The Yoga of Eating – Getting Back to a Simple Life.
Our ancestors were on the right track—eating on the floor is good for us! They instinctively knew the yoga of eating.
In most developed countries, people now sit on chairs to eat their meals. Yet the human body works best in the way it was used for thousands of years: sitting cross-legged on the floor. In fact, when we eat in this position, it even aids our digestion.
When we sit on a chair, explains Brahmacharini Shobhana, director of Amrita Yoga, the spine is usually not very straight. This position also tends to send our prana (vital energy) down toward our legs.
However, when we sit in Padmasana or half-lotus position, the spine naturally lifts and straightens. Prana moves to the abdomen. There is a feeling of openness, and the stomach is unrestricted. This is the yoga of eating. We feel our connection to Mother Earth. We are grounded.
Helping the Hips Relax
Those who cannot sit directly on the floor may still benefit by sitting on a cushion, or a low stool, that raises the hips to a more comfortable place. Over time, you may find the hips relax enough to allow you to sit on the floor.
If you must use a chair, you may still be able to sit cross-legged on it. However, even sitting with just one leg crossed (knee opened out to the side, with the ankle on the other knee) has a positive effect on digestion.
Bri. Shobhana explains that in India, it is traditional to leave the plate on the floor, rather than to pick it up. The upper body moves down to the food.
“If you pick it up to eat, it is disrespectful of the food that is given to you,” she explains. “You are in need of food, so you go to it. There’s a feeling of humility.”
Seeing the Effort Made to Make Our Food
It is also a good time to consider how many people have sweated and toiled to bring the food to us. She adds, “All that hard work and effort is right there. So, it’s like we are prostrating. You go close because you need it. It’s not that the food needs you. It teaches real humility. The many times you go down, it’s as if with every morsel you chew, you’re symbolically bowing down to all the people that have made that hard work.”
As we repeatedly move forward and then back again, keeping the torso long and the spine straight, the gentle pumping action is very helpful for the digestion and stimulates the gastric juices.
Digestion requires good circulation of blood to the digestive organs. Sitting cross-legged on the floor also helps the heart more easily circulate the blood than when the legs are extended down from a chair. The yoga of eating practice harmonizes our body as we enjoy our food.
It’s best for the hips if we don’t always have the same foot on top each time we sit cross-legged on the floor. If the right foot is on top, Shobhana explains, more weight is borne by the right hip, and vice versa. It’s good for all of us to alternate, to equalize the weight on both hips.
Eating the Correct Amount
Since we are eating more slowly, going down to the food and back up again, we may also feel full sooner, which helps us to avoid over-eating. Sukhasana (easy pose) and Padmasana also help our minds to feel relaxed and calm, which aids digestion and helps us to better enjoy the company of our family or friends.
Indians also traditionally eat with the fingers. “Each of the fingers represents a particular devata or demi-god or goddess,” Shobhana says. “So, you’re invoking all of these. It also represents the pancha prana—the five vital airs. So, you’re naturally bringing all the five vital airs and using the five fingers and then consuming the food. All the five vital airs are important for the food to get digested.”
Traditionally, the food is only touched with the last digit of each finger and the thumb, never with the palm of the hand. In spiritual homes, children are taught to eat without using the index finger, as it represents the ego. Other Indians may traditionally eat without using the little finger.
It may actually be more hygienic to eat with the fingers, as long as we wash our hands before eating. Shobhana says, “We can’t scratch our heads, and touch this and that, and then eat.”
The 5 Vital Airs
For the best assimilation and absorption, all five vital airs of the body have to stay focused. “You’re consuming [the food] with five fingers and you’re offering it to the fire inside, like the fire mentioned in the 15th Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita—it’s like invoking that devata, the fire god in your stomach.
“You’re offering all of this food into the fire pit of your stomach and it’s actually consumed by the fire god. Of the five elements—fire, water, air, earth and ether—fire can consume everything.
When you offer it to fire, you can directly link to that god who can assimilate, absorb, and then help in elimination. The rest of the gods will come and help.” The yoga of eating connects us to the positive subtle levels of reality.
Ayurveda also teaches that eating with the fingers aids digestion.
During our meal is also a good time to feel grateful that we are blessed with hands, and that we have mobility and flexibility, Shobhana adds.
In yoga, it is considered important to relax after eating, to allow the body to direct its energy to efficiently digest and assimilate nutrients. It is not the time to exercise, meditate, or even lie down, as all these activities can hamper digestion.
However, there is one yoga posture that aids digestion, Shobhana adds: Vajrasana, or diamond posture. One may sit in this pose for 10 or 15 minutes after eating.
Although sitting on the floor or eating with the hands may initially seem challenging for those who have rarely done it, we may wish to try these practices and see whether we experience a benefit.
“If we think it’s helpful, we can practice it,” Shobhana says. “The more frequently we practice, it becomes a habit; you don’t need to think about it.”
Do you enjoy sitting on the floor to eat? We’d love to hear how it works for you! Tell us your story about the yoga of eating.
Author: Amrita Yoga Amritapuri
As always, thoughtful comments are invited and appreciated. Share your reflections with us! See below to leave a comment.