Yoga Diets: Healthy Diet Options to Support a Yoga Practice



“we are constantly bombarded with stimuli, and these make up the diet of our lifestyle. From the food we eat, the air we breathe, the things we see, feel, hear and touch, our environment is formed and this is turn profoundly influences and shaped our internal environment. We are what we eat literally, for the mind is constructed out of the subtlest parts of our diet and the body from the rest. To achieve the goal of life, to find contentment and perfection requires a peaceful and focused mind. To control the mind is difficult since it is in reality very much under the control of our physical body. It is therefore suggested that we first discipline and control the physical body and the mind bay be easily controlled. Diet plays an important part in this process”. Swami Vishnu-Devananda

The ‘proper’ yoga diet is traditionally a lacto-vegetarian one, consisting of grains, pulses, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dairy products. As well as being simple, natural and wholesome, this diet takes into account the subtle effect of food has on the mind and the prana . There are a number of reasons to follow a vegetarian diet: physical, spiritual, psychological, oral and macro-economic.

Introduction, excerpted from The Yoga Cookbook: Vegetarian Food for Body and Mind. PHYSICAL REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET Modern medical science has acknowledged that the high cholesterol, uric acid, additives and preservatives contained in meat all contribute to a multitude of diseases. A many meat diet has been found to be a major contributor to such problems as high blood pressure, heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, arthritis and gout. Excess uric acid lodged in the joints contributes to arthritis, while arteries clogged with cholesterol and other fatty acid deposits decreases the flow of blood to the brain, contributing to senility and raised blood pressure. An article in The American Medical Journal states that “a vegetarian diet can prevent 90% of our thromboembolic disease and 97% of or coronary occlusions:. Other diseases associated with consumption of meat are: strokes, constipation, cancer ,arthritis, high blood pressure, allergies, migraine, headaches, ulcers, bad body odour, intestinal gases, kidney stones, hiatus hemia,gallstones,hypoglycaemia,diverticulosis,osteoporosis,kidney diseases, asthma and trichinosis. These health risks are compounded by the meat business being run like a factory, with cattle seen only as so much saleable poundage. While on the hoof, animals are filled with mega-doses of antibiotics to prevent illness(and loss of profits) and are food high in pesticides. Tranquillizers are administered to prevent the animals from moving about excessively thereby developing their muscles. Much of the residue of these substances are left in the cells of the animals and consequently enter the system of those who eat the animals, Some physicians worry that humans who eat meat will develop an immunity to drugs contained within the meat and consequently may not be able to be treated effectively with antibiotics if they develop a severe illness. Similarly, those who eat meat absorb the hormones of fear and panic that are secreted by the animal just before it is slaughtered. The animals eaten in the west are all vegetarian animals. They eat plants which have absorbed the energy of the sun and nutrients from the earth to produce foods that contain the amino-acids necessary to create protein. Meat eaters therefore take in second-hand protein, while vegetarians directly eat the foods (plants) that create protein and avoid the undesirable elements of meat. Perhaps the realization that all energy originates from the sun is instinctive and there is an understanding that the closer our food is to the source the more potent the energy it contains. This may be why even the most dedicated meat eaters in the west will shy away from eating a carnivorous animal, such as a cat or a dog. Animal protein is not necessary for good health; there are many other sources of protein, such as pulses, nuts and seeds, as well as vegetable minerals and of all the nutrients that we strive to access in our food.

SPRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET The animals world, for the most part, is a round of slaughter- the stronger or more cunning killing the weaker in order to survive, until they are devoured by an even mightier opponent. The difference with human beings is that we are endowed with intellect and free will and so possess the ability to side-step a portion of this cycle and live in harmony with other life forms rather than in content with them. The law of Karma, which may be summarized as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, is inexorable, unrelenting and immutable. The pain that you inflict on others will rebound upon you, and the happiness you radiate to another will come back to you, adding to your own happiness. Annamaya kasha (the physical body) is made of food. Our whole life can be seen as the effect of the interaction of food and life, of matter and energy, which are respectively food and the eater of food. Food is converted into energy, and the energy is used from food. Food is the door to a healthier life. It helps keep of bodily problems so that the mind can concentrate and the spirit can grow.


