The practice of yoga and balanced, healthy eating share many common principles.
By Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit.com
Yoga means a “Union” between the mind and body, your inside and your outside. And the practice of yoga requires coordination between breathing, moving into poses and introspection, all of which have a subtle yet obvious effect on the mind. The mind takes an active part in any practice even if it remains behind the scenes. This mind-body union applies directly to healthy eating in the same way – the very real need and desire for a perfect balance, and the union of food groups; and eating in a mindful and balanced way.
In yoga (just like nutrition) each one of us has our own special needs and abilities, as well as the postures (or foods) that fuel our lives and our workouts. The most important thing is to find the balance that’s right for you personally. Another main theme in practicing yoga is increased awareness and paying closer attention to the way you do things, because every small detail has its importance and effect on the whole picture. When performing Sun Salutations, for example, we pay attention to every detail and every action and to the way we answer these calls to action. You might seek the same for the food you eat. Here’s how you can eat like a yogi – like me — to become more aware of fueling your body and make healthier, and more balanced food choices every day:
Avoiding Heavy Meat
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to do yoga, but as you become more aware of your body, you’ll find that eating meat makes you feel heavy and a meal plan based mostly on vegetables helps you maintain the light and energized feeling you get from practicing yoga. The yoga diet is especially important if we want to elevate our consciousness to where we’re feeling love and compassion for all living beings — including animals.
You must consume fresh water daily, but the amount varies from person to person and it also depends on your active lifestyle. Recommended fluid intake is 7 to 11 cups based on 2,000 calories a day. The symptoms of dehydration are easy to detect as long as you stay aware. By the time you feel thirsty during yoga or other activities, you’ve already entered the initial stages of dehydration. Most of your fluids should be water, but yogis also drink a lot of antioxidant-rich green tea, and we tend to avoid excessive alcohol because that would throw our bodies out of balance. I drink a minimum of two liters of green tea every day. The following foods are high on a yogi’s shopping list because they contain at least 80 percent of water and help you stay hydrated:
- Soy milk
One of the most profound tenets of yoga philosophy is “Ahimsa,” or do no harm to yourself or others. This literally translates to some yoga practitioners as “Eat no meat” and drink no dairy from cows because of the harm that comes to these creatures in the farming and slaughtering process. I think that’s a highly personal decision but I eat mainly fish and tofu, nuts and seeds, rice and beans for my protein sources. I eat a lot of sushi, salads and vegetable soups (lentil soup is my favorite) as my main meals.
Mostly Grains and Produce
“Prana” refers to the breath of life, and eating with prana refers to the life power inherent in natural foods, including fresh fruit, grains, and vegetables. This also means avoiding processed foods made with artificial sweeteners and foods that damaged by lengthy cooking. This kind of fast food has no “prana” and is thought to take away from your life force. For example, I often snack on raw almonds and pure goat’s milk yogurt rather than extra salted or roasted nuts or processed yogurts with fruit artificially added.
I have a few easy tricks when I dine out that allow me to control my portions, eat more healthy fruits and grains, and enjoy my company more than I would by ordering too many alcoholic drinks and overeating too many fattening foods. For instance, I typically order one or two appetizers for a main meal, mainly veggie-based, rather than ordering an appetizer plus a main entrée. If there’s a large entrée that I absolutely have to have, something heavier with lots of cheese or excess fat, I will not deprive myself. But I will ask my server to only bring me half the servings and immediately pack the rest in a doggie bag so I’m not even tempted to overeat. I sandwich a glass of wine with a big glass of water before and also after and I always finish with white or green tea to aid my digestion and help me feel full.
Cut Back on Junk Food
Although a grilled American cheese sandwich on white bread with a side of French fries is technically vegetarian, that is not the sort of diet we are talking about here! Try replacing junk with nutritious substitutes: home-brewed ice tea for sodas, whole grain cookies for those made with refined flour, roasted soy beans instead of peanuts, baked chips instead of fried, and so on.
I get a weekly B-6 shot because this nutrient is involved in no less than 100 different chemical reactions in your body at any given minute. According to scientists, vitamin B6 works with other enzymes to regulate all sorts of processes in your body. Studies have shown the benefits of vitamin B6 in relieving edema and reducing water retention, improving magnesium deficiency, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and other chronic inflammation conditions such as rheumatism.
Vitamins and Minerals
Fatigue, lethargy, colds, allergies and infections, and slow wound healing are all symptoms of poor nutrition, and indicate the need for boosting your immune system through vitamins and other supplements. As most doctors recommend, I do take a daily multl-vitamin. In addition to the supplements below, I also suggest eating as many organic whole foods as possible to boost your overall health, and eat foods that have not been treated with hormones and other artificial chemicals.
- Take the herb Echinacea when your immune system is weak, such as during extreme stress, winter travel, and overtraining.
- Eat foods packed with natural Vitamin E, an antioxidant and nutrient that slows down the aging process and strengthens body cells that fight infection. Good examples include nuts, vegetable oils and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.
- Choose foods containing the flavonoids commonly found in plants, such as berries, pomegranates, and melons. Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that may reduce the risk of cancers, heart disease and other serious conditions.
- Immune-boosting antioxidant fruits should be a mainstay of your daily requirements because they pack a Vitamin C punch, a nutrient associated with preventing colds and revving your immune system. In addition to a supplement during cold and flu season, eat cups of leafy green veggies, bell peppers, kiwi, red cherries, melon and all citrus fruits are all excellent sources.
- Omega 3 oils are often lacking in peoples’ diets in the United States and need to increase their intake to glean the myriad benefits because it reduces inflammation, reverses signs of aging, prevents heart disease, maintains optimum blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and gives relief from joint pain, migraines, depression, autoimmune diseases and many other conditions. Good sources are walnuts, flax, soy and fatty fish such as salmon.
Finally, eating like a yogi – with awareness and gratitude for the bounty set before you – means being kind to yourself when and if you do overeat. It means eating slowly and savoring each bite. It means supplying your friends and family with home-cooked meals and nutrient-rich whole foods. When you eat like a yogi, you hope to eat in sensible portion sizes, with a blend of tastes and flavors that suit you. Try to avoid strict dieting and skipping meals because that’s not a healthy practice to adopt for your body or your mind. If you’re an athlete and train really hard either in or out of the gym, you should also consume adequate calories for your size and frame. Diets too low in calories and healthy fats may cause inadequate intake of antioxidant-rich vitamins and minerals from foods. Deprivation diets and too-strict eating practices are often too low in protein, and they can also compromise your immune system.
This may seem overwhelming, but taking small steps and being kind to yourself and aware of what you put in your mouth is a great way to start eating like a yogi.