Yoga and nutrition: How you can support your yoga practice with your nutrition

Yoga Asana in der Bewegungsgarage

The Yoga practice is all about the full breath and the physical strength should be able to be used up to your personal limits. Therefore it is very important that your body can concentrate on the practice and, for example, do not have to engage an intensive digestive activity. At the same time, you should not feel hungry. The Yoga philosophy has some techniques and principles that teach us how to better focus on our practice. One principle, for example, is Ahimsa:

AHIMSA – Sanskrit, ahiṃsā, literally means nonviolence – one of the most important principles in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

Ahimsa means, among other things, to prepare your body for your practice in the best possible way and not to strain it unnecessarily. Stress means for your body to go into certain asanas with a full stomach. Not drinking water during the practice is part of Ahimsa. Since you should put your body’s attention on the asana practice and not on the intake of water at the same time. But exceptions are desired everywhere. Listening to your body. If he tells you that you need something to drink, for example, because it is 30°C or you have such a dry mouth that it distracts you from the practice, then it is sensible to take a small sip.

How your diet can affect your mind

The fact that your diet influences your body is something you have probably long since realized. But even in science, it is no longer a secret that the way you eat and the food you choose can influence your mind (a selected study can be found here).

Yogis understood long ago that the type, quality, and quantity of food consumed not only nourishes and shapes the physical body but also influences the mind and emotions of human beings in a more subtle way. The holistic concept of yoga nutrition aims at cleansing, strengthening, and developing all levels of our human existence. While most other nutrition systems focus on the physical and chemical effects of nutrition, yoga nutrition also considers the mental and spiritual aspects of our food.

The sattvic foods described in Ayurveda philosophy are a major component of yoga nutrition. We have already explained a little more about the connection between Ayurveda and Yoga in a blog post before. But what exactly is a sattvic yoga nutrition, what should you pay attention to and which foods are included?

The Gunas: Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva

The Ayurveda as well as Yoga philosophy describes three subtle energies, which can be found in many areas of life, also in yoga nutrition. These energies are also called Gunas: Tamas (inertia), Rajas (restlessness), and Sattva (lightness).

Yoga practices strive to increase Sattva: Asanas increase Sattva, pranayamas increase Sattva, meditation increases Sattva. Otherwise, certain music can increase your Rajas, and negative company or conversation can increase your Tamas.

Food can also be divided into these three areas. Yoga nutrition is recommended to be as sattvic as possible. Tamas and Rajas food choices should be reduced. But do not be too strict with yourself in your yoga nutrition. Any exceptions are allowed and desired! We have already presented ten selected sattvic foods in this blog article.

Tamas

In Yoga, it is said that Tamas food no longer has any vital energy. It even drains energy from the body, and makes the mind slow. Unripe, rotten, overcooked, or preserved foods are called Tamas food. Here some more Tamas food/groups:

  • Meat and fish,
  • alcohol, tobacco and drugs,
  • Convenience food,
  • drugs,
  • onion and garlic.

Too much food can also make you lethargic and thus increase your Tamas.

Rajas

Rajas food includes everything that makes your body and mind restless, nervous, uncontrollable, and emotionally upset. This include:

  • Coffee and black tea,
  • too spicy food,
  • refined sugar, sweets and overly salted foods,
  • too hot or cold meals.

Eating too hastily and not chewing enough will also have an increasing effect on your Rajas.

Sattva

The ideal yoga nutrition is a sattvic diet. It brings your body valuable nutrients, gives new energy and lets the mind become clear and peaceful. Here you can help yourself with a large selection of food:

  • Whole-grain cereal products, such as whole-grain bread and whole-grain pasta. Whole rice, millet, buckwheat, spelt, green spelt and barley,
  • potatoes,
  • Legumes (these must be cooked well to make them easier to digest): lentils, beans, peas and soy products such as tofu,
  • different vegetables, salads, fruits and nuts,
  • Milk and dairy products.

The fresher the products, the better. Raw food contains more “prana”, i.e. life energy, than cooked food. The food should at best be eaten calmly, and consciously. Chewing well, and eating only moderately strengthens your Sattva. In spirit, deep gratitude should be brought to the food.