In yoga philosophy, the mind is formed from the subtlest portion or essence of food. If the food taken is pure, the mind has the proper building materials for the development of a strong and subtle intellect and a good memory. A yogic diet is one that brings inner peace to the body and mind and encourages spiritual progress. All of nature, including our diet, is categorized into three qualities, or gunas: sattva (pure), rajas (over-stimulating) and tama’s (putrefied). A person’s mental make –up may be judged from the type of food he/she prefers to eat. Yogis believe not only that ”you are what eat” but also that you eat those foods which reflect your own level of mental and spiritual purity. As your life changes in a positive way, you will also see your food preferences improving. The yogic diet is based on sattvic foods.


The foods which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are dear to the sattvic people. Bhagavad Gita, xv11,8 Pure foods that increase vitality, energy, vigour , health and joy, that are delicious, wholesome, substantial and agreeable are sattvic. These foods render the mind pure and calm and generate equanimity, poise and peaceful tendencies, sattvic foods supply maximum energy, increase strength and endurance, and help to eliminate fatigue even for those who do strenuous work. They promote a peaceful attitude and are conductive to the practice of meditation. Foods should be as fresh and natural as possible, preferably organically grown, not genetically modified, and kept without preservatives or artificial flavorings. They should also be eaten in as natural a state as possible either raw, steamed or lightly cooked. Grains such as corn, barley, wheat, unpolished rice, oats, millet and quinoa. Make sure you include in your diet coarse foods such as porridge and wholegrain breads. These are good for the teeth and jaws, and they stimulate the processes of digestion and eliminate. Grains supply of energy for the body, and they also contain about half the amino acids that ate needed to form protein. Protein foods such as pulses, nuts and seeds. Protein are the “building blocks” of the body. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to eat a good mixture of foods to ensure that is includes all the amino acids essential for making proteins. Fruits, both fresh and dried, as well as pure fruit juices. Among the many different foods, fruits have foremost in importance in the yoga diet. The curative effects of fresh, juicy fruits are astonishing. They fill the body with vitalizing, life- giving minerals, vitamins and fibre. They contain alkaline matter that helps to keep the blood pure. Vegetables. These are importance in the diet because they contain a host of minerals, vitamins and fibre. The diet should include seeded vegetables (such as cucumbers and squashes), all leafy vegetables, and roots or tubers. These are best eaten raw or cooked a lightly as possible. Herbs for seasoning and herbal teas. Natural sweeteners, such as honey and molasses, maple ayrup and apple juice concentrate. These are much better for you than processes sugar. Raw cane sugar is a traditional part of the yoga diet in India, where, known as jiggery, it comes directly from the cane and is not processed. While sugar is best avoided. Dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt. Traditionally these are an essential part of the yoga diet. However, modern dairy practice abuses animals, filling their milk with hormones and antibiotics. Even if you choose to use dairy products, we recommend that you do so in moderation. They tend to intensity the production of mucus, which interferes with the natural flow of breath.


Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning, are liked by the rajasic and are productive of pain, grief and disease. Bhagavad Gita,XV11,9. The yoga diet avoids rajasic foods because they over stimulate the body and mind. They excite the passions and boisterous tendencies, cause physical and mental stress, bring a restless state of mind and destroy the mind-body balance that is essential to happiness. Onions, garlic, radishes, coffee, tea, tobacco, and stimulants of all kinds fall into this category, as do heavily spiced and salted, chemical - riddled, convenience foods and snacks, sattvic food taken in the wrong place e.g. eaten on the run, becomes rajasic. Refined (white) sugar, soft drinks, prepared mustards, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods and anything that is excessively hot, bitter, sour, saline are all rajasic are best avoided.. Strong spices and condiments over-stimulate the mind as well as irritate the mucous membrane of the intestines. Rajasic foods increase, lust, anger, greed, selfishness, violence and egoism, which are barriers that separate people from each other and their realization of the divine. Rajas is the energy that creates dissension in life and wars in the world. TAMASIC FOODS That food which is state, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the tamasic. Bhagavad Gita,XV11,10. Tamasic food makes a person dull, inert, and lazy; it robs individuals of high ideals, Purpose and motivation. In addition it accentuates the tendency to suffer from chronic ailments and depression, and fills the mind wit darkness, anger and impure thoughts. Abandoning tamasic food needs to be among the first positive lifestyle changes you make. Meat, fish, all intoxicants (alcoholic beverages, marijuana, opium, etc.) are tamasic in nature. Meat -eating and alcoholism are closely allied. The craving for alcohol dies a natural death when meat is withdrawn from the diet. Tamasic foods include all foods that are state, decomposed, unclean, as well as overripe and unripe fruits. Also included are foods that have been fermented, burned, fried, barbecued or reheated many times; as well as state products and those containing preservatives e.g. canned, processed and many pre-prepared foods. Mushrooms are included in this category as they grown in darkness, and vinegar, as it is a product of fermentation and retards digestion. Deep-fried foods are indigestible and are considered tamasic. The fat penetrates into them and the digestive juice of the stomach cannot act on them. In addition the fine, nutritive essence which is beneficial to health is destroyed by frying. Sattvic foods taken in excessive quantity (overeating) becomes tamasic. However, remember that this division of foods into sattvic-rajasic-tamasic is a comparative one nad is not absolute. It is meant to help you gain the insight to change your diet in a positive direction.

