Why I Eat Dinner for Breakfast

I started eating dinner for breakfast after my friend and fellow yogi Suzanne Ellis suggested it. It’s been six months now and I’m a convert – so could you eat your dinner for breakfast?

Have you ever had the experience of going to bed, but being unable to sleep because your abdomen is so distended and your stomach is gurgling?

I used to think this slight indigestion was normal. But if you think about it logically, eating a big meal before bed will not give you a great opportunity to digest properly. Nor will it dispose you to a good night’s rest.

Yet the idea of skipping the evening meal is shocking, isn’t it? It’s awful to lie there awake and hungry.

But mindfulness helps us get over this, as it helps with almost every emotional conundrum. What if hunger was just a sensation, nothing more or less? Maybe we could observe it and move on and through? Maybe we could sleep, and maybe that sleep would be deeper and more restful than any sleep we’ve had for a long time?

It actually costs our body energy to sleep. It also costs energy to digest. So if we’re trying to do both at once, it’s not a very efficient system. Monks in Asia know the energy cost of digestion; that’s why they often have the rule of eating only one or two meals a day, and nothing after midday, otherwise they have no energy for meditation.

There is also a saying, Breakfast like a king, dine like a prince, and sup like a pauper, which sounds like great advice, only I’ve hardly ever known anyone who lived by it.

But in recent years the popularity of intermittent fasting has changed how we see eating. We now know that foregoing nourishment for a few extra hours every day or every second day, extends longevity. Our body reacts to the ‘stress’ of hunger by strengthening its immune response. So there is now lots of scientific back-up for the benefits of skipping a meal.

Personally, I’ve known in my bones for years that I should cut down on eating at night. But it seemed really hard. So when I saw how glowing and healthy my friend Suzanne looked on a regimen of Big Breakfast, Tiny Dinner, I had to try it. She and Rama Prasad, her Ayurvedic Studies teacher, introduced me to this very sensible idea of never thinking about depriving yourself of food at night, but simply taking whatever food you desired in the morning, concentrating on eating a lot and eating well in the day and simply taking a rest from eating at night, if you feel like it. No pressure!

An important thing to realise is that hunger is a sensation, and that we are evolved to pay great attention to it. We don’t have to always indulge it, but we need to respect it. So the main principle of Eating Your Dinner For Breakfast is that you aim to satisfy your senses in the morning. That’s not just alimentary senses, but visual, olfactory, tactile, and textural. Make sure you attend to all areas of sensory enjoyment, and that the major food groups are covered generously. If you do the same at lunch (don’t worry about the times, just eat a large breakfast and lunch when you are hungry), then by evening you’ll be done for the day. You don’t need much satiating. You might even find you’ve skipped your traditional 3pm cookie too, without noticing.

So how do you Eat Your Dinner for Breakfast?

Step One: Fill ‘er up (with veg)

Morning: After your yoga practice, of course. You make a large plateful of nourishment, paying attention that all the textures, all the colours, and of course all the major vitamins and minerals are represented. Go crazy with different coloured vegetables, herbs and spices. Add fermented foods – kimchi, sauerkraut, pickle. Arrange everything as beautifully as you can. Be generous with your serving. Rama Prasad counsels that you should ideally eat a tenth of your body weight for breakfast. I found this impossible, and it certainly is unhelpful to start weighing your food (we don’t want any obsessing, people), but it’s a good frame of reference.

Step Two: Pile on the protein (and a little carb if you want)

Protein is great for satiety. I am a fish-eating lacto-ovo-vegetarian, so I actually have a lot of protein sources – usually eggs, beans, wholegrains, dairy, nuts and seeds (including quinoa) and occasionally fish. Complex carbohydrates – brown rice, wholewheat bread and the like, can be really good (I love them), but don’t rely on them to fill your plate up (it should be pretty full already with vegies and protein).

Step Three: Eat with your eyes

Put the meal down on the table and enjoy how it looks. I like to put a placemat and a nice set of cutlery, and to use my best plate. I used to often skip this step, but it’s so nice to visually appreciate your efforts, and taking time to see your food is a large part of eating mindfully. You could even try taking a photo. It’s a funny cliché in this age of social media and food porn, but when you go to the lengths of taking a photo you really see your food. And you can send it as encouragement to your friends who also eat their dinner for breakfast.

Step Four: Take a good sniff

Make sure you take time to smell the fragrance of your food. If you’ve used lots of herbs and spices it will smell amazing. Since I’ve been paying more attention to vegies I’ve discovered lots of new spice combinations which you can’t find in any recipe books. No rules except your own senses.

