PeaceMeal with a Yogic Twist, Part 2: Continuing with the Yamas and Niyamas

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(Photo by Kristyn Caetano of Envision Tea)

Last week I wrote about the June 10th PeaceMeal workshop I facilitated at Yoga Oceanside. Today, I’ll follow up on PeaceMeal with a Yogic Twist, continuing on the path of the yamas and niyamas, a philosophical framework that can help us to promote peace through food.

As mentioned in the previous post, the yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are the first two limbs of the 8-limbed path laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, one of the great yogic texts. The sutras are a series of short aphorisms that were initially passed down orally until Patanjali wrote them down over two thousand years ago. The yamas and niyamas essentially provide us with a guide for how to live a good life and reach our highest potential.

But what does this have to do with peace? Or food?

In my opinion, a lot!

These principles – nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), nonstealing (asteya), moderation (bramacharya), nongrasping (aparigraha), contentment (santosha), purity (saucha), discipline (tapas), self-reflection (swadhyaya), and devotion (Ishvara pranidhana) all sound like a recipe of practices and principles for peace. And they can serve as guideposts in cultivating peace through food.

So how can we apply these principles to the food realm? How can the yamas and niyamas help us to cultivate peace through food? We already looked at ahimsa. Let’s look at the others:

Satya – truth, perhaps a little tricky at first. What does truth have to do with food? At the workshop we talked about being honest with ourselves with respect to food. Am I truly hungry? What does my body truly need at this moment? Does it really need a cookie, or would I be better off with a piece of fruit? This is one way we can think about the connection between truthfulness and food.

Asteya – translated as “nonstealing,” but in a more positive vein, it can be translated as generosity. On one hand, don’t steal food. On the other, share food! I think we can all agree that it feels good to be generous with food, from sharing snacks from your lunchbox in the schoolyard, to cooking up a big holiday meal for friends and family. Being generous with food can be nourishing for our bodies and souls.

Bramacharya – translated as “moderation,” this is probably one of most needed guides in North American culture. When I have lived abroad, the thing that always shocks me the most upon my return to the US, time after time, is the size of portions here. Our plates – and bellies – seem to be ever expanding. Moderation is probably the greatest key to health as well. You don’t have to starve yourself or deprive yourself – but be moderate. This is what bramacharya tells us, simply yet profoundly.

Aparigraha – nongrasping or clinging, this can also be translated in a more positive light as acknowledging abundance. When we approach things with a scarcity mentality, we are more likely to cling and grasp, and be attached – and be unfulfilled, always wanting more. When we appreciate the abundance that we have, and see life in a “glass is half full” kind of way, we can be more grateful and as such, content. To paraphrase a quote I read recently, someone else, somewhere is happy with less than you have. When we practice aparigraha, we appreciate things as they are, and don’t long for anything else. This is also the basic principle (scarcity vs. abundance mindsets) behind much of Frances Moore Lappe’s (author of the seminal book Diet for a Small Planet) recent work – I recommend checking it out!

Santosha – Happiness! Contentment! As you’ll notice, these principles are deeply intertwined with one another, and this one directly ties in with abundance. Swami Kripalu used to say that the yamas and niyamas are like a garland – if you pick one flower, the rest follow. Practicing happiness with food doesn’t seem like too much of a challenge, but sometimes we can have a less-than-happy relationship with food. How can you cultivate more happiness with food?

Saucha – purity. My first thoughts on this were “clean food”. Unprocessed. Pure food – what our great-grandparents used to eat. Food before it became processed, genetically modified, dyed, refined, coated in chemicals, etc. Whole food. Carrots, grains, sunshine, dirt. Back to basics. Eat pure food. Sadly, this seems to be harder and harder these days.

Tapas – dicipline. Tapas literally means “fire”, but I don’t think this means necessarily purifying oneself by eating a bunch of chiles :) This perhaps ties into moderation – how can we be more disciplined with food? Perhaps in what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat (am I eating in front of the computer again? More discipline needed…). One way I would like to be more disciplined is by not using disposable beverage containers (ie, always carrying a coffee/tea mug with me). There are many ways we can invoke tapas with respect to food.

Swadhyaya – self-study or self-reflection, and perhaps the funnest one to say (“swahd-YAH-yah” :). Everything we’re talking about here is a practice of swadhyaya. Asking yourself how you can be more compassionate, truthful, or content with respect to food is self-study. Observing your own food habits and practices is swadhyaya. What do you eat? When do you eat? How do your emotions connect to food – do you eat when you’re bored, angry, or sad?

Ishvara pranidhana – surrender or devotion. To me, this connects back to honoring the food, perhaps through a prayer or simple acknowledgement like the Five Contemplations at the beginning of a meal. Devoting oneself fully to the act of eating. Being totally present with your food, and honoring where it came from.

So those are the basic principles, and some initial ideas for how these principles can guide us on the path of peace through food.

I’d love to hear from you, though.

What are some other ways these principles could be applied with respect to food?

What are other ethical frameworks or principles that can help us promote peace through food?

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