A yoga teacher in California once said that eating is the single most important thing when you are practicing yoga, which is very true. Just like cars need fuel so does our body need food to function.
In yoga, what you eat matters a lot because a balanced and calm mind does not just happen because of practicing yoga, it does so because you have properly nourished your body with the right food. Without eating right, it is hard for you to see the benefits of yoga in your life. Which brings us to the question, how do you nourish yourself properly? What are you supposed to eat as a yogi?
One of the most influential yoga practitioners in India is called Patanjali. Pantanjali practiced yoga and he ate tons of kales cooked with olive oil and spirulina smoothies. Pantanjali had written a guidebook of classical yoga called yoga Sutra and what was surprising about this book is it did not mention any specific list of foods to eat when you are practicing yoga. The yoga book Bhagavad Gita didn’t mention any type of foods to follow in yoga either. Does this mean there is no prescribed menu of what to eat like a yogi?
This might not be what you expected to hear from this chapter but it is true, there is no one recognized food list for yogis to follow.
While there is no food list to follow, a yoga diet actually exists. What is this yoga diet? This diet is all about how the foods you eat make you feel rather than foods that you need to eat. The yoga diet is any meal or ingredient that nourishes and clears your mind, keeps your body light and enhances some clarity and lightness in your body. In short, it is any diet
that makes your body strong or ideal for practicing yoga; any diet that makes your system feel supported rather than depleted when you practice yoga.
So how can you come up with this yogic diet?
The Yogic diet is most often than not mistaken for a vegan diet but that is not what it is. So what does a yogic diet mean exactly and how do you come up with one? To create a yogic diet, you only need to follow some few basic rules.
Here they are:
It Shouldn’t have chemicals and stimulants
The first rule that you must adhere to when creating your own yogic diet is your foods or ingredients shouldn’t contain any chemicals or stimulants. Why? The reason why this is so is that foods and drinks like artificial sweeteners, alcohol, tobacco and caffeine provide your body with chemicals which alters your mind and affects its level of concentration.
It should be Sattvic
Sattvic is a Sanskrit word that means purity or light. ‘Your yogic diet needs to be sattvic’ basically means your diet needs to be life-giving to your body, mind and spirit. How?
In the Ayurvedic (medical science of ancient India) philosophy, there are normally 3 gunas (qualities) of everything in nature. One is Sattva (purity and harmony), Tama (bland, lethargic and slow) and Raja (fast, hot and spicy). These three qualities are what need to be in your diet for it to be
sattvic. That said, the diet doesn’t just need them to be present, it needs them to be balanced for them to make one quality diet. Here is an elaboration of each quality:
Rajasic food; these are foods that are hot, bitter, spicy, salty and dry. These types of foods normally stimulate your mind and excite your passions and they include herbs and spices.
Tamasic food; this quality includes bland foods like fermented foods, onions, garlic, tobacco and meat.
Sattvic food; this is the diet that is ideal for you as a yoga student. The sattvic food leads to true health, a fit body and a peaceful mind. It also has a balanced flow of energy between your body fitness and mind. Some of the Sattvic foods include honey and herb teas, sprouted seeds, seeds, nuts, legumes, butter and cheese, milk, pure fruit juices, fresh fruit and vegetables and whole-meal bread.
You should practice ahimsa
The word ahimsa means nonviolence. Practicing ahimsa means eating foods that do not harm other human beings, the environment, and animals. Basically, your yogic food must be conscious of the environment and others.
Your meals should be properly timed
The Yogic diet is not just about what you eat it is also about when you eat. Let me break it down for you. Your body normally utilizes its energy in anticipation to the time that you have trained it to eat. For example, if you
eat 7 a.m and 12 pm your body will use more energy when you approach your eating hours because it is used to receiving more energy around that time.
So how should you time your food? The best thing to do is to avoid eating two hours before exercising and going to sleep. This normally helps your body to function better because you give your body time to digest food. If you were to exercise immediately after eating you would be using the energy for digestion to exercise. When it comes to sleeping, eating 2 hours before sleep enables you to sleep with a clear mind because the hormones you will produce at night will be used to repair your damaged tissues rather than being used for digestion.
It should be high in vegetables
One of the reasons why few people become vegetarians is because we think the only way we will get an ideal source of protein is when we eat meat. However, is that the only way and is it the best way to get proteins?
You might not know this but meat has the worst protein quality. This is because the meat we eat normally contains uric acid. Why is that bad? Your liver is usually not able to completely break down and dispose of uric acid so what it does is it dumps the remaining uric acid to your tissues and joints. That is not just unhealthy but dangerous to your body, as it can cause diseases like cancer and arthritis.
Vegetarians get the best quality of proteins because vegetables don’t have uric acid. Some of the high-quality protein vegetables include legumes, leafy greens, nuts and dairy products.
Yoga diet is about foods that support your body and not about foods which can destroy or are unhealthy to your body like meat; that’s it is recommended to be vegetarian.
It should give you some break from food.
For your body to be healthy and able to support you better when doing yoga exercises, you should give it an off day in eating and let it detoxify. To detoxify, you need to choose a day where you will do a full day fast. That will help you purify and re-energize your mind and body.
Those are the basic guidelines that can help you come up with your own yogic diet. But why should you make your own yogic diet? Isn’t there just a standard yogic diet that we all can follow when we are doing yoga?
The answer is no. Let me explain. As you may know by now, yoga is a personal exercise. People do yoga for different reasons and that’s why it is not a one size fits all kind of exercise. Here everyone has a particular thing that works best for them. Yoga diet is no different. It is personal too. Why? This is because what you may need is not what another person needs.
In fact, what you may need right now is not what you will need 3 years from now. Needs change and that’s why it’s hard to come up with one yogic diet that is written on stone. Therefore, you have to find yourself a diet that works for you by listening to your body and finding out not just what you like but what you need for you to be healthy and strong for yoga. That said your yoga diet must always be set according to the values and philosophical teachings of yoga.
So where should you start when looking for your own yogic diet?
The best way to create your own yogic diet is by practicing mindful eating. By mindful eating, I mean having an open-minded awareness of what you choose to eat and how it affects you.
Thus, what you should do is to start trying those eating systems that are appealing to you one at a time and then see if they are good for you. But, how do you know a certain type of eating system is good for you? As you continue practicing yoga and eating, you will start getting a natural sense of what is good for your body and what is bad.
For instance, if you eat a certain type of food and then your energy starts going down, your sleep gets shorter and you start experiencing stomach problems that you didn’t have before, you will automatically know that a particular system of eating is not good for you.
On the other hand, if your sleep improves, your energy levels increase and you feel great during and long after you have eaten a certain type of food, you will know that is the perfect food system for you and then stick with it.
Thus, what to eat when doing yoga all depends on you, your body’s needs and how your body reacts to the food you eat. To find the perfect food you should explore different types of foods and then listen to your body and let it teach you the best yogic diet for you.