As yogis look to find ways to bring principles of yoga to their life off the mat, they often turn to their eating habits to see how they can make lifestyle adjustments—it is a great place for a yogi to start if they want to make changes in their daily life.
If you have a solid asana practice, it is likely that you have already incorporated some yogic diet guidelines into your life, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. Yoga has been found to encourage healthy eating and more mindful habits when it comes to consuming food. Yoga practitioners often eat more fruit and vegetables, as well as less processed foods, and are also more likely to follow a vegetarian diet.
While these habits are a part of the diet, a true yogic diet does require that you follow more specific guidelines that you need to be consciously aware of. Sometimes it can be tricky to figure out what exactly a yoga-guided diet entails. The following guidelines can help you get specific on what changes you can make in order to practice and adopt a more yogic diet.
Increase Sattvic Food
Ayurvedic tradition outlines three primary qualities, also known as gunas, that occur in nature: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Tamas is defined by heaviness and darkness that dulls the mind. It is associated with attachment and ignorance. Rajas is the quality of activity and transformation, but can cause the mind to become restless and promotes a lack of stability. Finally, sattva is a state of harmony and balance, bringing mental clarity.
These qualities fluctuate in our life, but we can take steps in order to work towards a more sattvic life. One of the essential actions to take is to adjust your diet to eat according to the gunas. Each quality has certain foods associated with them, which tells us how those foods will affect our mind and physical body.
Rajasic food includes:
- Spicy foods
- Sugary foods
- Onion and garlic
- Deep fried foods
A heavily tamasic diet can be characterized by overeating, as well as consuming any of the following foods:
- Heavily processed foods
- Reheated and stale food
Sattvic food includes:
- Fresh fruits
- Vegetables, especially dark leafy greens
- Whole grains
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes
- Honey and molasses
- Herbal tea
- Basil, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, mint, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and fennel
- Cold pressed plant-based oils (olive oil, sesame oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil)
- Dairy products, with the condition that it was freshly sourced and that the animal providing the product was treated with care
It is important to note that, while you will want to focus primarily on sattvic food, you can still include rajasic food in your typical diet, while limiting or fully eliminating the amount of tamasic food. It is necessary to find a balance that works well for both your physical body and mind.
Keep Timing in Mind
The time that you eat your meals is equally as important as the quality of food you put in your body. Eating at roughly the same time each day helps your body maintain its weight, as well as cholesterol and insulin levels.
While keeping this in mind, it is best to avoid food two hours before your asana practice (or any other physical workout you partake in), and leave ample amount of time between your last meal of the day and sleep—preferably three to four hours.
Bring Mindfulness to the Table
Yogis bring mindfulness to their mat, so it makes sense that the same principle should apply when eating. When eating a meal, ensure that you pay attention to the food you are eating, and how it benefits you. Mindless eating can play a huge part in the decline of our overall health, so ensure you are only eating what you actually need to be full, satisfied, and energized.
A mindfulness practice shouldn’t only apply when eating food—it is important to bring that awareness to the whole process behind making a meal. When you are out buying food, be mindful of what you are buying, where it came from, and if it was produced using sustainable practices. Also ensure that you are making smart choices that serve to nourish and energize you, rather than negatively affect your physical health and mind. As you are preparing your food, focus on the task at hand, rather than mindlessly cooking as you watch TV or let your thoughts wander.
Follow a Vegetarian Diet
“Ahimsa, rightly understood, is the ultimate weapon; it turns one’s enemy into a friend, thereby banishing the possibility of further conflict. In the practice of yoga, it is important to understand that the same life flows in the veins of all creatures.”
Looking through the list of gunas and their foods above, you’ll notice that a sattvic diet doesn’t include meat. A true yogic diet practices the principle of ahimsa, meaning the follower wouldn’t want to create more violence or pain to living creatures in the world by eating meat.
Besides being in line with ahimsa, there are many benefits to following a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet has been found to help prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes, and more.
A transition to a vegetarian diet can be tricky—many people worry about not getting enough protein or iron. However, as long as you make conscious and informed food choices, you can ensure you are getting the right nutrients, while also following a yogic lifestyle. Even if it doesn’t work with your lifestyle to go fully vegetarian, try limiting the amount of meat you eat. Consider designating a certain day of the week that you go meat free, or try the vegetarian or vegan option on the menu when you go out to eat.
Be Aware of Source and Effect
Just as yogis follow the principle of ahimsa in regards to animals, this concept should be applied to how your food choices have an effect on the environment. Bring awareness to the practices of the companies whose food you buy. Ensure that they make sustainable choices when sourcing and producing their food. This includes doing their part to limit greenhouse gas emissions, treating animals with kindness, and fairly compensating employees. You can also look into what types of food leave a large carbon footprint.
Do your part at home by planning your meals and doing your best not to over-purchase food and create any food waste. If you do find you’ve bought more than you need, try freezing food to cook later, or giving it to a neighbor who could use it. Also ensure you limit the amount of plastic you use by avoiding plastic water bottles and bringing reusable bags to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
These changes will not only help you align with a yogic diet, but will also help reduce the negative effects your lifestyle can have on the environment.
Seek Out Fresh Food
As noted above, tamasic food includes anything that is stale, has been reheated, or is heavily processed. Try your best to incorporate freshly prepared food into your diet, as well as food that is both seasonal and local.
In Ayurvedic tradition, ama is a toxic substance that can cause disease in the body, and is unable to be metabolized by the body. In order to eliminate ama, it is best to avoid processed and old food, and focus on incorporating fresh food that nourishes your body.
Avoid Chemicals and Stimulants
Try your best to choose organic when possible, in order to avoid introducing chemicals into your body. It is also advised to try to limit stimulants like caffeine. Caffeine is listed in the rajasic category, as it gives a temporary boost of energy and focus, but ultimately leads to a crash, putting the mind and body out of balance.
The idea of fully eliminating coffee is difficult for many, so try to make adjustments to limit the amount you consume. Look for decaf coffees if you simply like the ritual of waking up to a warm beverage in the morning. If you do need that energy boost, try switching to a black or green tea in order to lessen the amount of caffeine you consume.
While there is a lot to keep in mind when transitioning to a yogic diet, remember that you don’t need to make all of these changes at once. Pick a few actionable items that you can start with, such as weaning yourself off of caffeine by switching your morning coffee to a cup of tea, or finding new vegetarian recipes that you can make for dinner this week. If you try to make drastic changes all at once, you are more likely to crash and burn, so take things slowly as you adjust to a new diet.
Finally, keep in mind that you know your body best. If some yogic diet guidelines don’t fit your body’s needs, make the necessary adjustments so that this lifestyle switch can work best for you.