Food As A Fuel For The Yogic Lifestyle
Did you know that over 20 million people in the U.S. practice yoga, or that over 44% of those who don't, see themselves as 'aspirational yogis'? The popularity of Affirmats, which combine functionality and design and allow yogis to express their personality, reveals the extent to which yoga is so much more than a form of exercise. Numerous studies have pointed to the life-changing effects of this millenary practice and its ability to battle stress, anxiety, and depression. Yoga currently plays an important role in everything from breast cancer recovery to substance abuse rehabilitation, owing to its ability to relax and enhance mood. Those who take yoga seriously know that what starts out as a hobby or way to hone one’s strength and flexibility, soon turns into a lifestyle. One that embraces the way we relate to others and the environment but also the food we eat.
Food and yogic tradition
Although the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra do not stipulate a specific diet for yogis, there are traditions that espouse the consumption of specific foods, and the avoidance of others. Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, notes that ideal foods for yoga “enhance clarity and lightness, keeping the body light and nourished and the mind clear.” His statement makes sense. Yoga is an activity that demands full concentration, but also flexibility and strength. The body must be powerful yet lithe at the same time, in order to comfortably perform various asanas. A diet that is rich in quality protein sources, seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats ensures yogis have all the fuel they need to have strength and endurance in even the most challenging of classes.
The eight yogic limbs
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lays down an eight-fold path called ashtanga, literally translated as ‘eight limbs’. It espouses ideas such as Yama (which deals with ethics and integrity), niyama (which focuses on self-discipline), asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (controlled breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal from the material world), Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (ecstasy).
The most relevant yogic limb with respect to food is ahimsa, which stresses the importance of not harming any sentient thing. Many yogis find that vegetarianism or veganism fit in well with this ideal. Although there are nutritional falsehoods about meat-free diets, there is an ample array of nutritionists, athletes, and even bodybuilders who are proving every myth wrong. So long as a meat-free diet is well planned and comprises a wide range of foods, there is no reason why one cannot excel in even the most demanding sports.
Harnessing energy from fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain a plethora of vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids; when consumed in a raw state, they are rich in ‘phytochemicals’, a vibrant source of light energy that can help battle disease. Vegan diets have been shown to be an excellent choice for those wishing to lose weight. Studies have shown that they fare better than carnivore and even vegetarian diets.
There are other culinary traditions when it comes to yoga, including the Ayurvedic tradition (which recommends the consumption of sattvic foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and the like). When choosing a nutritional regime that is right for you, remember that your body is a temple; one that should be kept at a healthy weight if you are to achieve your best as a yogi. Your nutritional path is a product of your own choice, but when forging it, ensure that your health and wellness take priority over all other considerations.