Food And Freedom
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Written by Sue Van Raes   

Food & Fruit

Yoga offers guidelines along the path to increase healthy body awareness, intuitive eating, nutritional wisdom and food consciousness.

We face a number of modern challenges in how we relate to food, health and our ability to nourish ourselves: population-wide increases in obesity and degenerative disease, increased amounts of processed food and reduced access to many wholesome organic options, a feeling of overall disconnection from our intuition and inner wisdom and copious amounts of self-judgment when it comes to how and what we eat. In light of this, we can ask ourselves how we can use our Yoga practice and the philosophical teachings to cultivate more self-love, abide by nutritional wisdom, compassion and learn to listen to our inner truth when it comes to our relationship with food.

Ahimsa is the first of the yamas, in turn the first of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Ahimsa is the practice of compassion toward oneself and others, a practice that speaks directly to the intersection between Yoga and food. The lack of compassion and the lack nutritional wisdom in our lives is a source of stress and inner conflict for many. Some of us use food as comfort, some as punishment, some of us have compulsive eating patterns and some of us remain disconnected to how we sustain ourselves on multiple levels, including the actual source of our food. Related to this, many of us struggle with body image issues, weight management difficulties and eating disorders that all can leave us lacking in self-acceptance, self-love and self-nourishment. While our relationship with food (like many relationships) can be fraught with challenges and struggles, it can also be a potent area for our growth.

The niyamas are known as the observances in numerous scriptures including the Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; in the latter text they are described as the second of the eight limbs. The practices that the niyamas offer are said to be the most intimate and personal of the eight, reflecting our personal attitudes, intentions and soulful relationship to ourselves, our habits and our life’s journey. When we apply the niyamic teachings to well-being, they offer a self-empowering approach that proves both healing and joyful.

The niyamas are: saucha (purity), svadhyaya (self-study), tapas (discipline), Isvarapranidhana (recognition of the sacred) and santosa (contentment).

Saucha (purity or purification): Applying natural principles of eating
Eating a whole food diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, high quality lean protein, nuts, seeds and good oils such as coconut, olive, hemp and flax, is the first step to resetting our systems, purifying our bodies and promoting compassion within ourselves and within our communities.

A whole food is one found in nature, without an ingredient list and without even a package. Additionally, the more local and seasonal we can buy our food, the better. Eating whole foods provide a foundation for our diets that is both nutrient-dense and detoxifying. Cravings diminish, authentic tastes return and our bodies’ natural sense of satiation will be more easily understood. This original method of eating keeps us in tune with the seasonal fluctuations of the world we inhabit. By eating whole foods, we also meet the true needs of our bodies for nourishment, needs that are often unsatisfied in the modern diet filled with fast, processed or manufactured food that only bears a passing resemblance to the food found in nature.

Svadhyaya (self-study): Know your body
Through scientific metabolic type testing, Ayurvedic evaluation or working with an experienced nutritionist, we can learn how to best choose how to eat to stay healthy, nourished and at our individual ideal body composition. Metabolic type testing provides personalized results through blood testing or an elaborate questionnaire based on the endocrine and the neurological systems. As with any practice, some styles, philosophies or practitioners are a better fit for you than others.

Tapas (Disciplined use of our energy): Practice Intuitive Eating
Once we understand how saucha and svadhyaya relate to traditional dietary principles and specific individual needs, we can deepen the intuition divinely in place in each of us. Without this foundation, we are asking our intuition to reach outside of our current map of inner knowing and experience.

Intuitive eating is strengthened over time as we pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work. Ideas like Eating when you are hungry; eating what your body is hungry for; and stopping when your body is full, are simple in concept, but challenging in practice.

Your body is designed to tell you what it needs, but when we eat more processed foods that are infused with additives, preservatives and strong flavors such as salt, sugar and refined oils, our inherent wisdom can be blocked and our intuitive map can be askew. As we apply saucha and svadhyaya, our bodies become purified, our true needs met at a metabolic level, we learn to distinguish intuitive information from habit and emotional cravings, and then our intuition is reset to tune into our bodies’ true needs in order to feel completely nourished.

Isvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual): Conscious Eating
Our constant rush, high-stress and fast-paced lifestyles may prevent many of us from slowing down enough to prepare and enjoy our food. For the sake of convenience, we may eat on the run, in our cars, standing up over the sink, at the computer or even in the occasional drive through the fast food joint. We may complain that we don’t have time to eat consciously, yet when take the time to do so, it pays off by satisfying our deeper yearning for health, happiness and nourishment. When we slow down, feel gratitude for our food, breathe mindfully, say a prayer and stay present to the moment loving ourselves as we eat, we prepare ourselves to listen to the experience of eating and experience satisfaction. Doing this means creating mealby times free from media (including the television or computer), that are free from distraction, anxiety-producing relations or conversation, and away from the car. This is self-nourishment as a meditation, prayer or mindfulness practice.

Santosa (contentment/bliss): Applying the Pleasure Principle
At a special event, gathering, or party we find joy in eating and sharing food prepared with attention to its effect on the senses, including visuals, aroma, flavor and texture. Food served in this way adds beauty to a lifestyle of health, community, celebration and consciousness. Through food, we can find sustainable joy and celebration, and this pleasure can permeate into other areas of our lives. Coming home to a spiritual practice around food is a manifestation of ahimsa and even more profoundly, of self-love. We are inherently designed to use our intuition and instincts and remember what it means to nourish ourselves on all levels, to live close to nature, and open to more and more joy. Through the practice of ahimsa, and by implementing the niyamas via purification, self-study, intuition, presence and joy, we can walk the yogic path home to our own truth, connection and the freedom that we so deserve.

Sue Van Raes is a passionate Nutritional Therapist, Yoga Instructor, and founder of Boulder Nutrition in Boulder, Colorado. She is committed to educating people based on principles of whole body health, balanced and intentional living, through education, life coaching, nutrition and cleansing. She leads wellness retreats, cleanses, and groups nationally and internationally:

5 steps to Food and Freedom with the Niyamas:

Saucha (purification): Eat a whole food, local, organic diet.

Svadhyaya (self-study): Learn your individual needs.

Tapas (Disciplined use of our energy): Practice intuitive eating and listening to what satisfies you fully, not just your transient cravings.

Isvarapranidhana (celebration of the spiritual): Allow the practice of conscious to be a mediation.

Santosa (contentment; bliss): Celebrating and connecting with others to enhance the senses, community, and celebration.


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