Yoga with Hannah

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Diet

I myself follow an 80-90% vegan diet, as I find that this complements my Yoga practice and lifestyle most harmoniously. However, I understand that for most people this can seem difficult or extreme (as it did to me several years ago). Therefore the information that I present here is on the traditional Yogic diet, as related to Ayurveda. If you have any queries about the vegan diet, please contact me.

The traditional yogic diet is lacto-vegetarian. This basically means no meat or fish. The main reasoning behind this is the first niyama of Ahimsa or ‘non-harm’. Eating anything that has once lived is considered to violate this ethic.

Another reason behind not eating meat is that when an animal is killed, they are in a stressed state, and just before they die, their body is flooded with stress hormones. If you then eat this meat, you assimilate this food and therefore consume that stress. Yogis believe that this then leads to physical and mental problems within humans, as they take on the anxiety and adrenaline stored in the animal’s tissues.

As I emphasis in my yoga classes however, every individual is different, and what works best for one practitioner will not be the same for another. Some branches of yoga advocate a vegan diet (with no animal products such as milk, eggs and honey) others such as Tantric, actually allow the eating of meat, but this is rare. As with yoga postures however, one rule is never applicable to all, but experimentation with what works best for you is the only way of knowing. Let experimentation be your guide.

An important aspect of tailoring your diet to suit your individual nature is the influence of the ‘three Gunas’. These are three qualities which both yoga and the traditional Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, teach interact to create the entire universe. The Gunas are present in everything, people, plants, animals, the earth, food- even inanimate objects.

An assessment of the type of personality you are, through experimentation and awareness of the effects of different foods types on your body, can help you to see which foods will best assist you in achieving balance in your life.

Eating a balanced yogic diet that takes account of the three Gunas helps to keep your healthy, slender, and improves flexibility. It will increase the positive influence of prana or chi in the body and enable the mind to remain clear and focused.

The Gunas are:

Sattvic: foods that encourage balance

Such as grains, cereals, wholemeal bread, fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, juices, butter, cheese, honey, nuts, seeds, herbs including (herbal tea) and water

Ideally a yogic diet should include as many sattvic foods as possible, to encourage harmony, peacefulness and the free flow of energy.

Tamasic: Acidic, dry or old foods

Such as mushrooms, meat, onion, garlic, fermented food, such as vinegar, reheated food and over-ripe or stale food. Alcohol is tamasic. Sattvic food that is fried in oil becomes more tamasic.

Should be avoided in full-time yoga practice because of the spiritual harm they cause. However, Ayurveda recognises that eating tamasic foods may benefit a rajasic individual by having a calming effect on them.

Rajasic: Hot, bitter or sour, or dry and salty

Coffee, chocolate, tea, salt, fish, eggs, chilli peppers, strong herbs and spices

If you have a rajasic temperament, eating these foods can make you feel more restless or stressed. However, if you are feeling sluggish and tired, they can give you increased energy.

Although each of the three Gunas is present in all of us, one always predominates and influences all of our actions, thoughts and desires. The yogic diet aims to balance the Gunas through the food we eat.

Although each of the Gunas is present in every food, one always predominates. The balance of Gunas can alter in food, for example a fresh pear is sattvic, but if cooked or over-ripened, it’s tamasic quality is increased.

Asana practice as well as dietary changes can help to balance out Guna qualities. For example, a rajasic character (fiery and energetic) would find greater inner balance from the effects of a slower (more yin) style practice, even though they may be drawn more towards an aggressive (more yang) vinyasa-style class.

For more information on the Gunas please see ‘The Influence of the three Gunas’ in ‘Yoga For You’ by Tara Fraser, Duncan Baird Publishers, London UK, 2001

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