The Vital Role of Diet in Ashtanga Yoga Practice
Ashtanga yoga is a dynamic and rigorous yoga style that demands optimal physical and mental strength, agility, and flexibility. While the benefits of Ashtanga yoga are evident, practitioners often overlook the importance of diet in sustaining a regular and efficient practice. Here are some facts that highlight the significance of diet in Ashtanga yoga:
Ashtanga yoga and dietary habits: Ashtanga yoga not only concentrates on physical movements but also emphasizes a healthy and wholesome diet. A person’s diet plays a crucial role in fueling the body for a practice that demands immense physical energy and endurance. A proper diet regime allows Ashtanga yoga practitioners to progress through the four Ashtanga series seamlessly.
Mindful eating and Ashtanga yoga: The Ashtanga yoga practice often leads to a change in a practitioner’s eating habits. Mindful eating becomes an intrinsic part of the Ashtanga practice, allowing practitioners to connect with their innate wisdom about hunger and satiety, developing a more balanced and mindful relationship with food.
Body weight and Ashtanga yoga: Practitioners of Ashtanga yoga are lean and flexible because excess body fat becomes a hindrance to physical progress. The rigors and structured nature of Ashtanga yoga instill mindful qualities that extend to eating habits.
Time-restricted eating: Ashtanga yoga also incorporates time-restricted eating, suggesting consuming meals within an 8-12 hour window. A routine diet plan usually includes coconut water, ash gourd juice, green vegetable juice, and fresh fruits, followed by raw salads, seasonal vegetables sabzi, chutneys made of fresh herbs, and cooked millets.
Bandhas and Movement: Ashtanga yoga incorporates internal energy locks (Bandhas) and continuous, dynamic flowing movements linked with deep breathing that create intense internal heat, sweat, purification, extreme flexibility, strength, and balance.
Classic Yogic texts and diet: Contrary to what many people believe, classic yogic texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita do not prescribe any specific foods for following a “yogic diet”.
The person’s experience: A person practicing Ashtanga yoga for more than two months shared that while following a lean diet and daily yoga practice, she felt like she was gaining weight and becoming thicker.
Eating habits and suggestions: A light pre-practice snack like apricots, dates, nuts, or oats is advisable. Good habits include avoiding overeating, dairy and meat, eating/drinking after sunset, drinking water only when thirsty, and staying calm before and during meals. Weekly water fasts offer physical and spiritual benefits.
Practice on an empty stomach: It is recommended to practice yoga on an empty stomach, i.e., waiting at least 3-4 hours after a meal before practicing.
Keeping it simple: One of the greatest joys of practicing Ashtanga yoga is its simplicity, enabling practitioners to practice yoga anywhere, anytime.
Tailoring the diet: Ashtanga yoga is harsh on the body, and eating high-fiber natural carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruits can enhance the production of oxygen and nutrients necessary for physical endurance.
The structure of Ashtanga yoga: Ashtanga yoga follows a specific sequence of postures, each posture linked to the next one through breath in a continuous and dynamic flowing motion, similar to Vinyasa.
The mindset: While the external factors such as yoga space or attire may affect practice, the mindset of the practitioner plays a more vital role. The calm and steady mind, coupled with a healthy diet, forms the foundation of a proficient Ashtanga practice.
Ashtanga yoga is a challenging yet rewarding yoga style that relies heavily on the practitioner’s physical and mental strength. Besides, a wholesome and nutritious diet fuels the body for consistent practice, enabling practitioners to progress through the series efficiently.
Ashanga Yoga and Mindful Eating
Mindfulness is an essential aspect of Ashtanga Yoga. It involves maintaining continuous awareness of every moment, thought, feeling, bodily sensation, and environment without judgment. In other words, it means being gentle and nurturing to oneself.
As a yogic principle, non-harming or ahimsa can also be applied to diets. For instance, yogis may choose to only buy locally produced food or avoid meat, and prepare their meals with love. However, yogic values may vary among individuals. Therefore, everyone has their own perception of what makes a yogic diet.
According to the Ayurvedic tradition, sattvic foods include most vegetables, ghee (clarified butter), fruits, legumes, and whole grains. But, yogis eat food for nourishment of their body, not just for momentary sensory experience.
Creating a diet that reflects your values and fulfills your nutritional needs can be a daunting task, but it is worthwhile educating yourself about the origins and properties of the food you purchase. The writer refrains from providing definitive rules for eating as everyone’s body is different, and dietary requirements change over time. It is essential to find what suits your body the best.
Allowing the diet to change naturally instead of forcing too much too quickly is ideal. Cleansing foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and millets, are easier to digest and eliminate. Above all, the emphasis is on enjoying what you eat and striking a balance between over-indulgence and life-denying rigidity.
Ashtanga Yoga and Weight Loss
When trying to lose weight through Ashtanga Yoga, dietary changes are just as important as physical practice. One author found success in cutting out processed foods, refined sugars, and flour, instead focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods. She is vegetarian and does not consume dairy and eggs, but occasionally eats poached eggs for protein.
