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Three Yoga Philosophy Secrets on How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food

yoga philosophy on how to have a healthy relationship with food

What do you think of when you think of yoga?

A person sitting on a mat meditating?
Someone standing on their head?
$200 yoga pants?

Yoga is often viewed as just an exercise. The main health benefits associated with yoga are related to the physical aspect of the practice including improved muscle tone, balance, flexibility and stamina, as well as calming and focusing the mind.

However, yoga is so much more than just “mindful movements.”

In order to embrace all of yoga’s many benefits, we must practice it to its full. This not only includes the physical practices (postures and breathing) but also the ancient principles and philosophy of yoga.

What is Yoga?

Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, merge or “to yolk.”  This can be interpreted in many different ways. It often begins by connecting your breath to movement and in doing so, we become more aware of our body. Not just our physical body, but also the mind and spirit. Yoga is used as both a spiritual and healing practice.

The goal is to bring balance to the body by stimulating our Prana or life force. The concept of prana in Yoga philosophy is very similar to the concept of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

There are many different ways we can practice yoga, not only the postures and movements (asanas), but also through breathing exercises (pranayama), hand gestures (mudras), prayer (chanting), meditation, discipline and study, acts of kindness, practicing gratitude and mindfulness.

Over time, yoga has evolved to become a non-secular practice so anyone can practice yoga regardless of a person’s spiritual or religious beliefs.

If you do choose to practice though, I highly recommend taking the time to understand the roots of yoga in order to appreciate all it can provide. When practiced in full, yoga is essentially a guide to a healthy, happy and fulfilling life.

History of Yoga

Yoga was first developed over 5,000 years ago (although some believe it is up to 10,000 years ago) by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. It was first mentioned in the Rig Veda which is the oldest of four sacred texts. collectively known as the Vedas. Veda means “known knowledge”. The Vedas was first developed for and by the Brahman’s, Vedic priests, and Rishi (mystic seers). Yoga was not developed for the average person, but rather for those who renounced worldly life and were completely dedicated to a life of devotion.

However, over time yoga became a practice for the common householder. Around 400 CE, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras was published which outlined an eight-fold path to yoga, including the Yamas and Niyama’s (Observances and principles), Pranayama (breathing practices), Asanas (postures), dharna (focus), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation); all culminating to the final goal of Samadhi (absorption), which we could also refer to as enlightenment or bliss.

The eight-fold path outline by Patanjali is still used in most yoga practices today. However, Patanjali Sutras only really focused on one posture (a seated position). It wasn’t until the 1920’s that yoga became more of a physical practice used for both spiritual and physical healing.

T. Krishnamacharya popularized Hatha yoga, which is using the physical practice of yoga, asanas, pranayama, mudras etc. (postures, breathing, hand gestures etc.) to bring balance to the body’s life force or Prana and promote healing.  T. Krishnamacharya and his many disciples including B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar Pattabhi Jois and Ingar Devi. Sivananda are responsible for making yoga as we know it today in the West.

What are the Niyama’s and Yama’s

The Niyama’s and Yamas are observances and principles in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Patanjali’s eight limbed path is often depicted as a tree with each branch leading to the other. Now many like to jump this tree and move straight to the asanas and other physical aspects of yoga. This is fine and you will absolutely receive benefits such as improved flexibility, balance, strength etc.

However, if the goal is to reach the top of this tree and receive the full benefits of yoga, we need to start at the bottom. These are the Niyama’s and Yamas. The Niyama’s refer to internal environment of the body (our thoughts and mind) and the Yama’s refer to the external environment, as in our actions and interaction.  

The Niyama’s are:

  • Saucha (cleanliness)
  • Samtosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (Ascetism and self-discipline)
  • Svadhyaya (Self study – self reflection)
  • Ishvara Pranidhana (Devotion and Self-surrender)

The Yama’s are:

  • Ahimsa (Non-violence)
  • Satya (Truthfulness)
  • Asteya (Non-stealing)
  • Bramachayra (Continence)
  • Aparigraha (Non-coveting)

How Can Yoga Help You Eat Healthier

In my experience as both a human and a nutritionist, poor eating habits aren’t just caused by a lack of knowledge. This doesn’t mean that being informed on nutrition isn’t valuable. I enjoy keeping up with the latest research in nutrition science and I love sharing this knowledge with others. I don’t think I will ever stop learning or educating about nutrition. However, knowing what to eat and what not to eat is only half the battle.

Often poor eating habits have to do with:

  • Emotional eating
  • Stress and lack of time 
  • Poor relationship with food
  • Lack of focus on self-care

If we truly want to cultivate healthy habits for life, we need to address these issues. We can use principles from Yoga philosophy particularly, the Yamas to improve our eating habits, our relationship with food and ourselves.

Next, let’s discover the three key secrets from yoga philosophy to learn how to improve your relationship with food:

1. Ahimsa: Body Positivity through – non-violence

Ahimsa, the concept non-harming and non-violence, is really at the root of yoga philosophy, as it is with many other religions, philosophies and traditions.

The golden rule: treat others as you would have them treat you. However, often we actually need to turn that around and treat ourselves the same way we would treat our best friend, our sister or our child.

