There’s a lot of hype out there when it comes to what to eat. Being environmentally conscious with our food choices seems to be the "in" thing right now. Farm-raised fish, hormone-free beef, free range chicken, farm-to-table and vegan restaurants, organic, gluten-free, macrobiotic—the list goes on!
Many people often mistake a vegan diet for being the same as a yogic or yoga diet. But what does it actually mean? What is a yogic diet?
Sorting through all the fads, a yogic diet follows some pretty simple rules. According to my yoga guru Swami Sivananda, the yogic diet should include the following things.
1. A yogic diet should be Sattvic.
In yogic and Ayurvedic philosophy, there are three qualities (gunas) of all things in nature: 1) Raja (hot, spicy, fast), 2) Tama (slow, lethargic, bland), and 3) Sattva (purity, harmony). These three qualities are present in all things, but in different amounts, making one quality dominant.
Rajasic foods are hot, bitter, dry, salty, or spicy. They overstimulate the mind and excite the passions. In contrast, tamasic foods are bland and include meat, alcohol, tobacco, garlic, onions, fermented foods, and overripe substances.
Sattvic food is the purest diet, the most suitable one for any serious yoga student. It nourishes the body and maintains a peaceful state. This, in turn, calms and purifies the mind, enabling it to function at its maximum potential.
A Sattvic diet will ultimately lead to true health; a peaceful mind in control of a fit body, with a balanced flow of energy between them.
Sattvic foods include:
- wholemeal bread
- fresh fruit and vegetables
- pure fruit juices
- butter and cheese
- sprouted seeds
- honey and herb teas
Personally, I refrain from dairy milk because I disagree with the way it is obtained, and am fearful about unknown hormones and additives. I choose to substitute this sattvic food with a milk alternative like coconut or almond milk.
2. A yogic diet should be vegetarian.
The lion is a great meat-eater, and he is called the king of the jungle. But no animal can match the elephant, a complete vegetarian, for pure strength. ~Yogi Bhajan
Fear of protein deficiency is the meat-eater's main objection to a vegetarian diet. Yet, ironically, meat eaters obtain the worst quality protein from their food—protein that is dead or dying.
Animal protein contains too much uric acid and other toxins to be broken down by the liver; some are eliminated, but the rest are deposited in the joints and tissues, leading to problems such as arthritis and cancer.
Uric acid is a toxin that also makes it harder to reach the higher, clear meditative state because it is an irritant in the bloodstream.
Meat is also among the greatest sources of cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and senility. Meat takes three days to pass through the digestive system. For optimum health, men need to digest food within 24 hours, women 18 hours.
Nuts, dairy products, leafy greens, and legumes are full of high-quality protein. Their main residue is cellulose, which is inert, and does not pollute the body. It is readily digestible, utilized by the body quickly and efficiently.
3. A yogic diet should be free of chemicals and stimulants.
Choose organic when available, and avoid caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners. These substances are not healthy for the body and alter the mind, making it more difficult to concentrate on the Divine.
4. A yogic diet should contain fresh foods.
If possible, always prepare a fresh meal. Frozen, prepared, packaged and left-over foods should be avoided, only taking in the freshest and the best.
5. A yogic diet should be at regular intervals, two hours before asana practice or sleep.
If you train your body to eat at regular times, say at 10 A.M. and 6 P.M., it will better utilize its energy throughout the day as it anticipates intake of calories at these times. The body has cycles, and functions best when these cycles are regular and steady. The same goes for our meal times.
Avoiding food two hours before exercise or sleep helps the body function at its best capacity. Energy for digestion should not be taken away for the purpose of exercise. Ensuring proper time for digestion before sleep helps to keep the mind clear.
Thus, the hormones produced during sleep can be utilized efficiently to repair tissue damage and fight infection, which is ideal, instead of for digestion.
6. Take time to fast.
The yogis recommend choosing one day each week to fast. A fast can be strict, not allowing anything to enter the body. Or, it can include water and fruit juices. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that the goal of your fast is to purify the body and mind.
For me, once a week is unrealistic. I choose to fast on Ekadashi, the 11th day of each lunar month, observed by yogis to be an auspicious day.
7. Practice ahimsa.
The first of the yoga observances (yamas), ahimsa or nonviolence can be applied to the food we eat. Making environmentally-conscious health choices that do not harm other people, animals, or the planet takes conscious awareness.
I used to buy bottled water to stay hydrated, and thought it was healthier than sports drinks. Once I began to think about all the pollution I was causing by going through so many water bottles, I invested in a refillable glass bottle instead, which is much more environmentally-conscious.
Keep in mind that small, seemingly insignificant changes in the way you eat and live can have big implications. Above all, remember that you are gods and goddesses, and your body is a temple! Keep food choices simple, pure, fresh, and use your best judgment. Your inner yogi knows best.