Downward-Facing Dog, Then Dinner: Yoga for Foodies
I’ll admit that I’ve done a sun salutation or two with thoughts of chocolate running through my head. I’m fairly new to yoga and am still learning how to turn off my mind during class, which happens later in the evening (during the dessert hour, if you will). But by the end, when my body’s been challenged and stretched into a relaxed and blissful state, the craving’s almost always gone. At that point, I’d rather shower, get into bed, and have the most peaceful sleep imaginable. But according to David Romanelli, creator of the “Yoga for Foodies” movement, that’s the best time to truly enjoy a meal.
I can’t imagine eating on the same mat I put my bare feet on for an hour beforehand, but perhaps that’s being close-minded. Supposedly, these “Jam Sessions” open your mind and body not only to the teachings of yoga, but to the teachings of food sustainability and eco-friendly farming as well. Romanelli’s taken two of 2009’s hottest trends, yoga and the foodie movement, and combined them successfully in 2010—but how does he make it work?
Awakening Minds and Mouths
Romanelli—or, as he calls himself, “Yeah Dave” (a nickname friends gave him because of his inquisitive nature)—has always steered clear of the beaten path when it comes to yoga. He cofounded At One Yoga in Arizona, a studio that gives yoga a modern, funky spin. His Web site describes his version as “one part health club, one part nightclub, and two parts spiritual sanctuary.” Rather than playing Enya and meditative music during classes, Yeah Dave prefers to pump the Grateful Dead through the speakers. He also came up with yoga retreats that include two things rarely associated with the practice: chocolate and wine. Romanelli, a Yahoo! Wellness expert and author of Yeah Dave’s Guide to Livin’ in the Moment, believes that doing yoga can enhance the pleasurable experience of tasting wine and chocolate. Because people are better connected to themselves, they’re better connected to what they’re eating as well.
That’s where he got the idea for Yoga for Foodies. He noticed that people are becoming less mindful of everything around them, especially what they put in their bodies. “When we move in a frenzied way through the day, we don’t eat, we ‘feed,’” he explains on his Web site. “This high-velocity lifestyle diminishes the flavor and essence of life.” That’s why the end of each of Romanelli’s sessions features restaurant chefs from around the country talking about the importance of eating locally and organically, as participants dine on food prepared with those same tenets in mind.
Romanelli is touring the United States in 2010, hitting cities like Chicago, Phoenix, Cleveland, Dallas, and Los Angeles to introduce his yoga-foodie fusion to the masses. Each class starts with an hour of Bikram yoga, a particularly intense version in which participants complete stretches and poses in 105-degree heat. Afterward, chefs from local, organic restaurants give speeches and walk participants through their meals, encouraging them to be mindful of each bite, just as they were encouraged to be mindful of each breath a while before. “After yoga, we’re more aware and better able to discern fresh food from factory food, grass-fed from corn-fed, nutritious and satiating from filling and depleting,” Romanelli claims.
Winning Fans and Foes
While Romanelli has converted many enthusiasts to his foodie-yoga cause, some disapprove of the combination. Strict yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners) follow a rather bland diet that forbids meat, dairy, alcohol, and spicy foods. They believe ingredients like these aggravate the body, rather than promote purification and balance, so combining a holistic discipline like yoga with chocolate or wine is almost blasphemous to them. Vegetarianism is also a hotly contested issue within the yoga world. One of yoga’s fundamental principles is doing no harm to those around us, and some argue that meat goes against this conviction. Yeah, Dave’s not a vegetarian, but he tries to restrict meat consumption to the local, environmentally friendly kind. The same goes for the restaurants he invites to his Jam Sessions.
The backlash against Yoga for Foodies represents the divide between those who support the popularity of yoga and those who fear its trendiness is turning the practice away from the original, ancient tenets. Those in the latter category would rather keep yoga as a movement among only the very dedicated and disciplined, such as by turning away nonvegetarian students, as some studios do. But Romanelli champions “Yoga for the Everyman,” as he calls it. He doesn’t believe anyone should be denied the benefits of yoga—in fact, he says, people need them now more than ever. In uniting two activities that seem rather disconnected, he’s bringing people into yoga studios who might’ve felt too intimidated to enter them before. With Yoga for Foodies classes and the Livin’ in the Moment guide, Romanelli’s trying to help people enjoy life to its fullest extent—every moment, every stretch, every deep breath, and every flavor. It’s easy to balk at dining on a stinky yoga mat, but it’s harder to argue against his good intentions.
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