February 2007 – You Are What You Eat


Yoga and the practice of eating

Last month while discussing Tapas, I came across Pattabhi Jois’s description of the highest form of discipline:  “food regulation in accordance with the lunar cycles” This disciplines the body and removes impurities.  I have no information on how to eat in accordance with the lunar cycles!  However I practice Ayurveda, Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga and treats the body, mind, earth, and food as connected.  Much of what I am talking about this month is based on the principals of Ayurveda.

The first topic I want to approach about yoga and eating is not about what to eat, but about when to eat.  First and foremost you do not want to do yoga with food in your stomach!  You should have at least 3-4 hours between your last meal and your yoga practice.  When your body is digesting you are not able to detoxify—which is a big part of Primary Series, also with food in your stomach the poses are uncomfortable, you may feel heavy and lethargic and let’s not forget that many yoga poses have what is known as “wind relieving properties”, so undigested food poses other concerns as well!  This may be a challenge for some of you, especially when you practice yoga in the evening.  This coupled with the fact that you want to eat your largest meal of the day between 11 am and 3pm, when your digestion is the strongest, may pose even a larger challenge.

These are my recommendations:

  • On the days you are coming to yoga in the evening eat your large meal by noon, then after you get home from your practice eat light foods that are easy to digest. For example, cooked vegetables, vegetable soup (no meat, and only unleavened bread—non yeasted breads are easier to digest), butternut squash, baked potato or yam, or a salad (this depends on the season!).
  • If you are lucky enough to practice in the morning, try to do practice on an empty stomach, then eat a light breakfast followed by a large lunch sometime between 1-3 pm, and again light and easy to digest foods in the evening—if any at all.
  • If the time that you are able to practice is sometime in the late morning to afternoon then eat a light breakfast, eat a large meal after your practice, and eat light in the evening.

In general you want to eat a small breakfast, a large mid-day meal, and very light in the evening.  Eating this way is one of the best forms of weight control!  Eating mid-day keeps you fueled, and allows your body to metabolize and use the food you have eaten.  In the evening our digestive fires are weak, it is not recommended to eat your main meal in the evening; working toward this adjustment in your lifestyle will greatly improve your health.  If you want to lose weight—do not eat after 3pm, this is the simple Ayurvedic prescription for weight loss.
Also a note about eating small meals throughout the day—we are hunter-gatherers; our bodies are designed to “fast” at intervals throughout the day.  Eating snacks or many small meals through the day actually keeps us burning sugar as fuel, our body never dips into our fat stores for energy and contrary to what many doctors and nutritionists say this is actually worse for blood sugar irregularities.

Water and yoga practice
I also feel the need to touch on water, it is usually not necessary to harp on the benefits of staying well hydrated as the fitness industry has done that too well!  You actually do NOT want to drink water during your yoga practice.  You should hydrate yourself well before and after practice.  Drinking during practice is going to put out some of the heat we are trying to build for detoxifying purposes.  Also it breaks the meditative flow of the practice, stopping to get a drink breaks the vinyasa element of the Ashtanga yoga system-moving and breathing synchronicity.  However I would like to emphasize if you are coming into class dehydrated and you NEED to drink water—by all means drink water—then learn how to hydrate yourself properly!
So staying hydrated . . . fresh pure water is the fluid that works best for hydration!  Water has a slight electrical charge to it, meaning it attracts other polar substances to stick to it—substances like sugar, salt, vinegars, minerals—any substance that dissolves in water will “stick” to it (oil has not electrical charge which is why oil and water do not mix!).  This stickiness that water has does serve important purposes in the body—but it also makes it quite cumbersome.  Water passes in and out of our cells through special ducts known as aquaporins, but when water has a lot of substances attached to it, it becomes bulky and can not fit through the aquaporins that are designed exclusively to allow H2O to enter our cells.  Most of the water we drink is loaded with minerals, heavy metals, sugar and other substances that make it hard to enter our cells.  The water then stays outside the cells where it just escorts us to the bathroom.  If you are one of those people who feel as if water just runs right through you—you need to look at the quality of water you are drinking.  That combined with your age and lifestyle; as we age the body leaks fluid out of the cells into the spaces around the cells, some individuals bodies do not allow the water to re-enter the cell.  Scientists are not sure exactly why but have found stress, improper breathing (lack of oxygen and blood to the cells), impure water, caffeine, soda, and alcohol all contribute to this effect.
Your body weight divided in half is the amount in ounces of water you should drink each day—juice, soda, sports drinks or anything that is not pure water does not count toward your water intake—due to the stickiness of the water molecule that keeps it out of shape to fit into the aquaporins so water can get in to the cell.

