Diet is an important aspect of yoga practice. Eating too much, eating unhealthy food or eating at the wrong time causes an accumulation of many poisons who stiff and distort the regular energetic flow, and over time they may disturb seriously and bring to real sickness.
“the Yogi eats moderately and abstemiously; otherwise, however clever, he cannot gain success.” Siva Samhita
Our mind and body is greatly affected by the food that we eat. Improper diet results to mental insufficiency, weak body and blocks spiritual awareness. One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Proper Diet. According to this principle, our diet should nourish both mind and body, and should be well balanced and based on natural foods. It also means eating in moderation and eating only when we are hungry.
In yoga philosophy all the universe expressions are ordered by 3 universal principles called GUNAS :
- TAMAS-means inactivity, stability, laziness and darkness.
- RAJAS-means curiosity, dynamic intelligence, action, to be passionate.
- SATTVA-refers to stillness, wisdom, lightness, brightness and sensitive intelligence.
These 3 Gunas regulate body and mind, as well as food :
- TAMASIC FOOD : meat, fish, poultry, eggs, alcohol, intoxicating drugs.
- RAJASIC FOOD : stimulating herbs and spices, many earth foods.
- SATTVIC FOOD : most fruit and vegetable, sun foods and ground foods.
- If we eat too much TAMASIC FOOD, our body becomes heavy, lazy, sluggish, our mind is in the darkness.
- If we eat too often RAJASIC FOOD, we will incline to hyperactivity and we will get old quickly.
- If we choose SATTVIC FOOD, we will win mental stability, clearer perceptions and lighter body.
You are what you eat. If you are free to live a quiet, contemplative life, a sattvic diet is perfect. For those who wish to maintain a meditative mind but also must live and work in the world, a diet consisting of sattvic and some rajasic foods is best. For those who practice demanding disciplines, like Kundalini Yoga or martial arts, rajasic foods are necessary, along with sattvic foods. For all these lifestyles, tamasic food is best avoided. Sattvic (balanced) foods are the ideal foods for all constitutional types, or doshas. They’re easy to digest and don’t cause lethargy, heaviness, or extreme stimulation of the body and mind. Sattvic foods are living natural foods, filled with prana—life force—which will strengthen your immune system and fight inflammation. They’re naturally alkaline. In the Ayurvedic tradition, foods that are considered sattvic include most vegetables, ghee (clarified butter), fruits, legumes, and whole grains. In contrast, tamasic foods (such as onions, meat, and garlic) and rajasic foods (such as coffee, hot peppers, and salt) can increase dullness or hyperactivity, respectively. But maintaining a diet that keeps your body light and your mind clear doesn’t necessarily mean eating only sattvic foods. What is best for you and what in the end will best support your yoga practice is informed by your constitution (known in the Ayurvedic tradition as vikriti) and your current state (prakriti). The basis of sattva is the concept of ahimsa (non-harming). A sattvic diet avoids any foods that involve killing or harming of animals. Sattvic diets also encourage foods grown harmoniously with nature, and foods that are ripened and grown naturally. The discipline of yoga suggests a pure (ethical) vegetarian diet, which facilitates the development of sattva. Sattva is a quality of love, awareness, connection, and peace with all sentient beings. Yogis believe that food is our first interaction with the world around us, and if we do not eat with a sense of love, connection, and peace, all other facets of our lives are inclined to suffer. In addition, the foods that we eat should be prepared with love and positive intention. In eating a yogic diet, we are increasing prana and a higher state of consciousness.
These suggestions are recommended for any level of yoga practitioner or individual seeking a healthy, spiritual path. Yogic Diet is a pure or “sattvic” diet. It is based on fresh, light and natural food such as fruits, grains and vegetables. It keeps the body lean and supple, and the mind clear and sharp which is suitable for the practice of Yoga and necessary in everyday life. Yoga Sattvic Diet is a perfect complement to Yoga Exercise. A yogic diet can improve your body, mind, and spirit. For maximum benefit, the yogi has to combine these dietary suggestions with asana, pranayama and meditation. For physical and mental well-being, quality and quantity of food play important parts. As to quantity, the old texts enjoin the Yogi to eat until his stomach is one-half full. No exact quantity of food that would satisfy every individual has been established. Some require a higher intake than others. In the old Yoga texts, it is stated that one may “partake of food according to his/her desire.” Commentaries on this text emphasize that moderation (mitahara) is the guiding principle. One should eat no more or less than is absolutely necessary to satisfy one’s appetite.
