Nutrition for Yoga Practitioners
Nutrition is considered a pillar of life according to Ayurveda, the ancient system of healing going back 5000 years. There are considered to be 3 pillars of life, food, sleep and creativity. Without these, life cannot be sustained. Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences so they share the same views regarding nutrition. Furthermore, nutrition is not only about food ingestion but also what we ingest via our sense organs. It is not simply what we ingest through food and sensory data that affects us in a wholesome or unwholesome way but our power to digest and assimilate the goodness from it and excrete what is toxic to our body-mind environments.
The Digestion Process
Before moving on to what is good to eat and what is not, let’s take a look at the process of digestion. According to Ayurveda there is a digestive fire somewhat equivalent to ‘metabolic power’ in modern science. This digestive fire is responsible for dividing food into 4 parts
1. Nutrition to nourish the body
3. Toxic waste (improperly digested food) termed as ama
4. Subtle essence which nourishes the mind
If the Agni is impaired there will be less nutrition for the mind and body and a lot of the food might end up as ama. Ama then lodges itself into the weaker parts of the body causing blockages and therefore prana and nutrition deficit to that area which ultimately leads to disease. It is therefore imperative that our Agni is functioning optimally for our food to nourish the mind and body fully. Furthermore, it must be remembered that one man’s food may be another man’s poison so food is best prescribed according to the mind- body constitution, lifestyle and health status of an individual. However, there are some very important guidelines for Yoga Practitioners explained below,
Types of Food for Healthy Nutrition
In Ayurveda a meal is considered complete if it contains the six tastes
● Sweet e.g., carbohydrates
● Sour e.g., lemon and oranges
● Salty e.g., salt, seaweed
● Pungent e.g., ginger and garlic
● Bitter e.g., spinach and kale
● Astringent e.g., pomegranate, turmeric and many other herbs and spices
Ayurveda does not look at a complete meal in terms of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals etc but has a completely different system/theory of nutrition than modern science. The Ayurveda System appears more multifactorial, holistic and individualised.
A complete Ayurveda meal contains all the 6 tastes and ideally contains the sweet taste in the largest proportion. Sweet does not necessarily mean sugar but refers to carbohydrates which in turn break down into glucose. Most nations and traditions of the world have the sweet taste as the major taste of their meal, be it bread, rice, millet, quinoa, cornmeal, oats and so on. The non-sweet tastes can be had in equal proportions for the rest of the meal and can take the form of vegetables, herbs, spices etc
Furthermore, both Ayurveda and Yoga place great emphasis on the subtle qualities (gunas) of a meal which have a profound effect on the mind. The gunas are as follows:
● Sattva - harmony and clarity (the natural state of the mind)
● Rajas- activity
● Tamas – inertia
All three gunas are necessary for the proper functioning of mind and body but through proper nutrition and other factors, they can be balanced. For Yoga Practitioners, the focus is to bring the mind more and more towards its natural state which is ‘sattva’ as the ultimate aim of Yoga and Ayurveda is harmony or moksha/samadhi. Eating the appropriate foods can facilitate the journey to harmony. Yoga practitioners are therefore advised to eat a sattvic diet to promote clarity and harmony of mind as well as minimising toxic build up within the body.
What are sattvic foods?
● Organic fresh fruit and vegetables
● Wholegrains like rice, wheat, oats etc
● Pulses like lentils and beans, mungdahl being the least acidic and easy to digest
● Cold pressed oils
● Organic ghee
● Organic milk
● Organic buttermilk
● Cold pressed honey
● Freshly cooked foods (no leftovers)
● Warm herbal fluids or simply warm water
It is also advised that food consumed should be seasonal and local. In the modern world however, it is difficult to identify what is what as everything comes from everywhere. With some research, you may discover what is seasonal and local. Nevertheless, if your body and taste buds have become accustomed to a particular food then to leave it abruptly is not advisable as it creates physical deprivation and mind dissatisfaction; this is not to say it should not be done. Any changes to diet should be done slowly for them to be sustained.
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