The question of the correct diet for yogis has been raised for quite some time. Diet is, of course, a very personal thing. It can change so much from person to person, based on preferences, cultural background, allergies, and limitations. Yoga is, however, more a lifestyle than an exercise, and many yoga lovers believe that eating well elevates their practice.
Healthy eating is one of the pillars of a flourishing life – and yoga is all about self-improvement. What is healthy though? There are so many trends, like macrobiotic diets, raw vegan, farm-to-table, plant-based. How to know what is the right yoga diet? As you will see ahead, it is much more about principles and balance than to constraint and following the latest fad in dieting. It is better to follow a natural and fresh diet and to indulge in an occasional treat than to obsess over food twenty-four hours a day and reach mental exhaustion.
How Yoga can Change our Relationship with Food
Our eating style is a reflection of our internal state. We eat not only to fill up with nutrients and energy but also to bring pleasure and help with stress. We eat when we are happy, we eat when we are sad, and we eat when we are bored. If we are not careful, mindless eating can take up big portions of our day and life, and an unhealthy relationship with food can start. Let’s see some of the ways that this can happen.
The journey of self-inquiry
Yoga is at the heart of path to self-knowledge. It is not about the destination but the journey, and the more we go deep into the yoga practice the more we also go deep into ourselves. When we go through life unconsciously following the same patterns of behavior over and over it is hard to break from habits of overindulging and unhealthy eating. When we get to know ourselves through yoga it happens over time and gradually, and that encourages us to apply this awareness into all aspects of life, including eating. This moves us to a true, long-lasting change.
The art of being present
If you have ever done yoga, even one lesson, chances are you heard the teacher telling you to “be present”. This is not just a silly sentence said to impress, but a truthful technique to tune you with your body. We spend so much time talking, moving, staring at our phones, watching, listening, and receiving information! It is not easy to simply be. In yoga, we are encouraged to be present, to be mindful of what we are doing. This translates to all aspects of life, and this invites us to eat paying attention to the food. To not binge eat a whole packet of crisps without even tasting the flavors. To take each bite and pay attention to how our body responds to it.
The care for sensitivity
Yoga also teaches us to be sensitive about our actions and the impacts they have on others and us. Yoga teaches us to be kind to ourselves, and that is a powerful message. How many of us have not punished ourselves after eating more than we should? Or counted calories obsessively? In the yoga world, we learn to be sensitive, to be kind, to be gentle on our bodies. To not push us on positions passed the limit we can take, and remember that words and thoughts have an impact.
The road to empowerment
We can learn to love ourselves through yoga. To accept our bodies as beautiful and at the same time strive to be healthier and better. This is an empowering position to be in, and one that will help with our relationship with food. If we love ourselves enough, we will try to make conscious healthy choices to nourish our body with all the attention and healthy foods it deserves.
The comfortable honesty
Honesty, yoga is acknowledging what is happening in front of us, right here and right now. Transformation can only come from honesty. We must have the courage to live in honesty, and yoga helps us to get there comfortably and gently.
What to Consider when Choosing a Yoga Diet
The main yoga observance is the Ahimsa. It is the principle of non-violence, and making environmentally conscious choices of eating is a big part of a yoga diet.
Vegetarian or not?
Many people interpret practicing Ahimsa to eating a vegetarian diet. It can be considered a form of violence to eat a dead animal that suffered to be on our plate. This is, however, a very personal choice. Some choose to follow a vegetarian diet most of the time and to eat meat occasionally. Some try to source their meat carefully, looking for the organic ones that were treated humanely instead of the industrially farmed.
Is Vegan the right way to go?
It is also possible to practice Ahimsa by following a plant-based diet. The vegan diet is completely free from animal suffering and based on whole produce, and it is a very efficient way to eat healthily and to practice nonviolence. Many people are worried about the lack of protein, but leafy greens, nuts, and legumes are an excellent source of good protein.
Should I restrain from chemicals and processed food?
Definitely yes. To be in balance with our body and fulfill its needs for nutrients and vitamins, a fresh whole-food diet is the best way to go. Processed items are full of unnatural chemicals that have no place in our organism. Grains, leaves, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts leave us feeling fulfilled and light. They don’t put a strain on our metabolism and digest much better.
What about timing and regularity?
Training our bodies to eat at regular times improves the way it utilizes energy. It learns to expect calories at those times thus using them up in between. It is also a good idea to avoid food consumption two hours before sleeping or exercising, as it takes energy to digestion that should be used elsewhere.
Have you ever heard of fasting?
Yogis recommend taking one day a week to fast. Fasting encourages cellular detox and sharpens the mind. There are many ways to do it, some allow for juices and fruits and others restrict all food intakes. Whatever you choose, intending to purify mind and body, remember to refer to a doctor if you have any health issues.
The Characteristic of a Good Yogi Diet
A yogi diet should be mostly Sattvic
All things in nature are, according to yoga principles, either Raja, Tama or Sattva. Raja refers to hot, spicy and fast things. In food that means salty, spicy, bitter foods like potatoes, spicy curries, eggs, alcohol, and acidic food. They overstimulate the body and mind, excite the passions and cause constipation. On the other hand, Tama relates to slow, bland, lethargic things. Foods like fermented items, garlic, and under ripe fruits are believed to cause lethargy and are hard to digest.
A Sattvic diet is the most whole of them as Sattva means purity and harmony. Foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, butter, nuts, seeds, honey, wholewheat bread, and sprouted seeds are part of it and help to maintain clarity of mind and a balanced flow of energy throughout the body.
A yogi diet should be mindful of environmental impacts
To follow Ahimsa it is crucial to think about our actions. Excess plastic use on food packaging, for example, has a huge impact on sea life. Buying off-season produce is most likely impacting water use, and so forth. Of course, it is impossible to consider every consequence for all actions, but every little bit helps.
A yogi diet should be low on meat consumption
Not everyone can be vegetarian or vegan, but decreasing our meat consumption is a great way to practice nonviolence. Furthermore, it is great for the environment and our body, as red meat is related to many modern diseases, from cancer to diabetes.
A yogi diet should be regular
Eating at regular times every day is a great way to achieve mindfulness while having food. Our bodies love routine and compelling, them into it will lead to them functioning much better, like a well-oiled clock.
Most of all, the right yoga diet should be balanced. It is not good to eat hummus and carrots all day; one day just to devour cupcakes and chips the next. To constantly eat healthy and whole foods is to love our bodies and only give them the best. That does not mean we can’t ever eat a piece of cake or some pizza, but following the principles in yoga will help us realize that it is all about balance. Practicing yoga regularly helps bring peace and long term results, snapping us out of the vicious circle of deprivation, rewards, and guilt. Yoga teaches us to love ourselves enough to make the change we deserve!