Types of Food
Aside from the philosophical principle of non-injury which would preclude killing animals for food, Yogins believed that man is essentially an herbivorous animal. It can be noted that all of the higher apes are not flesh eaters. A meat diet is actually believed to be unsuited to the human digestive system. Many researches have shown that persons on low-protein and non-flesh diets have greater endurance than individuals on high-protein and meat or mixed diets. Only in the last few years has the Western medical profession begun research on the harmful effects of animal fat in food as a cause of high blood pressure and coronary seizures. Many modern authorities on nutrition advocate most strongly the exclusive use of dairy products, vegetables, fruits and nuts as the most beneficial human diet. Even among fruits and vegetables, certain types are considered especially valuable. Basically, Yogins found that man’s natural instincts would lead him to the most beneficial foods. Food stuffs which are pure, agreeable, sweet, easily digested and nourishing are those which are recommended. These are :
- Dairy products, fresh milk products, natural butter, ghee ;
- Natural raw sugar, honey, maple, molasses ;
- Cereals—wheat, barley and rice ;
- Legumes—beans of different types ;
- Vegetables and herbs—eggplant, all varieties of cucumber, okra, spinach, sprouts, lettuce, celery, and other broad-leafed vegetables ;
- Tubers—carrots, potatoes and medicinal roots ;
- Fruits—especially those that are naturally sweet : mangos, berries, figs, plantains, dates, apples ;
- Nuts and seeds, yet not salted or overly roasted ;
- Vegetable oil (sesame, olive, sunflower…).
No spices are allowed in the Yoga diet as they are considered stimulating and harmful, except little amounts of sweet spices like cinnamon, cardamom, mint, basil, turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel. Following the Yoga diet, a person whose food intake contains a liberal amount of uncooked fruits and vegetables and only moderate amounts of protein and starches has little need for inorganic salt, and will feel little desire for it. Highly-seasoned stuffs and stimulating drinks are considered unhealthy in the Yoga diet. Foods that are sharp, sour, pungent, bitter and heating are prohibited. It has been found that food that has been cooked, grown cold, and heated again is unhealthy, and that overcooked jams and jellies have really little food value. Roasted foods also are among the prohibited items. For those engaged in mental pursuits or in somewhat sedentary occupations, a well-balanced vegetarian diet is preferred to a mixed-meat diet. It is easily digested and when selected in proper and tasty combinations, it completely meets the needs of the individual. For bodily health, it is suggested that the Yogi limit himself to three meals a day: a light breakfast at 8:30 A.M.; lunch at 1 P.M.; and the main meal at about 6:30 P.M. It is also considered injurious to fill the stomach with food before food previously eaten has passed through the pylorus. This usually takes about four hours. The Ayurvedic and yogic diet is based firstly on the understanding that food is much more than an indulgence driven by cravings or desire. The Ayurvedic approach to nutrition encompasses which foods are chosen, how they are prepared, where they are eaten, who they are shared with and even our intentions as we eat. As we grow increasingly mindful of these aspects of nutrition and nourishing ourselves we can begin to experience greater balance in our lives, just from changing our eating habits. Fresh, unprocessed foods are believed to contain greater amounts of natural prana, or energy. This subtle life force provides us with energy, vitality and general well-being. As well as chewing properly to aid digestion, eating mindfully creates a sense of ritual around our food and meal times providing us with another opportunity to connect with the Divine, to be grateful for the food we have available and fully aware of how our food recharges within us the pranic energy essential to life. Clearly, with such varied perspectives on what feeds the body and spirit, developing a diet that reflects your ethics and honors your physical needs can be challenging. In the end most yogis would agree that part of the practice is to develop awareness about what you eat. It’s worth spending time educating yourself not just about the possible diets you could follow but also about the origins and properties of the food you buy. And it’s essential to listen to yourself so that you’ll know what kinds of foods might serve you best in each moment. The most important part of the yoga diet is to eat with gratitude and love. Take time to eat your meals in silence and outside in nature whenever you can. This connects you to the planet on a greater level, along with yourself and your body. It also makes you more aware of your food and helps you learn to eat to nourish your body instead of just eat to satisfy your cravings.