There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.
~Bhagavad Gita Verse 6.16
As people deepen their yoga practice there is an inevitable shift in awareness and perspective. One of the most common places people look with this new-found clarity is diet. When you take care of your body on the outside you will want to know precisely what is going inside, and changes start to occur naturally! Okay, maybe that last part happens in stages… Between the odd chocolate bar or two. The Bhagavad Gita and Vedic texts offer some dietary advice, one example being the idea of ahimsa: non-violence or non-harm, be it to yourself or to others. Read on for some key nutrition points for the budding yogi or yogini!
Are All Yogis Vegetarian?
A lot of budding yogis choose to adopt vegetarian or vegan diets, but it is not essential! However, the practice is so common amongst the yoga community that it’s worth detailing here. Many people believe these diets are in direct alignment with the yogic principle of ahimsa. The idea being that avoiding meat is avoiding harm to others, and the health benefits of vegetarian diets alleviate harm to yourself.
For example, the risk of contracting Type 2 Diabetes is halved for vegetarians and even a semi-veggie diet will cut the chances down to 12%. It also reduces the risk of different types of cancer from 12-45%. Exchanging meat for more beans and grains in your diet ups your glutamic acid intake which can reduce your risk of having a stroke. Vegans eliminate all animal products, including milk and cheese, and stick to the plant-based proteins found in legumes, nuts and seeds, which most people agree are good for the heart and general health.
A relatively new idea is the flexitarian diet where the idea is to cut down your intake of meat or become a virtual veggie for a few days a week. The flexitarian diet is a good approach to see if a vegetarian diet would work for you. It’s also a great way to transition from a full-on carnivore diet to one that has little or no meat-based protein, while giving your body a chance to adapt. If you’re doing this, it’s important to gradually exchange your red meat intake for white meat and fish proteins, and then steadily increasing the reliance on plant-based proteins.
What’s the Deal with Superfoods?
Superfoods are foods that are known to be nutritionally dense and deserve some extra attention in your diet. Here’s a few superfoods that are a cut above the rest:
- Goji Berries – Also known as wolf berries, these little guys are loaded with amino acids, vitamin C, important trace minerals and carotenoids! They are said to stabilize blood sugar and help with blood pressure regulation along with many other benefits.
- Chlorella and Spirulina – You may have seen these popping up in health drinks, smoothies and in tablet form. It’s actually an algae! Its amazing properties include the ability to boost the immune system and help with blood glucose levels.
- Blueberries – Some nutritionists have been known to say, if you only make one change to your diet it should be to add blueberries! The power of the blueberry lies in its colour, the pigment that gives it that blue hue is actually powerful flavonoids which protect brain cells from damaging oxidization. So in particular they appear to be good at protecting memory function. They are also good to hydrate the skin.
- Green Tea – Green tea is used as a remedy for a lot of ailments in eastern medicines everything from cancer prevention through to weight loss, including cholesterol build up, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. While western scientists don’t agree with much of this they do have evidence that both black and green tea is good for cardiovascular health and the lowering of metabolism.
Honourable mention superfoods include pomegranate, chocolate, beetroot, oily fish, wheatgrass, broccoli and garlic!
You Deserve A Drink…
Hydration is key to life. We need to hydrate because most of the functions in the body rely on it to help our muscular systems, heart and brain function properly. The best time to hydrate for a yoga class is prior to starting. Drinking during a yoga class should be limited to sips, if only because yoga on a belly full of water is uncomfortable! Some yoga gurus suggest that it’s not good idea to take any water during asana practice in the belief that it is extinguishing the internal heat that you have worked so hard to cultivate! That being said, a good basic rule is that if you are feeling thirsty, have a drink!
If you are practising yoga in a hot environment and sweating a lot, you’ll probably need to top up on electrolytes as well. Most sports drinks include these, but they can also come with a lot of added sugar, so be sure to read the labels before you commit! A more natural source of electrolytes is coconut water, which many studios and gyms have started to stock. Definitely avoid tea, coffee or beer after a big sweat – both caffeine and alcohol dehydrate.
So as your yoga practice expands there is much to consider in terms of what to feed yourself. Even the act of eating, like anything in yoga, can become a spiritual activity if you so choose. It’s most important to remember that no one diet is good for all and each person has their own particular requirements based on their life style and body needs. It’s always good practise to consult a physician if you are worried about your diet or any changes you want to implement. That being said, natural changes tend to happen when you start practising yoga regularly.
Do any of these sound like something happening in your own life? Or has your relationship to food changed since you upped your yoga game? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!