Welcome to this beginner’s guide to yoga, information that will demonstrate what yoga practice is all about. In this short series, you’ll learn about:
Part 4: Yoga and Nutrition
Part 4 of this introduction to yoga is divided into three sections:
In Section 1 you will explore why we eat what we eat, and consider some interesting ideas about food in the context of the human emotional body and yoga practice.
In Section 2 you will look at how your choices of food can either work for or against your immune system. You will learn how important taking care of your immune system is to your health and to yoga practice, and how choosing the right food can assist you in gaining a healthy body, and a healthy perspective of yourself and the world in general.
In Section 3 you will explore different types of foods that can be beneficial to your health, and that can complement the long-term objectives of your yoga practice.
A ‘Special’ Yoga Diet?
By now, in this beginner’s guide to yoga, you will have gained a good insight into what yoga is all about and how it can really bring enormous benefits to your health and to your sense of well-being in the world. It is only natural, then, that you would wonder about diet and nutrition – that is, what it is that yoga practitioners actually eat.
An important point to make, therefore, is that there is no designated ‘yoga diet’, that is, the ancient Rishis of India did not leave any specific instruction on what practitioners ought to eat. This is because the ancient Rishis lived according to the principles of Ayurveda, a philosophy of life that suggests that human beings have an intimate connection with the universe, that it exists within us, just as we exist within it. They understood that the food that we eat provides a very specific energetic intelligence that informs how we see ourselves and how we see the world. In other words, we really ARE what we eat. When it came to healing the mind and the body, the Rishis knew that Ayurveda recognized every human being to have a unique relationship with life and that restoring balance to an unbalanced mind and body requires an approach that is unique to each individual. They therefore did not prescribe a one-diet-fits-all regime, but followed the Ayurvedic principle of eating according to a certain personality/body type, a programme which brings balance to the individual. If you want to learn more about Ayurveda from people expert in the subject, you can explore it here.
Ayurveda and yoga practice, to the Rishis, were different arms of the same body of spiritual knowledge, and so the Ayurvedic principles of eating for maintaining optimum levels of health and for healing illness formed part of yoga practice. The typical vegetarian or vegan diets that a lot of practitioners follow today are generally associated with yoga practice, but they are not a pre-requisite because Ayurveda focuses on individual dietary needs rather than food choices based on collective belief systems.
What a lot of practitioners find is that as they move along their yoga journey, their bodies begin to demand a certain quality of food, and many people naturally fall into healthier patterns of eating (if they were not mindful eaters to begin with). But it must always be remembered that every individual’s physical body needs are very different; we all require different types of food to keep us healthy, and the eventual changes in our physical, psychological and spiritual systems through yoga practice will help us make the right choices.
On the subject on yogic intuition, it is useful for you to learn (and this will become an absolute knowing as you move through your yoga practice) that it is your emotional and physical body that dictates what you eat. It might feel very much as if you are making logical decisions, but if you stop to observe what is happening within your system, you will realize that your choices are dictated by an association between the emotional and physical body.
Your Psychological State and Your Food Choices
The food that your body demands, depends on your general psychological state, which in turn is determined by your beliefs about yourself and your beliefs about the world. Numerous studies (here’s one) show a link between the level of a person’s self-esteem and their dietary choices; in general, people with low self-esteem tend towards foods of lower nutritional quality than people who possess a higher self-esteem. If, for example, you know you ought to be eating more fruit and veg, but find yourself far more attracted to fast foods, then you might just trace these impulses back to a set of fear-based beliefs about yourself and the world. Similarly, people who feel good about themselves, and who are more optimistic about life, tend to make healthier food choices and engage in some form of exercise.
This link between self-esteem and food choice suggests that our emotions affect our physical body impulses, and internationally recognized molecular biologist, Candace Pert (Phd) actually proved that our hormones are the physical manifestation of the emotions that we feel, proving that the mind-body connection is more than just a ‘new-age’ concept. In her book, ‘The Molecules of Emotion’, Pert said,“Mind doesn’t dominate body, it becomes body — body and mind are one…the body is the actual outward manifestation, in physical space, of the mind”.
So it appears, then, that if we feel bad about ourselves, our emotions trigger the body to eat the type of food that feeds that emotion. In other words, those beliefs and associated feelings are perpetuated because the food keeps us in a fixed state of emotional turmoil. Junk foods have very little nutritional value, just as our negative ideas about ourselves offer very little value to our inner peace.
Yoga, however, when practiced diligently, deals with our emotional/hormonal and physical bodies, working to rectify imbalances at different levels. As yoga performs its gentle magic, so it transforms our views of ourselves and our views of the world. As these inner movements take place, so our emotional and physical bodies begin demanding different types of nutrition to support the transformation.
Based on what you’ve just read here, you could, therefore, conclude that ‘we eat what we are’. Yogic philosophy, however, says that the reverse is also true, that ‘we are what we eat’ or at least we can become what we eat. This means that if we choose foods that are of a high quality – that is, if they have proven benefits to the human body and they suit our individual systems – then they can help us become what we are striving to be. If we are intent on moving into more positive mindsets that bring a sense of peace with life, then yoga, along with the right food choices, can help tremendously.
If you are ready to start making food choices to complement your yoga routines and a healthy mindset, then go to Section 2!