Yum Yoga: How Yoga Enhances Wine and Chocolate

Mindful eating as a means to spiritual awakening

In 2005, I wandered into David Romanelli’s workshop at Moksha Yoga Center in Chicago by fortunate accident. I followed “Yeah Dave’s” friendly, SoCal-surfer drawl through two hours of upbeat vinyasa flow, set to his signature soundtrack of rock, reggae and pop music. At the end, I blissed out with the rest of the class into a sun-drenched summer morning Savasana.

When I opened my eyes, lo and behold, at the foot of my mat sat a proud, plump chocolate truffle atop a cocktail napkin. Romanelli ended class by guiding us through a chocolate tasting: We held the confections in our fingers, drew them close to examine the texture, smell the cream and cocoa butter, and finally bite in and let the rich flavors claim our tongues.

That 2005 workshop was part of Romanelli’s Yoga + Chocolate tour, a collaboration with his longtime friend Katrina Markoff, chocolatier and founder of Chicago’s boutique Vosges Haut Chocolat. This summer, Romanelli is partnering with Angela Gargano, owner of Bliss Flow yoga studio in Madison, Wis., to offer a new pairing: Yoga + Wine. The workshop tour kicked off in May, and will stop in several North American cities, with a weeklong retreat in Sicily in September.

It’s not hard to understand the appeal of pairing fine wine or artisan chocolate with your yoga. But how does one experience enhance the other? According to Romanelli, it’s all about creating moments that matter. Indulging in a taste of pure pleasure, he explains, is his way of presenting that philosophy in a package that’s familiar to every student.

“I think it’s really normal for an entire day to go by with nothing happening that you could remember that day by,” he says. “I teach people — and I work with myself to do this too — to use the things you love most, your everyday passions, to explore the moment. Embracing an exotic chocolate as a ritual, a glass of wine as a ritual, a song… these are basic things that people can relate to.”

His own awakening to the power of taste came when he first tasted Vosge’s “Funk and Disco” truffle. The buttermilk, banana pudding and milk chocolate confection was “just the most amazing piece of chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. Katrina taught me how, if you eat food mindfully, it can be a spiritual awakening.”

As Romanelli and Gargano lead Wine + Yoga students through their practice, the two teachers season their physical cues with inspirational insights. And there’s no shortage of metaphors linking wine to the human experience. Wine ages nobly, an end we can all aspire to. Sicilian grapes owe their unique character to the harsh, arid climate in which they grow. Romanelli says he sees Sicilian wines as a tangible reminder to appreciate life’s struggles for the way they shape our own characters.

When students taste the wines after class (they sample three Sicilian varieties, selected by Gargano), their awareness of the grapes’ history fosters a much deeper sense of enjoyment and satisfaction, one that captures the imagination as well as the senses.

Of course, not everyone warms to the idea of imbibing so close to the yoga mat. Many devoted yogis eschew alcohol completely, in accordance with ancient principles of discipline, purity and mental clarity.

Romanelli says he understands the dissent and realizes the concept isn’t for everyone. But he shrugs off the notion that yoga can be defined only one way. “The word ‘yoga’ means union,” he says. “Saying, ‘you can’t do this with that’ is antithetical to yoga in my experience.” For those yogis who do enjoy chocolate and wine, he sees his workshop as a means to enhance their experience through more conscious consumption.

Romanelli, who is also the resident Mind-Body Expert for Yahoo, has a full plate of new projects pairing sensory pleasure and spiritual exploration. He’s working on a partnership with chef Pollyanna Forster in Vail to create “The Spiritual Picnic,” a cheese-of-the-month club for meaning-seekers. And his new book: Yeah Dave’s Guide to Living the Moment: Getting to Ecstasy Through Chocolate, Wine and Your iPod Playlist, will be released in early 2009.

“My mantra,” Romanelli says, “is that every day in life, try to have one delicious moment, one beautiful moment, and one funny moment. If you keep that checklist, it’s an awesome way to add substance to your life.”

Julia Steinberger finds delicious moments in the kitchen, on the yoga mat, and around every corner in the Pacific Northwest. She is the managing editor of Worldchanging.com.

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