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Things I’ve learned about food by doing yoga

Posted Jul 31 2009 11:39am
I took up yoga for the same reasons many people do: I was looking for a stretching routine and yoga sounded like it might be fun. The philosophical stuff wasn’t really my cup of tea, so I ignored it. If a teacher started talking about spirituality, quoting from ancient texts, or chanting Om, I either tuned her out or changed teachers.

Over time, though, a funny thing happened. I started noticing that the things I learned in yoga did, in fact, go beyond mere physical exercise. For example, when I first began going to class, it would frustrate me that we didn’t do the poses the same way every time. Sometimes we bent our knees, sometimes we kept them straight. Sometimes we “cheated” by using blocks or straps. How could I get any better if I didn’t know the right way to do yoga?

For someone who likes order, rules, and goals, it took a while to accept that there’s no one right way to do yoga, and furthermore, the object is not necessarily to get any better. Once I wrapped my mind around this, I noticed that I was happier, in general, when I focused on making the most of any given experience, without obsessing about how things ought to be.

That was one of the first "aha" moments yoga produced for me. Others followed. In particular, working with your body’s limitations on the yoga mat has a way of illuminating your relationship with your body off the mat. Here are a few lessons yoga can offer us about food, weight, and body image:

  • Pay attention. Don’t zone out while you're practicing or while you're eating -- notice what’s going on. Why are some positions easy and others hard? Why do you crave some foods and resist others? What happens when you ignore what your body is saying? Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Stay open. You may have done a yoga pose a thousand times, but there's no telling how it will feel today. The same breakfast that works for you every other day might not be right for you this morning. Don’t form a judgment about what’s happening; just work with it.
  • Don’t worry about the person next to you. So what if she can twist herself into knots? It’s not a competition. Who cares what the person across the table from you is eating? The question is, what do you need right now, at this meal?
  • Respect the process. This can be difficult for goal-driven types (you know who you are). Don’t focus quite so hard on nailing that tricky arm balance or eating a perfectly healthy diet. Give it your best shot, then let go of the results. Paradoxically, that’s when you'll begin to see real change.
  • Cultivate compassion. Right now, you’re doing the best you can!
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