Yoga is a lifestyle practice that is not only about exercise, but also about how we conduct ourselves mentally and spiritually. As yogis, we try to pay attention to all aspects of well-being, and that includes what we put into our bodies. Whether or not there is a specific yoga diet depends in part on what kind of yoga you practice. Some teachers and lineages do have particular dietary guidelines. Many yogis are vegetarians, and many follow Ayurvedic dietary principles.
So what, exactly, is a “yoga diet”? Yoga teacher Lisa Mitchell says, “The discipline of yoga suggests a pure (ethical) vegetarian diet, which facilitates the development of sattva.” And while not all yogis are vegetarians, the principle of sattva is worth considering when deciding what to eat and what not to eat.
Sattva and Ahimsa
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 sources of food. A vegetarian diet is sattvic, as is an emphasis on organic farming.
By now we know that there’s not one diet that works for everyone, and that’s true whether our goal is weight loss, optimal health, or ahimsa. But it is widely accepted that eating real, whole foods and avoiding processed foods, artificial ingredients, trans fats and refined sugars is probably best for our bodies, for animals, and for the environment. And few will argue that eating more veggies, especially the green, leafy kind is a good thing.
Principles of a Yoga Diet
If you ask yoga teachers or people who have been practicing for a long time for the basics of a yoga diet, you’ll probably get a list of suggestions similar to this:
Eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, beans/legumes, nuts, plant-based oils, natural/raw sugar (honey, molasses, etc.), sweet spices (cinnamon, cardamom, mint, basil, turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel). Eat organic foods whenever possible.
Don’t eat (or eat less) meat, fish, eggs, processed foods, foods with artificial ingredients of any kind, animal fats or margarine, fried foods, canned foods (except naturally canned tomatoes and fruits), white flour or sugar, very spicy foods, stale or overcooked foods, microwaved foods, alcohol, or genetically modified foods.
Swami Satchindanda, who brought Integral Yoga to the West in the 1960s, suggested that how you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat, are as important as what you eat. The swami’s guidelines for a yoga diet include:
- Eat only when you are hungry.
- Eat slowly and with awareness.
- Eat a light breakfast and dinner; make lunch your main meal.
- Eat raw foods and cooked foods separately.
- Stop eating three hours before you go to bed.
Whatever your diet, if yoga is an important part of your lifestyle, it’s worth tuning into yogic principles when you plan your diet and decide how to nourish your body. After all, you are what you eat!