MORAL REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET While following a vegetarian diet and eating only sattvic foods provides good health and keeps the mind calm. It also avoid taking animal life and is in accord with the yoga principle of ahimsa (non- violence). Yoga philosophy views all life as one, and the taking of animals life contravenes that principle. Even before killing the animals, the meat industry treats its future produce cruelly. Broiler chickens live in crowded conditions and piggeries are notoriously unsanitary. Laying hens are kept in tiny cages, and veal calves are confined for their entire short lives in small crates with included anemia to keep their fresh tender to satisfy the desires of gourmets. A vegetarian diet not only protests against the unnecessary taking of animal life, but the unnecessary cruelty practiced in the name of profits. Rachel Carson has said, “As a biologist whose special interests life in the field of ecology, or the relation between living things and their environment. I find it inconceivable that healthy animals can be produced under the artificial and damaging conditions that prevail in the modem factory- like installations, where animals are grown and turned out like so many inanimate objects”. The practice of ahimsa toward animals also leads to the integration of ahimsa into daily life and the practice of physical and emotional non- violence in our relationships with our fellow human beings and is an important step toward understanding that the whole world is Brahman.

MACRO-ECONOMIC REASONS FOR A VEGETARIAN DIET Most of the population of the world lives on a subsistence diet. While many western countries produce excess grains, other nations lack sufficient arable land to support their population. Using land to raise food for cattle leaves less resources to cultivate food for people. It has been estimated that it takes between four to ten times more land to raise one pound of vegetable protein. If there is less demand for meat, less land will be devoted to cattle fodder, and the amount of food available for people will increase. A non-flesh diet is obviously an excellent way to provide low-cost food for large undeveloped populations.

ARE HUMANS SUITED TO BE VEGETARIANS? The question of whether humans are meant to be vegetarians is a topic that has been discussed is a wide range of disciplines. From an anatomical viewpoint it appears that humans are more similar to vegetarian animals than carnivores. For example, carnivores possess a digestive tract only three the length of their bodies, and are thus capable of rapidly eliminating fast- decaying substances (such as meat). Their stomachs are rich is hydrochloric acid which enables them to digest bone and tough fibrous tissue found in animal muscle. However the intestinal canal of humans and other vegetarian animals is ten to twelve time the length of their bodies, forming a winding intricate route poorly adapted to the digestion and elimination of flesh foods. The digestive system of natural omnivores (flesh and plant eaters, such as the bear, racoon and wild boar) lies between these extremes.

Along with sharp claws, all carnivores are endowed with powerful jaws, long fangs and sharp, elongated canine teeth for spearing and tearing flesh. The so-called “canine teeth” in humans (termed thus because of the relative position in the mouth) have no resemblance to those found in the dog, cat or even omnivorous bear. On the other hand, vegetarian animals are well-equipped with sharp inclsor teeth for grinding and chewing vegetables, fruits and nuts. The French naturalist, Baron Curier noted that fruits, roots and succulent parts of vegetables appear to be the natural food of humanity. Our hands afford us the facility in gathering them. Our short, comparatively weak jaw and short canine teeth, one not passing beyond the common line of the other, permit us to neither feed on herbage nor devour flesh, unless those items were previously prepared by culinary processes. Being mainly nocturnal hunters, carnivores sleep through the heat of the day. Vegetarian animals normally function during the day. It seems that humans are natural vegetarians. One theory is that the scarcity of fruit and vegetables during the Ice Age forced the northern tribes of humans to adapt to eating meat to survive. Unfortunately this practice not renounced when no longer necessary.


From food all beings are born. Having been born, they grow by food. Food is eaten by all beings and it also eats them. Taittiriya Upanishad,11,2,1 We go in the circle of birth and death constantly. The body is born, grows, changes and decays, dies and is born again. Death means we now have to leave this physical body because of some karma (past action). This body came from food and goes back to the food chain. Swami Vishnu-devananda often used this illustration;”For example, I eat a nice red juicy tomato and my body grows. What happens to body itself is constantly changing. One day it will die. Perhaps when you bury me you will put a tomato plant over my body. The tomato plant will say “You ate my cousin once upon a time. Now I am going to eat you”. Then beautiful tomatoes will grow. In this case, the destruction of my body is construction of the tomato-and you will all enjoy a nice tomato sauce!”


