YOGA AND DIETETICS 1.0 : Feeling good in your body, in your mind, on your plate

This article is an interview the dietician Iseline Rossi made of me and was originally published in French here – article en Français ici ! Une interview réalisée par Iseline Rossi, diététicienne.

This time, we discussed what yoga is and all the benefits it can bring for your body and your mind – quite a large topic. Enjoy your reading! // Cette fois, il est question de faire le tour de ce qu’est le yoga et de ce que cette discipline peut apporter, autant physiquement que mentalement – un sujet très vaste. Bonne lecture !

THE INTEREST OF YOGA IN THE DIETETIC PROCESS
 
Iseline: For this article, I chose to speak to Lucille Avoine, a yoga and meditation teacher.

Lucille, can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Lucille: Hello to our dear readers! First of all, thank you for this invitation, it is a great pleasure to collaborate with a dietician as caring and talented.
As you said, I am a yoga teacher, which is a path I chose to pursue to share with others the way yoga has, without any kind exaggeration, changed my life – for example by helping me to make peace with my body. But I am also a specialist in information technology management and digital marketing and passionate about travel, with a little less than 50 countries visited at the moment and having lived on 4 different continents.
And of course, the answers to the questions that follow are the result of my own experience and my personal knowledge. If experts in any of these fields read these lines and have something to correct or share, I’ll be happy to have a chat with them!

I: I often recommend yoga during my consultations ; yoga is for me a practice of choice within the dietary care. Yoga has a lot of benefits, both physical and mental.

L: Before exploring what the benefits of yoga are, it would be interesting to take the time to define what yoga is – because there are lots of misconceptions about it.
And yoga is not just about postures, their flow and breathing.
In reality, it is a method to calm and control your body and mind, your emotions. More broadly, it can even become a lifestyle.
So, of course, it does not matter if you’re not able to touch your feet by leaning forward or if you think you’re not flexible – these aspects are only side effects that come with a regular practice, and no goals or requirements!

I: Could we say that yoga is for everyone?

L: Of course it is! Whatever your age, your gender, your job, where you live, your body shape, your state of health…
If yoga was only a matter of flexibility, we would call it stretching or contortionism.
There are yoga classes for all levels, from beginner to advanced, and in no case is it necessary to be already calm, to be able to touch your feet by leaning forward and so on – all this will come with practice.
I invite all readers to go give a try to this discipline to give a chance to all their aprioris to disappear, you are not immune to a nice surprise!
Whether it’s out of curiosity, healing, muscle building or whatever, there are lots of different reasons to try yoga, let alone to make it a regular practice.

I: I started practicing yoga when I was 19 y.o. with my mother, mainly because of our back issues.
It helped me a lot to relieve my pain, I stopped for a moment, then started again, because an osteopath recommended it to me.
And you Lucille, what did yoga bring you in life?

L: In my case, I didn’t have any expectations when I tried yoga for the first time.
I was at a Bali festival called Bali Spirit Festival, which I attended mainly for the dance and music aspects, and being surrounded by yoga professionals, it would have been a shame not to try.
And you can already guess what the result was: I fell head first in what was like a new world opening up to me – which was fine, as I was in the dynamic of trying as many new things as possible.
Most of us come to yoga for the first time in search of something like a physical goal or simply a curiosity to try, and we actually come across a practice that brings us more surprises than anything we could have imagined. Yoga has benefited me on so many different aspects…
The most important thing, the one that has made me deeply want to teach it to share it, is this way that yoga brings us back to ourselves, who we really are, and opens our eyes to this that we sometimes forget to see how hard we are on ourselves.
All these moments of “woooow I am capable!” “Oh my body really does that ?!” When I manage to do a posture that I thought was unattainable or that I see even the tiniest progress, which recalls the incredible potential we all have in us, and also those moments of tremendous gratitude for your own body: every breath is a gift, an exceptional chance that could stop at any moment.
 
Thanks to yoga and meditation, which are actually as a whole, I often have a lot of trouble admitting it but it can help others so let’s be real: I managed to say goodbye to my suicidal thoughts, which came back often, and to separate myself from other limiting beliefs for example.
By doing yoga and meditation, one learns to be the observer of what is happening in the body and the head, and this ability is life saving when one is overwhelmed by emotions. We can’t imagine how much!
Concretely, it means being able to recognise that “ok, I have this emotion, I allow myself to fully live it and experiment it because it has something to teach me, but I am not my thoughts or my emotions. This too shall pass.”
 
On the physical level, in addition to getting fitter (without realizing it), I am building strength and improved my flexibility, of course (and I used to be the less flexible girl in my dance class, to be honest), but for example yoga also helped me say goodbye to my knee problems. I was told that I would have aggravated osteoarthritis by age 30 if I continued to do so much sport, but yoga made all the pain and risk become just a blur memory.
 
