Yoga 101: What To Eat Before Yoga Practice

I recently wrote this article for Five Pillars Yoga:

Do you wonder what to eat before you practice yoga? After all, we are often twisting, strengthening, extending, and bending our bodies into many different shapes that have profound effects on our organs, including our stomach and digestive tract. This can lead us to avoid food before practice. However, we are often expending significant energy in class, which requires adequate nourishment. So what to do?

Deciding what to eat before yoga practice is highly personal. What works for someone else might not work for you. However, there are some general nutritional principles to consider.

1. DIGESTION 101:

Digestion time varies between individuals. To build maximum energy, consider eating healthy, balanced meal two to three hours before you practice yoga, which allows your body to be nourished and your stomach to be empty. If you are practicing first thing in the morning, try to allow at least 30 minutes to digest your food before you step onto your mat. When you are running short on time, consider eating a light snack that is easy to digest.

Although raw veggies are delicious and healthy, the fiber takes a lot of energy to break down and assimilate. To avoid gas and bloating, you may want to steer clear of high fiber foods such as cruciferous veggies and legumes (beans, lentils, peas) before you practice.

Most importantly, pay attention to your own experience so you can discover what works best for you.

Which foods nourish you and how much time do you need to enjoy your practice without bloating, gas, or a stomachache?

Short on time before class? Consider making our Favorite Green Smoothie, or enjoy a piece of fresh fruit. Have 10 minutes? Try our Summer Smoothie Bowl for complete nourishment!

2. LEARN ABOUT MACRONUTRIENTS:

There are six macronutrients: carbohydratesproteinfatwatervitamins, and minerals.

1. Carbs include grains, starches, sweeteners, fruits, and veggies. They burn relatively quickly for fast energy.

2. Protein can be found in legumes, veggies, seeds, and animal products. Protein helps build and repair your muscles.

3. Fat comes from fruit, vegetables, seeds, and animal products. Fat takes the longest to digest and is essential for the functioning of your brain and heart.

4. Water is so important. After all, you are made of 60% water. Learn more about hydration: The Five Pillars of Water and Hydrate the Ayurvedic Way.

5. Vitamins are often thought of as small pills and tinctures at most grocery and drug stores, but they actually occur naturally in the food you eat. If you eat a balanced diet, your food likely contains the vitamins you need to stay healthy. The more colorful your fruits and veggies, the more vitamins they contain.

6. Minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur. Plus there are trace minerals such as iron and zinc. They are found in the foods we consume and keep the body in tip top shape. Want to make sure you are getting your minerals? Nuts, beans and lentils, and dark leafy greens are the foods containing the most minerals!

Why is this important? Digestion time varies based on the macronutrients you eat. Plus your body and energy responds differently to each macronutrient. Fat takes the longest time to digest, for example, while carbohydrates provide quick energy and easier digestion.

So what to do? Consider consuming a light, balanced meal of healthy carbohydrates and protein before you practice for optimal energy. Give yourself enough time to digest. Beyond comfort and ease in your belly, this way of eating will give you adequate energy to move through a yoga sequence. Plus nourishing your body before you practice will help tone and strengthen your muscles.

You can follow a practice with a healthy and balanced meal to help your muscles repair and your mind to focus throughout your day. A healthy post-asana practice meal includes a balance of all of the macronutrients.

As always, pay attention to your own experience. Which foods are easy to digest and give you adequate energy before you practice? And which foods make your body feel nourished after you practice?

3. EAT REAL FOOD:

These days we can spend each meal dining from a package. However, protein shakes and energy bars are not real food. That said, they can be wonderful supplements to meals. A simple way to think about eating real food is to avoid foods that come in a package. Another simple consideration is to eat from the rainbow. See if you can eat as many colors in one meal as possible. The color in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple foods is indicative of vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

4. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY:

Your body will lead you home, if only you slow down long enough to listen. Your body tells you when you are hungry and when you are thirsty. It may even tell you exactly what it wants to be eating. Plus your body lets you know when you are satisfied. Paying attention to the language and signals of your own body will become easier the more you practice yoga. The mind-body connection that we cultivate when we practice in yoga helps us off the mat and at the table. As we begin to tune in and listen, the signals of hunger and satisfaction coming from our bodies grow louder and clearer. Equally helpful, yoga helps to develop discernment, giving us the capacity to choose healthy foods that nourish our bodies, our minds, and our souls.

Although it is important to learn the basics of nutrition, it is equally important to develop body wisdom. Returning to the knowledge you knew when you were a child will lead you home to your healthiest self as an adult. Eat when you are hungry. And stop when you are satisfied. Then pay attention to how you feel during your practice and learn from your own, direct experience.

Discover Your Edge in Yoga

I recently wrote this article for Five Pillars Yoga in Manhattan, NY: 

Finding Your Edge in Yoga Class

Five Tips to Advance Your Practice

Image Taken From Five Pillars Yoga

Image Taken From Five Pillars Yoga

Do you want to find your edge in yoga class without injuring yourself?

Finding your edge is not always easy. The edge is the place you go in a posture where you are able to stay present, breathe deeply and receive the benefits of the posture while also cultivating relaxation in your body and your mind. 

Pushing yourself can take you beyond your edge, while holding back can prevent you from ever meeting your edge. If you tend to push yourself in the rest of your life, you may also find yourself pushing yourself in yoga practice. Or, on the contrary, if you tend to hold back in the rest of your life, you may back off before fully expressing a posture.

