Yoga is more than just a set of pretzel-like poses. It’s a spiritual philosophy and a lifestyle rooted in healthy living. While some yoga practitioners choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, others follow a stricter diet that’s free of stimulants, like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar. The main reason to follow a yogic diet is that it promotes healing, balance, and inner peace.
Although many people love the idea of the yogic diet, the restrictive nature of yogic eating often drives people away from it. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips and strategies to make it easy for you to transition to a diet that’s more harmonious with your yoga practice.
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What is the yogic diet?
The yogic diet stresses the consumption of natural, unprocessed foods that promote spiritual, mental, and physical health and aligns with yogic philosophy. It’s based primarily on the yogic principles of ahimsa, sattva, and saucha.
- Ahimsa is commonly translated to non-violence. Ahimsa is the idea that all living things are connected and that the world would be a better place if you do not harm living things. The most obvious way to not cause harm is to reduce or eliminate the consumption of meat and dairy products.
- Sattva is a state of equanimity that yogic practices aim to cultivate. A diet that is abundant in sattvic foods will promote a calm heart and a clear mind. Sattvic foods are generally fresh vegetables, whole grains and beans, mild healing spices, and other mildly sweet fruits and vegetables.
- Saucha is the practice of purity and cleanliness. One of the simplest ways to promote saucha is to remove or reduce impurities in your body by only eating organic foods, which are free of chemicals.
How to follow a yogic diet
Begining and adhering to a yogic diet can certainly be challenging. It is best to take it slow and ease your way into it. Start with just one or two changes and see how you feel. Slowly explore and add more changes as you can. Most importantly, make sure these changes do not create stress or imbalance in your life.
- Eat fresh seasonal foods
A yoga diet consists of whole, fresh, seasonal foods and organic, locally grown foods, and as close to their natural state as possible. Try to grow your own vegetables in a garden or container, shop at farmers’ markets, or buy directly from local farmers. Buy fresh produce that’s in season, and avoid processed and packaged items, even if they are organic.
- Be vegetarian
A plant-based, whole-food diet is essential for yogis. Fortunately, vegetarianism and veganism have become quite popular, making going meat-free much easier when grocery shopping, cooking, and dining out. Nuts, dairy products, leafy greens, and legumes are all great sources of high-quality protein.
- Avoid chemicals and stimulants
We are exposed to chemical substances just about everywhere–in the air, in the water, and in the food that we consume. One of the goals of hatha yoga is to purify the physical and energetic bodies. Thus, reducing or eliminating chemicals and stimulants is encouraged. Wherever possible, avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco to move towards a healthier lifestyle and to create purity in the body and mind.
- Eat at regular intervals and allow space between meals
Except for the first meal of the day, it’s important to allow at least five hours between your meals. This allows your system to fully digest from your last meal. When you eat at regular intervals, your meals will taste better, and you will be less likely to overeat. It would be best if you ate only when you are truly hungry and not because of stress or boredom.
- Eat two hours before asana practice or sleep
To avoid the discomfort of a full stomach during asana practice, it’s important to keep your meals small and light. It’s also important to eat at least two hours before your yoga sessions.
- Make lunch the biggest meal of the day
Ayurvedic theory states that the digestive fire is strongest at midday and encourages the largest meal to be consumed at lunchtime. Raw vegetables and difficult to digest proteins are best suited for a yogi‘s lunchtime meal. Small amounts of fats should come from wholesome sources such as nuts and seeds and cold-pressed olive oil or high-oleic safflower oil.
- Eat mostly cooked foods at dinner
Yogic diet recommendations encourage eating a cooked dinner because it’s easier to digest than a raw meal. The body digests cooked food much more easily, which allows for quicker absorption and allows you to rest more after a meal. Try to eat as many cooked vegetables at your evening meal. Incorporate soothing soups and root veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash, and beets.
- Emphasize healing herbs and spices
A yoga diet emphasizes healing herbs and spices, like turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, fennel, mint, basil, cumin, parsley, cilantro, and black pepper. These spices offer many benefits to your body, including aiding digestion, alkalizing the blood, increasing mood, reducing anxiety, and promoting cleansing and healing.
To make your diet more healing, work on adding more of these healing herbs to your meals. You can also use some of these in herbal teas as well.
- Eat with mindfulness and a positive attitude
Your attitude towards your food is more important than the food itself. In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to think of food in terms of a spiritual practice. That’s why yoga teaches that eating should be an act of love and gratitude; you are taking sustenance from Mother Earth, and you should honor that.
Mindful eating can help you avoid mindless munching or bingeing, helping you focus on what you’re grateful for, as well as what you’re not. When you develop peace of mind about food, you can start to learn how to eat mindfully, control how much you eat, and understand what your body needs to maintain balance and health. Being mindful of what you eat can lead to weight loss, a healthier heart, a calm mind, and a longer life.
- Consider fasting
The concept of fasting should be considered in the context of a yogic diet. Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food and/or drink for a period of time. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body, seek a spiritual goal, or express devotion to a chosen deity.
The different fasting methods also vary in their requirements–from abstinence from all food and liquids to abstinence from only certain foods, for example. Fasting is not recommended for those who have poor digestion or a tendency towards weight gain. Fasting for more than a few days is not recommended as it puts excessive stress on your body’s systems.