Yoga offers an abundance of benefits as exercise, but the discipline of yoga is also associated with a healthier way of life aimed at embracing all aspects of wellness. While there is no hard and fast “yoga diet,” there are many paths to eating in a way that complements and elevates your yoga practice.
Getting to Know the Gunas
Words like tempeh, tofu, and seitan may first come to mind when you hear the phrase “yoga diet.” Indeed, many yogis are vegetarian in alignment with India’s ancient traditions, including both the religion of Hinduism and the spiritual system of healing known as Ayurveda.
Specifically, aspects of life — including food — are grouped into three primal forces known as gunas: rajas, tamas, and sattva. Explains HealthGuidance.org, “Foods that are considered rajasic are those that are considered stimulating, and that produce mental restlessness. Tamasic foods are believed to have a sedative effect, and to produce a duller, less alert mental state. Foods that are thought of as sattvic are those that – according to this theory – are full of more energy and healthful or healing properties and that produce a more settled, meditative state of mind.”
As a result, many yogis avoid eating rajasic and tamasic foods and instead strive to primarily eat sattvic offerings. Of course, this can be easier said than done given that this precludes indulging in everything from coffee and chocolate to aged cheeses and alcohol. You can also cross Mexican, leftovers, and vegetables that grow “out of the sun” off of your list as these, too, are no-nos.
Seeking Out the Sattvic
Now that you know what is (mostly) off-limits for yogis, that begs the question: What’s on the menu? For starters, think natural, clean and balanced. Explains Track Yoga, “The goal of sattva is harmony or connection with nature. A closely related yogic principle is ahima, which means to act in ways that do not harm other beings. With these two concepts in mind, a yoga diet might be based on foods that are grown naturally. This includes attention to the way animals and the environment are treated when we turn to them into sources of food.”
Expands HealthGuidance, “Sattvic foods include raw or lightly cooked vegetables, whole grains and breads made from them, fresh fruits, beans, nuts, many milk products, and raw honey. Foods that are grown organically are considered better than those grown conventionally.”
Also passing the sattvic test? Basmati (but not brown) rice, barley, almonds, sesame seeds, dates, figs, oranges and mangos.
This way of eating may seem familiar and with good reason. It’s largely consistent with one of the most popular contemporary approaches to healthy eating, the Mediterranean diet.
Eating like a yogi isn’t just about what you eat, but also how you eat. Spiritual master and yoga adept Swami Satchidananda has suggested the following guidelines for noshing the yogi way:
- Eating only when hungry
- Eating slowly and with awareness
- Making lunch the main meal with light breakfasts and dinners
- Eating raw and cooked foods separately
- Refraining from eating three hours before bedtime
Again, these principles aren’t exclusive to yoga. In fact, in most cases, they make common sense.
(Speaking of eating, if you have a sweet tooth and are in search of healthy treats, be sure to check out our 12 Healthy Dessert Recipes. )
Everything in Moderation
There’s one last thing to keep in mind. The expression “everything in moderation” holds true when it comes to eating the yoga way. Says HealthGuidance, “It’s not as if a ‘yoga diet’ would say that one should never eat these things, only that they should be eaten rarely.” Echoes Organic Authority, “While yoga practices may not be in agreement on every tenet of a yogi’s diet, most agree that one should pay close attention to everything that goes into their vessel to ensure optimal health.”
Ultimately, the adage, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” is particularly apt when it comes to eating the yoga way. Concludes HealthGuidance, “When looking to the traditional study of yoga for tips on how to improve our eating habits, we should probably rely on its more general advice – prefer pure, fresh foods and consume them in moderation. Whether you practice yoga or not, it’s hard to go wrong by following that advice.”