One of the most beautiful lessons yoga teaches us is the ability to truly understand our bodies. To truly know how it does and does not want to be treated. A fundamental part of improving our overall health and wellbeing comes down to the food we nourish our bodies with and, very importantly, the times we eat.
Over the years yoga has taught me to connect with my body and in doing so I’ve learned what I do and do not want to ingest. By constantly playing with my diet, evaluating what I eat and when I eat it, I’ve learned heavier meals in the evening leave me feeling lethargic, bloated and restricted in my morning practice. To combat this, I tend to have a simple smoothie for dinner whilst ensuring I have larger, more filling meals earlier in the day. It also depends on what I eat/drink. For example, I love love love my cups of tea, but it turns out soy milk and I are not friends when I’ve had too much of it. Three teas a day is my limit. The same goes for wheat. If I eat too much wheat, or have it too late in the day, it’s guaranteed my morning practice will be impacted. But I’m only learning this through listening. Through trial and error to be honest, as there is no instruction manual for what I should and shouldn’t eat (although that would be handy!).
The classic yogic texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita don’t list specific foods for following a “yogic diet” however there is much research that has been done to understand ingredients that can enhance clarity and lightness. That keep our bodies nourished and encourage clarity of mind. So whilst we don’t have individual instruction manuals, it is widely accepted these are the ingredients that are believed to support a strong and progressive practice.
Ayurveda is a form of traditional medicine which I am seeking to learn more about as it’s understanding of food and the implications particular foods have on our bodies is quite incredible. For example, sattvic foods, which purify the body, are most vegetables, ghee (clarified butter), fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Tamasic foods, which cause dullness in the body, are foods like onions, meat, and garlic whilst and rajasic foods, which bring energy, include ingredients like coffee, hot peppers, and salt. By understanding the properties of the ingredients we are eating regularly, we can become more informed about why particular meals may leave us feeling a little less energetic, or cleansed than others. This is not to say we should only eat sattvic foods. From an Ayurvedic perspective, if we can also understand our individual constitution, vikriti, and our current state, prakriti, we can determine what our bodies require (more/less sattvic, tamasic or rajasic foods) to bring it to optimum health.
There is no one-size-fits-all diet people must follow. We all have varied needs, differing constitutions; and it’s about learning to understand this within ourselves. By taking the time to notice how food impacts upon us, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically, we can begin to make more informed choices about when, how and what we consume.
So next time you're preparing a meal, first ask yourself if the qualities of the food are sattvic, tamasic or rajasic in nature. Learn about the food. Then, when you’re next on your mat, try to notice how your body feels. Has it digested the food from the night before easily or are you still feeling a little bloated? Do you feel energetic or dull in your practice? Notice this, as once you begin to understand your own constitution and how particular foods impact upon you, you can begin to make life changing food choices that will bring lightness, nourishment and clarity of mind.