A diet which is not in accord with the principles of satisfactory nutrition lead to impaired physical development, ill-health and untimely death. A high standard of health, vigour and vitality can be achieved through a well-balanced diet. Such a diet will enable you to develop your inherited capacities to the full extent. A well-balanced and adequate diet must yield enough calories, as well as supply the various food constituents in sufficient quantities. We need both an energy source for our day-t-day functioning, and vitamins and minerals to hormones and to prevent debilitative diseases. Water is also a necessary part of the diet. About 70 percent of body loss of about 2.5 litres (4 pints) of water through the skin, lungs, kidneys and the alimentary canal. Water has a greater cleansing action on the tissues than other beverages. It dissolves and distributes food. It is necessary for digestion, and removes impurities from the body. It keeps the body temperature stable through evaporation from the skin in the form of sweat. Make all changes to your diet gradually. If something disagrees with you, reduce the quantity or eliminate it completely. With practice, you in the selection of a diet suited to your temperament and constitution; one that will maintain your physical efficiency, good health and mental vigour. Simple and natural, non-stimulating, tissue building, energy producing food and drink keep the mind calm and pure and help the yoga practitioner attain the goal of life. A healthy diet means not only eating the proper foods, but eating them in proper proportion, under the proper circumstances, with the proper attitude.


• Always respect your food. Begin each meal by giving thanks for it. • Maintain a peaceful attitude during meals; observe silence if you are alone. When eating with family and friends, try not to argue or discuss unpleasant experiences. General conversation can create the balanced, loving environment that enhances digestion and amplifies the body’s ability to assimilate food for nourishment. • Do not eat when you are angry. Rest for a while until the mind becomes calm and then take some food. Poisons are secreted by the glands and thrown back into the bloodstream when you are angry and upset. • Do not eat food that is too hot, or too cold; this will upset the stomach and produce indigestion. • Do not force yourself to eat anything that you do not like, but also do not eat only those things that you like the most. • Abandon too many mixtures or combinations of foods. They are difficult for the system to digest. Eat moderately what you find agreeable. A simple diet is best. • Eat at least one raw dish in each meal to keep your blood alkaline. • Try to refrain from drinking during a meal as this will dilute the gastric juice, causing indigestion and other stomach complains. • Keep the mouth sweet and clean; it is the gatekeeper of the digestive system. • Eat slowly and savour your food. Chew it thoroughly, remembering that digestion begins in the mouth. Appetising food and thorough chewing stimulate the flow if saliva and other digestive juices. • Eat moderately . The secret of being healthy and happy is always to be a little hungry. Don’t overload the stomach. Overeating hinders digestion, assimilation and growth, overworking the organs and making them stressed and vulnerable to disease. • Gluttons and epicureans cannot ever dream of succeeding in yoga. Whoever regulates their diet can become a yogi. Take half a stomachful of food, a quarter for the expansion of gas. • Try to eat as little processed food as possible. • Eat at fixed times; try to refrain from eating between meals. If you do not feel hungry at meal time, fast until the next meal. Eat only when you are really hungry. Beware of false hunger. The gastric fire is god. Wait for the appearance of this god within and only then offer some food. • Foods are best when cooked lightly. Over-cooking robs them of their nutritional value and flavor. • Try not to eat large meals late at night. Do not eat rice or beans a this time, as they are heavy to digest and you will find it difficult to get up for meditation in the morning. If you are very hungry, eat something light, perhaps some fruit. • Eat to live, don’t live to eat. You need food to maintain body heat, produce new cells, and repair wear and tear. Be simple in your eating habits. The person who practices regular meditation wants very little food. • Take some lemon and honey in the morning for health and energy, and to purify the blood. • Do not practice asanas immediately after eating, nor when you are hungry. Also it is not advisable to do nay strenuous physical or mental work immediately after eating. In the morning when physical and nervous forces are at their most vigorous, the stomach can proceed with its exercise such as a leisurely walk to the bus. After supper there should be no work, but recreation. Bodily vigour is at its lowest and should not be taxed further. • Try sitting in Vajra asana (sitting on the heels with knees and feet together) for ten minutes after a meal; this will assist digestion. • Do not become a slave to food and drink. Do not make much fuss about diet. Take simple and natural foods, If you think too much about food this will create more body-consciousness. • Try fasting one day a week. Fasting eliminates poisons, overhauls the internal , mechanism and gives rest to the organs. • Remember God, the in-dweller of all foods, the bestower of all bounties. Remember God during meals and give thanks to God just before and after eating.


