Yoga is a philosophy based on science and ancient knowledge, it’s not just a physical practice that stops on the mat as you may already know. The philosophy that it comes from is called the Ashtanga yoga philosophy -the eight-fold path laid down by Patanjali. And guess what? It teaches you what to eat too!
The First Stage – Yama
In the Ashtanga philosophy, even before one can begin to do asanas, there’s something called Yam and Niyam, which are sort of prerequisites for you to be able to do asana well. Therefore, the starting point of yoga is not the yoga poses or even pranayama exercises, but the study and application of Yam & Niyam in daily life.
If you start doing poses on the mat, ignoring Yam and Niyam, you will not be in a position to completely experience the results of your asana practice.
Eating Correctly – The Yuktahaar Way
One of the basic Yama is Yuktahaar, where ‘yukt’ means right (in this case the right amount, quality and mindfulness) and ‘ahaar’ means food. The Gita speaks of Yuktahaar, where Lord Krishna tells Arjun that for a meaningful yoga practice, balance in food and sleep is crucial.
Thus, only when we are eating in a state of balance is when yoga will lead you to achieve the desired results –both physical and emotional.
Still not clear about what Yuktahaar means and how it helps you to have better eating habits? Just be certain that you understand these three basic things:
A. Eat what your grandmother recognizes as food
This is a really good rule of thumb. If your grandma thinks what you’re eating is good for you, it most possibly is. Just like the different yoga styles and philosophies have all come to us through the guru–shishya parampara (an unbroken chain of a guru teaching his student), the food you eat should also come all the way to you from your own chain of guru–shishya parampara. I.e., your grandmother.
And your grandma was taught by her grandma; her grandma was taught by hers; and so on. So, before picking up on any exotic foodstuff, think if your grandmother would recognize it as food. If the answer is yes, it will most likely be healthy for you.
B. Eat food that is high in Prana
While western nutrition relies on calories to measure the energy of food, the yoga philosophy measures the prana or life force present in food. The fresher the food, the higher the prana.
While the packaged sandwiches or pre-made salads you find in cafes may claim to be low in calories, they are almost devoid of any pranic value. Food low in prana does not uplift you in any way –physical, emotional and spiritual.
For a yoga practice to yield results, eat food that is fresh, irrespective of its calories, and practice mindful eating.
C. Eat local and seasonal food
Last but not least, you should try to eat food that is local and seasonal. Eating local means you eat food grown around your area and in season means eating only food that is available at that point in time.
For example, if you are eating in India, consume local grains like bajra and jowar; or if you’re in South America, eat as much Quinoa as possible.
Remember that our physical Body is called Annamaya Kosha in yoga, and it is said to be a direct reflection of the ‘Anna’ (which is the food we eat). The results out of your asana practice are based to a great extent on how you treat this Annamaya Kosha.
Whether you eat a mindful diet or you are busy having packaged cereals and imported food flown from elsewhere, it’s your decision. Just be aware that it has a direct impact on your yoga practice. Staying simple with your food is key to achieve the healthier version of yourself, and to gain the desired state of balance from yoga.
Want to learn to balance your food to help your yoga practice? Go to a yoga and cooking retreat and get started with a new diet that your grandma will surely approve!
Read more nutrition-related articles by Munmun on MunmunGaneriwal.com.