The problem with pushing ourselves is that we can cause injury and miss out on the movement inquiry process. If we try to attain or perfect a certain form, we may not be able to hear the information coming to us from our own bodies. Yet if we do not challenge ourselves, our practice can become stagnant. We miss out on the incredible benefits of going deeper into a posture.

Many yoga educators invite students to explore their bodies for sensation. They encourage students to move through practice with a sense of interest and curiosity about their own experience. Plus teachers often encourage yogis to explore postures until they reach a depth that creates sensation without causing pain. After all, pain is a messenger letting us know that we need to back off and pay attention to a specific area of our bodies. 

Discovering our edge without injuring ourselves requires self-awareness and a willingness to trust our own experience. Easier said than done, I know. To #GoDeep, check out these five tips to advance your practice and discover your edge.

Read more here: 5 Ways To Find Your Edge Without Causing Injury

Prevention 101: Getting Enough Vitamin D

Although there has been some controversy about vitamin D due to all of the hype in recent years, there are still some important and surprising benefits to consider. And, those of us who live here in Northern California can get enough by simply stepping outside into some direct sunlight without protection for 10-15 minutes 3x per week. If you haven't seen the sun all winter or work indoors under artificial lighting, supplementing your vitamin D intake might be more important. Check out this article I wrote for Five Pillars Yoga in Manhattan, NY:

Do you notice that your energy is low during long winter months and high during warm summer months? Do you tend to get sick or feel low when the sun disappears?

Image Taken From Five Pillars Yoga

Image Taken From Five Pillars Yoga

If your answer is yes, you may be experiencing a vitamin D deficiency. Other symptoms of deficiency include weak bonesskin problemsdepressionautoimmune disease, and a foggy brain. If you experience any of these symptoms, you are not alone. Vitamin D deficiencies are common, especially among those of us living in the northernmost regions of the world spending the majority of our time indoors under artificial lighting. Other factors that increase the risk of deficiency include weight loss medications, steroids, and low-fat diets.

As you may know, the biggest source of vitamin D is direct sunlight. We tend to associate vitamins with diet and supplements, but most foods are surprisingly low in vitamin D, especially plant-based foods. Vitamin D is more than just a nutrient we consume. It is a hormone our bodies synthesize from food and sunlight that impacts the immune system and our hormonal balance. 

So do not be tricked by its name… Vitamin D is not just a vitamin that you can get by eating a healthy, plant-based diet. Getting enough of this super-nutrient is proving to be more difficult and more important than we knew. To learn more about the preventative benefits and best sources of vitamin D, read on!

THE 4 SURPRISING HEALTH BENEFITS OF VITAMIN D:

1. VITAMIN D HELPS TO MANAGE WEIGHT

A study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Prague in 2015 suggests that taking a vitamin D supplement may help people with an unhealthy weight to lose weight more rapidly than those who do not take a vitamin D supplement. Read more: Click here.

2. VITAMIN D PREVENTS CANCER, PARTICULARLY BREAST, PROSTATE AND COLON CANCER

Of 63 observational studies of vitamin D in relation to cancer risk, the majority discovered that vitamin D acts as a preventative measure. Read more: Click here.

3. VITAMIN D KEEPS YOUR BONES STRONG

Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, keeping the bones strong. A study found in the US National Library of Medicine by Peter R Ebeling suggests that vitamin D intake coupled with calcium intake creates optimal bone health, preventing bone loss and fractures. According to Ebeling, rates of hip fractures peak during winter months, suggesting seasonal variation of vitamin D deficiency may strongly affect bone health. Read more: Click here.

4. VITAMIN D PREVENTS HEART DISEASE AND DIABETES

According to several studies, increased vitamin D intake lowers blood pressure and helps to regulate insulin. According a study reported by Harvard School of Public Health, men who were deficient in vitamin D were twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who had adequate levels of vitamin D. Read more: Click here.

SO WHAT DO WE DO TO MAKE SURE WE ARE GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN D? Discover how to get enough: Click here.

 

Yoga basics: An intro to modern-day yoga practices

I took my yoga teacher trainings in Nosara, Costa Rica. My teachers emphasized accessibility (everyone can do yoga), inquiry (yoga is a way of self-awakening), experiential learning (yoga is a science where we learn from our own direct experiences in life), and meditation (the purpose of yoga). They would say: If you have a spine, you can do yoga. And they would ask us: Why do you practice yoga? For what purpose do you practice these postures, breathing exercises and meditations?

 

At first, I was confused by their interpretations of yoga. After all, I simply thought yoga was the vinyasa flow class I had been taking for the ten years prior to my teacher training. I loved the athleticism that my classes had required. Once these teachings landed, I felt so grateful that my understanding of yoga was one of accessibility, inquiry and self-awakening. I continually explore my personal yoga and the purpose it serves in my life. Today, I practice yoga because I feel calm, whole, strong, energized, and aware when I practice. I have never ended a practice with a sense of regret, wishing I spent my time on something more useful. Instead, I feel more alive and present as a result of my yoga.