For every human beings, the foremost duty is to do sadhana (spiritual practice) for the realisation of God. For this, a sound body and mind are most essential. Fasts help a great deal in keeping the body in a perfect state if heath. Fasting is recommended by all religions as the first step on the ladder of divine life .


If there is the least symptom of disease in the body. It is a sign to fast for a day or two. Animals which depend only on nature, fast naturally. If it is too difficult to go on a complete water fast, take the juice of two of three fruits, mixed with a considerable quantity of water. No solid food or fleshy fruits(such as bananas) should be taken on that day. This kind if fast is good for the preservation of health. A fast is a quick curing agent for many aliments. It gives rest to the stomach, and also eliminates toxins from the body. It cleanses the body and makes it more energetic. Much care is required in observing long fasts. They should be observed under the guidance of an expert; otherwise, there is every possibility of more harm than good be done to the system. Two of three day fasts can be observed without guidance, but the daily use of an enema during the fast, and a day or two afterwards, is necessary. A fast of twenty-four hours gives the bowels a chance to have a rest; the mind is free to think of God for many more hours than you may otherwise do. The fast rejuvenates the body and makes the mind concentrated. All your energies are thoroughly recouped. Physically, your system gets an entire overhaul. Mentally, you develop more concentration and resisting capacity to withstand physical disturbances, illness, fatigue, and disease. Although fasting is an excellent remedy, it should not be expected to accomplish the impossible. It cannot cure deficiency diseases that are a result of insufficient nourishment, congential defects and serious organic troubles. Long fasts are not advisable in wasting diseases like consumption, pernicious anaemia, and during pregnancy. Fasting gives clear insight into a subject. A person who genuinely practices fasting at regular intervals, has clear-cut thoughts, an expression all his own and an imagination which others cannot excel. The ego stands nowhere before him. His thoughts are sublime and firm. His actions are diligent. His ideas are rays of light in the darkness of human life.


Fasting is nature’s curative agent. It can restore health where everything else has failed. It gives nature a chance to clean the system. A total fast means total abstinence from all food, both liquids and solids. Water is not a food. It does not stimulate the appetite. During a fast, drink plenty if water. This will eliminate weakness. There is a difference between fasting and starving. Fasting is undertaken for religious purposes or to regain bodily health. It is giving up food when there is no real hunger, to eliminate poisons and accumulated toxins from the system, and to allow nature to do its work of healing satisfactorily. Through fating, you remove disease and regain bodily health, vigour and vitality. Prana is unified by fasting and the life spark is rekindled. If you have a tendency to vomit while fasting, drink plenty of water. The water can be flavoured with a little lemon juice. Taken an enema. If the vomiting persisits, break the fast slowly and carefully. The fast should not be continued when the action of the heart becomes very slow and when you feel very weak. When you fast, do not entertain thoughts of food. You will not derive the benefits of your mind towards God. Entertain sublime, divine thoughts. Fast until you feel hungry. The tongue usually becomes clean, the taste in the mouth and the breath pleasant and the complexion clear.


A fast can be broken at any time. But, if you break it before hunger appears naturally, you will not realize the maximum benefits. After the fast is properly broken and also during the breaking period, you may have a tendency toward constipation, but later on this will vanish completely. That is the reason why it is a good idea to adhere to a fruit diet for the first few days after breaking a fast. Fruits digest very easily and stimulate peristalsis. An abnormal craving to eat more food and all kinds if food may arise after braking the fast. The tongue and stomach may revolt violently. Be cautious. Control this abnormal appetite. If the fast is not broken properly, and the stomach is overloaded by eating too much and too heavy foods, you may get bloated . To get rid of this condition, fast again. Take hot baths and one or two enemas daily. When the swelling disappears, break the fast; this time do it more slowly and carefully. You can break your fast with a little vegetable soup, or difficult fruit or coconut water. In the case of a long fast, stick to the above diet one –fourth the length of the fast. The digestive power becomes very weak after a long fast. You cannot take heavy foods suddenly. Nature must take her own time, and course to renovate and invigorate. Milk is a heavy food. It is best to not break you fast with milk. You can take it gradually. After a long fast, take half a glass of fruit juice diluted with water. Take this 3-4 times a day on the first day.

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