Ahimsa applies to yourself as well. We can harm ourselves in many ways, particularly our bodies.

If you are constantly berating and putting down your own body, you are harming yourself. However, if you don’t take care of your body that is also harmful.

This is how we can find balance and separate diet culture from nutrition and health. Diet culture focuses on eating to change the appearance of the physical body and often does not stem from a place of self-acceptance and love.

Nutrition and healthy living are all about taking care of yourself. So, the next time you are making a food choice, ask yourself if this coming from a place of love or harm.

Only you can determine this for yourself, but here are some examples that may be harmful (apologies in advance if you feel called out):

  • Not socializing or eating out because your diet is too restrictive
  • Not taking the time to prepare meals for yourself
  • Only eating food for “health reasons” and not actually enjoying it
  • Skipping meals because you are too busy
  • Constantly putting down your body
  • Over-exercising to the point of injury
  • Eating foods that you know give you digestive problems (dairy, spicy foods etc.)
  • Not resting or sleeping enough
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Using caffeine to keep up your energy

Here are some examples of habits that stem from a place of love:

  • Cooking yourself a healthy balanced meal
  • Socializing with friends and family
  • Giving yourself a break from cooking
  • Planning a fun physical activity that you enjoy (hiking, swimming, sports, yoga)
  • Drinking water  
  • Getting enough sleep and rest

As you can see, you can harm yourself by either being too focused on physical health or by ignoring it all together. The health of our body is not separate from the health of mind and spirit. It is all just health and any action we take towards our health should come from a place of care not harm. In this way practicing ahimsa is actually way more important for our health than practicing the physical aspects of yoga.

2. Satya: The Balance of Kindness and Truth

Ahimsa and Satya are meant to balance each other. Satya means speaking truth, but it must be balanced with ahimsa. It’s the difference between telling someone they have spinach in their teeth and telling them you think their dress is ugly.

It means telling the truth but doing so with the intention of not causing harm.

Again, as we are referring to our relationship with our body and food, we also need to be honest with ourselves. It can be easy to lie to ourselves about our eating habits, especially because often food is an afterthought. The easiest way to be honest about your eating habits is to keep track.

Plan meals ahead of time and write down what you have eaten in a food journal. Then you can answer the questions such as “Are you really drinking enough water?”; “Are you eating enough vegetables?”; “How many cookies did you really eat?”.

The most important thing is that you do so without judgment, remember Ahimsa comes first. It is also possible to be too overly strict with your food choices to the point of it effecting your mental health and social life. Examining the motivation behind your food choices may also be a part of practicing Satya when it comes to your relationship with food.

3. Bramachayra – It’s not just about willpower

Practicing Bramachayra can seem difficult because what it means is having control over your physical impulses of excess. Brahmachayra means to walk the path of a Brahman; to walk with God. God can be whatever it means to you; it can also just mean nature.

Practicing Bramachayra can mean shutting off your phone and taking a walk in nature.  When we are surrounded by excess, it can be difficult to appreciate the simplicity of life. This is why the goal is to reduce excess.

You may think that having control over excess of food means not overeating and that is part of it. Chewing food slowly in a calm environment is important to prevent overeating so we don’t get indigestion. Eating regular meals so we don’t get too hungry is also a big part of impulse control.

Many cravings stem from low blood sugar. There’s a deeper meaning, however, that I think is more important. Foods created by humans are often created in excess. It has been designed to have the perfect flavour, texture and color and is often sweeter or saltier than any food found in nature. We call these foods hyperpalatable. I am referring to packaged foods like chips, crackers, candies, baked goods as well as fast food, etc.  

If you are used to the sweet taste of a candy, then the subtle sweetness of a blueberry will seem unremarkable.

Practicing Brahmanchayra when it comes to food means not only eating with intention but also choosing simpler, whole foods and learning to appreciate their flavours. By simple, I don’t mean bland, so please feel free to season your food. I mean more enjoying a home-cooked meal like a simple stew or just eating an apple. The more whole foods you eat, the more you will crave and appreciate them and the less willpower you will need to avoid foods that aren’t healthy for you. Of course, let’s not forget ahimsa which means being kind to ourselves if we opt for convenience over nutrition when we need to.

Putting it Into Action

You can change your relationship with food through yoga. It starts by changing your relationship with yourself, by approaching your food choices with kindness and care, which is balanced by honesty and truth. It also means appreciating the food that nature provides and avoiding excess, with a focus on impulse control.

Here are some ways you can adopt these practices and improve your relationship with food:

  • Start a judgment-free but honest food and water journal
  • Eat without distractions
  • Chew mindfully and pay attention to all the flavours
  • Practice other aspects of yoga such as the asanas, breathing exercises or meditations to increase focus and awareness
  • Stop putting down your body
  • Eat more whole foods


Kirsten Colella, CNP, a Holistic Nutritionist who graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours, is also a certified yoga teacher. As a yogi who teaches individuals, groups and soon online, Kirsten does her best to live a full yoga-styled life. Living on a farm with her family, Kirsten prepares a wide variety of farm-to-table meals. As a homesteader and nutritionist, she shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and health-promoting food ideas on our Instagram page  @essentialbalanceholistic             


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