 

When yoga came to the West, the practice morphed into many different forms. Over time, the word "yoga" became associated with downward facing dog and sexy yoga pants. We can walk into a yoga studio in downtown Los Angeles and find a group of people in spandex clothing standing on their heads in a heated room, sweat dripping down their faces. Two blocks away, we can walk into a room of people dressed in their day clothes quietly meditating in a seated position. Meanwhile, a group of people are gathered on the beach, sitting in their bathing suits and facing the waves, practicing alternate nostril breathing. Which one is yoga?

 

The word "yoga" means “to yoke.” Yoga is the union of mind with spirit during meditation.

 

Yoga came to the West in the early 20th century and provided solutions to some of the problems we were facing at the time. The issues we faced back then have only grown more profound. We are moving faster than ever before. And our thoughts are often stuck in the past, causing depression, or racing forward to the future, causing anxiety. Regardless of the fact that we are busier than ever and moving quickly, we often spend our days sitting in front of screens. Despite the emerging technologies that have provided a global network of connection, we oftentimes feel disconnected from ourselves and our communities. These habits have led to a rise of illness, disease and addiction. Recent research suggests a lack of human connection is at the root of many addictions, rendering addiction a social disorder rather than solely a substance disorder. 

 

Interdisciplinary yoga offers many solutions to modern-day dilemmas, drawing from contemporary mind-body disciplines while also rooting the practice in the ancient scriptures of yoga. This is kind of like many modern university degrees that draw upon several fields of study to bolster the student's knowledge and experience. Risking being accused of impurity (which is BS anyhow), the goal is to meet people where they are at and provide them with the experiences that will help them in the world today. I see this shift toward interdisciplinary studies, in universities and yoga alike, as a positive movement, promoting critical thinking. Interdisciplinary education allows us to learn from what has happened in the past and also look at the world we live in today from as many angles as possible so we can make our best choices in the present moment.

 

During yoga teacher training, we learned about Yogi Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra defines ashtanga (ashta = eight, tanga = limbs) as a pathway to bliss. When these eight limbs are interpreted in a way that makes sense for people living in the 21st century, they can shed light on many of the problems we face today.

 

The first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas, provide an ethical and moral structure that can help us to navigate modern-day society. We are encouraged to know ourselves deeply and live simply. Coupled with the practice of seva yoga (service), the first two limbs of ashtanga guide us to share our material goods, wealth and skills with the greater community. 

 

The yoga that is popular in the Western world today focuses on Patanjali's third limb of ashtanga yoga, the asana practice. Asana refers to yoga postures, translated by Don Stapleton as to sit in the seat of one's self. Practiced to calm the fluctuations of the mind and enter a state of awareness, asana invites us to pay attention to our physical bodies, which are so often neglected in our fast-paced lifestyles. That said, modern yoga is oftentimes reduced to an exercise class with a purely physical, aesthetic focus. These classes resemble Scandinavian gymnastics with physical postures that are strenuous, sometimes missing out on the depth yoga can offer. 

 

Many of us are initially drawn to yoga, because the postures stretch, strengthen and tone the body. I have friends who go to yoga to strengthen their core and know of others who want a yoga butt. I started yoga fourteen years ago, because I could not touch my toes after years of competitive sports. My hamstrings were so tight and my ankles were so weak, I would roll my ankle walking across my college campus. I was 18 years old. And, although I was drawn to yoga to improve my flexibility and get some exercise, I received the added benefits of self-awareness and a connection with my spirit. 

 

There is nothing wrong with getting stronger, more flexible and toned as a result of a yoga asana practice. The problem occurs when yoga is conflated with difficult physical postures like handstands and downward facing dog, making yoga inaccessible to many people who do not possess a high level of athleticism, strength and/or flexibility. If a person is able to perform the perfect handstand, but he or she is a judgmental asshole out in the world, does that make this person a gifted yogi? I think not. So, if some of the yoga you have seen or experienced feels inaccessible to you know this: There are many teachers and studios, myself included, who offer therapeutic and restorative practices. In addition to postures, many teachers offer seated and reclined meditations. Everyone is welcome to yoga.

 

When I attended my first teacher training, I was taught that yoga postures do not need to be physically strenuous to benefit us. That said, it has only been in the past two years that I have understood in my own body and life how true this is. I have come to believe that the restorative and therapeutic practices of yoga can often benefit people more than strenuous classes, regardless of a person's age and athleticism. At the same time, I appreciate different experiences of yoga at various hours of the day and phases of the week, month or year.

 

The final four limbs of yoga are pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (withdrawal of external, sensory focus), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation). These practices help us to slow down, breathe deeply, increase and contain our energy, focus our attention, and meditate. These final four limbs of yoga lead us to samadhi, or bliss.

 

Regardless of whether or not we find our way to our bliss bodies, we begin to know ourselves deeply when we follow the path of yoga. In this process of knowing myself and accepting both the light and the dark within myself, the love that I am capable of giving and receiving grows. That said, the changes that I have experienced as a result of my yoga practice occur slowly, over time. Oftentimes I become aware of thought patterns and behaviors and reactions. I go through a long period where awareness is all that I have. I continue the patterns and reactions, but instead of feeling numb and unconscious, I have an inner witness that is observing my life and shedding light on the way I am being in the world. This phase of seeing but not yet changing is, oftentimes, very uncomfortable. I find that it is my relationship with the behavior or pattern that changes and then, eventually, a healthier behavior or pattern replaces the old way of being that no longer serves me.

