30 Mar The Yoga Diet
For International Yoga Month, we look at nutrition from a yogic perspective and learn from how the ancient philosophy believes humans should pattern their eating habits
This illuminating article by Kate Woodworth explains what a yogic diet is and why it is important. You’ll read about the physical benefits to eating well and the fascinating link between diet and mood. She outlines how much you should eat at each sitting, when you should eat and even how. She also touches on the significance of the digestive system and how its wellbeing or suffering impacts other systems in the body. A wonderful read!
There is a natural instinct within all of us to follow a healthy balanced diet. Deep down inside, we know what is good and what is not good for us, but we choose to ignore the body and mind. Regular yoga practice helps to stimulate these natural instincts, because yoga changes habits and is a process of normalization.
The purpose of food should be looked at before choosing what to eat. Why do we need to eat? To give energy to the body and mind, increase the body’s resistance power and to develop the mind. Fresh food gives lightness, happiness, joy and increases intelligence. The food we ingest should be suitable for the mind, body, and soul.
Choose natural and vegetarian
There are no special dietary rules for asana practitioners, although there are many recommendations, with the main ones being to eat natural foods and eat in moderation. Yoga advises a vegetarian diet, particularly as it is preparation for higher forms of yoga.
Vegetarianism has been found to promote inner calmness and harmony between the body and mind, whilst eating meat has been linked with inner tension, anger, disharmony and an increase in desires. Vegetarianism is the basis of a sattvic diet.
The benefits of sattvic diet
A yogic diet ideally follows a sattvic or pure food diet. A balance of fresh fruit, vegetables, cooked whole grains, milk, legumes, nuts and seeds, using a combination of both raw and cooked foods. These foods increase sattva in the body because they are light, simple and supply all the necessary nutrients. They increase our physical and mental vitality making it easier to experience clarity, lightness and peace of mind.
Rajasic foods are prepared with much oil and spice. They create heaviness and restlessness in the mind. Meat and fish are classified under these. Onion and garlic are also under this group as they increase desire.
Tamasic foods are foods that are old and stale. They lower the energy and cause laziness. They include foods that are not cooked properly or chewed well and processed foods. Stale, processed and frozen foods have lost their pranic energy.
If we try to eat only sattvic foods as much as possible, we can slowly change our body’s chemistry, renewing the digestive system and taking away any strain. Ideally we should eat foods that take minimal energy to digest, so that the remaining energy can be used for more productive use.
How to eat healthily
When eating, it is important to fill the stomach half full with food. A quarter should be left for water or liquids. The last quarter should be left empty for digestion to take place. This space is necessary for the stomach to churn the food with the digestive juices. It is also said in Hindu culture that this last quarter should be left for Lord Shiva.
Eat to satisfy hunger without getting any feelings of heaviness or laziness. It is said that you should eat only what is needed.
To find out how much you need to eat, do an experiment. One time eat until you have a feeling of fullness, being aware of how much you are eating. From there halve the amount of food; this is your requirement. There should be enough space in the stomach so that if somebody asked you to eat a meal with them after you had already finished your meal, you could do it without any ill effects.
The timing of meals should be fixed. In this way the body begins to release digestive secretions at a certain time. It is important not to skip meals so that the body doesn’t keep going into panic mode and decide to store excess fat.
Change the diet according to the seasons.
Don’t eat imported foods. Always try to eat what is local and fresh.
If you know your dosha/prakriti, then make your food choices accordingly.
Don’t eat when negative, angry or depressed. How you are thinking effects your digestion. You should only eat when you are happy and peaceful.
When you eat, focus, feel and appreciate every mouthful, eating slowly and being thankful for the food that has been given to you.
Remember: eat to live, don’t live to eat.
Diet and digestion are essential parts of a yogic lifestyle
We must start with the basics, the essentials for our survival, if we wish to achieve anything in yoga. Diet and food are among these. We can only really begin to live the full yogic lifestyle when we have gone through the first layers of our needs, desires, intuitions and instincts, preparing us for the physical, mental, psychic and spiritual levels.
The digestive system is one of the most important systems in the body and links all the other systems together. A poor digestive system is the core problem to many health conditions. It is affected not just by what we eat but also by our emotions. An awareness of the digestive processes and the choices we make in eating can help to achieve both physical and mental balance, bringing peace and wellbeing.
Kate Woodworth is a senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist, teaching and practicing yoga for more than 10 years. See more of her articles and recipes at yogapoint.com
Challenge yourself to practice a yogic diet for 3 or 5 days during our Summer Detox & Cleanse Programme with Tryphena Chia. Save the third week of June for the juice or vegan cleanse plus six days of Detox Yoga Classes, a personal nutrition consultation, meditation workshop and more. flexhk.com/programs/detox