In yoga, we learn to pay our attention to the body when performing a variety of yoga poses, whether our back is lengthened or rounded, our chest is opened or collapsed, our core is actively engaged or relaxed, our hips are squared or slanted, our pelvis is tilted anterior or posterior, our feet are in a dorsiflexion or plantar flexion position, our fingers are relaxing or actively stretching, and where our eyes are resting. Practising yoga not only increases my body awareness for improved body posture, it also increases my awareness in managing my facial expression and eating habits. In this post, I would like to share with you how practising yoga has promoted my awareness in these three aspects which are so important in our daily life.
Maintaining a good body posture
One of my favourite yoga poses is wheel pose or alternatively known as upward bow pose. This deep backbend and chest opening pose allows the spine to be stretched backward, counteracting the usual hunched body posture. Most other sitting or standing yoga poses also require us to open the chest and lengthen the spine. After practising yoga for some time, I have become more aware of my body posture when I am walking or sitting in front of the desk. To keep a good body posture, it takes awareness to contract my back muscles for straightening the back and roll my shoulders back for opening the chest. Having a good posture not only makes me look taller, but also improves my confidence. Mentally, with the chest opened, I feel my heart is opened as well. I have learnt to open up myself more to accept others and focus on bringing kindness to them.
Managing the facial expression
How often do we pay attention to our facial expression when interacting with others? There was one time in a yoga practice, when being asked to relax the space between our eyebrows during the relaxation stage, I realized I had been frowning unknowingly for no reason. I also tend to blink my eyes excessively during public speaking probably because I am too nervous. Realizing facial expression which is a part of the body language can determine how people interpret us, I started to put more attention on managing my facial expression. Starting from relaxing the space between my eyebrows, I go on to relax my face, smile more and focus my eyes in one direction. I believe the facial expression also reflects our mental state. By managing our facial expression, not only this can make people become more comfortable to interact with us, but also regulate our emotions.
Practising mindful eating habits
Healthy diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to nurture and shape our body. Additionally, the yogic diet encourages sattvic foods which are foods that are eaten fresh and natural or lightly cooked for a clear and calm mind. I was so used to eating excessively hot and heavily spiced foods which can overstimulate the body and mind. I frequently experienced stomach discomfort and breakout on my face on top of the restless state of my mind. After learning about the yogic diet, I always remind myself not to eat so much spicy food and avoid stimulants of all kinds. For example, I will opt for an egg prata instead of my usual egg and onion combination for this delicious local dish. Most importantly, I consciously remind myself not to overeat. Due to the constant stress in my study and work, I had been overeating for a long time as I wrongly took eating as a form of self-love by feeding myself all the foods that I was tempted to eat and as a reward for my hard work. During the yoga training, I could literally feel the heaviness in my body when trying to lift myself up in certain poses. I have since made some changes to my eating habits to avoid overeating.
- Slow down the pace when eating: This is because our brain needs at least 20 minutes to catch up with the status of our stomach. In the past, I always finished my meal in 10 minutes and looked for more small bites to fill my stomach. After I have consciously slowed down my pace when eating, I can easily get full after just one meal without additional foods.
- Be aware of the way you check in with yourself after eating: After each meal, instead of asking ‘Do you still have room for desserts or small bites?’, I find it better to ask ‘Are you feeling full now?’. Surprisingly, the answer is always yes to me.
- Think carefully before ordering food: It is always tempting to buy a set meal that comes with a main course and a dessert or some side dishes to get the best deal from the menu. After knowing that I may overeat from this action, now I will choose to buy only the main course first. I will buy the dessert later when I truly feel hungry after having finished my main course.
- Know the body conditions associated with your appetite: I get most hungry when the temperature is cold, especially when I am doing paperwork in an air-conditioned room. I also tend to eat more if I don’t get enough sleep the night before. It seems like my body is trying to fill the energy gap from my lack of sleep by eating more foods to keep me awake. Therefore, to prevent myself from overeating, I will ensure myself getting enough sleep by going to bed early and avoid working long hours in an air-conditioned room. I also realized I don’t feel hungry easily when I am doing certain exercises such as yoga and Pilates. This is probably because my senses and attention are focused on coordinating the body movements but not the hungry signal from my body. Therefore, exercise is a good way to burn my calories and suppress my appetite to prevent overeating at the same time.
Having said that, it is also important to satisfy our cravings from time to time. The key is to not develop a habit of overeating as this can lead to undesired consequences on our health such as obesity and diabetes. Our demand for food also changes with our age and body condition. Therefore, it is good to consciously check in with ourselves every time how much food is truly needed by our body.