Our Yoga practice – whether we mean the practice of asana, pranayama or meditation – is heavily influenced by what and how we eat. That is because our daily diet influences our strength and flexibility, our ability to take long deep breaths, our ability to focus and our clarity of mind.
But this is only the most obvious level of looking at the topic. In the end our Yoga practice is a mirror for life. And how well we are able to do our asanas or pranayama practices shows only what we like to overlook the rest of the day: That our diet has a profound effect on our health, physical and psychological well-being, or emotional constitution and eventually on our entire life.
So if there are concepts in Yoga on how and what to eat to elevate your yogic pracitces (i.e. asana, pranayama, meditation etc.), those concepts might actually be beneficial for the rest of our lifes, too! Therefore, let’s take a look into two yogic concepts for eating:
1. Eat sattvic food!
Sattvic FoodYoga classifies foods into three qualities: sattvic (meaning balance, order, purity), rajasic (change, movement, dynamism) and tamasic (dark, letargic, dull, slow). All three qualities are part of life and none of them is good or bad. Obviously rajasic and tamasic qualities are counteracting and balancing each other. The yogi is aiming for a balanced and pure body and mind and therefor is advised to eat food of the same quality: sattvic food.
Sattvic foods are:
- all kinds of fruits, as long as they are ripe, sweet and whole
- all vegetables except onions and garlic
- wholemeal grains
- legumes and nuts
- virgin oils, virgin meaning processed only mechanical (non-chemical) and under low temperature
- natural raw sugars like honey
- spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, fennel, cumin, kurkuma
- herbs like mint and basil
- untreated organic milkproducts from grass-fed happy cows
Overly stimulating and activating foods would be considered rajasic:
- e.g. onions, garlic, chili, alcohol, coffee
Heavy foods, that make us slow and lethargic are tamasic:
- e.g. meat, fish, eggs, mushrooms, processed or canned foods, stale or reheated foods, microwaved foods
There is definitely no need to be rigid about only eating sattvic foods (unless we are maybe on a meditation-retreat) and every body reacts different to certain foods, but being concious about the quality of the food we eat and checking how we feel after eating can make a great difference in our lifes.
2. Moderate and mindful Eating – Mitahara
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika mentions Mitahara as a basic principle for the yogi:
„Light, salubrious and sweet food, eaten with attentivness and awarness, keeping one quarter of the stomach emty, is called Mitahara“
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika, I.60
Even the healthiest food will have an upsetting effect if we consume too much of it. A general rule of thumb is to leave at least a quarter of our stomach empty to leave space for digestive movements. So be mindful when filling your plate. Maybe halfway through your meal, put down your fork, take a couple of breaths and become aware of how full you are already. Then continue only if you feel so. Many of us where taught as a child to finish the plate which for many of us meant overruling what our body told us. Let’s reconnect with the body and relearn to listen!
Before you start your meal, be sure to be hungry, because this is the sign of the body that it is ready for assimilation. This will make the whole digestive process more effecient. On the other hand, don’t wait until you are ravenous!
Take a couple of deep breaths before starting the meal, be grateful for whatever you decided to put on your plate (even if it’s junk food), calm your mind and focus on the ritual of eating. Smell the food and appreciate it. Smile! Then chew slowly and plenty (it’s the first step of digestition and humans are meant to grind food, not gorge). Try to find and enjoy all different tastes of all the ingredients of that meal.
Last but not least, a great way of being mindful is preparing the meal ourselves, buying all the ingredients in its original state, handling and touching the food and thus creating an even deeper relationship to each ingredient.
Many of those things can be considered common sense and no big secret at all, yet we rarely pay attention. Let’s reeducate ourselves in our eating habits. Just start with being aware about one of those things or pick one meal a day and set it up as a ritual doing all those things. And, as always, enjoy the process!