Mixing Yoga and Food Stirs Up Trouble
Yogic diet is a hotly debated topic in the yoga community. Many ancient texts of yoga stress the necessity of a meatless diet, and one that is free from alcohol or stimulants. From the Hatha Yoga Pradipika which clearly directs the practitioner toward a sattvic (balanced) diet of nuts, grains, milk, and ghee, to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali that emphasize the importance of non-harming through the practice of ahimsa, the bulk of the yogic compendium advocate vegetarianism and purity. But, a new trend in chic New York studio, Exhale Spa, not only defies this definition, but goes as far as bringing food onto the mat in the context of practice, which is stirring up lots of debate.
The series called “Yoga for Foodies” combines an hour-long asana practice with a several course meal served right on the yoga mat, and it’s raising eyebrows in the yoga community. The meals, though vegetarian in this instance, include wine and chocolate in the menu. The question is, is offering food in the context of yoga practice yogic? The sister sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda both agree that diet is important to balance, physically, mentally and spiritually. But the nourishment of our bodies through practice and through food are not traditionally coupled in the same practice.
In addition, the offering of stimulants and alcohol into the space of practice is an invitation to review the purpose. Yoga traditionally is about discrimination (viveka), and though there are schools of yoga that take a less restrictive view on aspects like alcohol and meat, overall the inclusion of these into a practice were strictly for veneration and worship. Are the renegade yogi explorers who are introducing this practice into yoga studios in New York, and soon to Chicago, Cleveland, and Dallas, really incorporating food into a practice in a yogic way or simply addition to a tradition of Western gluttony?
We cannot deny that yoga is an industry. And as with any industry, it will grow to grandiose proportions, trying to market itself to anyone and everyone with a niche that has to this point been undiscovered. We can bring all sorts of things to the yoga mat if we choose, under the guise of heightened awareness or greater ability to discern, but should we? If practitioners are using the practice of yoga in its traditional sense, to bring them closer to Self-realization, then the addition of anything to a practice is suspect. But if yogis are clear about this distinction, and are instead wishing to utilize asana as a tool to greater enjoyment of the simple pleasures, then I suppose that it is possible to combine elements that seem antithetical into an experience of deeper understanding.
I would prefer not to debate the ethics of diet choices with my yogi friends or with you, because everyone has such different reasons for their personal diet choices. But understanding how our diet and our choices effect our practice is worthy of a discussion. If we do anything without the important tool of discrimination, then we run the risk of acting superficially and thus the results will be superfluous. When we choose to walk this path of yoga as one to enhance or expand our lives, no choice or decision is without purpose. There really isn’t a meal, or a practice, or a glass of wine that doesn’t affect our practice of living a yogic life.
I am not a yogic purist. I do not adhere to strict dietary guidelines nor do I abstain from a good glass of red wine or an exceptional cup of coffee, but every time I make the choice to imbibe, I know that the buck doesn’t stop at my mouth. I know that all of my choices in one form or another will have an impact on my practice and ultimately my path of spiritual understanding. I try not to think of it as a weighty responsibility that I have to carry around, but rather as a gift of seeing every moment for exactly what it is at the time, and not downplaying any activity or action as unrelated to my spiritual path.