Step Five: Eat slowly until you’re full

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate, but as you get better at this you will be able to judge how much you need to feel satiated but not over-full. Make sure you chew every bite. If you’ve done the other steps, you might find you are more inclined to eat mindfully.

Step Six: Pack the other half for lunch

Hopefully you’ve judged the quantities well enough to have left half. Naturally, we’d all like to cook afresh for lunch, but who has that kind of time? Let lunch be a bit different from breakfast by adding fresh herbs, seeds or a different protein. Eat it whenever hunger calls.

Step Seven: Gloss over ‘dinner’

Who needs it?

In my house, my husband and two kids love to eat dinner. And I love to cook it. So I go ahead and cook up a storm, but I save most of mine for the morning. Sometimes I eat a token bit with my family, or just have the salad. My husband has started eating less for dinner now too. But my kids are still growing, so they need their three meals. For adults, a light salad (summer) or a light soup (winter) can be just perfect, topped off with a herbal tea. Try and eat as early as possible to empty your stomach before lying down. I aim for 6pm.

Step Eight: Don’t obsess!

Eat dinner when you feel like it. Sometimes you need it if you’ve not eaten enough in the day. Or sometimes you just want to. Definitely go out with friends and family and indulge in social eating, just because it’s lovely. You’ll notice that your sleep and your energy may not be quite as good, but it’ll be worth it. And let me know how you go below – I need constant inspiring too.

With thanks to my teachers Suzanne Ellis and Rama Prasad.

Debbie Hodgson is editor of International Light and a yoga teacher. She is living in Canberra with her husband and two children and studying physiotherapy.

Yoga – to touch or not?

When I first underwent my teacher training in 2004, IYTA had a strict no touch policy. However, I noticed all my favourite teachers (not necessarily all IYTA teachers) used some form of touch in their instruction.

I am a visual and kinaesthetic learner. I copy and I need to move and feel where my body is in space. But what works for me is not necessarily going to be the best delivery for a different student.

As teachers, we need to consider all the different ways a student will best be able to achieve a pose that suits their abilities and learning pathways.

Ultimately, we should aim for our students to become their own inner teachers of their yoga practice but in the meantime, we are the guides on their yoga journey.

Teaching a class

Mostly our students tell us when they have an injury, but sometimes they don’t and you discover they have a condition that they didn’t tell you about. Then there are students who don’t know their limitations or those who have a false sense of proprioception, (their perception of movement and space in relation to their own body).

These students believe and feel that they have their bodies in the correct position, however, the reality of their alignment, (to a teachers’s eye), is not correct.

I would argue, that we need to be very careful when guiding and instructing our students, as we have no idea what is happening in their bodies or what their mental and emotional states are. Given this background, why is touch still needed?

Types of learning and partner work

There are three types of learning: auditory, visual and kinaesthetic

Students have a preferred way of learning or a combination of these methods. For this reason, especially for the kinaesthetic learners, touch is a useful resource for teachers, however, permission should be asked first from the student.

Recently I was teaching two postures in my classes that required some partner work. Working with partners can give really valuable feedback and also be a lot of fun. It also requires good communication between the participants and involves consideration, being respectful of each other and physical touching.

I find the occasional partner yoga helps to foster a sense of community with my students, to the point where it can be hard to stop them talking and focus on the actual yoga. Some students love the contact with other people but there are others who absolutely hate it. I always give people the option of not working with a partner beforehand, especially in cases of injury or trauma and I allow them to participate in modified ways.

Permission to touch

Human beings, on the whole, are social creatures. We like the physical connection and touch with our loved ones and friends. Handshakes are a polite greeting between strangers. And for those beings who live alone in this busy digital world, the yoga class could be their only connection with their local community.

I have had students who will come up and tell me they like and want to be corrected within a class. And I’m aware of students who definitely do not want to be touched in any form. Hence, do not touch your students unless you have their permission.

Adjustment versus low touch policy

IYTA, in the last few years, has now introduced a Low Touch policy. We believe that touch is a valuable cue to supplement verbal cues and demonstration. But the emphasis is on low touch, with no adjustment. So, what is low touch and appropriate touch as opposed to adjustment?

Physically moving a student is adjustment. A teacher should not be forcibly move a student into a position or asana. This reduces the options and choices of students to control their own bodies. When students are moved into a position from an outside force, their learning of alignment in their bodies is diminished. If they are guided to an alignment by the use of their own volition, which means having to engage their spatial awareness, muscular movement and mental faculties then they will absorb the teaching more thoroughly.

