You Are What You Eat: Yoga of Synthesis #3
How many facets of yoga do you know? How many do you practice? At the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Bahamas, a destination for yogis from around the world, yoga is based on five points that are practiced regularly in order to achieve wholeness in your mind, body, and soul.
In this five-part Yoga of Synthesis series, you can learn about each of these aspects of living yoga in your daily life. First we focused on the breath; second on yoga postures; and now we look at the yogic diet.
How Food Affects Your Mind
Nowadays we know this is true — partially. Your physical body is indeed made up of what you eat. But yoga teachings say that what you eat also affects the state of your mind.
According to yoga, every food has an effect on the mind. Some foods make the mind calm, some make it lethargic, and some stimulate it a bit too much! Whole grains, fruits, and veggies, for the most part, have a calming, purifying effect on the mind. Other foods, like hot chiles, onion, and garlic, stimulate the mind. Those wouldn’t be as good if you’re trying to become a serious meditator. Processed or stale foods will have a dulling effect, making you more lethargic (think Netflix binge-watching foods) so you won’t feel light and energetic after you eat them.
The ultimate food to avoid according to yoga is meat. One of the precepts for many yoga practices is to keep a vegetarian diet. It’s recommended for yogis to avoid eating meat because a major practice of yoga is ahimsa or nonviolence. The more peacefully we can live our lives, the better yogis we become. Unnecessarily harming animals and the environment causes a yogi to fall out of alignment with the ideals of yoga. We do not need to eat animals to be healthy, so the yogi perspective is that it’s ideal to live nonviolently and avoid meat-eating.
It’s All About Moderation
Yoga also points to the idea of moderation in terms of quantity for your diet. For example, eating until you need to unbutton your pants is not the ideal way of yogic eating. The idea is to fill the stomach halfway with food, leave a quarter for liquid, and a quarter for space for everything to churn. One of the chief causes of disease is overeating, and it’s something that can be avoided if you listen to your hunger cues and fullness signals.
A problem that many people have nowadays is emotional eating, because food is everywhere! In this situation, you’d want to tune in with yourself and ask yourself why you want to eat, and if food will actually resolve the feelings you have. It may take a few tries, but remember that it’s all about progress, not perfection.
Practice Now: Take a deep breath and bring your mind to a place of self-love and non-judgment. Now ask yourself, ‘How can I eat more mindfully?’ Perhaps you can eat less, chew more, or pay more attention to the colors, textures, and flavors of your food while you eat. Maybe you’d like to practice ahimsa with your food choices, by eating less meat in your diet or trying vegetarian foods. Do you find moderation difficult? Do you eat for emotional reasons? Why do you think that is?
The more awareness you can bring to your diet, the better off you’ll be. Making conscious food choices not only affects us, but it affects those around us. That’s the amazing thing about the food side of yoga — you can even practice yoga principles while you eat.
Swami Sivananda Says: “Meat is not at all necessary for the keeping of perfect health, vigor, and vitality. On the contrary, it is highly deleterious to health … If you want to stop taking mutton, fish, etc., just see with your own eyes the pitiable, struggling condition of the animals at the time of killing. Now mercy and sympathy will arise in your heart."