 

I am still as imperfect as I have always been, regardless of the fact that I practice yoga and meditate. But I am happier. As a result of my yoga practice, when I am faced with my same tendencies that I have had for a lifetime, I have more compassion, understanding and space to choose a healthier response. I have experienced many habits and patterns that formed during my childhood that I needed to change in order to lead a healthy, happy life. I found that yoga was the practice that helped me to know and love and accept myself. With self-acceptance and self-love, I am able to make the changes I need to live a healthy, compassionate and happy existence.

 

Enough about me and more about you. How does yoga support you in your life?

Letting Go

I am amazed by the miracle of life.

I am astounded by the power of the flow, especially when I let go. 

I stepped off the train at a random stop in the woods and took a path unknown. 

Determined to discover a new way, I took a path called Peace. 

There is so much light now, where only shadows lurked before. 

And I am amazed that life takes these turns, which appear to take us off-track, but lead us through the most beautiful places and teach us exactly what we need to know.

I stepped off the train, and for a while I became too scared, so I climbed back on and rode a little further.

This time, I stepped off the train in an open meadow, with wildflowers in full bloom.

And this time, I am different.

I accepted my farewell to easy.

It was never easy.

I embraced the totality of my experience.

There are still many stormy days, but this time, the clouds seemed to part at just the right time to restore my faith in the miracle of it all.

I look through the clouds and take a deep breath of fresh air, releasing some of my fear and trusting a little more.

I always knew in my heart that my path was to be forged through wild lands, sometimes alone and sometimes with others.

But I didn't know how many helping hands there would be, only visible in the present moment. I didn't know that I could trust,

Surrender.

The Yoga of Food Continued

I started exploring the subject of food with the basics of nutrition yesterday. I offered a simple lesson on nutrition, because without some basic knowledge, we can unintentionally wreak havoc on our own bodies. 

That said, many people already know the basics of nutrition and more. Despite all of the nutritional knowledge, these same people struggle to follow through and apply what they know. I used to be one of these people. I knew what I needed to do to be healthy, yet my behaviors did not reflect my intellect. This spurred an inquiry into my own relationship with food. I became curious about this disintegration between my mind and my body. Yoga helped me to integrate my body and mind and soul so that my actions began to align with my good intentions. 

the yoga of food is about creating blissful experiences with food and nourishment.

Food matters. And the ways in which we relate to food matters. The yoga of food is about self-awareness... and understanding what is driving our hungers and motivating our behaviors around food. The yoga of food is an inquiry into our beings, where each person becomes the scientist of his or her own experience with food and eating.

In an ancient yogic text called the Taittiriya Upanishad, each person is described as having five sheaths (or bodies), moving from the outermost layer to the most subtle layer of our being. These five bodies are called the Koshas. The Koshas provide a framework which helps to deepen our understanding of Self. By discovering the Koshas, we also begin to see that we are multidimensional beings.  

The image below helps to illustrate the layers of our multidimensional being. 

Image taken from https://www.pinterest.com/ssranjeeta/pancha-kosha/

Image taken from https://www.pinterest.com/ssranjeeta/pancha-kosha/

When I first learned about the Koshas, I already had many thoughts about behavior and food. I was already aware that many people experience hungers that are not physical. When we feel emotionally distressed or disconnected, for example, we can feel hungry or empty inside. Emotional hungers and stress can quickly send us to the refrigerator looking for food or drink to fill our emptiness or calm our stressed-out minds. Being disconnected from the Soul Self can create another emptiness inside that can feel like hunger. This spiritual hunger also causes some people to crave food and/or drink.

Discovering the framework of the Koshas provided an "aha!" moment that took me even deeper. I began to see that all parts of our multidimensional being can get hungry. And these various hungers can be interpreted as physical hunger when we are unaware of their source. Learning to connect our various hungers with their source can help us to take care of ourselves, filling our needs with nourishment that will actually diminish our hungers. There are mind-body and yoga practices associated with each Kosha that can fill the hungers of our various bodies, so we will no longer turn to food to when our hunger is not physical.

Sheath of Food and Physical Body

When we are motivated to eat because we are physically hungry, we are satisfied and often stop eating when we have had enough.

Sheath of Energy

Sometimes we are motivated to eat, because we are lacking essential life force to get through our days. We often reach for sugar and caffeine with the hope of simply getting through another day. The problem is that food or substances will never fill this energy hunger. Getting enough sleep, pranayama, movement inquiry, and yoga asana practices can help fill this energy hunger.

Sheath of Mind

Sometimes we are motivated to eat, because we are emotionally hungry and our thoughts have become overwhelmingly critical or negative. We may lack connection with other people in our lives or feel stressed out about the circumstances of our lives. The problem with eating to fill our empty hearts or calm our monkey minds is that food or substances will never meet our actual needs. Reaching out and connecting with others, creating structure in our lives that supports health and wellness, stimulating the mind with a new project or experience, and meditation can fill the hungers of the mind.

Sheath of Intellect or Discernment

Sometimes we are motivated to eat because we are unaware of our own capacity to pause before reacting. We lack choice about our behaviors in our lives. We are unaware that we have inner wisdom. Rather than looking within for the answers to our questions, we hand over our power to external people and programs. It is important that we stay rooted in our own power and discernment, because we learn from our own direct experience in life. We are the only ones capable of making many different choices in each moment of our lives. If we fall asleep in the present moment and forget to pay attention to the information given to each of us by our own body wisdom, we often continue to live in a state of perpetual habitual reaction. We continue to do what we have always done. Focusing the mind, practicing pranayama, practicing yoga postures, and meditation supports self-awareness and discernment.