Why legumes complement your yoga nutrition holistically

We would like to tell you why legumes of all foods appear in our yoga nutrition almost every day. They have super many proteins, relatively many like beef! Besides, they can be obtained regionally in Germany and grow almost everywhere in the world. In contrast to other protein sources, the cultivation is much more resource-efficient in greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water and energy consumption, fertilizer use, and pesticide application. Can you imagine that the cultivation of legumes emits about 40 times fewer greenhouse gases than the production of beef, even though both have a comparable amount of protein? And about 15 times less land or cultivated area is needed? If you want to know more about it, you can find a german bachelor thesis about the comparison of beef and beans here.

Legumes are also widespread in Ayurveda and yoga nutrition and are an integral part of almost all dishes. One reason for this is the large amount of fiber and protein that keeps you full for a long time. They also provide you with important micronutrients such as calcium, antioxidants, phytoestrogens, iron, and many vitamins such as folic acid. Here you will find a small overview of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about the nutritional benefits of legumes.

In the following, we have put together a few more sattvic recipes for your yoga nutrition and yogi routine, in which of course legumes are not missing.

Three sattvic recipes for your yoga nutrition

Try them out and let us know how you felt during your yoga practice. You are welcome to spend a whole day trying to make your diet as sattvic as possible and try out all our recipes in one day. Feel free to practice a yoga class with your favorite teacher before or after and feel into your body how you feel during the practice. Of course, you can also try the dishes individually and feel how the food affects your digestion and body feeling.

1. Sattvic hummus

That’s what you need:

  • for ca. 200 g chickpeas (cooked or in a jar)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • 1 pinch of cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • a little bit olive oil
  • a little bit of water

Mix everything in a bowl. You can also try crushing the chickpeas with a fork only and then add the remaining ingredients. If the mixture is a little too firm, add a little water. For serving, you can sprinkle a few drops of olive oil and a few sesame seeds over the hummus. This looks very aesthetic. Serve crackers and/or raw vegetables with it, such as carrots, cucumbers, kohlrabi, etc.

2. Ayurvedic buckwheat porridge (gluten-free)

That’s what you need:

  • buckwheat
  • either only water or optionally a plant-based milk, we love to use oat milk
  • Spices like: cinnamon, turmeric and cardamom

Boil buckwheat with water and a dash of vegetable milk and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes until you have your perfect consistency. Our favorite consistency for 125 g buckwheat is about 300 ml water and 100 ml oat milk. Alternatively, you can soak the buckwheat seeds in cold water overnight to reduce the cooking time a little. Then you can add your favorite spices. Why not try turmeric, cardamom, or even cumin! Nuts and compote (from local fruits) are great to go with it. Buckwheat is particularly rich in vitamin E and B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin). Minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium are also present.

Buckwheat porridge on the rather light hejhej-mat

3. Yogi-Dahl

That’s what you need:

  • lentils (we like to take yellow or red lentils because they are peeled and therefore only need 15-20 minutes to cook)
  • some ghee to cook (or another oil that suits you more)
  • onions
  • spices from your kitchen (we like to use: salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
  • vegetables that you love (we gladly take: chard, carrots, mushrooms, leek, beetroot)

First, melt the oil or ghee slightly. Then add the onions and let them fry briefly. Next, follow the dry spices. Stir everything regularly so that nothing burns. If you like to add fresh spices, now is the right time. Then fry the vegetables and lentils briefly without water. Shortly afterward add water so that everything is nicely covered and can simmer for a while. The exact amount of water depends on the type of lens and your desired consistency. The rule of thumb is twice as much water as lentils. It is very important to cook the legumes well so that they are more digestible. Maybe you want to serve bread with the dahl. Legumes combined with cereals increase the protein availability. A dash of lemon (vitamin C) over your finished meal also increases the iron absorption of the legumes.

Yogi Dahl with various vegetables photographed from above

Enjoy your sattvic meals in peace, attentively, and at best without distraction. We would be very happy to see you cooking one of the dishes. Have fun cooking!

How much you eat after or before your yoga practice, what, and when exactly is individual for each person. We can only give you the tip: Listen to your body and try yourself. Feel what is good for your personal body. Do not look at others what they eat before or after the practice but do what is good for your body and you.

Photo Credits first picture Maximilian Salzer