Kitchen Yoga

A good friend calls it "arsenic hour" — that frazzled window of time after work and before dinner when the kids are cranky, the adults are exhausted, and everyone's bite-your-head-off ravenous. If you're like me, the last thing you feel like doing during this volatile period is cooking. What I really crave is to shut myself in a quiet room, light a scented candle, turn on soothing music, and do 20 minutes of yoga to unknot the physical and mental kinks of my day. Sometimes I do just that, then begin cooking dinner in a much brighter state of body and mind.

But all too often, other priorities prevail: The kids have a lesson or sports event to attend, my husband or I have a meeting, or everyone — myself included — is too darn hungry to wait an extra 20 minutes for dinner. We could eat out or bring food in, but that carries its own stress, not the least of which is the cost. Someone else in the family could cook, but let's not even go there.

After years of struggling with this dinner dilemma, I recently hit upon a solution that's altered my attitude toward cooking. I call it "kitchen yoga," a practice that integrates the components of yoga with the tasks of preparing dinner.

A Headstand While Stirring Peas?

Before you picture me doing a headstand while stirring the peas, let me explain. Yoga means "union," and this ancient Indian art seeks to unify body and mind, with the goal of uniting mortal humans with the eternal divine. The physical discipline that has become so popular in our stressed-out society is called hatha yoga and was created, in part, to help release bodily tension so practitioners could sit still to meditate. Hatha yoga is just one of eight distinct yoga practices with the same goal — to achieve enlightenment.

Hatha yoga has many health benefits including stress reduction, weight control, increased flexibility and strength. But to think of this spiritual discipline as merely physical training is a common Western mistake that I realized I was making when I felt forced to choose between yoga and cooking. The healthier approach is to combine the two.

"Yoga once or twice a week for an hour or so is certainly better than no yoga at all," write Georg (CQ) Feuerstein and Larry Payne in their excellent, if unfortunately titled, guidebook Yoga for Dummies (IDG Books, 1999). "But you unlock the real potency of yoga when you adopt it as a lifestyle. This means living yoga ... [and] applying the wisdom of yoga to everyday life."