Yoga & Diet
In developing a daily Ashtanga practice we are cleansing the body and refining our mind’s awareness. We are removing toxins that can accumulate around the organs and joints and which can inhibit the free flow of these areas, which in turn create further restrictions in the mind. To enhance this process we must put back into the body food that will not cause any subsequent build up of impurites within our system.
The following is a basic overview of a yogic diet, if you would like to see recipes and cook book recommendations visit our blog Keen’s Kitchen.
What & When
We have outlined below some considerations as to how best to choose your diet, but when to eat is also important and for the dedicated Ashtanga practitioner slightly different to the mainstream society. It is said the best way to plan your meals is to breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.
This makes sense when having a daily morning practice as you will often find yourself hungry within an hour of your practice, and it is your lunch that fuels your practice for the following day, so making that your main meal gives enough time for you to fully digest your food. (Food should be taken immediately after a practice as your organs are settling.
Foods that are both balancing and energising will aid us on the path of practice we have undertaken. The best diet for yoga is based on whole foods which means simple and unprocessed foods. Yoga does not dissect food into vitamins, minerals, protein etc. The yogic philosophy is that the true benefits of these ingredients can be had only when they are NOT isoldated but as much in their natural form as possible.
Ideally choose foods that are:
as whole and in their most simple form as possible
in season and as close to their source as possible
chemically and additive free
in bulk and not pre-packaged
Choosing foods we know to be fresh and unprocessed is easier if we take as much of a hand in this process as possible. Buying from farmers markets is good, where we can meet the people that have grown the produce often picked that day.
The key to true health is to have a balanced wholefoods diet, this will ensure that all faculties of digestion work smoothly, these are absorption, assimilation and elimination.
It is important that these 3 aspects work well together because when they are in harmony it is unlikely that you will suffer from health disorders or have excess weight. Synthetic or process foods disrupt this balance which leads to several physical and psychological problems which can have dangerous consequences over the years.
Becoming vegetarian is a concern for many new students to yoga, however as one becomes more dedicated to the practice they often find themselves natually veering towards a vegetarian diet for a few reasons. Meat takes a long time for the body to digest and can keep you feeling heavy and sluggish which work against you during your yoga practice. It is much more satisfying to feel lighter and have the feeling of flying through your practice and a balanced vegetarian whole foods diet will keep you nourished and strong but light.
Another aspect that becomes more important as you progress along the path is the yoga tenant of ‘ahimsa’ which is translated as non-harming to other beings. As your yoga practice broadens to include your time ‘off the mat’ this will naturally become more important to you. You will pay more attention to the practices of corporate farming and feel it your responsibility to make the decision to consciously avoid supporting those methods of business.
Do not worry about having to do so much or struggle so much about becoming vegetarian, focus on keeping up a daily practice and you will find habits that no longer support you will fall away without much effort on your part. And rather than feeling like you are missing out on one type of food, you can become open to discover many more alternatives that are delicious and leave you feeling better and more at peace on all levels.
Cooking For Yourself
Cooking for ourselves and our friends is very important and can be a fun hobby that supports a yogic lifestyle and we can guarantee the quality and freshness of what we prepare. Avoid eating in restaurants as they often prepare and keep menu items for many days, use a lot of oil, salt, cheap and refined ingredients and the energy of the person cooking affects the food itself.
When planning a meal you should include the following:
A grain together with a pulse and or nuts, this will make up complementary proteins. These include fats, minerals & vitamins. Add herbs and spices to stimulate enzymes that are important to digestion.
Vegetable dishes and salads both cooked and raw provide a varied range of starches, vitamins and minerals.
Yogurts and chutneys etc are used to balance and compliment other dishes in taste, nutrition, variation and looks.
Considering varied colours will also help to ensure you are getting a balance of nutrients.
Ayurveda & Food
In the ancient Vedic science of Ayurveda, foods are talked of as having 3 main qualities (gunas), Sattvic (balancing), Tamasic (dulling) or Rajasic (Stimulating).
Sattvic Foods – Balancing
A sattvic diet also referred to as a yogic diet or sentient diet and is based on foods which bring clarity and equanimity of mind while being beficial to the body. The food should be fresh and freshly prepared for purity and vitality.
Such foods include fruit, cereal, bread, most vegetables, beans, nuts, grains and dairy (butter, ghee, milk, yoghurt). Pungent vegetables like garlic and onions are avoided as they are considered rajasic and agitate the mind. Mushrooms are also avoided as they are not vegetables but funghi.
Rajasic Foods – Stimulating
Rajasic food feeds the body but promotes activity and therefore induces restlessness of mind. It disturbs the equalibrium of the mind and is generally avoided by yoga practitioners. Eating too fast or with a disturbed mind is also considered rajasic. Rajasic food should be avoided by those whose aim is peace of mind, but a little rajasic food can be sattvic, for example hot spices can aid digestion and help create peace of mind.
Characteristics of rajasic food are salty, dry, sour and bitter and include eggs, salt, chocolate, coffee, tea and sharp spices.
Tamasic Foods – Dulling
Tamasic foods are said to be not good for the body or the mind, they bring a sense of inertia and cloud the power of reasoning as well as destroying the bodys resistance to diseases. They are said to invoke feelings of anger, greed and jealousy in people.
Tamasic foods include meat, alcohol, and overripe foods.
Yoga allows us a glimpse at a life fully at peace; a life based on the principles of non-harming (ahimsa), simplicity (santosha), non-greed (aparigraha) and awareness (svadyaya).
The first major hurdle, an exclusively Vegetarian Diet, in this way, ceases to be such an obstacle. It just starts to happen without excessive effort. Not only do we feel more clearly the suffering created in our relatively minor pleasure of eating the flesh of animals, we also, feeling purer in the body, no longer wish to polute it with this type of heavy “Tamasic” food.
Being more discriminating and aware of how one feels in regard to the choices one makes and those choices will start to become more supportive for health and also for ones happiness.