It might seem overwhelming to make drastic dietary changes all at once, but it’s important to start somewhere. Consider becoming a “Tuesday vegetarian” or replacing one meal a day with a healthier option. While the author enjoys a plant-based diet, she recognizes that everyone’s body is different and has unique dietary needs.
After a yoga practice, it’s important to nourish the body with a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Consider options such as fruit, sweet potato, pulses, seeds, avocado, and chia seeds. For lunch, the author used to eat bean noodles but has recently switched to quinoa for the extra protein.
Eliminating unhealthy foods that disrupt the circadian clock is crucial, as it can lead to increased energy levels naturally. The author offers a few tips on how to work with diet and Ashtanga Yoga practice, recommending to keep food simple and light. Foods such as nuts, apples, chia pudding, oatmeal, and smoothies are great options.
The author also recommends focusing on the quality of the food, including locally produced and organic items. During yoga practice, it’s best to eat light, easily digestible snacks such as fruits or nuts. With experimentation and patience, anyone can find a diet that suits their individual needs to complement their Ashtanga Yoga practice.
Yogic Diet and Ayurveda
Yoga and Ayurveda are inextricably linked, with Ayurveda being the traditional Indian system of healing that originated around the same time as yoga. Ayurveda views the body as an interconnected system that requires balance and harmony in all areas of life, including diet.
Ayurveda recognizes that each individual has unique dietary requirements, and therefore recommends an individualized diet plan based on a person’s body type, known as dosha. The three doshas are Vata (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water).
It is recommended that people incorporate freshly squeezed lemon in their water before and after their yoga practice, as it helps to alkalize the body and improve digestion. Another great option is to have a vegetable juice with beets, spinach, carrots, and other vegetables, which helps to provide essential nutrients that the body needs after practice.
According to Ayurveda, a person’s diet reflects their connection to the physical and spiritual Earth. This means that consuming whole and unprocessed foods, and avoiding artificial and processed foods, is important for establishing a sense of connection with our environment. It is also said that a diet that is in alignment with our individual dosha can lead to optimal health and well-being.
Therefore, it is recommended to experiment with different foods and be more thoughtful about our food choices, as it can bring benefits to both the individual and the environment. This can be done by exploring local and seasonal foods, eating as many unprocessed foods as possible, and incorporating more plant-based and organic options in one’s diet.
Experimenting with Plant-Based Diet
Over 10 years ago, the writer started a food blog called Yogi’s Kitchen, mainly to chronicle their newfound veganism and expose themselves to the health food movement in North America. Her interest in plant-based diets began while she was in college and for health reasons, but she did not fully commit until later. The primary goal of the blog was to share their food experiences with friends and yoga students alike, hoping to inspire others to lead a more mindful and nutritious life.
For breakfast, the writer prefers a smoothie bowl with almond milk, protein powder, cacao, hemp, flax, bee pollen, almonds, bananas, and berries. This breakfast recipe provides a healthy dose of antioxidants and ample amounts of omega-3 and protein, essential macronutrients for anyone’s day.
The recipe shared in this section is for Pad Thai, a refreshing and light whole meal salad for spring and summer, with suggestions for ingredients and variations. This dish is an excellent source of fiber, iron, and vitamin C, essential nutrients for muscle and bone health.
Ayurvedic educator and yoga teacher Scott Blossom also shares his quest to meet his nutritional requirements while honoring his yogic values. He emphasizes the importance of a plant-based diet, one that is rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. Blossom believes that eating healthily and mindfully can balance our body and mind, ultimately leading to a better quality of life.
Tips for Ashtanga Yoga Practitioners on Diet
Giving the body sufficient time to digest and rest is vital for feeling lighter and less sluggish in the morning. This is especially true for Ashtanga Yoga practitioners, who require a lot of physical and mental energy during their practice. Grains and starches can upset the stomach, so it is essential to balance the diet with light and easily digestible foods.
Starting small with changes in the diet, like becoming a Tuesday vegetarian, can be a good way to determine what works best for you. It is best to allow dietary changes to occur naturally and gradually, rather than forcing too much too quickly. The writer suggests keeping food simple and light, including foods such as nuts, apples, chia pudding, oatmeal, and smoothies, which provide ample energy without overwhelming the digestive system.
The writer also recommends focusing on the quality of food, including locally produced and organic items. It is essential to be mindful of where our food comes from and the impact it has on the environment. During yoga practice, eat light and easily digestible snacks such as fruits or nuts to keep the body energized and focused.
Recipes for Ashtanga Yoga Practitioners
Overnight Oats: Combine 1/2 cup of oats, 1/2 cup of almond milk, 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, and 1/2 teaspoon of chia seeds in a bowl and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, top with your favorite fruits and enjoy.
Quinoa Bowl: Cook 1/2 cup of quinoa and mix with 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables. Top with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 cup of diced avocado.
Stir-Fry Vegetables: Sauté 1 cup of chopped vegetables of your choice in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add 1/4 cup of cooked quinoa and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Top with 1/4 cup of chopped peanuts or cashews and serve.
Apple with Almond Butter: Slice 1 apple and top with 1 tablespoon of almond butter. Enjoy!