Picture this: You’re in Savasana after a sweaty, cleansing yoga practice. You sit up slowly, bring your hands to heart center, and chant the sound of “Om.” Seconds later, a new sound breaks the silence in the room. It’s the pop of a champagne cork, the clanking of forks, and the “oohs” and “aahs” of your fellow practitioners as they sit down to enjoy a meal.
Recently, studios have been hosting yoga practices paired with eating, drinking, and general post-asana cheer. This is one of the newest and hottest trends in yoga, and it’s on the rise. Many of these events veer into the decadent, offering all-you-can-eat (vegetarian) brunches and bottomless mimosas after an hour-long asana practice. Philadelphia studio Hydro + Pose hosts yoga classes followed by brunch, and two studios got together to put on the popular series “Namaste for Dinner” in 2015.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion of interest in both food and yoga culture, so it’s not surprising that the two have intersected. But some criticisms have been leveraged at this pairing. In yoga philosophy, several of the yamas and niyamas, yoga’s ethical code or guidelines, highlight the need for self-discipline and purity of body and mind. Depending on how one understands these guidelines, an ascetic lifestyle could be a natural outcome of studying this philosophy. For example, the niyama “tapas,” which translates to “self-discipline,” is understood as a purification of the body, an avoidance of excess, and a restriction of energy taken in and expended. Fasting is considered to be an expression of tapas. Other yamas and niyamas also encourage conservation of energy and avoidance of indulgence. Depending on how you interpret it, yoga philosophy might not mix well with an all-you-can-eat brunch (regardless if it’s vegetarian or not) after practice. But is there a meeting point?
The excessiveness of some of these events sails pretty far past the border of epic self-indulgence (for example, this one, reported on by Food and Wine, looks both delicious and slightly ridiculous). And at some level, eating good food is absolutely a form of self-pampering. But many teachers find that events like these do square with yoga philosophy. Yoga teacher and chef Emily Hartford (E-RYT 200) loves planning and executing these pairings, and argues that, in fact, eating well is part of taking your yoga off the mat.
“Yoga and meditation are meant to be practiced in all aspects of life, not just in the studio. The result of a consistent practice is a heightened awareness of the body and mind,” Hartford said.“When we become more conscious of our inner workings, we realize that what we eat directly affects how we feel, both physically and emotionally. From that place of mindfulness, we can choose what we want to consume based on the effects we desire. Indulgences such as alcohol and sweets, when enjoyed in moderation, can create feelings of joy, excitement and relaxation.”
Beyond this, eating mindfully can also increase our compassion for others. Hartford notes that, “Practicing mindful eating also inspires a sense of gratitude for all those responsible for it, from the earth, to the farmers and chefs. Extending the practice of loving-kindness and compassion inspires us to consume only foods that benefit our body, in healthy amounts, and using products that are grown or raised in a non-violent way.” Hartford also teaches couples’ classes paired with food and champagne for Valentine’s Day, which gives her students an opportunity to connect with their partners through practice and mindful eating.
Regardless of whether you lean more towards an ascetic approach or an indulgent one, the correlation between yoga practice and increased mindfulness is undeniable. If yoga teaches us anything, it is that extremes in general don’t serve physical or spiritual well-being. In the end, then, pairing yoga and eating seems like a win-win. By slowing down to focus on and appreciate our food (and where it comes from), we are more likely to savor it and less likely to overindulge. And that’s something to be thankful for.