Do you ever notice how you hear something interesting (or annoying, or terrifying) once, and then seem to keep hearing about it constantly for the next few days?
The other day, this post from MindBodyGreen found its way into my Facebook feed more than three times. Later that day, as I rushed to get ready for class, I complained to a friend about how I had no “pre-yoga-appropriate” food in my apartment (as I sucked down a Vega “endurance gel.”) (Which is, quite honestly, not too bad, if you’re used to that sort of thing. It is also delicious in the 30 minutes between back-to-back classes, but that is another story.) The day’s locker room talk amongst newbies centered around eating before yoga. Finally, one of my yoga friends approached me before class and mentioned that he was regretting eating so shortly before class.
I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something.
After almost ten years of consistent Bikram yoga practice, I am still learning the intricacies of pre-yoga eating. You might think it sounds like an easy feat, but it is a very exact science, and one that is highly individual. If you don’t eat for six hours before class, you’re likely to see black spots and “bonk” during standing bow. However, if you eat a sandwich in the car on your way to class, it will likely make its presence very obvious after about thirty seconds of pranayama. I’m (still) not an expert, but I have compiled a list of things that just don’t work for me (whether it’s me eating them, or the yogis practicing next to me eating them.)
1. Alcohol (or a bean burrito)
Possibly the first “Bikram joke” I ever heard in class, thanks to my very first instructor, was the one that goes something like: “there are two things you don’t want in this room…a hangover or a bean burrito.” Humor aside, this is no joke. Alcohol and working hard in a hot room don’t mix. Neither do Taco Bell and bending and twisting in a hot room. I once brought an unsuspecting coworker to class; he had no idea what to expect. I watched him eat a microwave Wild Oats burrito in the car on the way to the studio. He still hates me.
Every single article about eating before yoga recommends bananas. I can’t. Bananas are tasty, but they don’t like me at all. They like to try to come back and say hello during standing separate-leg forehead-to-knee. No, thank you.
I already think chicken is one of the top five grossest things one can eat. (I won’t even bore you with the details here.) (Yet.) Put it in the hot room, and you have the makings of a disaster. I have never left the hot room. I’ve endured nearly-exploding-bladder, waves of grief that left me almost unable to breathe, severe pain from my own bad food choices, and a sweat shower from the smelliest, BO-covered, unshowered man I have ever come across…and have not left the room. The closest I ever came to leaving the room was when the person next to me had obviously eaten an entire deli’s worth of roast chicken in the hours (days? weeks? who knows?) before class. Chicken smells (at least to me) like something rotting when it is cooked and on your plate. When you are simultaneously burping and farting at me, in a 105-degree room? Let’s just say I almost had to leave and vomit.
4. A Venti Americano
One of my yogi friends used to laugh with me in the locker room, because we both came to class lugging enormous cups of coffee. I generally do okay with caffeine before class, due to years of experience and an intimate knowledge of how my body processes the stuff. If you aren’t super-hydrated with the caffeine tolerance of a Clydesdale, though, I’d suggest leaving the Guru Energy Drink for after class.
People sometimes don’t believe me when I tell them that I never eat any kind of onions, garlic, sauces, or (most) spices. It’s true. My digestive system rejects it all, and I’d rather feel well than eat delicious veggie burgers (which I do so sorely miss.) This avoidance means that I can smell these things a mile away. I’ve practiced next to what I like to call “a ketchup factory.” There have been times that I’ve sworn I was doing toe stand in an Indian restaurant. Oh, and Mr. Chicken Gas seemed to have eaten those roast chickens with about a dozen cloves of garlic. Please don’t. Even if it doesn’t gross you out during class, it will offend someone next to you (or across the room).
6. Bodybuilder Cuisine
~12 years ago, I loved all those “female fitness competitor” magazines. I followed those diets to a T. (Oatmeal, egg whites, whey protein powder, cottage cheese, and tuna. ALL THE TUNA.) My digestive system hated me. I also realized that the overly-muscled dude huffing sulfur on me from the next treadmill over was suffering from what I like to call “ketosis and tuna breath.” Also, how can you not notice that the tuna smells and tastes exactly like…the can it comes in?
7. A Cuban Cigar (or any kind, for that matter)
Confession: I used to smoke. Not cigars, but cigarettes. And not casually–I smoked about a pack a day. When I quit (in 2007) I realized how stinky I was in the yoga room, and was mortified. Now, if I even visit a smoking establishment or household, I can literally smell the nasty sweating out of me during class. I can’t even imagine how awful it was for the people practicing next to me those first few years. I am still embarrassed, and I apologize.
Silliness aside, the whole “eating-before-yoga” topic is both overdone and underexplored. There is no one thing that will work for (or backfire on) everybody. It is entirely trial-and-error (as I always tell the first-timers who are huddled in a ball on the floor, face screwed up and arms wrapped around stomach, after their first class.) It can take months or even years to figure out what works for you.
Just try to keep the really heavy experimentation out of the hot room…or at least, on the opposite side of the room.