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.
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.