  • Most juices are just glorified sugar water and to make maters worse they are sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup—HFCS is converted in the body to triglycerides not glucose so it can not be used as fuel. HFCS is directly linked to obesity and is one of the substances you should avoid at all costs! FRUIT JUICE IS NOT A HEALTH FOOD!
  • Sports drinks are un-necessary for 99.5% of the population and actually interfere with water absorption into the cell.
  • Any drink with aspartame in it is counter productive. Aspartame is a brain stimulant (it is broken down to formaldehyde in the body!) and as such it is a powerful neurotransmitter—it stimulates the brain. In a society where we have constant stimulation the last thing we need is more of that! Also aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar, when you eat or drink something with aspartame your body is expecting a surge of energy from some calorie-rich food—when it does not get it the brain sends out messages of hunger and un-satisfaction.
  • Any drink with caffeine or alcohol in it is a diuretic—meaning it pulls water out of the cells by stimulating the kidneys to release more water into the urine.
  • Drinks such as Fruit2O and others that pretend to be good for you are a hoax! If you do not like pure water it is because you have tainted your taste buds with chemicals and sugar. You can reset this taste in your body, you just need to get off the chemical/sugar water for a few weeks.


What to drink then?  Warm to hot water is best absorbed by the cells.  Cold water is not absorbed very well by the body—it constricts the esophagus and stomach compromising absorption, also cold water puts out your digestive fire so you do not want to drink cold water with your meals—and further more you do not want to drink large amounts of water with your meals as this dilutes digestive juices in the stomach, you want to sip warm water with your meals.  Through the colder months I drink warm to hot water, during the summer I drink my water at room temperature.

As for the source of your water—well I have no direct answer as I am still struggling with that one myself.  Currently I buy SPRING water from a local source (again read the label)—not bottled or filtered water—read the label on water from dasani and aquafina (among many others) they are just filtered water put out by pepsi and coke!  I keep a tea kettle on my stove and fill it up, bring the water to a boil and then let it set and I drink that water throughout the day.  I have also read that carbon filters work well but you need to replace them often and you should still boil your water after you filter it.  (I prefer spring water because it naturally comes to the earth’s surface when mature and is filtered on its way up.)

Foods to avoid
Processed foods are what is killing America!  The obesity rate and heart diseases are rising like never before—it is projected that our life expectancy is actually going to begin to decrease now, as is the quality of life, as you get older.  Processed foods and lack of movement are the culprit.

The food industry is more concerned about making money than our health, many foods are marketed in such a way so they appear to be healthy when they are anti-healthy, please be(a)ware.  Processed foods are not made with wholesome food, but cheap food filled with chemicals.  The single most important food choice you can make for your health is to stop buying processed foods!  Begin with awareness, read the ingredient of everything you put in your grocery cart—you will be surprised, and try to avoid buying foods that comes in a box.  The two main ingredients to avoid are:

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (see above)
  • Hydrogenated oils (a.k.a trans fats) – Vegetable and soy oils are frequently hydrogenated—manufacturers like to use hydrogenated oils because they are cheap and they extend the shelf life of an item (good rule of thumb to remember: GOOD FOOD GOES BAD). The hydrogenation process makes the oil unusable by our body, much like the water molecule fitting in the special duct within the cell, so too do fatty acids fit have a special key pattern to “fit” into our cell; hydrogenation changes the shape of polyunsaturated fats from a bent form to a straight form—this keeps the fatty acid from entering the cell where it can be burned off as fuel—it actually gunks up the cell so the cell cannot perform it’s functions (which is why hydrogenated fats are associated with a higher risk of cancer and obesity). Clearly you do not want to put this in your body!

So where do hydrogenated oils hide???

  • Processed foods!
  • Cookies, crackers, chips, pastries
  • Fried foods- French fries, doughnuts, fried chicken, etc. Many restaurants still use hydrogenated oils, again because they are cheap and they don’t go rancid.
  • Margarine and shortenings
  • Candy bars

READ LABELS, even some frozen vegetables have hydrogenated oils added!!  Another lurking place is breads, I buy most of my breads at the farmers market (I used to make all my own bread . . .) but one day my daughter asked for good old plain white bread—so as a treat I thought I would buy her a loaf,  At the Camp Hill Giant I started at the beginning of the bread isle and worked my way down reading the label on each loaf trying to find a loaf without hydrogenated oils or HFCS—even the so called healthy breads contained one or both of these items!  I finally got to the very last item in the bread isle—Terranetti’s bakery was the only bread in the entire bread isle that did not have anything hydrogenated or HFCS in it!!  This is a double blessing as Terranetti’s bakery is local 😉

What TO eat
Actually this is much simpler than we make it!  The answer is to eat seasonally and locally (for the most part), wait until you are hungry to eat and stop when you are full.  Your body will tell you what you need, we have just forgotten how to listen to it or believe it.
Our Earth provides for us
Each season in our climate the Earth provides the nutrients our body needs..  If you lived on a farm you would naturally eat what you harvested—here you are not restricted to eating only locally foods, but foods from around the world too, just eat what is in season locally and eat globally foods that are not available in our area (ex. Bananas, mangoes, oranges, etc).   Our Earth provides the right nutrients in the right amounts—whole foods will give you better nutrition than pills because whole foods contain the right mix of the nutrients our body needs along with the enzymes to help you digest and absorb those nutrients.  Supplements are not balanced and give us some nutrients way out of proportion.