And I was not really a sports person: I did 18 years of dance and before starting yoga, the physical effort seemed to me a real chore necessary to improve my artistic performances, and today I feel almost indefatigable, able to enjoy and follow several courses in a gym for example and I became the first to motivate everyone to get into it too – if we had told the little girl that I was saying that “I’m not the one who sucks, it’s sport which is lame” that this change would happen, she would have laughed at you so much.
Finally, for me who is an eternal curious, yoga is a source of infinite learning that guarantees me never to be bored!
All surrounded by a very nice caring community – I do not say there is no exception, there are idiots in all areas but overall, they are warm, open minded people and of an incredible humanity who come together to share very beautiful values and incredible moments. And I’m so grateful for this lovely and supportive community (yes I know, you all can feel the love haha).

I: What are the physical benefits of a daily practice?

L: First, to experience the physical benefits of yoga, I will begin with a warning: learn to identify the difference between discomfort and pain.
You can accept the discomfort in your yoga practice, but not the pain. Of course, the goal is not to hurt yourself! Get to know and understand your body, you are the only one who know what is good for your own body in the present moment, because everyone is unique and something that seemed easy yesterday can be painful today and vice versa.
Your body and your intuition communicate to you what makes you feel good and when to get out of a posture or not to go: listen to them and you will avoid many injuries and will enjoy all the benefits of the practice, fully.
And of course, if you have a particular need, such as a weak knee, a back pain, if you are pregnant, or whatever else might need some particular attention, do not hesitate to tell your teacher at the beginning of the session (or come a little earlier to discuss it if you want to keep it confidential), different modifications or postures will be offered during the sequence.
 
As for the frequency of the practice, of course, the more you practice and the more the benefits will be come and it would be absurd to hope for miracle results in a single session, just like everything else.
But it is also up to you to find your rhythm: as far as I’m concerned, the more I practice every day, the better I am, but if your ideal frequency is weekly or several times a week, listen to yourself and do as you feel is good for you.
Moreover, if it is difficult for you to stick to a certain regularity of practice, do not fall into the pitfalls of shame and guilt: it would be harmful for your practice and you do not want to arrive on your yoga practice with the idea in mind “I’m bad, I’m not even able to stick to my goals / I do not practice often enough”, right? If you find that these emotions invite themselves to the party in your thoughts, take a step back, let them tell you what they have to say but especially let them go and do not get attached to it.
 
Then, of course, yoga – in the form where it is most often found today, that is to say the hatha, vinyasa and other relatively dynamic/yang forms – will have the benefit of building strength and muscle and relax the entire body.
A daily practice of a vinyasa or power yoga type of yoga can result in a more and more thinned and drawn, sculpted body – I don’t recommend making it a main goal, though.
Some postures work on the arms strength, always by the weight of the body, others rather the legs, some the whole body …
And as getting fit and relaxed is never what we focus on doing yoga, the effort is less felt even if it is quite present and we are sometimes surprised by the results!
 
In general, yoga also helps to adopt a better body posture on a daily basis, which is logical when you get used to becoming aware of your movements and learning to better position yourself in space, to better coordinate your body even in micro movements: we end up being more upright and adopt a more open posture.
And the different styles of yoga can each have very different effects on the body: for example, yin yoga intervenes a lot on the fascia, a network of connective tissue very important in the body, especially when it comes to maintain your mobility.
 
But beyond that, this discipline also allows you to learn to breathe better and to use breathing techniques adapted to the circumstances, to develop your proprioception (our internal GPS, so to speak), to increase your resistance and your taste for physical effort and sport in general, to reduce fatigue in general because you learn to better mobilize and manage energy – very positive effects that we are surprised to see with regular practice!
 
But that’s not all: yoga can also have an interesting therapeutic effect.
For example, for an injury, we will try to strengthen the muscles in the surrounding areas to help restore normalcy and prevent the pain from coming back and avoid reoccurring or worse, intensifying.
It also works on physical trauma: yoga has a great healing potential on them.
 
Yoga is also able to boost the immune system, to have a detox effect (even stronger in the case of hot yoga), and this makes you for example less likely to colds and other small ailments of winter.
Some postures help to calm headaches, regulate blood pressure and blood circulation problems, decrease urinary disorders, asthma, sciatica and many other ailments.
 
From a feminine perspective, daily practice can be adapted to help reducing the uncomfortable effects of periods, whether hormonal dysregulation, pain or other, as well as those of menopause.
Yoga can also accompany women during pregnancy – but I am not an expert in prenatal yoga.
 
Finally, as we are in a conversation on the topic of the interest of yoga in the dietary approach, let’s remind that yoga optimizes digestion in a whole lot of different ways, both by breathing and postures combinations.
In any case, the benefits of the postures themselves are very often common to families of postures (for example, standing or sitting postures, front or back bending, twisting, …) which allow to find it even easier for neophytes.
 