Three cautionary examples:

  1. I was about to teach an inversion workshop in Perth so I asked all participants about injuries and pre-existing conditions as they were signing in. One student stated that she had a torn oblique muscle, acquired from a previous workshop the weekend before, where a teacher had “adjusted” her into a twist. She did not inform the teacher of her pain and subsequent injury. So that teacher is none the wiser for the damage they caused to that student by their hands-on adjustment.
  2. In another class I was teaching Hanumanasana (the splits). I advised students to support their weight on blocks to reduce the stress on the hamstrings as we moved towards the final pose. A particular student ignored my advice, moved into the full splits and subsequently tore her hamstring. If I had “adjusted” that student into that pose I would be liable for damages. The fact that my advice was actively ignored and I was not assisting the student meant I could not be liable for the damage caused.
  3. In Karate we work on our stretches in ways that do not always have the concept of Ahimsa in mind. We have done partner work where one student is in Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose) and the other student stands on their thighs to encourage an opening of the hips. I am ashamed to say that in my early years as a yoga teacher I have taught this in class. Luckily, no one, to my knowledge, has had their hips or ligaments broken! I don’t teach like that anymore.

Injuries can and do occur in yoga. Consider your actions as a teacher from a place of safety, non-violence and legal implications if you cause harm.

What is light touch?

Light touch is sometimes needed when students are so disconnected from their bodies that they find it difficult to understand those verbal or visual cues. When giving instruction the preferred direction is to have the student move towards your hand so that they are in charge of the movement and they can decide where to stop.

Example: Virabhadrasana 2 – knees, body arms

The other form of touch is 2 fingers brushing against a particular part of the body in the direction you would like the student to move. Of course, bear in mind there are certain parts of the body that are best avoided touching altogether such as the chest, buttocks, face etc.

Example: Virabhadrasana 1, feet, hips
Ardha Chandrasana – back support, shoulders, arms

Be mindful of where you are positioned in relation to your student. For example, for someone in a downward dog position it can feel very vulnerable. It is a very exposed posture of sensitive areas. You are unlikely to be aware of which students in your class might have suffered abuse, rape or trauma.

Example: Svansana Downward Dog

So, in these sorts of postures, where the head is down the awareness may be diminished, it is important to first of all come down beside them at their level to talk first. I may ask them to bend the knees to help lengthen the back. But, I’m sure some of you may have found, when a student’s head is below their heart, they can get confused very easily with instructions and do the opposite of what you’ve ask. If that is the case I may place two fingers behind the back of the knees to encourage that softening in the knees. I may then use a light touch to guide them to move the hips back. I definitely do not stand behind a student, grab their hips and pull them back towards me. This is an adjustment that could have trigger trauma in some people or basically make them uncomfortable.

One final example of light touch is when we are working with the back of the body. Quite often we are really good at moving the parts of the body we can see but forget and have a disconnection about the back of the body.

Example: Plank

I see many students in the Plank position who collapse into their spines and let their shoulder blades sink to the middle. I find a light touch between the shoulder blades with a verbal cue of lifting their spine towards the touch helps them attain a better alignment. Again, they are in charge of their own movement.

Looking at another reason to touch or not, from a slightly different angle

In the last few years in my classes, especially at the gym where I teach in Sydney, there has been a large cultural shift in the attendees. Sydney is rapidly expanding and we have many immigrants moving into the suburbs. Where my students were predominantly Anglo Saxon and could all understand my words, if not my intention, when giving instructions. Now, I have at least a third to sometimes half my class made up of Asians and Indians. English is their second language and in a few cases some have very little or no English.

I can give all the best verbal cues in the world and it will have no meaning to these students. They rely heavily on visual demonstrations to move through the class and sometimes to keep them safe I need to guide them with my hands. Now it’s even trickier to obtain permission from a student if they are OK with being touched if they don’t understand the question. There are also many cultural differences between East and West, male and female. As a female teacher I am very careful about touching a male student in my class and I hope the male teachers are equally mindful of the implications of touching a female student.

In conclusion, our students should be able to feel safe and supported in our classes. Mark Stephens says in his book Yoga Adjustments: “Giving tactile guidance should help students in developing a safe, sustainable, and transformational practice, but done wrong, it can cause physical or emotional harm.” Touch is but one useful tool in a teacher’s repertoire of instruction, use it sparingly and carefully.