliminate the “other times,” or at least to make them more few and far between.
We often don’t realize just how full and satiated we are until we are full to the point of discomfort. Limiting yourself to two fistfuls of food, at least to begin with, is a good way to regulate portion size, and to allow your body time to digest a bit before deciding if you really have room for another serving.
Practice Number Five: Chew, and swallow, your entire bite before taking the next one. And, put your utensil down while you’re eating.
This practice really made me aware of how . . . violently . . . I eat sometimes, especially when I’m eating a meal I am particularly fond of. It’s easy to unconsciously eat very quickly, whether because we are eating something we really, really love or because we are really, really hungry. Slowing down, chewing, and swallowing completely before taking the next bite allows us to truly savor the meal we are eating.
Practice Number Six: Avoid talking with food in your mouth.
You would think this practice is self-explanatory and easy to follow, right? Even though this is something we have all been told since childhood, this practice serves as a gentle reminder not to speak and eat simultaneously.
When we do talk with food in our mouths, it’s usually not due to lack of etiquette, but rather because we want to contribute to the conversation or have something we are particularly excited to share. And while you may think you aren’t guilty of breaking this basic table manner practice, when you tune in and heighten awareness at the table, you may be surprised and how often it happens, whether it’s you or someone else doing the talking.
Practice Number Seven: Wait two to four hours before your next meal.
Cookies in the break room at work or at the Better Buzz Yoga Holiday Party? Sure, why not. Free samples at Cheese + Provisions in Sunnyside? Yes please. Not to mention the ever-occurring dialogue between roommates/friends/co-workers/significant others at meal time: “I can’t finish this. Do you want the rest?”
We often say “yes” to all of the above, even if we aren’t particularly hungry. This practice encourages mindful eating habits and works to sway us away from over-indulging and eating something simply because it’s there.
We often emphasize and have conversations about the kind of food we eat, but seldom examine how we eat. When we tune in and bring awareness to the table, we are allowed the opportunity to slow down, savor, and show and share gratitude in the simplest of ways.