The ancient philosophy of Yoga, especially that of Ashtanga Yoga, and Patanjali’s 8-Limbs of Yoga, teaches us many meaningful lessons. One of them is about how we, as humans, take care of our bodies, and through the practice of self care we can also take care of our minds and our spirits, because in the end it is all connected. While some might view “yoga” as just a way to relax and unwind – and it certainly is that – yoga is also a lifestyle, and one of the cornerstones of that lifestyle, is the Yogic diet.
“The yogi is concerned with the subtle effect that food has on his mind and astral body”
So what is the yogic diet? Depending on the yoga practitioner you speak to, it can very, so lets look at three ways it can help support health, wellness and weight loss.
1. Eat the Rainbow
One lifestyle and diet that some yogi’s follow is as a Vegan. This involves not eating anything that harms or exploits animals, that includes the obvious things like meat, but also not so obvious things like butter, milk, eggs, and for some, honey. There are a large majority who also live in a vegetarian diet, which allows for some of animal products, but only those that aren’t procured through any harm to the animals, this includes milk, eggs, cheese, sour cream, honey, whey. As you might imagine a vegetarian diet allows for a lot more options.
You can see how with a vegetarian or vegan diet one of the immediate benefits, since you begin to eat a lot more healthy foods. The colorful rainbow of fruits and vegetables are just waiting to be enjoyed and are filled with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Eating a vegan or vegetarian diet complements another aspect of the yogi lifestyle, and one that is represented by the concept of Ahimsa – non harming. This sanskrit term comes to us from the Yoga Sutra’s and the Yama’s, which are a code of ethics Yogi’s and all people can follow in their time on this earth. The concept is simple live by doing no harm; no harm to self, others, and for many this extends to animals and the earth.
2. Mindful Eating
Obesity has reached pandemic proportions, especially in the United States, and the yoga diet is a way to get back to sustainable, mindful and more healthy food habits. Your food choices have on your physical body, the right foods make you feel light, happy, energetic. and the wrong foods make you feel dull, hyperactive, sluggish. A poor diet can also lead to more anxiety, poor moods, depression and stress. In yoga terms, good is broken into three types Sattvic, which are ideal as they contain plant based products like whole grains, vegetable and fruits. These are followed by tamasic and rajasic foods which are going to be heavier and disruptive to the system if not regulated. This includes things like alcohol and coffee.
Through the practice of mindful eating we can also practice other concepts of yoga and the Niyama’s, such as Tapas, which teaches us self-discipline, and Aaucha, which reminds us to be pure of mind, body and spirit. Just like we can pollute our mind with negative thoughts or hurt our body with negative actions, we can also pollute ourselves with poor good. By choosing to be mindful about what we eat, and how we feel after we eat, we start to recognize that our body feels and looks better as a result, and our intentions becomes less about losing that last 5-10 pounds, and more about feeling healthy and being comfortable in whatever physical body I exist in.
In this video from Yoga Journal, you can meet Stephen Bethel, owner and cofounder of Bethel Farm, a permaculture retreat center in Hillsborough, NH, and location of our annual 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training.
“Food is one of the most essential activities of our life “from the womb and pretty much lasts until our last breath”
Stephen Bethel, Founder, Bethel Farm
He talks about his experience, passion and commitment to food, the earth, and its connection to yoga, the body, and its overall health.
3. Healthier Self Care
The use of prescription medications has risen so dramatically in recent years to “treat” obesity, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and so many other physical and psychological diseases. Could one argue that a yogic diet is the means to reclaim a healthy lifestyle without the use of more harmful interventions? We would say yes.
When one follows a more yogic diet, it is also going to dramatically increase our energy levels. This is going to contribute to our physical activity and we will feel ready, willing, and able to perform activities that keep us healthy.
When we feel good about our health, our body, and out fitness two things happen. The happiness and love we develop within helps sustain us to achieve long term health and wellness. When we feel good in our body we want to maintain that. But just as importantly, this feeling can spread to the outside world, impacting our relationships and friendships with others. It is so much easier to love others when you can first love yourself.
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