“Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food.”
-Hippocrates, 400 BC
Yoga is more than a practice—it’s a lifestyle built upon the foundations of holistic health and well being. Food plays a critical role in preparing the body for longevity and increased awareness. But what makes for a yogic diet?
Much of Kundalini Yoga is informed by Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and well being. The wisdom of Ayurveda implies that each person has a unique composition, and as such, unique needs. These needs will vary over time, depending on the environment and circumstance. As such, there is no perfect or prescribed “yogic diet.” The closest thing to a yogic diet would be the one that’s right for you.
While many schools of yoga share similar threads, including the shift to plant-based eating of nutrient-rich, and easily digestible foods, not even the yogic scriptures mention one prescriptive diet. But there are important things to consider when eating for practice—or more so, when eating for life.
Generally speaking, the yogic diet includes whole, simple, fresh, nutritious food. A typical yogic diet would not include meat, fish, poultry, or eggs, due to the strain on the digestive tract. There are new considerations in the age of globalization, industrial agriculture and Big Food.
Whole, fresh, unprocessed foods give the mind-body energy and strength. When your diet consists of nutritious and sustaining foods, and you eat only what you know you can digest, then there is more energy available for the healing of organs and cells.
Balance is the name of the game. A good start is to strive for a healthy combination of:
Veganism is a trend in the modern world of yoga and, given factory farming and the exploitation of the cow in pursuit of fast profit, understandably so. But dairy is recommended for Kundalini practitioners, except for those that are allergic, averse, or opposed.
Breath of Fire and the repetitive movement practices in Kundalini Yoga reduce mucus, which is necessary to lubricate the airwaves and protect cellular membranes. And while many diss dairy as another outpost of the evil empire, Ayurvedic practitioners hold it in high esteem.
“Ayurveda considers milk products the building blocks of tissue,” says Reenita Malhotra Hora, an Ayurvedic clinician at the California Medical Center in San Francisco, cited in an interview with Yoga Journal. “In Ayurveda, the body is made up of seven layers of tissue: water, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow, and reproductive tissue.” Milk is thought to contribute to the health of each layer.
Food source matters, too. While the Western world sometimes claims that milk causes mucus and allergies, the problem may not be dairy, but the manufacturing process. When possible, seek out organic, whole, unprocessed raw milk from your local farmers. Raw milk has been a staple in Indian diets for 5,000-plus years, highly valued as an important building block of healthy tissues.
There is the basic principle that you are what you eat. If it is your path to live a life in quiet contemplation, the sattvic (light and pure) diet may be for you. Foods that are sattvic in nature would include most vegetables, ghee, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
Kundalini Yoga is a householder’s path, designed for people that wish to maintain a meditative mind but who also live and work in the world. And because Kundalini Yoga is a physically demanding practice, rajasic foods such as onions, garlic, and ginger, are also recommended. Almost all yoga discourages heavy or tamasic foods, which include most animal products, alcohol, and mind-altering drugs.
What is best for you and your yoga practice should be informed by your constitution and the daily demands of your life. Remember, we are eating for balance; we are eating for life.
“Eating is an act of communication. In eating, we communicate with the earth, the farmer, the chef.”
-Dr. Vandana Shiva, phD
For most yogis, food choices reflect personal ethics, and are inextricable from spiritual practice. In the end, most would agree that part of the practice is not to follow strict guidelines, but to develop a conscious awareness about what you eat. Just like your yoga practice, your yogic diet will be uniquely tailored to you.
In this way of thinking about nourishment, what you need as an individual may be very different from what someone else needs. And what you need at this moment of your life may be very different from what you needed five years ago, or what you will need five years down the road.
As teacher Dayna Macy so beautifully articulates, “Perhaps the ancient sages were relying on wisdom when they chose not to lay down a yogic diet for all to follow. Just as you learn to listen to your body on the mat, you must listen to your body at the table.”