Yoga and Eating Do Not Mix
An important preparation for Yoga is avoiding meals prior to the Yoga practice. Generally, we are encouraged to not have eaten 1-2 hours prior to performing Yoga and Breathing (Pranayama) exercises.
Having food in the digestive system can disrupt one’s overall practice. The digestive process requires energy. When food is in the digestive tract, the body requires a full flow of blood to these tissues to nourish the gastrointestinal cells that are processing food material. Energy is required for the contraction of gastrointestinal walls to move food through the system. Energy is required for absorption of nutrients and for the production of hormones, enzymes and other chemicals to manage digestion.
When we perform Yoga poses, these poses and transitions take energy away from the digestive system and, if food is in the digestive tract, this system becomes limited in its’ capacity to digest.
Another consideration of having food in your system while practicing Yoga, is the hydrostatic pressure that can occur. Food moving through the system is generally fluid in consistency. When one twists, bends, and compresses the torso, portions of the gastrointestinal tract can be pinched off (like a balloon filled with water). With further compression from the pose, the food can push outwards (hydrostatic pressure) against the lining of the tract. For some people who are already prone to digestive disorders like diverticulosis, this pressure on the tract linings can lead to damage of theses tissues or aggravate existing conditions.
For those wishing to use Yoga as part of their weight management program, eating before practice is counterproductive. By having an empty stomach, blood sugar levels are at low to moderate levels. Moving into a Yoga practice with an empty stomach allows one to tap more quickly into energy stores (muscles, liver, and body fat). Expending calories from fat stores happens more readily and efficiently. Eating before a practice floods the body and bloodstream with sugars requiring the body to first “burn off” blood sugar calories before accessing other stores. Important note: if you have health concerns like diabetes or hypoglycemia, you should consult a health professional to determine how eating should be approached with Yoga exercises so you can manage your blood sugar levels properly.
Beyond these health issues, other considerations with not eating before practice should be observed:
- food in the digestive system may cause nausea, bloating or gas during practice
- often one needs to go to the washroom while practicing if the digestive system is processing food, thus disrupting one’s practice and connection to the flow
- if practicing on an empty stomach makes the practice difficult (i.e. low energy), eat a small portion of easily-digestible food like apple sauce or yogurt 30-45 minutes before practice. This small amount of food will make its’ way through the system quickly and will not have adverse effects during the practice.
5 Tips to Reclaim Your Calm
Stress and anxiety have become everyday realities, especially over the last year. In fact, a survey conducted in 2020 reported that 62% of adult respondents reported experiencing anxiety on a regular basis. But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
Yoga, breathwork, and meditation can create a foundation of synchronicity in your body that allows you to regain control of your life in a way that calms your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and supports an overarching sense of calmness in our chaotic world.
These practices, while not a panacea for anxiety, can improve stress response, and have been clinically proven to do so. A recent study at New York University Grossman School of Medicine discovered that in a group of randomly selected people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), 54% met the criteria for “meaningfully improved symptoms,” after practicing yoga.
So, what can you do to reclaim a peaceful mind and life? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1.) Develop a regular physical yoga practice (or re-commit if you already have one)
All types of physical exercise are beneficial for decreasing stress response by improving the health of the cardiovascular system (also potentially reducing the risk of heart disease) and releasing endorphins. Yoga, however, offers a special twist of calmness and relaxation while still allowing an exertion of physical effort, creating a fertile environment to build self-awareness through mindful movement.
Because of the flexibility and strength gained through regular practice, joint and muscle pain may also be soothed through a physical yoga practice (also called Asana) by reducing stressors related to pain responses in the body. Over time, and with dedicated practice, these benefits add up dramatically, even to the point of correcting scoliosis or reducing heart palpitations. Vinyasa or Yin yoga are generally the most beneficial practices for these physical benefits.
One common misconception about yoga is that you must practice for an hour to benefit. This fallacy was derived from the fact that studio classes often run for an hour. Any amount of time spent practicing physical yoga counts, whether it be 10, 60, 90 minutes, or more!
2.) Practice 5-10 minutes of breathwork
Breathwork (or Pranayama) can be easily overlooked, even by seasoned yoga practitioners, but it is one of the most beneficial aspects of your practice. How we breathe is often directly correlated to how we feel; short and shallow breathing makes us feel closed off and more anxious, whereas long, mindful breathing creates a sense of abundance, while also promoting a more meditative and mindful state. Taking as few as five minutes a day to breathe deeply and mindfully can literally re-oxygenate the mind and body. This allows more clarity and direction in everyday scenarios, and (with the use of some specific practices, like this one), can create a space of time between a personal cause and retort, transforming reactions into more thoughtful responses.