Sheath of Bliss

Sometimes we are motivated to eat, because we are seeking connection and we feel lonely or disconnected. The problem with eating when we feel disconnected is that we are not actually physically hungry. So food cannot help us reconnect with ourselves and discover our bliss bodies. My experience of my own bliss body is one of ultimate connection that renders any struggle with food obsolete. Practicing the eight limbs of yoga can support each of us on our journeys toward connection and bliss.

Self or Soul

As we quiet down and begin to discover our multidimensional beings, we are guided by the calling of our own souls. When we are trying to control our lives too much, we can experience vast hungers that feel physical and yet are never satisfied. Oftentimes, we are being asked by our innermost Self to let go, surrender and trust in the mystery and miracles of life. 

My yoga journey is rooted in these concepts. When we eat, when we move, when we work, when we connect with others, and when we show up to life, our experiences are happening in the present moment, moving through the layers of our beings, interacting with our multidimensional selves. Practicing whatever we practice to move through life with a calm and peaceful heart, we slowly discover that our hungers that are not physical diminish, our perspectives becomes a little more clear and food becomes a way to nourish our bodies.

 

Namaste 🙏💕

 

Erin

The Yoga of Food

I started the last post with this: "There are two parts to Soul + Food. The soul refers to all things that connect us with our deepest sense of Self. The food refers to all things that nourish us." And I went on to dive deep into some soul talk. The focus of this journal entry, however, is food. 

I have dabbled in this section, offering some recipes here and there, but I am ready to dive deeper into the topic of food. To begin, I am offering this article on the basics of nutrition. I will take you through a journey through the macronutrients, offering some basic nutritional principals that can be a foundation for understanding. I call it the basics of nutrition. Nutrition can be very complex. This article will take the incredibly vast array of nutrition info out there and make it both simple and accessible while covering the essential. 

The Basics of Nutrition:

Sometimes we all need a little bit of history and science to understand why we do what we do. Science and education can motivate healthy change. It’s easy to forget this in the modern world, but human beings (homo sapiens) are mammals (warm blooded, live births, produce milk for babies, have hair or fur). We have evolved over time as omnivores, which means we eat both plant parts and animals to survive. We eat roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds. We eat eggs, milk, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and other mammals.

 

For a long time, we ate food we could hunt and gather. In fact, we evolved as hunters and gatherers for tens of thousands of years before agricultural societies began to emerge. The first agrarian societies (communities of people supported by farming vegetables and animals) date back just 10,000 years. Industrial agriculture and packaged foods are a recent phenomenon that emerged in the early twentieth century.

 

Modern machines and technology continuously speed up production. Refrigeration, the packaging industry, and new methods of transportation allow for food preservation and widespread distribution. Emerging from the most basic outline of history told through the lens of food, we are faced with the modern human condition: We are mammals living in an industrial society. We wear hip clothes, talk hip talk, and sit down in hip spots to eat food that often hides its connection to nature.

 

The vast majority of us who live in developed countries, supported by industrial agriculture, now have a choice about how, when, what, and where we will eat. As mammals, we must eat to survive. To thrive, we must eat a variety of foods to fill our bodies with essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Modern-day business will adopt anything that is essential to our survival. Enter the era of the mass supermarket, nutrition craze, and restaurant business. We have fancy packages, branding, advertising, and numerous combinations of plant and animal products.

 

In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan wakes us up to the fact that we eat fewer ingredients than we think. The industrialized food system has taken three seeds (corn, wheat, and soybeans), broken them down into different parts (sugar, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, water), and reconstructed them to create food that has a stable shelf life and an appealing taste (salt and sugar in the form of corn syrup usually does the trick). Then, the marketing industry creates colorful, fanciful packages that appeal to our senses.

 

Rather than filling our bodies with a variety of whole foods, many of us are eating a ton of corn, wheat, and soybeans. And then we wonder why we don’t feel good and why our physical bodies are so dissatisfied. We keep eating and eating, hoping to feel nourished, but we still don’t seem to get what our bodies are craving.

 

Our bodies crave color, vitality, and life.

 

I taught nutrition to small children by encouraging them to eat from the rainbow. (I made sure to address the difference between the color of Skittles and the hues of vegetables.) If you are eating red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple whole foods, you are getting a variety of vitamins and minerals that are essential to the healthy, vital functioning of your body’s organs. And your food is pretty. How’s that for a win-win situation?

 

Now picture corn, wheat, soybeans, salt, and sugar. There is no rainbow in that motley arrangement. No rainbow equals minimal vitamins and minerals. Thoughtful companies have fortified many of their products with vitamins and minerals to address this concern. However, there are nature-designed structures to the whole foods we eat that support our body’s absorption process.

 

When we separate out specific vitamins and so-called life-saving or enhancing properties of food and put them into little pills or squirt them into orange juice, we miss out on the unique structures that are essential to our digestion process. Nature put into place a system that is far more intelligent than the modern human mind. We can trust nature.

 

As we learn to rely on our inner nature and the natural design that makes up the dynamic, interconnected, interdependent Earth systems, we begin to see that our answers to our questions of health and wellness are rooted deep within a world that emerges with clarity as layers of industry, culture, and disorder melt away.

