The what, how and why of a yogic way of eating
Eat to live, don’t live to eat
There is a natural instinct within all of us to follow a healthy and balanced diet. That is imprinted in us from birth, because our bodies and brain want to keep us alive as long as possible. That is why deep down we know what is good and what is not good for us. How many times after a heavy dinner have we swore to eat less the upcoming days. I know i have done it more than once. And nevertheless so often we choose to ignore our body and mind.
The purpose of food
The purpose of food should be looked at before choosing what to eat. Why do we need to eat? To give energy to the body and mind, increase the resistance power of the body and to develop the mind. Nevertheless, so many of us have forgotten the reason for eating. So often we end up stuffing our face in food, overeating and indulging in food that does not give anything to our bodies. On the contrary, it makes our body feel lethargic. We do not eat any more for energy. So often we eat only for the sense of taste (and maybe that of smell). So we need to change our diets? I believe that no one but yourself can answer that. I know that because of health reasons i had to, but this is a decision you take on your own. It is your body after all.
The digestive system is one of the most important systems in the body which links all the other systems together. A poor digestive system is the core problem to many health conditions. An awareness of the digestive processes and the choices we make in eating can help to achieve both physical and mental balance, as food affects not only our body but also our emotions, bringing peace and well being. Thus, fresh food that is suitable for the mind and body gives lightness, happiness, joyfulness and increases intelligence. That is why ideally we should eat foods that take minimum energy to digest, so that the remaining energy can be used for more productive uses.
With regards to yoga i believe that we must start with the basics, the essentials for our survival, if we wish to achieve anything in yoga. Diet and food are among these. We can only really begin to live the full yogic lifestyle when we have gone through the first layers of our needs, desires, intuitions and instincts, preparing us for the physical, mental, psychic and spiritual levels. If we try to eat sattvic foods as much as possible we can slowly change the body chemistry, renewing the digestive system and taking away any strain.
There are no special dietary rules for those that wish to follow a yogic lifestyle, although there are many recommendations with the main ones being to eat natural foods and eat in moderation. Yoga advises a vegetarian diet, particularly as it is preparation for the higher forms of yoga. Vegetarianism has been found to promote inner calmness and harmony between the body and mind, whilst eating meat has been linked with inner tension, anger, disharmony and an increase in desires. Vegetarianism is the basis of a sattvic diet.
There are found to be three types of food: Sattvic, Rajastic and Tamastic.
In yoga sattwa is believed to be the elevating quality of nature, that which lifts the soul toward divinity. A yogic diet ideally follows a sattvic or pure food diet. A balance of fresh fruit, vegetables, cooked whole grains, milk, legumes, nuts and seeds, using a combination of both raw and cooked foods. These foods increase Sattwa in the body because they are light, simple and supply all the necessary nutrients. They increase our physical and mental vitality making it easier to experience clarity, lightness and peace of mind.
Rajasic foods are prepared with much oil and spice. They create heaviness and restlessness in the mind. Meat and fish are classified under these. Onion and garlic are also under this group as they increase desire.
Tamasic foods are foods that are old and stale. They lower the energy and cause laziness. They include foods that are not cooked properly or chewed well and processed foods. Stale, processed and frozen foods have lost their pranic energy.
How to make the change
Regular practice of yoga helps to stimulate the natural instincts to lead to a healthier diet and life style. Yes, it is true! I have see that happening for me. Yoga does change the habits but do not expect this to be done over night. Another way to start changing the way you eat is to be conscious about that. When eating it is important to fill the stomach half full with food. A quarter should be left for water or liquids. The last quarter should be left empty for digestion to take place. This space is necessary for the stomach to churn the food with the digestive juices.
In order to find out how much you need to eat do an experiment. One time eat until you have a feeling of fullness, being aware of how much you are eating. From there half the amount of food, this is your requirement. There should be enough space in the stomach so that if somebody asked you to eat a meal with them after you had already finished your meal you could do it without any ill effects.
The timing of meals should also be fixed. In this way the body begins to release digestive secretions at a certain time. It is important not to skip meals so that the body doesn’t keep going into panic mode and decide to store excess fat.
Another tip is to change the diet according to the seasons. Don’t eat imported foods (i know, easier said than done especially in Norway, so just try to do your best). Always try to eat what is local and fresh. If you know your dosha/prakriti then make your food choices accordingly (a blogg about doshas coming soon)
Try not to eat when experiencing negative, angry or depressive feelings. In these cases we have the tendency to overeat and moreover how you are thinking effects your digestion. You should only eat when you are happy and peaceful. When you eat focus, feel and appreciate every mouthful, eating slowly and being thankful for the food that has been given to you.
And remember, eat to live, don’t live to eat
Information by Kate Woodworth Yogapoint India