Yogic principles of healthy living: Eat your way to wellness

By Babeeta Chhabra

As I sit down to eat the khichdi I made (a light rice and lentil porridge), filled with delightful veggies, topped with melted ghee and ground pepper, I watch the steam rise from my plate in sheer contentment… It is a cold mid-November day. I glazed down at the plate feeling the warmth of the food in my tummy. Normally when I am absolutely famished, I can completely devour the contents of my plate, hardly taking time to breathe. But today was different. I was feeling the fullness just in the vast array of colors, the comforting smell and the sight of the drooling ghee on the plate. I wished at that moment that everybody would love khichdi the way I do and not just associate it with something you only eat when you are sick and weak.

Khichdi is my favourite savoury food...I believe that what makes it tasty is when a special ingredient is

For me, the art of loving food and the awareness of the love that has gone into making it, is the “Yoga of Eating”. Also, the awareness of applying the yoga yamas while preparing and consuming food.

It seems that in the race of the 21st century, the Yoga of Eating is subsiding as we tend to eat food on the run, nuke it in the microwave, eat while on the iPhone. So the days of sitting at a family table, saying a prayer and taking time to chew, has become an image of the past. Yet when we look into the diverse cultures and traditions around the world, sitting and eating together is a common thread that weaves the social fabric of a society.

Ashrams, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues embrace this concept of eating together. So the question is how do we integrate this value back into our busy lives? According to Johanna Baig, an artist and advocate for healthy eating from the U.S., “Society is becoming more isolated with the internet, Facebook, Twitter and everyone is too busy looking at their iPhones. So there is a decrease in interaction and relating to each other… culture is becoming more isolated. We need to make a commitment to sitting together with family and friends and also having get togethers with themes like eating foods from varying ethnic backgrounds so that one can learn about different cultures through food and reconnect”.

Through the understanding of the Yamas of Yoga, or codes of conduct, one can grasp the value of connecting with oneself and the community through eating.

Bringing yoga principle of ahimsa

Swami Maya (Maya Tiwari), renowned author in Ayurveda, defines the Yoga principal of Ahimsa or non-violence as a “commitment to protecting nature by choosing wholesome foods” and that by living Ahimsa, one is reclaiming the spirit of harmony and non-violence within you which brings joy and abundance to the family and community.

For me, this notion of Ahimsa is so apparent when I eat from my mothers hands. Even now, eating nutritious vegetarian food from my mother’s fingertips creates such a feeling of contentment within. In fact, the ancient tradition of eating food with the hands is an ahimsa practice derived from the mudras. That is to say, when we bring the fingertips together to gather food, it stimulates the five elements and invites agni or the digestive fire to activate digestion. So as each finger is an extension of one of the five elements, it serves to transform the food before even being internally digested... isn’t that amazing?

Yoga's measure: cupped hands

The hands have also been termed as the “measuring cup” for all our needs. Even the distance between the joints of each finger is a unit of measure (angula), cosmically designed to measure spices, herbs. In Ayurveda, the term anjali refers to the volume that can be held by your two hands cupped together. Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar often states that when you cup your hands together that is the right amount of food intake one should have to keep a healthy balance.

Yoga principles of asteya & aparigraha

Food has a connection to all the Yamas of Yoga, like we referred to Ahimsa, so too for the concepts of Asteya (non-stealing) and Aparigraha (non-greediness). By eating junk food, non-vegetarian food or hoarding food, it can be viewed as “stealing” one’s own health from the body. Similarly when one is not greedy, i.e. eating the right quantity, type of food at a good pace, one can engage in the world with a lightness of mind and body, being better able to think, move and act with more clarity and awareness. So, it seems the Yoga of Eating spans beyond just eating when you are hungry for sustenance, but hinges upon the codes of ethics that govern a healthy, balanced mind, body and spirit. For me, it is simply an act of love, and in love, we cannot help but nourish the Self. Khichdi anyone?

(Currently based in Canada, Babeeta Chhabra teaches The Art of Living's Sri Sri Yoga and & Sri SriNatya programs. Needless to say, she's a lover of food!)