 

Consider the basic plant parts and the nutrition information they provide. The essential nutrients found in plants are vitally connected to the structure of the human body. Plant parts are the body’s main source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential to the central nervous system and provide energy to our hearts and brains in the form of glucose. Plant parts also provide vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat.

 

ROOTS AND TUBERS: When we eat carrots, potatoes, radishes, turnips, beets, and sweet potatoes, we are eating roots or tubers, which are full of energy and starch. Roots and tubers provide grounding, wholesome energy. They are the plant’s connection to the earth. So when you’re flying high as a kite, consider cooking some roots as part of your next meal. They will bring you back down to Earth in a jiffy. Colorful roots and tubers—such as carrots, beets, and yams—indicate vitamins, particularly vitamin A, which is essential to the healthy functioning of our eyes, lungs, and skin.

 

STEM: When we eat celery, asparagus, or rhubarb, we are consuming stems. The stem is the plant’s system for transporting water and maintaining structure. Stems feed our own structural system with calcium and cleanse our digestive and urinary systems. When we eat stems, we are supporting our kidneys, which regulate fluids in our bodies.

 

LEAVES: When we eat leaves, we are taking in energy from the sun and CO2 from the air that the plant has converted into incredible structures that support life. As we eat leaves coated with delicious salad dressing, we absorb vitamins and minerals that help us maintain energy and improve our immune systems. Leaves provide vitamin C and help cleanse our bodies of harmful toxins. I love leaves.

 

FLOWER: The purpose of a beautiful flower is to attract pollinators. Edible flowers can have medicinal purposes, and they can also enhance the experience of eating when added to a salad, as they invite beauty into mealtime routines. Calendula, nasturtiums, rose petals, pineapple guava petals, and borage are some of my favorites.

 

FRUIT: The flesh of the fruit provides a sweet, nourishing, protective layer for the seed. Fruit is generally full of color, sugar, and fiber, providing a perfect combination of properties essential to digestion, quick energy, and a density in vitamins that keeps our bodies thriving. Apples are fruit, as are tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and cucumbers, even though we commonly refer to them as vegetables.

 

SEED: Seeds are incredible structures of stored energy and DNA, providing the opportunity for reproduction and survival. Grains such as wheat, corn, quinoa, amaranth, and spelt are seeds. Beans, lentils, and peas are also seeds. Tree nuts, as well as pumpkin and sunflower seeds, are also common snacks. Seeds provide us with essential fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and sustained energy. Unlike the quick energy the sugars in fruit provide, seeds consumed in their whole form create long-lasting fuel for our brains and hearts.

 

Isn’t nature’s plan fabulous? We can eat from the rainbow and we can learn from the plants. And this brings us to a discussion about animals. As we eat products from animals or animals themselves or mock versions of products from animals, we are fulfilling our body’s requirements for protein and fat.

 

Some people are such intelligently educated vegans and vegetarians that they are able to get all their protein and fat from plant parts. They know the combinations of plant parts that provide enough protein and fat to keep their bodies functioning in prime condition. But this requires education and preparation. If you are not into eating animals, eat seeds (they contain protein and fat) and research the combinations of foods that will create the essential amino acids in your body for tissue repair. And make sure you find a way of getting the essential energy-giving vitamin B12, which is important for your vitality and survival. Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, and is light sensitive. So this may be one area where you choose a supplement over a fortified product. Or you can choose to allow some eggs, milk, or yogurt into your diet. If you are conscious and mindful enough to become vegan or vegetarian, then take on the education and the planning like you love yourself. And then truly, deeply love yourself.

 

In the long history of homo sapiens in agrarian society, we grubbed on meat and eggs, and we drank milk and made milk products from goats, sheep, and cows. We did this because we need to eat protein and fat to survive. Without these nutrients, our brains start getting fuzzy, we become light-headed, and our skin turns lackluster. And we never feel full.

 

Protein is critical because it builds and repairs tissues in the body. Protein is essential for your bones, muscles, skin, cartilage, and blood. The amount of protein you need depends on how much you move your body. Industrial agriculture has made meat so readily available, the average North American now consumes way too much protein. Too much or too little zaps the vitality. But nature allows for a bit of flexibility. The most basic recommendation is to include a small portion of protein in each meal, and to educate yourself about plant-based proteins and incorporate them into your meals. If you take both these actions, you will likely have enough protein to keep your body in tip-top shape.

 

Fat has been widely misunderstood and undervalued in society. Eating fat does not make you fat. I repeat: Eating fat does not translate into your body storing fat. Rather, fat can protect your heart and build your brain. In fact, your brain is largely made up of fat. Fat is also essential for the absorption of vitamins. Eating fat makes you feel full. If you are eating and eating, while remaining conscious, and you find yourself turning into a bottomless pit, you probably need a little bit of fat to balance out all the carbohydrates.

 

Fat is high in energy (calories), so as people began to grow in size in industrial societies, we looked to fat as the cause. We also blamed fat for heart disease. Despite all of the nonfat and low-fat diets that have emerged in response to this fear-based approach to fat, we are not getting healthier. Building a healthy relationship to fat takes some common sense. If you get all of your fat from French fries, bacon, and Snickers bars, you might want to rethink your strategy. If you are including olive oil, avocados, coconut, nuts, seeds, and a moderate amount of other fats you love (like butter, milk, meat), your skin will grow and your brain will thank you.

