Anyone who’s gone to a yoga class after eating a bean burrito knows that the choice is just asking for trouble. After all, you don’t want to be the person who creates an awkward, audible moment for the people around you in down dog. But keeping your stomach as calm as your mind can be hard to avoid in yoga: The practice requires you to turn and twist into precarious positions that churn your belly and squeeze your abdomen unlike other exercises. Plus, the typically quiet, close quarters make gas and gurgles hard to conceal.
To move, bend and stretch with ease, you have to be aware of how you fuel your body before class. Here are five strategies to eat more mindfully and to avoid an uncomfortable, self-conscious yoga experience:
1. Practice on an empty stomach.
Attending yoga with a full belly could cause a major stomachache, gurgling, bloating and embarrassing gas. As a general rule, stop eating two hours before class. This will alleviate painful digestive problems. The last meal you eat prior to practicing should be a small portion of a meal made with whole foods. Eat vegetables, a salad or soup. Avoid eating meat and other heavy, slow-digesting meals that can lead to indigestion. Also, steer clear from high-fiber vegetables, beans or bran before a workout. Instead, eat something relatively plain that won’t leave a taste lingering in your mouth. You will regret eating rich, spicy or saucy foods while you invert and twist on your mat.
[See: Foods That Cause Bloating.]
2. Eat a smart snack.
As you become more acclimated to how your body responds to your eating schedule during yoga, you can modify your routine. For example, if you find yourself becoming hungry and light-headed during class, consider having a snack a half-hour before the start of class. Eat something to curb your appetite that provides lasting energy. A handful of almonds, quinoa or oatmeal are good choices – especially for a more athletic style of yoga like power vinyasa or hot yoga. An avocado and chia pudding are also easy on the stomach. Eat fruit like a banana, apple, pear or dried fruit before you practice. Be aware of how you feel during your practice and note what and when you ate in preparation. Do what feels best for your body so that you feel light and comfortable throughout the duration of class.
3. Develop a morning routine.
Ideally, the best time to practice yoga is early in the morning before you eat a meal. This might require extra planning, but it’s also the best way to stick to a routine. Start preparing the night before by eating a lighter, easily digestible dinner like a salad or a crockpot meal that you marinate overnight. This meal should be small and supplementary to your lunch, which should be your largest meal of the day.
[See: 8 Morning and Nighttime Rituals Health Pros Swear By.]
Aim to eat earlier – say, by 6 p.m. – too, and close your kitchen afterward. This pattern will give you ample time to digest your food and get tired enough to go to bed earlier. Don’t know how to spend that extra after-dinner time? Avoid all the tempting electronic devices like your phone, computer and TV; they will only activate your mind and make you restless. Instead, enjoy time with your family or spouse. Go for a walk or do chores around the house. Ideally, you’ll have a full bowel movement first thing the next morning. If you don’t, drink a full glass of water or two to hydrate.
In the morning, enjoy something small for breakfast like a smoothie or oatmeal and then get your morning yoga practice in. You will go about the rest of your day feeling grounded and refreshed. Later in the day, sit down somewhere quiet and savor your lunch, knowing that you do not have to worry about how it will affect your experience on your mat. Enjoy something filling and flavorful so you’re satisfied until dinner.
4. Rehydrate after class.
Much like an intense workout, you need to replenish after class to avoid soreness, cramping and dehydration. This is especially important if you are practicing hot yoga. Make sure to rehydrate and restore electrolytes. Drink at least five to six tall glasses of water a day. Though this may take conscious effort at first, it can become easier if you map out your water drinking schedule. A good strategy is to drink a glass first thing in the morning, another a few hours before lunch, one glass at lunch, one during dinner and another before you go to bed.
Try infusing your water with cucumbers, lemons or limes to make it more flavorful and nutritious. Coconut water is also a good source of electrolytes. Focus on water-rich foods such as kiwis, citrus fruits, pineapple, watermelon, celery and tomatoes. Avoid drinking caffeine, alcohol and other sugary drinks that could dehydrate you. Take your recovery seriously and you will feel cleansed, light and energized for your next class.
[See: 8 Lesser-Known Ways to Ruin Your Joints.]
5. Drink smoothies.
Drinking smoothies is one of the best techniques to consume more healthy foods both before and after class. They’re convenient, simple and save you the time and stress of preparing a full meal. Just have your ingredients ready, put them in the blender and you’re set. Use leafy greens, fruits, some protein and liquid. Try, for instance, a smoothie with a spoonful of greens powder, a spoon of protein powder, a handful of spinach, a handful of raw nuts, some coconut water and frozen fruit for taste. It’s filling, hydrating and, most importantly, it only takes a minute to make.