Yoga defines the union of the mind and body through the coordination of breath and movement. As we flow we become aware of the sensations in the body, completely feeling the experience, without judgement or expectation.
Yoga in itself is a mindful exercise and with consistency becomes a meditative practise. By enhancing the senses and breathing through challenging postures, we cultivate a sense of peace with the present moment; regardless of our physical sensations. This heightened state of awareness was first defined by Buddha as “mindfulness” and is often introduced to people through the practise of yoga or meditation.
One of the main principles of yoga is to focus your attention on one thing at at time in order to bring awareness or skill to each action. In Sanskrit this is known as Dharana and translates to concentration. By channelling your energy to one task at a time you become more mindful of your actions and receptive to your body’s sensations and surroundings.
Mindfulness can be applied to daily life in many different forms not just through the practise of yoga or meditation. One particularly effective form of mindfulness correlated with yoga is mindful eating; a slow conscious form of eating that involves noticing the colours, smells, flavors, and textures of your food; chewing slowly and getting rid of distractions like TV or phones. Mindful eating has been found beneficial for weight and hunger regulation, food anxiety treatment and can help relieve a range of digestive issues.
A study into the effects of yoga on mindful eating found that a yogi’s “ability to be calm and observant during physical discomfort teaches them how to maintain calm in other challenging situations, such as not eating more even when the food tastes good and not eating when you’re not hungry,”- Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre.
As a yogi myself I find that the more I practise yoga the more in tune I am with my internal and external signals, which helps me to stay mindful throughout the day. My dietary habits are more intuitive when I practise yoga as I am able to hear my internal signals clearer. I am more conscious of how my food was prepared, where it came from and how it will nourish me. I can also better recognise when I am truly hungry and not just bored as well as feel better satiated after a meal.
I find some light pranayama (breathing) exercises with my eyes closed before a meal really helpful for tuning into my internal signals and recognising whether I am really hungry or not. Then before eating, I remove all distractions such as mobile phones, television or music. Or even better remove myself from these distraction so that I am not tempted by their presence. I really love eating in silence outside in the garden .
It’s not necessary to eat in silence in order to eat mindfully but it does help raise your internal awareness so I do recommended you try it for at least one meal a day . I like to eat my breakfast in silence as I am not surrounded by friends or family at this time.
To help my digestion I set a timer for 20 minutes as it is said that it takes this length of time for the stomach to recognise and relay signals of satiety to the brain. When a person eats too quickly, satiety occurs after over-eating instead of before, often causing discomfort, cramps or nausea. To help this take a moment to notice the colours, smells, flavors, and textures your food before chewing. Relax and enjoy, chew properly and then swallow. Think about the benefits of eating mindfully such as improved digestion, decreased anxiety, hunger and weight regulation. Try feel the food travelling down to your stomach before you take another bite.
As you finish your meal, tune into your sensations. Ask yourself how you feel. Do you feel nourished? healthy and happy? Or lethargic? tired and sluggish? Think about what you ate and the way in which you ate it. Mindful eating is not restriction, nor is it telling yourself you are full when you are not. It is simply taking the time to enjoy a meal and connect to your inner sensations through the application of yoga philosophy and mindfulness.
The ultimate goal is to be able to eat mindfully instinctively. To intuitively remove yourself from all distractions and fully appreciate every meal, without reminders. Treating your body with the love and respect it deserves; moving it daily and fuelling it with nourishing wholefood ingredients.
But like everything worth doing it takes time. So let go of your expectations, accept that this will not come instantly. Start by practising gentle yoga, being mindful and aware of your body and it’s internal signals. Transfer this awareness to just one meal a day and gradually build up. As with anything in yoga it’s the journey that counts and not the destination.