I get asked a lot what the best nutrition practice is for yogis, and what type of diet a yogi should adopt. What might seem like a pretty straightforward question is actually more complex than you might think.
When we talk about nutrition from a yogic perspective, there is a lot more at play than simply looking at the nutritional content of our food. While that is important and fuelling your body properly for practice is imperative to preventing injury, for the purpose of this blog post I’m referring to the energetic aspect of our nutrition. I’m talking about the dilemma that plagues many Yogis:
To eat meat, or not too eat meat, that is the question.
It’s a pretty loaded question. But over and over I’ve heard the same thing from many practitioners – after practicing for long enough, at some point, they just don’t feel good about eating meat or animal products anymore.
I typically struggle to comment on this because I’ve found that when it comes to being vegan/vegetarian, people are pretty opinionated. Many vegans get a bad rap for trying to force their opinions on others when they’re simply not ready, or not interested. Many non-vegans get a bad rap for being “vegan-phobic.” Take my sister for instance, who wouldn’t touch anything that was labeled “vegan” for years. You can see how the conversation can get awkward.
Before I go on I must admit, I am a vegan… but I like to think I’m not that kind of vegan. I’m a cool vegan.
*Insert sunglass emoji*
The vegan dilemma is not black and white, and I don’t think there is one right answer. I will do my best to present this article in a way that is not biased to my preferences, but in a way that presents the facts.
So, is being vegan the correct yogic diet?
Here’s what I think needs to be considered:
According to the Yoga Sutras, one should practice the Yamas and Niyamas before beginning to practice Asana. Now, the very first Yama is Ahimsa – non-harming or non-violence. I think we can all agree that killing an animal and eating it would, in fact, be a form of violence, yes? In this sense, eating meat, or anything that would cause harm to an animal would be contrary to ahimsa, and therefore “not yogic.”
However, I have heard time and time again, stories of people trying to adopt a vegan diet, and feeling depleted, weak, and undernourished. While it could be as a result of “not doing it right” there is some science that suggests a vegan diet is not necessarily right for all people. You can read more about that here.
In these cases, we want to consider Ahimsa toward the self. You’re not doing anyone, any favours if you’re not operating at your full potential because you are stubbornly trying to eat a vegan diet that just isn’t working for you. If you’re keen on being vegan, but not feeling great, consider visiting with a naturopath to determine why this lifestyle isn’t working for you.
Being of Sattvic or “pure” mind is the goal when we practice, but this quality is also present in the food that we eat. Ideally a yogic diet would be rich in sattvic foods. Sattvic foods are generally fresh vegetables, grains, and legumes, mild spices and mildly sweet foods. However, a sattvic diet does include some dairy products such as cows milk and ghee. Though, I hate to break it to you, but when they are talking about the milk they really are referring to raw, organic, unpasteruized milk – straight from the cow’s teet.
According to Ayurveda, this is the best diet for a Yogi to adopt. It helps keep the mind clear, and Sattvic as opposed to rajasic or tamasic. A sattvic diet is also soothing for the digestive system and helps keep things moving if you know what I mean.
Prana is the life force, it is present in all living things to some degree. As Yogi’s we are ideally always working on building prana during our practice. However, you may not know that prana can also be continually built through the food that we eat. So it’s important to understand that our food choices will either build our prana, or deplete it; plain and simple.
Prana building foods are similar to Sattvic foods. Fruits and vegetables contain the highest amounts of prana, and the prana is highest when picked from the plant. As soon as a vegetable is picked it begins to lose its prana. Many people suggest that eating raw foods will yield the highest amounts of Prana. However, many Ayurvedic sources suggest lightly steaming or sautéing the vegetables to “wake up” the Prana, and make the vegetables easier for digestion.
Meat does contain prana. So do animal products such as milk, ghee, and eggs, though it is much less than it’s vegetable counterpart. However, when opting for these foods it is critical that you consider the state of the animal. Animal meat may contain stress hormones, or antibiotics depending on how the animal was raised. The animal may have been brought up in a less than humane environment, and this will absolutely affect the Prana of the meat.
If you do eat meat, it’s important that it is sourced as locally, organically and humanely as possible.
So, what is the correct yogic diet?
At the end of the day, being vegan is a great idea. It is absolutely the simplest way to practice ahimsa in your life, it’s filled with highly pranic, and sattvic foods – we really can’t deny that – but, it may not be right for everyone, and that’s ok. While eating a whole foods, plant-based diet is generally good for most people, there is some variance which needs to be accounted for.
I like to think of nutrition the same way I think about the practice. We all start at the same place – the beginning of primary, and yet some people breeze through, and others struggle. The same way that each of our individual practices differs so does our dietary requirements, and our individual idea’s about what is right and wrong when it comes to food.
In my opinion, the correct yogic diet is the one that does as little harm as possible, builds your prana and sattva, and makes you feel good physically and emotionally. I invite you to find these characteristics in your diet and lifestyle on your yogic journey.