In addition to being a perennial student of the culinary world, yoga has also been a defining path in my life. I’ve been practicing yoga since I was a teenager, and teaching classes and individuals for the past 13 years. An ongoing yoga practice has many benefits: it charges the body; chills the mind; and improves concentration, awareness, and general well-being. It’s an exercise in mindfulness—a continual return to the present moment. And this is where food and yoga intersect, because to eat well is to eat mindfully.
The opportunities to eat mindlessly are abundant—in shopping centers, airports, gas stations, even during intermission at the ballet and opera. Our appetites are never deprived. When we’re feeling anxious, lonely, or bored, food becomes the psychological tonic to soothe our emotional conflicts. How many times have you been surprised to discover that you motored through an entire sleeve of Oreos while watching television? We’re paying for this mindless over-consumption with maladies that include obesity, heart disease, hypertension, bulimia, and Type 2 diabetes. Facing unhealthy eating habits can be a formidable task—the power of food and our emotional connections to it make changing dietary lifestyles difficult, but not impossible.
As a place to begin, pay attention. The most immediate way to improve your relationship to food is to experience it. Try this exercise: Hold a whole, ripe garden tomato in your hand. Examine it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Notice the color and shape: deep red, orangey, or pinkish? Heart shaped or globular; lobed or fluted? Feel the smooth, firm, or tender flesh in your hands; against your cheek. Close your eyes and hold it to your nose, inhaling its aroma. Slowly bite into it, allowing the juice to dribble down your chin. Notice the flavor and texture: the ratio of acid to sugar, whether the flesh is meaty, watery, or creamy. Tomatoes have had a profound impact on numerous cuisines around the world. Take time to appreciate nature’s work of art, and the effort of all those involved in seeing it go from the earth to the table. Bear witness to all your thoughts and sensations
There’s a sensual intimacy to eating like this. It’s meant to illustrate the power of our food impulses and how satisfying it is to eat with awareness. Mindful eating does not advocate any particular diet. Whether omnivore or vegan, how to eat is as important as what you eat. Buying fresh, local, and in season is mindful in and of itself; so is cruelty-free, pasture-raised, organic, and kosher. But the impact is minimized if it doesn’t extend to a meal eaten with full enjoyment. Turn off the television and phone. Get out of the car, away from your desk, and savor your food. You’ll discover that you eat less, eat better, and truly nourish both body and spirit.
Originally published in the May 2010 issue.