The Yoga of Eating: Ahimsa (non-harming)

I've been meaning to start sharing yoga and eating related posts because I think they can be combined so beautifully. The meaning of yoga is union or to "yoke, part of which is connecting mind and body. That's exactly my approach when it comes to a non-diet approach to food. When I talk about yoga, it is more than the asana (physical postures) practice. It's the whole 8-limbed path that includes many ways of finding that connection through asana, meditation, pranayama (breath), and much more.

While I love the asana practice, yoga for me is about the integration of all these practices. It's through the whole practice that I feel connected, whole, and find freedom.

We're all used to external rules and guidelines around food. We follow diets, see new research on the news to eat eggs followed by avoid eggs months later, or cut out gluten because our friend feels amazing eating a gluten-free diet!

We want to know what others are doing and hope it will work for us. Yet, we all have our own inner teacher within us. We can learn to connect to our bodies, trust ourselves around food, and release external rules and guilt around food. Through that, we can use our intuition to guide our eating.

Our bodies are always seeking balance and do want what is best for us.

This is the 'yoga of eating.'

The Yoga of Eating: Ahimsa

One concept in yoga is the idea of ahimsa.

Ahimsa translates to 'non-harming,' which many yogis automatically interpret into eating a vegan diet as a non-harming practice towards animals. While that may be one way to practice it, it first has to start with a non-harming approach to yourself and your body.

Yoga of Eating: Ahimsa + Eating

When moving out a place of diets, restrictions, or recovering from an eating disorder, kindness is key. In this case, ahimsa is being compassionate to yourself through trusting the process and being gentle with yourself along the way.

In your eating, it is letting go of rules or dietary restrictions. It's choosing a path of freedom around food rather than always being at war with yourself about what you "allowed" or "not allowed" to eat.

It's recognizing your body's need for fuel regularly throughout the day - and honoring it. Instead of what you may think your body needs, it's tuning into your hunger cues and feeding those instead. If you don't have regular hunger cues yet, it means eating consistently, even if you're not hungry.

It's adding variety into your diet and letting yourself get a cupcake in the middle of the afternoon or go out to dinner with friends rather than having a salad at home every night.

It may mean letting go of dietary approaches like low-carb, paleo, or vegan styles of eating because you realize they restrict and limit you. Your body is unique, and everyone has different nutritional needs. Your body is always changing, so know that what you eat today will be different from tomorrow or next month.

It's recognizing the physical, mental, social, and emotional harm of your eating behaviors. There are side effects like losing your period (amenorrhea), feeling cold all the type, digestive distress, anxiety around food, body dysmorphia, isolating yourself, decreased bone density, and much more. Through the practice of ahimsa, you can start to be compassionate towards your body and with time realize that you want to care for it.

It's taking a mindful approach to your meals through giving yourself time for meals instead of always eating on the go. It's tuning into what you truly want to eat, savoring it, and enjoying it by yourself or socially with others.

It's letting go of the fears that hold you back around food or eating. It's hard to have energy and zest for your life, relationships, work, play, and everything else if you're always focused on food. Facing your fears around food helps lead to freedom because you can realize that food isn't really a big deal. You can eat to energize your body to live.

Some people may practice ahimsa through choosing a vegan diet, if that is in their ethical values and if it's what your body responds well to. Some people find it too restrictive or their bodies will not feel their best eating this way. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach. You may find that you can still practice non-harming towards animals through eating more plant-based meals, or choosing to eat local and more humanely raised animals, which is a far better approach than factory farming.

It's always your choice how you want to eat, and you don't have to justify it to anyone.

It means practicing self-compassion with your thoughts and behaviors. You could be eating the most nutrient-rich diet in the world, but if you are beating yourself up mentally about not eating the 'perfect' diet or having the 'perfect diet,' it's going to be stressful.

Ahimsa + Body Image

It's recognizing that body diversity exists and all bodies deserve respect. You could start with body neutrality of recognizing "I have a body" and working up towards connecting to your body, listening to it, trusting it, and ultimately accepting and loving it. It's a process, so give yourself the time to take this journey.

It's bringing awareness to the beliefs you hold about your body. For example, if you believe that you won't be lovable at your weight, that your body is something to be "fixed," or that your body isn't good enough as it is. These are beliefs that may have developed through messages from culture, other people in our lives, or things we picked up through the years. The thing about beliefs is they can be changed, and there are plenty of people out there that are comfortable in their bodies at all shapes and sizes.

If you're also a dietitian, nutritionist, yoga teacher, or health professional, it's practicing ahimsa with clients by encouraging them to listen to their bodies rather than promoting fads or diets. We need more practitioners promoting a self-compassionate, non-diet, body positive approach and less focus on weight loss, detox, and diets.

Start to recognize what ways your thoughts or behaviors may not be serving you.

  • What ways can you practice non-harming with your thoughts or behaviors around food?
  • How can you be more compassionate to your body?
  • How can you find freedom and flexibility with your food, so you can invest energy into your life?

Namaste friends! Let me know if you liked this, and I can definitely share more yoga of eating posts.