Fusing Yoga & Nutrition - The Yamas & Niyamas Part 1: Nonviolence
Through my training as a dietitian and a yoga instructor, the connection between yoga and the positive nutrition approach has become more and more evident. Both these philosophies pair beautifully to cultivate awareness of your behaviors and unity of your body and mind. I believe deepening your understanding of the yamas and the niyamas can improve your connection with your body and how to nourish it.
The yamas & niyamas come from yoga philosophy (specifically the 8-limbed yogic path) and may be thought of as guidelines or ethical disciplines. The first 5 guidelines, or yamas, include nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-possessiveness. The last 5, or niyamas, include cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender. In this series, we’ll explore how these yogic guidelines can enhance your relationship with food and your body.
Part 1: Nonviolence. Ahimsa
The foundational guideline of the yamas and niyamas is nonviolence or Ahimsa in Sanskrit. This guideline invites you to explore your relationship with the world around you, the physical environment that you inhabit, and the people in your life, including yourself. When most people think of violence, war, physical abuse, or hurtful words comes to mind, however not all forms are as obvious. How you speak to yourself, how you nourish yourself, and the boundaries you set (or don’t set) for yourself can become violent acts if not carefully examined.
In regards to nutritional choices, some people interpret this guideline to mean that you must be a strict vegetarian or vegan in order to practice non-violence to others. However, ahimsa promotes nonviolence to not just those around you, but yourself. If following any specific diet, including vegetarianism/veganism, causes your body pain or deprives your body of what you need, then it becomes a violent act against yourself. There is no one correct way to eat. Each of us is beautifully unique and our bodies may need different things to function at its best. Ultimately, in order for you to show up as your best self in this world and practice non-violence, you need to compassionately take care of yourself first before helping others.
The first step to implementing nonviolence in your life is awareness. Check in with yourself: What words do you say to others directly or indirectly? What words do you say to yourself when you look in the mirror? Do you choose foods that nourish your body? Or do you hold rigid food rules that make you miserable? Do you force yourself to do physical activity you hate? Or do you move in a way that feels good in your body? If you notice harsh words or thoughts present, try some of the tips below to infuse ahimsa into your daily life or consider reaching out to a trusted friend or therapist to explore deeper.
4 steps to practice Ahimsa in your everyday life.
Using positive affirmations daily can rewire your brain to think about yourself and the world in a non-violent way.
Try leaving a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, renaming your morning alarm on your phone, or set a reminder to pop up later in the day.
Mantras to try on:
I am beautiful.
I am enough.
I am worthy of nourishment.
I am loved.
Choose foods that nourish your body and soul
Consider these questions:
What foods help you feel energized?
What foods make you feel strong?
What foods make you smile and close your eyes?
What foods do you share laughs over with friends and family?
Choose those foods! If negative thoughts or shame arise, try using a mantra before your meal to show gratitude for the meal or remind yourself you are worthy of nourishment and pleasure.
Choose movement that feels good in your body.
Movement and exercise have proven health benefits for your body. However, the exercise you choose shouldn’t elicit shame, guilt, or be your only source of self-worth. Embody ahimsa by choosing movement that is fun and feels good to you.
There is a time and place to push yourself through discomfort, however it’s important to strike a balance between compassion and challenge. Don’t forget - it’s very beneficial to take days off to rest and recover.
Set boundaries that set you up for success
Sticking to a bedtime, saying no to requests, setting a meal/snack schedule, and committing to a workout routine that works for YOU are all examples of boundaries you can set to take care of yourself.
Just like in an airplane emergency, secure your mask before helping others. Boundaries help you secure your metaphorical mask. If you can’t show up as your best self in the world, you’re not doing anyone any favors.
For more information, check out the book: The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele.