eat like a yogi

EAT LIKE A YOGI

10 rules of a yoga diet

Diet is one of the most important pillars of your healthy body and mind and whether you practise yoga or not, the principles of yoga diet could bring benefits to your well-being. Yogic diet is easy to understand and follow. And no, to eat like a yogi doesn’t mean being a strict vegan. Let me break down its main principles to make it as transparent as possible.

1. Pure food

Yoga diet comes from Ayurvedic tradition (Indian medicine), which divides all things in nature in three categories:

RAJA – hot, spicy, fast

Rajasic food overstimulates your senses and excites the mind.

  • Coffee 
  • Chocolate 
  • Hot spices 
  • Salt
  • Fast foods

TAMA – slow, lethargic, bland

Tamasic food slows you down.

  • Meat, fish and eggs
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Onion, garlic and leek 
  • Fermented and overripe produce

SATTVA – pure, harmonious

Sattvic food nourishes the body and keeps it calm and fit. 

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Pure fruit juices
  • Whole grains
  • Milk, butter and cheese   
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Sprouts and legumes
  • Honey
  • Herbal teas 
healthy diet

Sattvic food is the purest diet. It makes your mind peaceful and balanced and makes it easier for the energy to flow harmoniously, creating a healthy body and mind union.  

Eating like a yogi is fairly easy and very gratifying. It means having fresh fruit, veggies and dairy (these are easy) and integrating as many wholegrains, seeds, nuts and legumes as possible. Watch out for onion, garlic and leek, though. They’re seen as tamasic, as they agitate the mind, and yogis avoid them. Ahhhh, also, it hurts to say… but 5 coffees a day may not be recommended 🙂 

But (there is always a but) a pure yoga diet that keeps your body and mind light and clear doesn’t always have to be based on sattvic foods only. In different phases of life we may need different nourishment. It also varies from person to person and a diet that works great for me, may not work for you. The best thing to do, is to understand your constitution (vikriti in Ayurvedic tradition) and your current state (prakriti). Observe yourself carefully to understand what nourishes you best and adjust your diet based on that.

2. Ahimsa - yoga diet doesn’t cause harm

Ahimsa means non-violence and is one of yoga’s ethical principles, which covers all areas of life, but has a particularly important role in a yogic diet. Non-violence means no meat. An animal that is being killed produces a negative energy, which remains in its meat. When you consume it, you absorb this negative energy, which, in turn, blocks the flow of your own prana. Choosing to eat like a yogi, means carefully selecting the energy you take in. 

3. Vegetarianism? What does science say?

Spiritual reasons aside, also science confirms that animal protein is not the best choice of nourishment. Meat leads to increased cholesterol levels, which causes higher risk of heart diseases and stroke. It’s also higher in fat and its excess consumption may lead to obesity, which, in turn, may trigger other illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, pregnancy problems to name just a few. 

Countless studies have compared vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets, but in my search for nutritional information, I rely on the wisdom of Dr. Michael Greger, who is a physician, New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety and public health issues and the brain behind Nutrition Facts. 

What does he say about a vegetarian diet? The more people adhered to a vegetarian diet, avoiding the animal products and including plant products, the better they did [in a study]. We provide evidence to support that the simple advice to increase consumption of plant-derived foods with compensatory reductions in the consumption of foods from animal sources confers a survival advantage.

There is also a very informative study done by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which compares Mediterranean diet with a vegan diet. Even though the Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, the study shows that a vegan based diet still beats it. A shift from animal-based to plant-based foods is cardioprotective. Mediterranean diets are heart-protective to the extent they emphasize plant-based foods. Yet high fat foods [which are found in Mediterranean diet] impede weight loss . Watch this video to see how the Mediterranean and vegan diets compare.

eggplant herbs peach

Nothing will benefit health and increase the chance of survival on Earth, as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. 

{Albert Einstein}

4. Fresh food, no chemicals and Km Zero

Eat fresh products and avoid frozen, prepared and packed foods. Fresh food brims with good energy, vitamins and minerals. You want all of that to nourish yourself.  

When possible, choose local organic products free from chemicals. Avoid supermarket fruit and veg. They are often transported over long distances and come from massive productions. Best of the best would be starting your own veggie patch, but having a trusted local producer is great as well. 

I’m very lucky in Tuscany, as Km Zero products have become very popular over the last years. Km Zero means getting your fruit and veg from the closest producer to your home, in order to limit air pollution caused by excess transportation of foods. Tuscany is a mostly rural area, where it’s relatively easy to find a local producer of high quality fruit and veg. Check if it’s possible also in your area! 

herbal tea
yoga spices

5. Drink like a yogi

A true yogi cuts down on alcohol (yes, wine is alcohol too :)) or doesn’t drink at all. Instead, a yogi kitchen shelf is full of cool herbal teas – rooibos, peppermint, turmeric, fennel, you name it. Coffee is replaced by green tea and soda with lemon water and fresh juices. They are hydrating, nourishing and cleansing. 

My absolute favourite is a blend of fennel, liquorice and melissa. It’s slightly sweet and very refreshing. If it’s hard to find in your store, check online or make your own home-made blend. Here is how

6. Spice up your yoga diet

Basil, rosemary, parsley, cardamon, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, sage, fennel, mint, cumin, the list goes on and on. Yogis are famous for adding spices and herbs to every meal. They add flavour, but also help with digestion, reduce anxiety, cleanse and heal the body. Get creative and add them where you please in your yoga diet!

7. Make lunch the biggest meal

According to Ayurveda diet, our digestion is best at noon and the biggest meal should be planned halfway through the day. Eat plenty of raw veggies and salad for lunch. They’ll energise you for the rest of the day. Cooked veggies are better for dinner, when you want your body to calm down. Integrate vegetarian protein at lunch time – chickpeas, tampeh, beans, sprouted grains. Use nourishing oils, such as olive, hemp, flax oil and add nuts and seeds to your meal. And enjoy every bite 🙂 

8. Cooking with love + mindful eating

It’s not only important what you eat, but also how you prepare your food and how you eat it. Yogic mindset in the kitchen means cooking with love and joy. How many times do you rush with your cooking, feeling under pressure, already thinking about the next thing you have to do after your meal? I used to do it a lot in the past, but with yoga I learned to slow down. And I don’t mean that cooking a meal takes me 2 hours now. I slowed down my brain. Cook concentrated on what you’re doing and pour all your love and satisfaction in the meal you’re cooking. Everything has energy. A mindful and happy cook will make a meal that tastes better and the positive energy you pour into it will spread on everyone who eats it.  

Practise mindfulness when you eat. Don’t rush, don’t watch TV, leave your phone. Savour every bite and imagine how it nourishes every cell in your body. Enjoy it! You’ve put too much effort preparing it, to just gobble it down. A wonderful thing to do is eating outdoors (in a garden or terrace) in silence, contemplating your food and the view in front of you. It quietens your mind and centers your thoughts, making space for the important tasks you have to do during the day.  

9. Eating with regular intervals, 2h before asanas and sleep

Digestion and exercise don’t go together, we all know that, but how long before yoga practice is enough? 

Your body needs clear time intervals between digestion, exercise and sleep. Food in your stomach should be fully digested before making asanas and before going to bed. It’s all about energy. Your body gets confused when it has to divide its forces, so it’s advised to avoid eating minimum 2 hours before yoga practice. 

What about half a banana before yoga class for a little kick of energy? Well, it depends on why you practice yoga. If you only do it as physical exercise, half a banana on an empty stomach will be digested in no time and shouldn’t cause you trouble during your practice. But, if you practice yoga also for it’s spiritual benefits (which I hope you do), you must be strict on 2-hour No Food Rule. When you practice yoga, your body works on a hormonal level. It’s the hormones that calm your mind, energise or center it (depending on the goal of the practice). If your body is busy digesting, it’ll use hormones for digestion rather than quieting your mind and elevating your spirit. The same goes for sleep. Sleep hormones should be used to fight infection and repair tissues, not for digestion. 

Eating at regular intervals is also very beneficial. Your body doesn’t like surprises. It needs regular and steady cycles to help your body utilise the energy throughout the day and spread the intake of calories. 

When it comes to sleep, eat 3-4 hours before bedtime to give your body the time to detox, repair and burn fat. If you eat late, you risk that your body doesn’t turn on its fat burning mode and, over time, this may cause weight gain. 

yoga diet

10. Eat like a yogi - fast like a yogi

Fasting means no eating for a number of hours (12 to 24 hours). It’s big in yoga culture and is very good for your health, as it removes toxins from your body. Your digestive system needs a break from time to time and your body needs some time to get rid of toxins accumulated from everything you eat and drink. Yogis recommend fasting one day per week and it can be done in various ways. It can be half a day, full day, no food and liquids or only water and fruit juices. It’s best to experiment it yourself, to see what works best in your pursuit of (not) eating like a yogi. 

Time - Place - Person

One more thought before wrapping up. Rules are a good reminder for your every day life. They help with your discipline and keep you on the right track. So, respect them, but don’t be too harsh on yourself and, especially, others. Be a yogi vegetarian, but don’t judge people who are not.

Also, be flexible from time to time. If you are invited for dinner and your host doesn’t know your eating habits, consider what is the best way out. Is it better to refuse eating and risking that you offend your host? Or maybe you could make an exception and eat what you are offered? Non-flexibility creates blocks of energy, so remember to remain light and happy, especially when you are with other people. Adjust your rules to time, place and person. You want to be seen as a positive, inspiring person, who is able to adapt to every situation. Spread lightness, not stiffness. 

To finish off

There is no one-size-fit-all diet and a true yogi observes his body carefully. Introduce a new principle to your life, listen to your body, see how you feel. Then add another one. Take small steps. Small changes are more promising than a drastic shift. Be gentle and loving for yourself. And remember, yoga is meant to bring harmony and everyone has his own unique recipe for it. 

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