Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Anna Yoga - An Introduction to the Yoga of Nourishment

Proper diet and nutrition plays an essential role in yoga.  The ancient yogis were well aware of the effects of food on our mind and body, and in fact, dedicated a whole branch of yoga to it.  The yoga of food is called Anna Yoga, after the Sanskrit word for nourishment.  Some say its origins related to the Hindu Goddess, Annapurna who is said to nourish the whole universe with spiritual and physical food.  Anna Yoga is not just about keeping a healthy diet, it is about the connection of consciousness to nourishment, and the experience of food.
I've always thought of my own experience and knowledge of food much like music; it's an endless exploration that can take you all the way around the world.  The more I learned, the more I realized I did not yet know.  Like music, nothing can substitute for the direct experience.  No two people will listen or taste art in the same way, yet there are universal principles and qualities that are well understood.  When I start to think about it, the parallels between yoga, food and music are endless in the context of a journey of self-knowledge through experiences.
I wrote recently about being conscious of the energy, effort and attitude while cooking, as it affects the taste of our food.  Taking this a step further, when we create or provide food for someone with love, we nourish them with that love.  It is not just some ungraspable energy of love that someone makes the food taste better.  There is a science to it.  When we cook with love, we are most conscious of the ingredients and care we put into our food.  We use the best ingredients.  We handle the food with care and ensure the food is cooked properly.
Does this mean that a busy parents trying to nourish their children but feel they don't have the time to cook perfect meals are any less giving of love?  Of course not. Just as in yoga, the effort and intentions behind our actions carry great manifestations.  Anyone can create nourishing meals, with as much or as little time as they have.  I believe this is where knowledge and tradition play a role.  Most Americans today spend far less time in the kitchen (both cooking and eating) than at any point in our history, and far less than other cultures in the world.  I'm hopeful that this trend will reverse.  Meals do not have to be elaborate to be healthy, especially when you consider that most whole plant-foods are already in their perfect state -- often the less you do to process them will retain the most nutrients.  Many foods can be prepared quickly in advance or cooked in batches with a bit of planning.  When we collaborate on food and cook together, not just as a family but as a community we can make nourishing food even easier to create.  This is the idea behind the "Slow Food" movement.  I love this quote by the great food writer Michael Pollan:
"Cooking connects, It connects you to plants and animals and fungi, to nature and your community—but it especially connects you to other people."
Could our connection to cooking be one of the most grounding foundations of our lives?  Pollan thinks so, and I tend to agree with him.  The more I think about about the nature of food, the more I realize how it is connected to our greatest challenges.

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