 

The final ingredient to our recipe for basic nutrition is water. Our bodies are 60 percent water. Plants are 90 percent water. Water is essential to our survival. Drinking water regulates our body temperature, moves nutrients through our cells, keeps our insides and skin moist, and flushes waste from our bodies. Water makes us glow.

 

We like to add a lot of sugar to our water. We drink soda, sweetened iced tea, sugar-enhanced coffee, alcohol, and fruit juices with added sugar. The secret of this whole wild war on weight and illness is this: Fat is not the enemy. But if we need enemies, we can blame added sugar (not the sugar in whole fruits). We consume much of this added sugar in our drinks. Rather than flush out waste by drinking water, we are flushing in quick, crazy energy that our body quickly metabolizes into stored fat unless we expend it. So before you pick up your next drink with added sugar, recognize that you have a choice. Perhaps you can add chocolate soufflé to the menu and savor your sweetness in candlelight instead of downing the can of cola at your desk (which has 35 grams of sugar, 10 grams more than the recommended allowance per day).

 

To sum up the basics of nutrition, we need an integrated balance of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water to survive. Eating whole foods allows nature’s design to feed the body with an ideal balance of nutrients that function together as a whole. Rather than separate out nutrients into powders and magic pills, eating whole foods creates energy that stems from a divine system that was created to support life on Earth. This is essential to our survival.

 

If we eat plant parts that form the rainbow, drink mostly water, and include protein and healthy fats in our diet, we are likely to thrive. We will glow from the inside out, lighting up the world within and around us. Eat well for your heart. Eat well for your brain. Eating well is not eating perfect. Perfect isn’t fun. And perfect isn’t healthy. Let life be messy and unpredictable. And then eat well, because the life you will lead as you nourish yourself consciously will be full of vital, connected, soul food energy.

 

Journal Activity: The Basics of Nutrition

 

Concept: We need vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and water to survive. Eating plant parts that represent the colors of the rainbow provides many of the vitamins and minerals we need. We get many of our carbohydrates, protein, and fat from seeds and from animals. Eating fat does not make you fat. Healthy fats feed our brains and help our bodies absorb vitamins. Added sugar is metabolized into stored fat by the body. Drinking water rather than beverages with added sugar creates a daily cleanse for the body.

 

Journal Activity: Colorful Produce

 

Part 1: Make a list of your favorite local produce by season. Notice the range of colors.

 

For example:

 

This is my list based on Northern California, where I live.

 

Summer: nectarines (orange/red), apricots (orange), blueberries (blue), cucumbers (green), eggplant (purple)

Fall: apples (red/yellow/green), figs (purple), persimmons (orange), purple carrots (purple/orange), butternut squash (orange)

Winter: kiwis (brown/green), oranges (orange), kale (green)

Spring: strawberries (red), fava beans (green), peas (green), lettuce (green)

 

Part 2: Plan a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that includes all of the colors of the rainbow and a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

 

Be Well 🙏💕

 

Erin

 

The Return To The Practice Is The Practice

There are two parts to Soul + Food. The soul refers to all things that connect us with our deepest sense of Self. The food refers to all things that nourish us. Yoga has become a path for me that radically transforms my life. I practice postures, breathing, meditation, and teaching, because these experiences help me show up to all parts of my life in a peaceful, calm and present way. And this, for me, has been essential for living.

Yoga has a way of reshaping us from the center of our beings. We often come to yoga after years of living, with all of our highs and our lows. And, as the buddha once said, life is suffering and we bring all of our suffering to yoga. It lives in our bodies, oftentimes buried deep within. We come to yoga with all of our habits and holding patterns that run deep within ourselves. Our physical bodies are literally shaped by all of our life experiences. And our other bodies- energy body, emotional body, personality body, intellectual body, and bliss body- are also impacted by everything that has happened in our lives.

When I arrived at my first yoga class, I was still young and yet I had layers and layers and layers of protection built up in my body. My physical body was stiff and achy. My hormones were wacky. My energy body was low, lacking essential vitality to get me through my days. My emotions were extreme and I was not in charge. My thoughts were overwhelmingly negative and I identified with my mind. I was not aware that I had an inner witness who would sit back inside of my center and observe these layers of my being with non-judgement and self-awareness. I arrived to yoga during a time of my life when I could not function in daily life. I did not have enough energy, nor could I cope with the everyday challenge of being human. I was exhausted by it all.

Fourteen years later, I am still surprised by my own vitality and abundance of energy. I am so grateful, because there was a time where my body felt like it was full of lead and I wondered if something was deeply wrong with me. There was a time, not all that long ago, when I would imagine all that I could do if I just had the energy to do it. I still felt disconnected and alone, even when I was with friends and family. 

Today, I am doing what I only once imagined was possible. And I feel profoundly connected. It's as though I have been plugged back into a source of energy and vitality that is essential for living.

These postures that we practice during yoga asana and these breathing practices we do have a profound capacity to open the stuck spots, allow stuck energy to move again, and wake up parts of the body that were previously sleeping. There is science now that shows many of the benefits of practicing yoga and meditation. Being a scientist of my own body, I have witnessed a transformation that still stops me in my tracks. I am the same, yet completely renewed, revitalized, restored, and rejuvenated. Yoga brought me back to my true nature by helping me to release holding patterns in my body, energy and mind, allowing my soul to shine through with a little more light.