There are also kryas in yoga: purification techniques, which have a notorious effect on the body and that would deserve an article to themselves because they are numerous, varied, and rich in purifying effects.
 
And of course, yoga allows you to learn to listen to your body, to make each movement and each breath in consciousness: you are more attentive to your body so you respect it more and you care more, which leads to some kind of beneficial spiral.

I: Indeed, during my consultations, I always prescribe a daily sport practice. It allows better sleep, better stress management, good transit, has protective effects against various diseases and helps maintain a stable and healthy weight.
But let’s not forget that yoga is not only a physical activity, its beneficial effects on our mental health are recognized but often imprecise.
How does yoga make you feel good in your head?

L: By definition, yoga is the discipline that gets you to learn how to calm your mind and control its changes. Feeling good in your head seems to be one of the main goals.
In a yoga sequence, when a posture is maintained, the first breaths are made to set up, correct or deepen the posture, then the following are used to enter a meditative state. This is also why we say that the posture really starts when you want to get out of it.
In addition, yoga as I like to practice it, in addition to being very physical, includes guided meditation sessions at the beginning and end of the session, often oriented around a philosophical idea, spiritual or personal development. And this idea will be remembered during the sequence.
Combined with physical effort, breathing and being fully present, you can imagine how effective it can be!
For example, one of the best yoga classes I’ve had the opportunity to attend was built around the idea that “freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you”, which really resonated with me and created some kind of shift in my mindset.
 
The different families of postures each have important emotional interests.
Inversions allow to change perspective, forward bends encourage introspection and calm, backbends are energizing, joyful and open your heart, hip openers have an impact on emotional relief, and so on.
 
Then I would say that it is the intention that you set for your practice that will define the spiritual, mental health and other benefits that the practice will bring you.
For example, if you decide to practice with the intention of finding peace or working on your fears, that’s more likely what will happen.
And an intention can come only from what you really want, deeply, consciously or not.
But whatever happens, yoga will lead to increase your mental health, self-confidence, and awareness.
Many of us also tend to focus on our weaknesses, focusing on why you’re not good enough and so on… Yoga has the non-negligible benefit of reminding us of our potential, which is in fact unlimited, to make us discover what we are capable of.
There is a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic that I really like to use at the beginning of some sequences: “the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them”.
Yoga is a great way to do it, precisely!
 
Another issue of our society is this addiction to the comparison we have. Like we can’t help comparing ourselves to what others are achieving or who they are and so on! And yoga classes help in two ways: by reminding us that this is our own personal practice, and that we should not compare ourselves to others or our previous practices. It is our experience of the present moment and it is necessary to respect our abilities in the present moment, to detach ourselves from the result and to dive in the process, to really appreciate and value it.
If we focus on the results, then we have an image and a love of ourselves conditional and therefore fake.
The second lesson is that there is no point in comparing each other because everyone has different abilities, everyone has their own strengths and talents, and what you yourself may think is not doing well enough can actually be admired by someone else, you never know.
 
Good yoga practice will also encourage self-awareness: learning to respect your own needs, your own body, where and how it is in the present moment, but also what is going on in your head, mind and heart.
And of course this listening, this awareness allows you to learn to know yourself better, ultimately.
To get to know, respect and understand yourself better, to love yourself more and in a healthy way and to be more compassionate towards yourself is a key allowing to strike the right balance between the desire to always challenge yourself and the need to rest or to stop, for example.
All this comes from being an observer of your movements, your thoughts, of yourself, in compassion, without judging yourself: it is a real key to grow as a human, at any age! And of course, it takes time.

Developing compassion and love for yourself may seem ridiculous in our western societies, and it is a pity people see this this way…
We even tend to assimilate the fact of loving yourself to that of feeling superior to others, but this is not the case, on the contrary, because it is also about loving and accepting yourself with your own weaknesses, your own flaws, your story, and all those things that one would have preferred sometimes not to know or be.
But yoga can help to make peace with all of that, if it’s your intention.
 
Finally, the more you take care of yourself through physical practice, the more you want to take care of yourself on every aspects of your life, including food for example.
And this set of small steps will inevitably lead to feeling better in your body, in your head and on your plate!

I: Thank you Lucille for you beautiful words and this inspiring explanation of yoga.
This article is just the beginning of a beautiful series on yoga and its interest in the dietary approach.
If you want to read more about Lucille’s adventures, do not hesitate to visit her blog: lucilleavoine.com or follow her on Instagram : @lucilleavoine for the updates when she’ll start teaching and where.
 
If you need any dietary advice or consultation, you can contact me at 06 31 50 64 18 or at isenutrition@gmail.com.
You can also make an appointment directly on Montpellier or online.”

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