As a yoga instructor, Sandra Winkens’ disposition –both ethereal and stoic—gives the impression that she harbors a higher wisdom. Upon entering her apartment it quickly became apparent that her approach to eating is consciously connected to every other aspect of her life, with the aim of fostering a sense of alignment between mind, body, and spirit for optimal wellbeing. Through self-discipline in building mindful habits, she is able to achieve clarity of consciousness, which guides everything she does and brings balance to her external world. In fact, it’s difficult to tell where one aspect of her approach to lifestyle ends and the next begins as it is so holistic and all encompassing.
The shelves in her flat were filled with books about yoga, Buddhism, and meditation. Beautiful crystals sat poised on tables, and it was impossible to overlook her extensive collection of essential oils, set up front and center among the books. The energy in the space had a distinct quality of lightness and transparency, with each detail depicting how yogic philosophy functions as the anchor to her thoughts and actions.
Sandra earned her yoga teaching certification in 2010, and has since engaged in diligent study and practice in Hatha, Jivamukti, Kundalini, and Anusara yoga. She currently resides in Berlin, instructing on a regular basis at several studios around the city and offering retreats as well as private lessons. Her role as both yoga teacher and student has also taken her to many other destinations around the world, including multiple journeys to India.
That said, Sandra was quick to reject the assumption that simply because she has integrated yoga so deeply into her routine it means she has to eat or behave a certain way the rest of the time as part of some kind of ideal persona. “Some people think that it’s like, ‘oh, I do yoga now, so I have to eat healthy.’ This is so much pressure, and it doesn’t work. For me, it was different. I started yoga, and then my body says to me, ‘no, I don’t like this.’ It just happens naturally.”
So what have been the results of the natural unfolding of her yoga practice in terms of her relationship with food? As a yoga teacher, Sandra spent time in India, most recently in 2013, where she became acquainted with Ayurveda. “I did a lot of stuff with Ayurveda as a treatment for myself but also for learning with a cooking workshop there.”
“Here, yoga is trendy, but there it’s so simple. For them, it’s like brushing your teeth in the morning.”
In particular, the principles of Ayurveda have helped her navigate the different kinds of energy forces at play in each living thing including ourselves in addition to that which we consume. “In the yogic Ayurvedic tradition, they separate food into Sattvic, Rajasic, or Tamasic groups. It’s interesting because our mind is also in Tamasic, Rajasic, or Sattvic states. Sattvic is clarity. It’s purity; it’s calmness. Rajasic is very fire. It’s a bit too much. And Tamasic is dullness, very heavy black energy.”
From these concepts she has derived a simple, straightforward guideline about what we should try to include in our diets. “Sattvic food I would recommend for everybody. It’s rice, a lot of vegetables especially greens, and also coconut oil, because I think there are a lot of health benefits, and some good herbal teas.”
“Most of the time I eat fresh foods as much as I can: foods with a lot of prana, which is the life force energy, which is from the earth, alive. I want to feel clear in my mind. I think that’s the first point. I would also like to feel good in my body. I need to feel vital in my body. I want to feel alive.”
Sandra finds meat consumption, on the other hand, to be harmful to the environment and unnecessary. “You are that which you eat. It’s right. if you always eat Tamasic food like processed food and also meat there’s not as much consciousness in your mind! I am vegan for about 90% [of the time]. I don’t need meat, never ever have eaten it except maybe as a child sometimes. But sometimes if I need a bit more grounding, I eat an egg.”
Ayurveda doesn’t simply begin and end with someone’s internal world and sense of homeostasis, either. It also heightens her connection to “mother earth” as it’s also about eating seasonally to balance the different energies of the body. “I love Ayurveda the whole year because it goes with the seasons. In the summer it’s more cooling food and in the winter it’s more heavy and grounding.”
So many different aspects of her life seamlessly converge in the form of greater consciousness around food that it’s hard to imagine Sandra was ever once a novice. In actuality, for those just beginning in their own journey with food and wellness, Sandra can certainly empathize. She advises, “Start slowly and integrate at first maybe just one or two very healthy ingredients into your kitchen and your diet and then go on and on, very step-by-step. I would suggest people think about changing their diet just to have fun with it and be creative. Most of the meals [I cook] are fast. it’s not like I’m in the kitchen for three hours; most of the time it’s very simple. I think that some people [feel they have to] do something complicated to it, which is not necessary.”
“I also would say to do yoga, pranayama breathing, and then see. You will crave some more nourishment in different ways.”
It’s a gradual process, and it’s okay if it starts out going by the book and studying as it did for Sandra herself. “ [Once] you have the knowledge, you say, ‘ah, okay. I’m going more from my intuition.’ This is what I do now. I think you get better year by year, month by month.” Altogether, “I think cooking is like everything; it is a practice.”