Optimal health is about the inside as much as the outside.
This idea is central to the practice of yoga, which is far more than a series of complex poses and stretches.
Enter, the yogic diet.
The yogic diet (also known as the yogi diet) is a diet rooted in ancient times that prioritizes the consumption of foods that promote good physical, mental, and spiritual health.
If you’re looking for a way to level-up your practice, look no further. After all, there’s only so much you can achieve on the mat if the food you fuel your body with does more harm than good!
We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to the yogic diet, complete with helpful tips, tricks and strategies, to help you transition to a diet that will bring you inner (and outer) peace.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- The 3 principles of the yogic diet
- Knowing your sattvic, rajasic and tamasic foods
- 13 foods to avoid on a yogic diet
- 4 benefits of the yogic diet
- How to follow the yogic diet: 6 steps
The 3 principles of the yogic diet
The yogic diet is founded upon 3 yogic principles: ahimsa, saucha and sattva.
Ahimsa translates as ‘non-violence’ and refers to the idea that all living beings are connected.
Therefore, those following the yogic diet should not cause harm to living beings (or the environment) and strive to limit their consumption of meat, fish and dairy.
For many, practicing yoga and being vegetarian or vegan go hand in hand.
Saucha refers to the practice of purity and cleanliness. When this principle is applied to diet, it refers to making sure your foods are free of chemicals and impurities.
Eating organic, non-GMO foods (and remembering to wash them before you eat) is a good way to achieve saucha.
This principle refers to the state of serenity that yogis ultimately strive toward.
By eating sattvic foods, you will cultivate a calm heart and a clear mind – otherwise known as inner peace.
‘What do you mean by eating sattvic foods?’, I hear you ask.
Let’s explore this!
Knowing Your Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic Foods
Not all foods are created equal…
In the yogic diet, there are 3 types of foods to be aware of, each of which have profoundly different effects on your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
1. Sattvic foods
These are ‘intelligent’ foods in their most natural state.
Sattvic foods tend to be light, nourishing, fresh, sweet, and, most importantly, full of Prana (vital energy). These foods keep the body lean, healthy and energized.
Sattvic foods are plant based and include seasonal fruit and vegetables, pulses, herbs, nuts, grains and more.
2. Rajasic foods
These are foods that were previously sattvic but due to being frozen, fried or improperly cooked, they have lost their Prana and become ‘dumb’ foods.
Rajasic foods are deficient in fibre and minerals and overstimulate the nervous system. They tend to be salty, bitter, spicy, fried, and high in sugars and spices.
They include eggs, onions and garlic, fermented foods, refined sugars, caffeine, tobacco, junk food and more.
These foods are linked to ulcers and constipation and can exacerbate disorders such as arthritis, diabetes and obesity. In small quantities, however, they should not have too much of a negative impact on your health.
3. Tamasic foods
Tamasic foods are processed or frozen foods that have lost all of their Prana. They are ‘dead’ foods, lacking in cellulose, water, vitamins and minerals.
Tamasic foods include meats, fish, milk products, canned products, processed products, alcohol, preservatives, stale food, baked goods and more.
Ideally, these foods should be avoided.
13 foods to avoid on a yogic diet
And so, with the above in mind, here’s a list of rajasic and tamasic foods that you should try to avoid putting on your plate:
- Added sugar
- Added salt
- Onion and garlic
- Processed foods
- Artificial sugar
- Fried food
- Spicy food
Copy this down and refer to it later!
4 benefits of the yogic diet
Following the yogic diet isn’t just about principles (although they do make a compelling case).
Following a plant based, sattva diet will help you live better for longer.
1. Improves digestion
Research indicates that a plant-based diet filled with sattvic foods promotes digestion and healthy gut microbiomes. This encourages regular bowel movement, reduces stomach problems (such as bloating or constipation), and increases energy levels.
2. Boosts metabolism
Give your metabolism a helping hand by eating fresh, organic produce that is rich in fiber and vegetable fats.
Research indicates that those who follow a plant-based diet have a higher resting metabolic rate; aiding digestion, energy levels and also meaning that you burn more calories throughout the day.
3. Increases energy
Those of you who were denied sugary cereals or snacks as a child will be very familiar with the concept of fast-release vs slow-release foods.
Not only are nuts, grains and legumes nutrient dense, but they are also digested slowly, meaning that they provide your body with a steady flow of fuel for longer.
4. Decreases risk of chronic illnesses
Not bad, right?
How to follow the yogic diet: 6 steps
Check out our 6 easy tips for incorporating the yogic diet into your life:
#1: Mindful eating
It’s not just about what you eat, but also how you eat it.
For instance, switching on your favorite TV show whilst you eat takes your attention away from both the quality and quantity of your meal.
Mindful eating refers to the conscious attempt to enjoy and savour each mouthful in a meditative way. This slows down the total time it takes you to finish your meal and gives your brain enough time to catch up with your stomach and send signals of feeling full, preventing overeating.
#2: Eat at regular times
By training your body to consume food at specific times in the day, your body can prepare itself in advance for consuming and digesting calories.
Try to eat 2 hours before either sleeping or practicing yoga, as this enables your body to function at its best and doesn’t divert your energy toward digestion.
Yogis also advise you to sit in Vajrasana – a pose for helping digestion – for 15 minutes after you finish your meal.
#3: Eat seasonal
Central to the yogic diet is eating organic seasonal produce.
Seasonal produce is locally grown fruit and vegetables that are ripe and ready in a particular season. When the weather changes, they will no longer be available.
You can find seasonal produce at your local farmers market, in an allotment or, if you’re particularly green fingered, even in your own back garden!
By eating seasonally, your produce is more likely to be locally sourced, contributing to your local economy as well as cutting down on the miles that your food has to travel before reaching your plate.
#4: Switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet
As per the principle of ahimsa, consuming food that causes no harm to animals or the environment is key to the yogic diet.
Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever to switch to a meat and dairy-free diet thanks to the growing climate movement and pressure on supermarkets to stock tasty plant-based alternatives.
If this seems like a tall order to you, start off slowly by gradually reducing your intake or challenging yourself to complete a certain number of meat/dairy free days.
Remember, it only takes 21 days to build a habit!
#5: Consider fasting
Whilst this is by no means essential to the yogic diet, many yogis consider fasting an effective way to cleanse the body of toxins and show devotion to a higher power.
Fasting refers to the practice of abstaining from food (and sometimes drink) for a short period of time, such as a day.
Please note that Yogajala does not condone dangerous dieting. We always recommend consulting a healthcare professional before taking part in a fast as certain health conditions can cause complications.
#6: Healing herbs and spices
Adding herbs and spices with healing properties, such as ginger, fennel, cumin, turmeric, basil, mint, cardamom, coriander, and more, can help your digestion and promote your body to heal and cleanse.
An easy way to incorporate these into your diet is to add them to your main meals or invest in high quality herbal teas.
Check this out: Easy Chai Tea Recipe For The Perfect Cup Of Yogi Tea
Our diet plays a crucial role in our wellbeing.
Adopting the yogic diet is a great way to lead a sustainable, healthy, and happy lifestyle. By focusing on mindful eating and whole foods, you’ll reap a whole range of benefits and bring your yoga practice into other areas of your life.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that, due to vastly different financial or cultural circumstances, some find the yogic diet easier to follow than others.
Just remember – yoga is inclusive of everyone, and, ultimately, what you eat does not define you!
Check out our article on the 7 Best Yoga Poses for Digestion for more ways to optimize your health: