Sharing Food, Sharing Yoga: Nourishing the Body, Mind and Spirit
By Nicole Schnackenberg
“Yoga is firstly for individual growth, but through individual growth, society and community develop”.
– B.K.S. Iyengar
Here at Ourmala, we offer hot and nutritious lunches in addition to therapeutic yoga sessions for refugees. Why is this so important to us? We begin our story with a man called Abraham Maslow…
Abraham Maslow was one of the first psychologists to focus on happiness. Writing and working from the 1930s onwards, Maslow insisted that the urge for self-actualisation is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Importantly, however, he believed that self-actualisation, which denotes the realisation and fulfilment of one’s potential, only surfaces once the more basic needs are met. Building on this theory, Maslow developed the Hierarchy of Needs; this is usually depicted as a triangle with the basic needs of food, warmth, shelter and so on at the bottom moving up to safety, belongingness and esteem before reaching self-actualisation at the tip.
It is difficult to argue with Maslow’s thinking. When we are hungry, for example, it can be very difficult to think about, do, or to achieve anything else. With hunger present, it is challenging both to accurately feel and have the energy to express our emotions. The physical asana of yoga also require food for energy but, more than that, yoga itself is about connecting and honouring all aspects of a person, with their basic needs forming an integral and intrinsic element of this.
We offer our hot lunches in recognition that nourishment is a core basic need of all human beings. It is also a beautiful way to connect with one another. Throughout history and across cultures, the sharing of food has been equated with community, friendship, celebration, and love. When we gather around the table together, we invite a sense of communion – we prompt the belongingness Maslow wrote so compellingly about. We also recognise that food is not something readily available to all pockets of the population by any means; in sharing what we have, we reach out and acknowledge the many inequalities and inequities in our society whilst harbouring the understanding that the simple act of sharing a meal can begin to break some of these seeming divisions down.
Later on in Maslow’s life, he felt moved to add another layer to his Hierarchy. It became clear to him that self-actualisation doesn’t extend us fully to the peak of our human experience; that this is a very personal act and does not necessarily take into account our innate connectedness with others. Thus, in the late 1960s, Maslow added what he termed a transpersonal (beyond personal) layer to his Hierarchy. This denotes the seeking and experience of something beyond the personal, implicit within which is the drive towards self-transcendence. Maslow recognised that people typically come to seek benefits beyond the purely personal and also strive for communion with the transcendent, perhaps through transpersonal or mystical experiences. This often leads to a sense of deep connection to, and a service of, others.
Both the sharing of a meal and the sharing of yoga can be act of self-transcendence. Beyond offering multiple benefits related to the soothing of anxiety, the quelling of trauma-related sensations, increases in interoceptive awareness, and enhanced self-regulation to name but a few, yoga also offers us the opportunity to experience a sense of self beyond the personal; to transcend the notion of ourselves as a separate consciousness within a separate body-mind living discrete, perhaps seemingly disconnected, lives. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root Yuj meaning to yoke or to bind. This denotes not only the binding together of mind, body, psyche and spirit within a person but also between people, engendering a sense of oneness.
We offer heartfelt thanks to those of you who share yoga and/or food with us. You nourish and enrich our lives beyond measure.