I am not sure if it is the simple practice of taking time to be in my body, breath, and inner witness every day, or if it is the postures themselves that work for me. I think it is everything:

  • the yoga philosophy that supports my mind with an incredible structure of understanding...

  • the yoga postures that release energy and build strength from the inside out...

  • the pranayama that oxignates the entire body...

  • the concentration that focuses the mind....

  • the meditation that restores faith in the mystery and invites in peace and calm...

  • and the bliss of being connected.

I know there are many paths to walk and many mind-body practices that make up what we refer to as yoga these days. And I am so grateful for all of the incredibly creative people who have passed on their wisdom, allowing each of us today to find our own paths (and carve out new paths) that serve us and teach us what we need to learn in whatever stage of life we are experiencing. 

The journey of waking up to ourselves is not always comfortable. Some days, seeing the truth of ourselves, the light and the shadows, is painful. I dabbled in my practices for years before I developed enough courage to begin to step onto my mat each day. Sometimes I wanted to be in a different body when I stepped onto my mat- one that was already strong and flexible. Sometimes I would become aware of parts of myself that made me so uncomfortable, I would put away my mat for months. That has all been part of the journey, building up the inner strength and resiliency to step back on my mat and sit back down on my cushion time and time again.

The return to the practice is the practice.

I am so grateful that, again and again, I have made the choice to give myself another chance. Because this path I am on is one that helps me to stay awake and continue to learn, rather than go numb and fall asleep. I know where that leads and the only way for me to travel is one foot in front of the other, in the here and now. I heard in a song recently the line: "If it weren't for second chances, than we would all be alone." I may add "third chances, fourth chances... and a whole lotta courage." Losing the loneliness isn't about gaining more friends. It's about reconnecting to our own source... plugging back in... time and time again.

Where has your journey taken you? Do you practice yoga, or are there other mind-body practices that support your life?

I would love to learn from you.

Namaste 🙏💜

Erin

 

Yoga Twists: Out With The Old And In With The New

Check out this article I wrote for Five Pillars Yoga called Yoga 101: Twist Into Spring:

Spring has arrived here in California... I have been out enjoying the warm weather, working to prep garden beds for peas, greens, and roots. Seasonal changes can bring the sunshine, but the shift in weather patterns and the release of pollen can also add some challenges to our lives. Oftentimes, we can have a buildup of stagnant energy from winter that begins to move through us when we become more active with warmer and dryer weather. Seasonal colds and allergies can stop us in our tracks just as we are ready to head out into the sunshine.

As the seasons change, twisting yoga postures can support a graceful transition from winter into spring by opening stuck energy channels. As we twist, we wring out the old and allow space for the new, cleansing and detoxing our bodies and minds. Plus twisting postures aid digestion and help to relieve lower back pain, while improving the health of the spine.

Twist yoga postures have incredible cleansing effects on the body and mind:

  • ~ Strengthen core, stimulate abdominal organs, and help to aid digestion
  • ~ Relieve stress and anxiety while improving mental clarity
  • ~ Stretch and strengthen muscles, ligaments, and joins in the back, chest, core, hips, and thighs
  • ~Hydrate the intervertebral discs, preventing compression that can occur as we age

Common challenges:

  • ~ Many people twist before finding extension in the spine, which causes the shoulders to climb up toward the ears, closing off the heart and limiting the range of motion in the twisting position. Practice rooting into the ground, finding extension in the spine, lifting the chest, and then twisting from your center.
     
  • ~ People also experience some neck strain when looking over the opposite shoulder during twisting postures. A delicious modification is to tuck the chin toward the chest, elongating the back of the neck. With the chin slightly tucked, allow the movement of the neck and head to follow the twist coming from your center. This subtle shift takes pressure off the neck and refocuses attention inward, allowing ease and grace to exist during the challenge of twisting postures.
     
  • ~ Does your opposite sitz bone lift when you are twisting in seated positions? No problem! Use a blanket or cushion under your one or both of your sitz bones to bring the floor to you. This will help you to feel grounded so you can find extension through your spine as your twist.

As you explore twisting yoga posturestake your time to feel grounded and deepen your breath. Then find extension in the spine before twisting from your center. Firmly rooted feet or sitz bones support the extension and then the rotation of the spine. With your heart lifted and shoulders relaxed, follow the guidance of your own breath, finding extension in the spine on the inhalation and twisting deeper on the exhalation. Imagine letting go of any stuck feelings, thoughts, or energy each time you twist, connecting your body with your mind, moving into spring with clarity and balance.

Contraindications Worth Noting:
~ If you have a recent or chronic back injury or inflammation in any part of your body affected by twisting, these postures may do more harm than good.

~ These postures are not recommended if you have herniated disc.

Full Article Here: Five Pillars Yoga

 

Namaste 🙏💜

 

Erin

A One Minute Chair Pose Vinyasa to Build Strength this Spring

Happy Sunday! I made a one minute video in my garden demonstrating a chair vinyasa that can build up heat like a sun salutation. This can be a great alternative to regular vinyasa transitions, especially if your experiencing pain in your wrists or arms. Plus this sequence can be done anywhere, without moving to the ground. Coordinating breath with movement, this chair vinyasa becomes a liberating moving meditation that can refocus the mind while strengthening the entire body.

I hope you had a relaxing, fun-filled weekend.

 

Namaste 🙏💜

 

Erin