This weekend I facilitated a PeaceMeal workshop at the yoga studio where I teach, Yoga Oceanside. It was PeaceMeal with a yogic twist!
First we did a meditation just to get centered and become present, and in which I asked the participants to notice how hungry they were, rate it on a scale of 1-10, and to notice where they look for hunger, what kind of sensations they feel, etc. This is an activity we can do anytime with think we’re hungry – because as it turns out, just because we think we’re hungry, doesn’t mean we actually are!
(In Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Savor, he says if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry. A good ruler for measuring hunger!).
Then we did the “Five Words” exercise, in which we ask participants to write the first 5 words they think of when they hear the word peace, and again for the word food. While I didn’t keep a list of the words, happiness came up a few times for peace, and hunger and vegetables came up repeatedly for food. There wasn’t much overlap between the two columns of words, but from there we explored the intersections of peace and food.
Then we got into a little yogic philosophy. What do yogic teachings tell us about food? For the purposes of the workshop, we looked at two of the key yogic texts, the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. Keep in mind there is an entire field of ayurveda that uses food as a healing agent – that’s fodder for another workshop entirely!
The Bhagavad Gita has several verses relating directly to food.
Arjuna, those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too Little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation. Through constant effort they learn to withdraw the mind from selfish cravings and absorb it in the Self. Thus they attain the state of union.
Sattvic people enjoy food that is mild, tasty, substantial, agreeable, and nourishing, food that promotes health, strength, cheerfulness, and longevity. Rajasic people like food that is salty or bitter, hot, sour, or spicy – food that promotes pain, discomfort, and disease. Tamasic people like overcooked, stale, leftover, and impure food, food that has lost its taste and nutritional value.
(From the translation by Eknath Easwaran, The Bhagavad Gita for the Modern Reader).
The key teaching we talked about was balance. The word guna is translated as quality of nature; sattva is harmony or balance; rajas is energy, passion; and tamas is inertia, ignorance. Both verses seem to speaking of finding a balance and harmony with what we consume. When looking at the line about tamas, our first reaction was “Who wants to eat stale, overcooked food?” But when you think about impure food, and think about processed food, it would probably fall into the tamasic category. In fact, much of what you find on supermarket shelves could probably be considered tamasic.
Onto the Yoga Sutras, and specifically the yamas and niyamas. The yamas and niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8-limbed path (ashtanga) laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The other 6 paths are asana (posture), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawl), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (unification of consciousness). Please keep in mind this is a very rudimentary crash-course in yogic philosophy – I highly recommend delving deeper into the texts and your own practice to see for yourself!.
The yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are yoga’s code of ethics- guideposts that helps us to live our lives in the best way possible and reach our highest postential. We looked at the 10 principles to see how they could connect to the way we eat. The principles are:
Ahimsa – nonviolence; compassion; reverence for life
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – nonstealing; generosity
Bramacharya – moderation
Aparigraha; nonclinging, nonattachment
Saucha – purity
Santosha - contentment
Tapas – discipline
Swadhyaya – self-study
Isvara Pranidhana – surrender, devotion
For example, let’s look at ahimsa:
Ahimsa (nonviolence; compassion): This seems pretty straightforward. Minimize the amount of violence that you inflict through your eating. This is perhaps easier said than done. Many yogis and Buddhists do this by eating a plant-based vegetarian diet. However, as carnivores are sometimes quick to point out, “Vegetables were alive once too, you know!” Even if we are eating a vegetarian diet, there is a certain amount of violence that occurs for our food to come to our plate. I was recently reading an article in the San Diego Reader about San Diego farmer’s markets and organic agriculture, and one farmer was quoted as saying, “You’d be amazed over just how many rodents we have to kill so that vegetarians can eat our organic lettuce.” Thus no matter what kind of diet we are eating, nonviolence and compassion bear consideration. While it is impossible to not inflict harm in order for us to eat, we can be mindful about this harm, be aware of it, minimize it, and honor the food we eat and everything that had to happen for it to get to us.
Another area to work with compassion is for those with different viewpoints – for example, those who might not understand a vegetarian diet. Nonjudgment came up – or rather, the difficulty in not judging others whose views and practices differ from our own. Practicing compassion with everyone, irrespective of their chosen diet, is important, and certainly an intersection of peace and food.
As I write and realize that each principle merits another post, I invite you to stay tuned for upcoming posts about the other yamas and niyamas and how they can apply to food!
After discussing the applications of yogic philosophy to our eating, we did a few mindful eating exercises. First, the quintessential mindful eating exercise with a raisin, followed by mindful tea drinking, with superyummy tea provided by our Partner in Peace Envision Tea. Then we shared Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Contemplations to honor the food, before spending a few moments of silence eating the vegan gluten-free oat bars I made for a snack. Participants left with a few homework/action items, such as practicing self-study (swadhyaya – one of the niyamas of the Sutras) to notice their food cravings and other food-related habits this week, and to choose one mindful eating practice (such as putting your fork down between bites) to apply this week. We talked about the importance of integrating practices gradually. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to try to undo our habits, especially related to food, and foster new practices. So pick one, and you’re more likely to stick with it. I also encouraged them to pick one yama or niyama to work with, such as nonviolence.
All in all, it was a delightful afternoon full of tasty treats and stimulating conversation.
Stay tuned for more workshop updates, photos, and for more on yoga and food!