The Yoga of Eating from a Fierce Icelandic Goddess.
Thorbjorg Haffsteinsdottir is an Icelandic fierce goddess, working as a nutritional therapist, lifestyle coach, writer and published author.
For 25 years, she has been working with people — supporting and inspiring them to take action and change habits and patterns in life that do not work for them or make them tired, ill, bloated, sick and overweight, have pain, migraines, hormonal disorders, digestive problems and mental confusion.
Food is her main tool. But in the last decade, she has advised almost everyone to take Yoga classes. In this interview, she enlightens and inspires us about health and Yoga.
KP: What is health to you?
TH: Well, you can have bad health or good health, or go after optimal health. If you have good health, you are probably doing well, eating your veggies and greens, and are not sick all the time!
Or maybe you don’t, and you are smoking and partying, but you are not sick or taken by any disease, and therefore you are defined as in good health.
If you have, let’s say, cancer, you are most likely considered to have bad health, but actually the two most healthy people I know both have cancer. Health is about physical, mental, social and spiritual intelligence. The body is a divine design.
The way cells communicate with each other, and how hormones and signaling molecules are able to receive, understand and act on a given message delivered by other hormones that got instructions from the brain acting on information from inside and outside the body, is amazing.
So for me, health is about communication. Between cells, between cells and food, feelings, thoughts, energy, how human beings communicate with each other, and the environment we live in. I prefer to talk about optimal health as vitality, the life force you have access to and can get if you want.
KP: What is Yoga to you?
TH: Many things. It’s a part of my lifestyle, practiced long before I ever got on a Yoga mat. Yoga is being present and focused. Being honest and paying attention. I am a spiritual person in a rebel warrior kind of way.
I am influenced by where I come from, the power of Iceland; fire, water, wind, mountains and the constant shift in the weather. The winters can be very harsh, cold and stormy, and you hardly see the sun for four months.
On the other hand, the sun never goes down during summer, it can be raining for weeks, or it can be windy or, as right now, the sun is shining from the clear blue sky and it’s warm and wonderful.
So the point is: This is power, and I learned to adapt to changes in life because the nature changes all the time, and I have to learn to fit in and go with the flow. But never without awareness and focus. If you lose that up here in the wilderness, you’re done.
I have learned a lot and take inspiration from the old wisdom in the Nordic runes. And that is Yoga for me too. Yoga is all this. And much more.
KP: As a nutritional therapist, how do you see Yoga being connected to health and vitality?
TH: Most of my clients are big thinkers. Unfortunately, often thinking bad things about themselves and using a lot of energy on thoughts of what is not possible. I need them to get out of their heads and move their awareness from the head to the body.
And my experience is that Yoga is a great tool to accomplish that.
Furthermore, I use the Chakra system in fusion with my practice, which is functional medicine and functional nutrition along with coaching tools. I find them very useful and it makes so much sense for me and my clients to combine all those parts in my vitality program.
In my fourth book, 9 Ways to Vitality (not available in English yet), I write about how all the systems in the body are connected, and if taken care of with wisdom and love, right food and attention, you can get all the nine values most people want in their life: energy, balance, awakening, movement, passion, harmony, clarity, awareness and courage.
KP: Any particular Yoga practice or style you will recommend for optimum vitality?
TH: I love to practice Ashtanga, and with good teachers that gives me a lot. I seek strength, focus and balance, and I get it on the mat. I used to do CrossFit before, I don’t need it any more now.
Bikram Yoga, I hate and love! Ha ha! I have coursed it many times, but I find myself going back over and over again. I practice courage by doing things that scare me. That keeps me alert and alive. So what Bikram does to me is to face something really uncomfortable.
I experience the same feeling hiking in a few dangerous places in Iceland, or diving deep underwater and facing sharks which scared the hell out of me years before I even saw my first one. When I did, I realized that the fear was all in my head.
I also take Yin Yoga classes and most of my clients need that as well. There is so much stress going on in the world. The important thing about stress is how we cope with it.
Go on the mat an learn how!
KP: What is the Yoga of eating in your opinion?
TH: To eat basic things, grown organic; vegetables, greens, berries and animals, if you eat them, raised with respect and fed with food they are designed to eat. Eat mindfully and with respect for nature in every way.
That means, avoid eating GMO food that is very unhealthy for your body and is also killing the soil and the environment and the people living and working there. I’m not a fan of processed food, only organic, and no brain fog food such as gluten or sugar or milk. No artificial stuff.
You get vitality by eating the food that includes the information that your body is designed to understand. I know of many Yoga practitioners who are vegetarians — some of them are doing great and some of them are not doing that great. I don’t think you are a better Yogi if you don’t eat meat or fish.
It’s about who you are, your needs, the choice of food and quality, and what your are focused on. But I don’t think you can be good at anything if you eat a lot of crappy food, added sugar, polluted food and conventional raised animals. Not even Yoga.
KP: What are the added benefits of Yoga and your kind of healthy diet?
TH: Balance, strength, focus, love, and courage.
KP: What is a healthy week with Yoga for you?
TH: When I go to a good Yoga class 3-4 times a week. I am in a very good routine right now. I’m in Reykjavik and I have one of my favorite Yoga centers nearby. Doing Yoga on a regular basis, say three times a week, will give you discipline to stick with your good food routines too.
Sometimes I don’t get to go. But just having my mat rolled out on the floor and doing two poses can do it for me.
KP: Your best three tips to start living a healthy life?
TH: You have to want it, then decide it. And stop thinking that it is for the rest of your life 24-7 always! It’s not. If you can just start by eating a healthy breakfast and drinking two liters of water, that’s a good start. And if you are not practicing Yoga, then I just have to congratulate you. You have two of the best things in life yet to come. The other thing is to be sugar-free.