When cookbook author Mary Taylor first heard her yoga instructor, Richard Freeman, tell students to practice yoga all day every day, she found it humorous. At the time--18 years ago--she didn't understand his philosophical statement about the practice. "Then I got what he meant," she says. "You do practice yoga all the time, because its teachings become a core part of all of your thoughts and actions."
She married the Boulder, Colorado, Ashtanga master a few years later, and today the two balance high-profile careers with parenting. (They have a 12-year-old son, Gabriel.) "The act of eating is very much a unifying thing in our family," says Taylor, who has worked in the culinary world for more than 30 years and written three cookbooks in the New Vegetarian Classics series (Crossing Press). "We always sit down, chant together, and then eat."
The chant is a verse on fire sacrifice from the Bhagavad Gita. "The effect of a chant like that is that you become extremely aware of what's going on as you eat," says Freeman, "as if eating is a sacred act and the food is sacred. It makes you pay attention." Without mindfulness, he explains, "people get away from the very basic, immediate experience of what the pure flavors of food are and the experience of sincere eating ."
Mindful eating helped Taylor overcome anorexia and gave her insight into women's food and body issues, as she and Lynn Ginsburg explored in their book What Are You Hungry For?: Women, Food, and Spirituality (Griffin, 2003). It also brought her attention to the nutritional quality of food, something not emphasized in her training in classical French cooking. "As I started shifting and experimenting with different foods," she says, "I realized that what I ate really did affect me in a very profound way, both mentally and physically, and in a spiritual way."
"The practice of yoga makes you much more sensitive to sensations and feelings," says Freeman, who's been a vegetarian since the '60s and describes his eating style as primitive. "Because of the way I practice," he says, "I'm often really hungry before I eat, and so I'm going after that sense of flavor in the food, the connection to the raw taste of the food, almost as if it were mother’s milk."
Taylor does most of the family's cooking; she says new ideas often come to her after her asana practice. "My mind within the yoga becomes calm, and I reach this inner level where the creative juices are," she explains. "They're made available by my mind being clear."
Being clear about the intention of your practice can unlock new realms of vibrancy and vitality, adds Freeman. "To give up the sense of great achievement and ambition, and to just pay attention to tiny things and see things as the way they are," he says, "is really the way to get unstuck."
Catherine S. Gregory is a writer and former food editor in Colorado. She draws culinary inspiration from an eclectic yoga practice.