The yoga of nutrition, an in-depth look with Thomas Sheehy
The understanding that yoga is a complex discipline with many facets is often taken for granted in a 21st century world that focuses mainly on the physical asana. In essence, yoga is a lifestyle and an art. We got in touch with Thomas Sheehy, yoga instructor and natural health coach as he explains the yoga of nutrition as well as what to expect in his upcoming workshops.
Thomas was introduced to yoga by his wife, Tamsin Sheehy, with whom he co-owns The Shala - Cape Town Yoga School. Coming from a background in swimming, Thomas could relate to the connection of breath and movement. He had always incorporated stretching into his physical activity and viewed breathing under water as a form of meditation.
From the age of 9, Thomas suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis; a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting the joints. What he had thought would be a lifelong diagnosis, was just the result of an acidic diet and stagnant lymph. It was only through balancing the best of modern western science with the logic of ancient healing techniques, that he was able to overcome these health issues.
Thomas became so interested in his own journey, that this fueled his passion to study nutrition. In 2014, Thomas completed his studies in Human Sciences at the Centre for Nutrition Education & Lifestyle Management. Thomas spoke highly of this training, explaining how it went deeper than just scientific information but also looked into lifestyle. “It’s not just what you eat, its how you eat it”. Thomas continued to study as he enrolled on a 4 year double-diploma in Nutritional Therapy & Naturopathy with the College of Naturopathic Medicine.
Naturopathy is an alternative medicine based on the theory that diseases can be treated without the use of drugs, by using techniques such as the control of diet and exercise. Although Thomas believed in these techniques to restore homeostasis (a stable equilibrium in the body), he wanted to work within a field that was also complimentary of clinical practice and medicine.
Thomas believes that complementary healthcare and clinical medical practice are mutually symbiotic, rather than separate or ‘alternative’ entities. Nutrition is not just mathematical and that it is important to look at the person holistically. This led him to start his Masters in Advanced Complimentary Medicine.
Thomas strongly believes in weaving yoga and dietary therapy together. “Yoga encompasses nutrition”, Thomas says as he explained the importance of living yoga off the mat. Often we become so obsessed with asana that we often forget that yoga has 8 limbs.
8 LIMBS OF YOGA
YAMA - Universal morality
NIYAMA - Personal observances
ASANA - Physical postures
PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques
PRATYAHARA - Withdrawal of the senses
DHARANA - Focused Concentration
DHYANA - Meditative absorption
SAMADHI - Bliss or enlightenment
"Its not about how many carbs or sugar you eat - you cant compare an apple to a bar one.” Says Thomas, explaining how he encourages his clients to look at food from a different point of view; where do you get your food from? how do you source it? what your mood is when you eat it? With the time demands of work, family and personal stressors, we have moved towards outsourcing foods instead of creating our own.
Thomas went on to explain that nutrition is a lifestyle and not a diet. “It requires a lot of work”, he said, going on to explain there is a strong commitment involved, similar to that of yoga. “You have to take it inwards” and make it your own. In yoga, each person’s asana will look different to the next. It is about hearing the information, establishing what you can and want to do, understanding what it feels like and making the asana your own. Just like yoga, nutrition is a dynamic, ongoing practice.
“What are you doing today that is going to make you feel slightly better, it is a daily practice."
“We need to get the message across that even a lifestyle wont guarantee a healthy life all the time. Without one you have no chance.” Thomas says as he explained the factors we cannot control, such as genes and the environment. The only thing you can control is your lifestyle
Thomas founded Natural Health 21, a bridge between ancient wisdom and modern health science. He specializes in diet, nutrition and lifestyle education. Thomas offers personalised health programmes for individuals; and writes and presents courses and workshops on human physiology, food science and digestive health.
By showcasing ancient healing techniques in conjunction with modern advances in diet, nutrition and lifestyle modification, Thomas equips people with the knowledge and skills needed to make health promoting choices an easy and enjoyable daily practice.
“Science is objective, but humans are subjective. Interpreting the data is an art”
Those that attend Thomas’ workshops can expect a practical introduction to the foundational principles of diet and nutrition, designed to be informal yet informative. Thomas focuses on simplifying scientific jargon in a way people can understand, as well as bringing in a bit of humour. Each participant receives a comprehensive manual with advise and guidance for sustainable eating practices that protect digestive health without compromising the joy of food!
Thomas also provides advice and guidance on a range of health related topics including diet and nutrition, exercise and active lifestyle, digestive health, childhood nutrition, stress pain and inflammation as well as yoga therapy.
These consultation sessions follow a coaching approach where Thomas takes you step by step through this nutritional journey. Each session compromises of an assessment, setting of personal goals, formulating a plan as well as ongoing support from Thomas. Thomas also offers a 28 day challenge to promote maximum health benefits. Thomas strives to use what he has studied to create something practical to incorporate into real life and create transformation.
Thomas advocates for a predominantly plant based diet which includes a variety of naturally occurring whole foods, with the least amount of chemical processes, from all food groups. Along with a healthy diet, Thomas highlights the importance of being physically active – through a regular yoga practice and moderate exercise.
As my consultation and interview with Thomas drew to an end, I walked out of The Shala feeling a sense of empowerment and curiosity for the world of yoga and nutrition.
Thomas' welcoming and friendly nature allows you to feel completely at ease as he assists and guides you through this journey, equipping each individual with the knowledge to make informed choices regarding their personal health and wellbeing.