"What does yoga have to do with food or diet?" Many people find themselves wondering if the two are even related. Their first thought might go towards yogi trail mix bars, herbal tea brands, or just a bowl of healthy salad at the least. In this article, let's explore how an inspired yoga group has been able to connect yoga and diet and create a positive impact on the community around them. Let's begin with some background information on modern day health facts to set the stage for the need of diet yoga.
In our modern era of consumerism, we are facing a dual burden of disease. In an attempt to reduce the problems caused by starvation and malnourishment, we have landed in problems caused due to overeating and unregulated lifestyles. We are living in an age where more people are obese than under weight, and heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes have become the leading causes of death. The primary factors underlying these causes are tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and poor diet and physical inactivity. Although there are several other factors that cannot be changed, eating nutritious food and exercising regularly are factors that can be. However, in our fast-paced lives characterized by fast food eating habits, sedentary lifestyles, and mass availability of processed foods in retail stores, it can be a daunting challenge for people to seek alternatives for a more healthy, wholesome, and balanced life.
The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains (mainly whole grains), fat-free or low-fat dairy, a variety of protein foods (includes legumes, nuts, seeds), and oils. The guidelines also limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt). However, according to current eating patterns in the actual U.S. population, it was found that 70 - 80 percent of people eat less fruits and vegetables than recommended by the guidelines, making fruits and vegetables the most under-consumed commodities in U.S. Besides, it was found that 70 percent consume more saturated fat and added sugars than recommended, and almost 90 percent consume more sodium in their diet than recommended. As startling as these numbers may seem to be, they definitely indicate that the onus of healthy eating is on the consumer. Despite there being a tremendous amount of literature on effective ways of healthy cooking and eating, there is still a need for people to experience a "higher taste," a sustainable taste that will keep them motivated along the path to a healthy, wholesome, and balanced life.
There are several places where such higher taste has been cultivated and communicated effectively. One such place, where I served as the treasurer for 4 years, is a student club named Yoga Circle at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. It is a small club which meets every week with a purpose to teach the student community at large about the practical benefits of a vegetarian diet. Their mission statement is to "become an ingredient to create a healthy world," and their vision is to create a platform for exchange of ideas among students to inspire positive lifestyle changes. As with any student club, it began very humbly with a handful of students attending every week. Due to the passion of chef Naveen, who has been a vegetarian for more than 18 years, and the support of a team of dedicated students, the number of attendees grew to about 75 within 2 years. More and more students want to be a part of the positive and vibrant atmosphere of the club; they want to learn more about the benefits of vegetarian diet, about the benefits of yoga, and about tips for reducing academic stress. Students get to learn new recipes every week with hands-on experience in cooking them. They also learn about the benefits of different herbs and spices, and enjoy a delicious 3-course meal at the end.
These students come from a diverse background of social, economic, and educational statuses. Many of them are international students from places such as India, China, Mongolia, Japan, and France. They love to learn about recipes and cultures from different parts of the world. For some students, it is the best way to begin their week, and for many others, it is the best place on campus to get good and healthy food. It is a place where they can share experiences, ask questions, and make new friends while learning about healthy lifestyle choices. The meetings have also become a platform where doctors and yoga teachers are invited regularly to address students on topics of healthy eating and living. Over the years, the university's Office of First Year Experience has officially made this event a part of their First Year Success Series program and student clubs such as the Food and Nutrition Forum have shown an increasing interest in the activities of the club.
Naveen has been an expert chef, teacher, mentor, and friend to all the students. Despite his busy schedule, he makes it a point to share his passion with the students every week. One of his famous quotes is: "food should not be eaten, it should be honored." Thus, in order to honor food as well as all the participating students, Yoga Circle ends the year by serving a 10-course vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. In 2014 and 2015, this event witnessed participation by more than 250 students and it is anticipated to grow every year. A special thanks goes to the university for hosting and funding this event all year round. In conclusion, we hope that the activities of Yoga Circle serve as a model to inspire similar programs at other campuses and corporations. This is a much-needed endeavor to help people make positive and healthy lifestyle choices.
1. WHO Global Database on Body Mass Index (BMI)
3. Mokdad et al., "Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000", JAMA 2004; 291:1238-1245.
5. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2007 - 2010 for average intakes by age-sex group.
8. Yoga Circle. http://www.krishna.org.ohio-state.edu