When you begin a yoga practice, chances are that you quickly discover that your practice extends beyond the mat. You may use deep breathing exercises to calm yourself before an important meeting at work or draw on your well of patient mindfulness while waiting in line at the DMV. But did you know your yogic practice should also extend to your diet too?
Having a good yoga diet can help improve every area of your practice, on the mat and off. Read on to learn why a yogic diet is important and how to follow one.
Why Diet Matters
In our culture of fast consumption, it can be easy to forget that food is more than just something to stave off hunger for a few hours. But it’s not just something we eat because we’re craving tacos, or a reward or punishment for going to or missing our workout that day. Rather, it is the substance that nourishes our bodies, gives us the energy to go throughout our lives, and makes up every cell in our bodies.
Our food gives us the nutrients and energy we need to do all our daily activities, from running errands and working to laughing with our families and practicing yoga. The food we eat forms the building blocks for the new cells our bodies create. Your body deserves better than to take its building blocks from fast food chain tacos.
How to Approach Food
While diet is of crucial importance to anyone looking to live a yogic lifestyle, a diet shouldn’t feel restrictive. It shouldn’t be a mantra of “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Rather, your approach to food should be the same as your approach to the rest of your yogic lifestyle – one of peace, gratitude, and love.
When you’re getting ready to eat something, take a moment and think about what you and your body want. Choose healthy, fresh, nutritious foods because you know that’s what will make you feel good. Your yogic diet should be a mantra of “I want the thing that is good for me,” and a joyful experience as you enjoy that food.
Ahimsa is one of the primary philosophical rules of ashtanga yoga that many yogis try to follow. It is an ethical rule, and the word means nonviolence. This principle of nonviolence can extend to many parts of your life and many things that you consume, including the environmental or labor impact of your purchases and the way your food is acquired.
For many yogis, living by ahimsa means pursuing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. As we’ll discuss later, this is not necessarily the only option with a yogic diet. But when you’re choosing your food, you should be aware of trying to choose the most nonviolent options available.
Something else you should think about is the digestibility of the food you eat. If you’re going to become more connected to your body, you need to work with it, providing it with the things it has an easy time breaking down. Eating two pounds of Swedish fish or a plate of chili cheese fries is not easy on your body.
Think about the digestibility of your food, and specifically how you feel after you eat certain foods. You may notice that you feel lighter and more energized after a plant-based meal or a meal of lighter meats. Choose foods that work well with your body, and you’ll start seeing the benefits almost immediately.
In addition to finding food that makes you feel good, you also need to make sure your food is getting you the nutrients you need. Your body requires a delicate balance of different nutrients in order to run properly. These include the right combination of fats, proteins, carbs, sodium, iron, potassium, and a whole host of vitamins.
Make sure the diet you’re eating is balanced and provides you with the nutrients you need. An easy way to ensure this is to aim to make every plate of food you eat as colorful as possible. In general, different colored foods contain different nutrients, and a rainbow plate will help give you a good array of what you need.
Is Plant-Based Necessary?
Many people have the idea that following a yogic diet means focusing on sattvic foods and giving up meat as well as avoiding tamasic foods and rajasic foods , and it is true that many yogis choose to be vegetarian or vegan. It’s common for yogis to be unable to reconcile the current practices of the modern meat industry with the ideals of their practice. But you don’t necessarily have to follow a purely vegetarian diet or become a vegan to pursue a yogic lifestyle.
If you choose to eat meat and other tamasic foods, be mindful of what you eat and where it comes from. Try to source your meat from local farms and butchers that raise animals humanely. Also, try to keep your red meat consumption to a minimum; in general, it will make you feel slow and sluggish.
Never Skip Breakfast
In our fast-paced world, too many of us find that we don’t have enough time to stop and have breakfast every morning. But a yogic lifestyle is all about slowing down and making time for the important parts of life. Breakfast is one of those things you need to make time for.
Breakfast helps to kick-start your metabolism, begin your day with energy, and keep you from overeating at lunch. If you practice yoga in the morning, drink some water or tea before your practice, and maybe eat a banana . After your practice, eat a meal that’s high in protein and carbs, but relatively low in fat; this will give you plenty of energy to start your day.
When and How to Snack
Throughout the day and between meals, you may find that you could do with a snack. Snacking is fine and shouldn’t be something you’re afraid of or ashamed of. The key to healthy snacking and making good choices is having nutritious snacks on hand and managing portion control.
Keep snacks plant-based and light so you don’t weigh yourself down as you go about your day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are good, as are high-protein options like boiled eggs. You can also go for a handful of dried fruits and nuts, but keep portion sizes small, and don’t snack out of an open bag.
Keep Lunch Light
Even on your busy days, it’s important to stop and take time to eat lunch. You need the extra fuel to power through your day and keep focus through the afternoon slump. You also want to make sure that your lunch isn’t heavy and filled with foods that make you want to give in and take that afternoon nap.
It’s a good idea to stick to light sattvic foods or plant-based foods for lunch, maybe even going so far as to only eat raw foods at lunch. A salad is always a great option, but you can also go for a veggie sandwich on wheat bread, vegan sushi, smoothies, or soups. Switch things up so you don’t get bored eating the same salad day after day. Remember, the goal is to enjoy your food!
When to Eat Dinner
Your day will mostly be over by dinner time, so this is the time you can eat some of the heavier foods, while still focusing on the same principles of whole, fresh, nutritious food. This may be the meal where you can incorporate some chicken or fish, though it should be accompanied by plenty of fruits and vegetables. Try to cook as many of your dinners at home as you can; not only is it healthier, but you’ll benefit from the additional connection to your food.
The most important consideration with dinner is when you eat it. In general, you want to eat dinner at least two or three hours before you go to bed. This will give your body time to digest your food before it shuts down for sleep. It will help you rest easier and wake up refreshed and ready for the next morning.
Indulging a Sweet Tooth
When you’re trying to follow a healthier, more wholesome diet, it may feel like things like brownies are gone from your life forever. As we said, your yogic diet should be about joys and possibilities, not restrictions and bans. If you want a brownie, that’s fine, but enjoy it in moderation, and savor the experience of eating it.
You may also find that you don’t like the way you feel after eating a giant brownie. If you still want to satisfy that sweet tooth, go for lighter treats like frozen yogurt, parfaits, or chia seed puddings. You can also enjoy fresh fruits as a way to get that sweetness you want without all the heavy refined sugars.
Find the Best Yogi Diet
Learning to follow a yogi diet is a matter of redefining your relationship with food. Instead of being something you love, hate, and love to hate, it should be a genuine joy in your life. Focus on eating food that makes you feel good and fuels your life, and you’ll find the joy of your yogic lifestyle extending into your diet.
If you’d like to learn more about living a yogi lifestyle, check out the rest of our site at Yoga in London. We have resources for everyone working to follow a yoga practice, as well as yoga classes for people at every level of their practice. Check out our list of yoga poses that burn calories to incorporate your practice into your nutrition and weight loss goals.