Change Your Relationship to Food ~

As the food industry relentlessly markets every fad diet and product, Americans are forgetting how to eat healthily and happily. Yoga can help you make better choices about what you eat—and skip the guilt.

Yoga’s philosophy teaches us to make meals from plant-based foods that form the foundation of the food pyramid. The physical asana practice deepens your awareness of your body, so you become more conscious of foods that bring a consistent sense of well-being—and those that make you feel bad after you eat them. Over time, practitioners often find themselves in a more comfortable and relaxed relationship with food.<

While yoga and meditation can help you navigate the choppy waters of the American food industry, success won’t happen overnight. But as you practice, you can build the discipline, patience, and compassion to overcome the many forces arrayed against you—no matter how formidable they seem.

If I Do Yoga, Am I Vegetarian?

The increased popularity of yoga in America has carnivores caught in a dietary dilemma.

By Jennifer Barrett

John, a longtime yoga practitioner, is a strict vegetarian who follows the ancient yogic dietary recommendations to the letter. Jane, a beginning student, likes her steak medium-rare. John feels that animal flesh is a product of violence. Jane contends that eating meat helps sustain her practice. Who’s on the right track?

With the increased popularity of yoga in America (a carnivorous country by Mother India’s standards), many practitioners have found themselves caught in a dietary dilemma: Can you still enjoy that chicken salad sandwich and call yourself a yogi?

Certainly the moral principle of ahimsa, or nonharming, would seem to mandate asking the question. “Most yoga schools and teachers really favor vegetarianism for this reason,” says Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D., president of the Yoga Research and Education Center in Northern California. Nonmeat dietary instructions also figure in classic yoga manuals like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Bhagavad Gita.

But as Donald Altman, author of Art of the Inner Meal (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), explains, the issue of meat is just one aspect of a much broader yogic view of food. According to Hindu perspectives, he says, “all food possesses different properties that affect our body, awareness, and spirit.” Tamasic foods like beef and pork make us slow, lazy, and dull. Rajasic foods like fish and fowl stir up aggression and ambition. That leaves sattvic foods like fruits, beans, whole grains, and vegetables, which foster balance and good health. Looking at diet this way, meat represents just part of a nutritional continuum.

For many yogis, the body (rather than the ancient texts) informs eating choices. John Schumacher, founder of Unity Woods Yoga Center near Washington, D.C., has been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for more than 25 years. “I came to vegetarianism by simply adjusting my diet according to how it seemed to affect my practice,” he explains.

Donna Farhi, a yoga instructor based in New Zealand, also listened to her body for cues, but got a different message. A vegetarian as a teen, she found herself prone to dizzy spells in her 20s. When an acupuncturist suggested she try a little meat, Farhi was reluctant at first. “But I felt so much better—I let my body rather than my intellectual dogma guide me.”

Sandy Blaine, a teacher in Alameda, California, shares this experience. But while the fish she eats each week improves her energy, she says that “as a serious yogi, it is somewhat of a conflict for me. I do believe all life is sacred.”

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