Food for Enlightenment: The Yoga of Eating

“Though much has been done to obscure this simple fact, how and what we eat determines to a great extent the use we make of the world – and what is to become of it. To eat with a fuller consciousness of all that is at stake might sound like a burden, but in practice few things in life can afford quite as much satisfaction.” ― Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

This is a blog post about the yoga of food. Not in the healthy recipe sense, but in the sense of what it means to fully inhabit my body through a practice of conscious eating. This isn’t about ‘watching’ what I eat -do way too much of that already. No, it’s about overcoming my deepest food fears and healing my split psyche. It’s about getting in ‘touch’ with my culinary cravings and desires. It’s about reconnecting with what may be my most basic body wisdom of all, my instinct for nourishment.

I undertake this quest because I’ve discovered huge blind spot in my holistic consciousness – my body’s innate wisdom vanishes wherever I enter the kitchen. Between counting calories, tallying nutritional components, or choosing foods that are sustainable, ethical and organic, my relationship to food has become an abstract, disembodied -even fearful affair.To whit the daily dilemma of breakfast – light cleansing fruit? Might shoot up the blood sugar. Hearty whole grain cereal? Gluten will irritate my gut. You get the picture.

I suspect I suffer from “Orthorexia Nervosa” an obsession with healthy eating. This term coined by Steven Bratman, M.D. is used to describe the growing epidemic of people who avoid foods perceived to be unhealthy and/or impure. Key symptoms of this mental dysfunction include “seeking control through eating properly” or guilt or self loathing when eating “incorrect” food.

Guilty. I regard non organic strawberries (laden with pesticides!) with such fear and loathing I feel nauseous whenever forced to consume them. Never mind the gloom I plunge into whenever I succumb to the greasy lure of a Double Quarter Pounder. Has my obsession with healthy eating morphed into an eating disorder? Am I not just dutifully following the gospel of good health through good eating dished out to us by food experts from Oprah to Yoga Journal?

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Yoga Body: The Conspiracy

The taut and toned ‘yoga body’ on display in the media marketplace is a lie. It is NOT obtained from a regular yoga routine (as many would have you believe) – no , its obtained at the price of constant work, a Herculean effort to burn calories, and a saintly denial of carbs. The implication that rippling abs can be yours with a couple of yoga classes a week is obviously motivated by profit. It is the creation of yoga studios who want you to buy more classes, and of corporations who want you to buy all the necessary yoga accoutrements your ‘yoga body’ needs (pants, mats, water bottles, mat holders, towels, mat cleansing mists, and even your underwear) directly from them.

But the point of this post is the shocking depth to which this lie has permeated the yoga world. It seems no one, not even half starved yoga superstars, will admit that the emperor has no clothes.

Case in point, Kathryn Budig’s article in Huffington Post pleading with us to stop judging her and other yoginis who strip down to sell products. Budig’s post defends a video advertisement in which we spy upon the early morning yoga routine of a near naked limber yogini Briohny Kate-Smyth who is performing in Budig’s words “awe inducing asana in her lingerie”.