The topic of food is as much a part of yoga as are the asanas. Whether it be the discussion on ahimsa, or non-harming (and therefore embracing a vegetarian diet), or the importance of eating in moderation, the Yoga Sutras outline many guidelines for the optimal Yogic (and lifestyle) diet in order to maximize health, freedom (from attachments, such as sugar) and fluidity. These practices help guide the yoga student, turning their bodies into the perfect vehicle for the freedom that yoga enables us to feel.
As a nation, we are hyper aware of the effects of food. We see the tragic consequences of the American diet in our escalating obesity rates, the rise in diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer and in the sluggishness and lack of energy and focus that are commonplace in our children. The effects of a poor diet are all around us and yet despite the implications, as a whole we continue to turn a blind eye to what is so obvious: we are making ourselves sick and fat with food. It can’t be ignored.
Yet while we are aware that the foods we are eating are making us fat, we are not really connected to our diet and the way we nourish ourselves. It is one thing to feed yourself. It is quite another to nourish oneself. This is why I have always been fascinated by the yogic principles of eating as well as the Chinese and Indian philosophies of eating. These ancient traditions look at how food can be a vehicle to optimum health, vitality and a greater connection to our lives and the earth and all that is nourishing for us. These concepts help us to respect food and the role it plays in our lives as a means to live life in a healthy way so that we can go out and accomplish our goals and dreams, passing the years in health, excitement, fun and love, rather than in obesity, sickness and disease. It looks at food as an aspect of life, not the focus of life. In my years of practice as a nutritionist, I can say with certainty that the American fixation on food and then, it’s inevitable consequence, dieting, makes food the driving force in many people’s lives, not an aspect of it. We are living to eat rather than eating to live.
In my travels, I have come across the philosophy of home cooking as a way of demonstrating love, not just to others but also to ourselves. While eating takeout at a fast-food restaurant may find us eating low fiber and nutritionally devoid food, it is also food that is likely being prepared by people who possibly hate their jobs, are stressed and financially strapped and eager for the clock to signal the end of their work day. In this setting, the food being prepared can hardly be thought to be imbued with love and light. Instead, if the energy of the cook is transferred to the food, as goes the thinking in some holistic circles, then we are likely eating other people’s anxiety, grief and unhappiness when we are eating outside our home. This may not be so in a four star restaurant, but how often are you eating in one of those?
Instead, cooking at home, in a peaceful, familiar environment, for people that you care about, using the freshest and most nutritionally dense ingredients offers more than nutrients and calories. It delivers love. And if you allow yourself to get connected to your nourishment, you may begin to notice the subtle differences between homemade and takeout food.
In addition to the other wonderful benefits that both I and my client discovered during our two month period of eating home cooked food such as weight loss, financial savings and greater energy, focus and clarity, we both found that cooking for ourselves regularly helped us care more deeply about ourselves and our lives. In taking the time to nourish ourselves, we came to have a greater respect for ourselves, which transferred to greater self-care in other areas. In addition to running, which had always been his habit, my client ventured outside his comfort zone and tried yoga. He also made plans with friends and family in an effort to connect more deeply with people he cared about. It was a subtle shift, but one that he was aware of. He understood, well before my asking him, that these changes were directly related to his practice of home cooking, although he could not pinpoint why.
For me, I also found myself reaching out to old friends, making time for people that can sometimes fall by the wayside when we get too busy to juggle it all. I also made plans to travel and visit friends whom life took to other parts of the world. Creatively, I found outlets in cooking, finding easy recipes to make to add to my repertoire. Professionally, I find myself putting myself out there more, saying yes to speaking engagements that I might otherwise have passed on due to time considerations and travel. In short, I found myself saying yes to life more. Amazing… from just one single act of self-care.
How we nourish ourselves says everything about how we care for ourselves. If you find yourself continually consuming food that lacks fundamental nutritional value, eating more than your body needs in a hurried and rushed way, the message that you are subtly sending to yourself is that you don’t matter. In this environment, the message is, you are only as valuable as what you do and can produce, but you the person in the physical body is inconsequential. Extrapolating that thought out to the end, what do you think is better for your overall productivity and overall success? The message that you are worth the time and effort of a home cooked meal? Or the message that you are not? Think about it.
I’ve heard from many of you over the past several months and know that there are those that came along for the ride, making a greater effort in their own lives to prepare healthy, home cooked meals. I am glad to know that you were inspired to tag along and that you found pleasure in doing so. If you found along the way that the small steps in nourishing your body yielded unexpected benefits in the way you approach your life, I’d love to hear from you and know a little bit more about how this one practice yielded unexpected results. Till then, enjoy one more recipe from my journey. This is a fish taco recipe I adapted that I absolutely love and has become a staple in my diet. Enjoy!
- 8 Organic corn tortillas
- One pound of fish (I typically go to Whole Foods and ask what they have that is organic… best kinds of fish include flounder, sole and tilapia)
- 3 cups Red cabbage, sliced thin
- ½ small red onion, minced
- One avocado
- 2 tbsp low fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 small Jalapeno, sliced thin (or less if you like less spice)
- Juice of two limes (divided)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Make the sauce: Mash avocado and blend with yogurt, jalapeno pepper, red onion and the juice of one lime. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving. (You should prepare this at least one hour before eating so that the flavors have an opportunity to blend).
Cabbage: Put the shredded cabbage in a container and add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of the second lime and salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and refrigerate.
For the Fish: Sprinkle salt and pepper on the fish and bake until done, about 8 to 10 minutes.
To assemble tacos: Warm the tortillas. Add one tablespoon of avocado mix to the tortilla. Layer a piece of fish and top off with the cabbage slaw.