The nuts and bolts of seasonal eating:
Spring foods consists of a lot of salads and roots, bitter greens, this is a leaner time of year, we eat lower fat and calories to help us burn off the winter fat.  Beans are good food in the spring as they provide needed protein with less fat
Summer provides much!  A big harvest of vegetables and fruits we need to eat, we also need more carbs this time of year for energy required for long days, our digestion is stronger this time of year so we can get away with eating raw foods and even occasional ice cream.
Fall and Winter – the final harvest of the year provides vegetables that store well into the winter (potatoes, squash, nuts, etc), this is also a time to eat more proteins and fats.  You want to avoid raw foods this time of year, we need cooked warm foods in the winter months.

Do not become too rigid with this!  This does not mean we can not eat nuts in the spring or salad in the winter!  We just need to eat less nuts in the spring and more in the winter.  If you are patient over the course of a full year you will get to eat all the variety of foods you want!

Below is a short list of winter foods and some winter recipes.  More info available at www.lifespa.com
More info on spring and summer foods will follow as we approach those seasons.

Winter fruits include: Winter Vegetables Winter Grains & Legumes Winter Proteins
Bananas Avocadoes Amaranth ALL NUTS are good
Oranges Beets Oats  
Grapefruit Brussel Sprouts Quinoa DAIRY
Lemons/Limes Carrots Brown Rice All good except cold milk
Mangoes Chilies Wheat  
Dates Garlic   MEATS and FISH
Figs Pumpkins Mung beans All including Eggs
  Potatoes tofu  
  Sweet Potatoes    
  Winter squash    

Winter Breakfasts:

¾ cup whole oats
¾ cup almond milk
¾ water
Toasted almonds
Cook oats in water and almond milk until desired consistency.  While oats are simmering toast almonds.  When oatmeal is done stir in sucanat ton with banana and almonds.

Yogurt (Plain, organic)
Papaya and/or mango and/or banana
Pecans, walnuts, almonds
Drizzle with pure maples syrup
Serve with toast

Eggs any style with toast

My own twist on pumpkin pie – this is very good for you!—
2 jumbo eggs beaten
1 cup+ sucanat (organic un-processed cane juice evaporated)
2 15 oz. cans organic pumpkin
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
I can evaporated milk
Mix together and pour in custard cups.  Bake 450 degrees for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 degrees and back for 50 minutes.
This is excellent for breakfast topped with toasted pecans or good topped with whipped cream for little 9 year old girls who come home from school starving and don’t like what their mother has prepared for them 😉

Winter Dinners (main meal between 11am-3pm

Avocado-Tomato Salad
One whole avocado cut into chunks
Grape tomatoes
Artichoke hearts
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Above salad goes well with hot sandwhich or soup below..

Mung bean soup (made with carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and curry)
Whole wheat chapatti

Enchiladas made with brown rice, cheese, sour cream, black olives, tomatoes, cayenne, cumin, onion, garlic, topped with avocado and melted cheese if desired.


Lentil Casserole
I cup chopped onion
¾ cup dried lentils
¾ cup brown rice
¾ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp salt
1 clove garlic
1/8 tsp sage
½ cup water
2 10-1/2 oz. cans broth (vegetable or chicken)

Coat a casserole dish with oil (I use coconut) combine all ingredients, stir well, cover and bake at 3500 for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Delicious Dal
2 cups lentils or mung beans
6 cups water
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
Simmer above over low heat until tender, about ½ hour
In skillet heat 4 T ghee
Add 3 chopped garlic cloves
1 onion chopped
Cumin and mustard seeds
Optional: add chilis
Sauté over medium heat until golden
Add onion mixture to dal along with I large can chopped tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes cut up)
Salt and pepper to taste
Simmer another 5 minutes serve over rice

Serve with roasted root vegetables:
Cut assortment of vegetables into uniform bite size chunks:  potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, fennel, carrots, red beets, sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms
Combine with olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper, add broth or wine
Roast in a shallow pan at 3750 for up to one hour (depending on size of chunks), turning every 15 minutes.  In the last 10 minutes raise the heat to 4250 to brown the vegetables.



Winter Suppers

6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
1/4 c. finely chopped ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
7 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1 c. dry white wine
1 1/2 lb. carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Pinch curry powder
Salt & ground pepper
Snipped fresh chives or parsley
1. Melt butter in large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic; saute for 15-20 minuts.
2. Add the stock, wine and carrots. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the carrots are very tender, about 45 minutes.
3. Puree the soup in a blender or processor (fitted with steel blade). Season with lemon juice, curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives or parsley. Serve hot or cold.

Brussel Sprouts
Fresh brussel sprouts quartered
Coconut oil
Mix together and broil, top with a little fresh parmesan/pecorino and broil a little longer

Butternut Sqash
Bake a butternut squash (cut in half and scoop out seeds, bake cut side down for 45-60 min at 400o.  scoop out, mash in butter, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Enjoy.

Winter Vegetable Soup
½ cup sweet potatoes
½ cup squash
½ cup peas
¼ cup beets
¼ cup beet greens
Spices to taste:  cumin, ginger, tumeric, pepper, fenugreek

2 cups water

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