Classic yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutra don't specifically list foods for a yoga diet plan. However, you can use mindfulness principles from these writings to formulate a way of nourishing your body that resonates with your yoga practice.
Eating a Yogic diet comes down to the basic principle of mindfulness. Follow these while creating your diet plan.
One of the basic yogic teachings is that "morality is the base, meditation is the means and liberation is the goal," according to the State University of New York Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo). The 10 precepts of morality are divided into five Yama — meaning that which you are to control — and five Niyama, which are things you are to cultivate.
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First, Do No Harm
The first and most basic Yama is Ahimsa, or the principle of not harming another living being unnecessarily. This allows for protecting your life, family, wealth and property, but only for doing so with the least amount of injury to other beings possible. When it comes to eating, this is often construed to be a mandate for a plant-based diet, according to SUNY Geneseo. The idea behind turning to plants for food relies on not killing creatures capable of feeling pain, and suffering, for food.
However, the traditional view of sentience and pain cognition has been increasingly challenged in the past half-decade. A landmark December 2015 study by the University of Queensland's School of Biomedical Sciences showed that fish do not feel pain, or experience phenomenal consciousness, in the same way as humans and other animals.
Muddying the sentience waters even more, the level of pain cognition and response is a hotly-contested topic since the inception of the study of plant neurobiology in June 2006, according to the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). Scientists such as Monica Gagliano, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, are bending traditional views of how we perceive plan consciousness.
An October 2019 study published in Plant Signaling and Behavior and Oxford Academic's The Annals of Botany is just one example finding that plants can make very complex decisions to promote their survival, even without neurons or a traditional nervous system. However, UCSC posits that, like fish, plants don't have the neurological structure to be consciously aware or to feel pain.
Nourish Yourself Properly
The Ahimsa Yama also means preventing harm to yourself. Avoid addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol, caffeine, sugar and too much salt, says SUNY Geneseo. Acts of violence "toward the self" could also include not giving your body what it truly needs.
Although it might seem natural to eschew animal flesh on a yoga diet plan, each individual's dietary needs are different. For example, people with certain metabolic disorders, renal disorders and gene mutations require l-carnitine found in meat, according to Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute (LPI). Pregnant women, and individuals who don't produce enough l-carnitine in their liver because of health anomalies, are also at risk.
Taking in extra l-carnitine is useful as an adjunct in treating diabetes, cardiac disease, end-stage renal disease, side effects of chemotherapy and more, according to the institute. Speak with your doctor before eliminating meat sources from your diet. Although supplements are available, they are still sourced from animals, and aren't as absorbed as readily as when you are just eating meat, according to LPI.
Read more: A Strict Jain Diet
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include a table for determining your caloric needs based on your gender, activity level and age. Review common deficiencies in the American diet, such as calcium, vitamin C and potassium, in the guidelines, and tweak your diet to up your intake. Recommendations include animal protein in the menu; however, vegetarian guidelines include only dairy and eggs.
Understand Yogic Food Groups
IYMS Rishikesh, a leading yoga school in India, teaches students that the human body consists of Agni, an internal fire that transforms whatever you eat into the Ojas that are the building blocks necessary for good health.
However, Amma — substances causing health issues — can also build up in the body, clogging it and blocking the flow of internal life force, or Prana according to IYMS. These are reflected in the buildup of toxins in fatty tissue, which, according to Western medicine, leads to disease.
Besides consuming a beneficial diet, paying attention to what's going on in your life is a key to preventing Amma. Unresolved emotional issues and physical or emotional stress can cause the consumption of Amma-creating foods, according to IYMS. Paying attention to the three categories of foods recognized by the ancient yogis can help you reduce Amma.
Sattvic foods are the only ideal foods for a yoga diet. The Sanskrit word Sattva means "purity," so it's natural that this group includes whole grains, fruits, nuts, honey and other natural sweeteners that are considered most harmonious to the body.
Dairy was also on the ancient yogi's Sattvic list; however, modern processing causes lactose intolerance and other digestive upset in many people.
Easily digested Sattvic foods bring about a peaceful state of mind conducive to yoga practice, according to IYMS. Don't prepare them with a lot of spice, however, or they will become Tamasic.* Tamasic food includes salty and spicy foods, as well as most non-vegetarian foods. This food group creates heat inside the human body, leading to anxiety, upset, quarrelsome behavior and other "hot" emotions that are counterproductive to a yogic lifestyle. Eliminate foods from this group entirely, recommends IYMS
- Rajasic foods derive their name from the royal banquets that contained 56 or more rich delicacies eaten at one meal. Fried food, rich desserts, sweetened beverages, dehydrated foods and foods with bitter, salty or spicy flavors fall into this group. Avoid anything heavy, rich or fatty.
Read more: Can Hot Yoga Make You Lose Weight?
Use Your Inner Intelligence
The mindfulness and meditation center Sacred Treehouse recommends mindfulness over all other factors when creating your own yoga diet plan. The institution points out that diets based on deprivation and "shoulds" are not sustainable over time.
Adopting unrelenting dietary restrictions can lead to orthorexia, a condition where your focus on eating only healthy, or pure, foods can end up harming you when it results in nutritional deficiency, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Warning signs of the condition include feelings of anxiety when healthy foods aren't available, a strict and very narrow list of acceptable foods, and obsession with your diet.
Instead, increase your mindful awareness by turning your attention inward, and paying attention to what will truly bring your body joy, suggests Sacred Treehouse. Cultivate increased mindfulness through meditation, yoga and breathing, to connect with your inner intelligence.
Try incorporating more Sattvic foods into your meal plan, and listen to how your body feels after consuming them. As you increase your awareness of what truly nourishes and sustains you, it will be a natural process to implement a yoga diet plan that is just right for you.
- The State University of New York Geneseo: "Yoga Study Questions 1-4"
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: "Fish Do Not Feel Pain and Its Implications for Understanding Phenomenal Consciousness"
- UC Santa Cruz: "Plants Don't Think, They Grow"
- Monica Gagliano: "About Me"
- Taylor and Francis Online: "Extended Cognition in Plants"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "L-Carnitine"
- Oxford Academic Annals of Botany: "Plants are Intelligent, Here's How"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- IYMS Rishikesh: "A Perfect Yoga Diet Plan That Every Yogi Must Know"
- Sacred Treehouse: "The Yoga of Food"
- National Eating Disorders Association: "Orthorexia"