The traditional Indian food of yoga is ayurvedic, involving wonderful things like kitcheree, exotic spices, ghee and so on.
The specific ayurvedic foods that are recommended for each person are based on that person’s dosha, or nature; if they have a pitta dosha (or a fiery nature) for example, they will be instructed to eat sattvic (or juicy, easy to digest, cooling) foods.
While I love ayurveda and trust in its ancient wisdom, I find that eating ayurvedically for me, isn’t all that realistic. Primarily, my family isn’t interested in eating things like mung beans or saffron, and the prospect of cooking one meal for them and another for myself each night is totally overwhelming.
As with many things yoga, because I live in a different country, and a different time for which this diet was first prescribed, I’ve found that I need to make some adjustments to accommodate my American life. I don’t meditate before the sun comes up, I don’t practice on a floor covered with manure and hay, and if you must know, I don’t abstain from sex, or as I’ve mentioned many times, wine.
I am a yogi nonetheless, and as far as food goes, this is what has worked for me.
I believe that first and foremost, the diet of the modern yogi should include the concepts of ahimsa, or non-harm and satya, truth. If we are living by the eight fold path, following the ethics of that path are more important than the details.
Obviously, when we consider the idea of “non-harm” in terms of nourishing our physical body, we immediately think of vegetarianism. Human beings have no physiological need to eat the flesh of animals, and doing so is clearly harmful to that animal, as well as to the environment in most cases today.
Also, thanks to the industrialization of farming, the consumption of not just animal flesh, but animal products has become harmful, which leaves the conscientious vegetarian at the doorstep of veganism. The way in which eggs, milk, cheese and so forth are obtained these days prolongs the torture of animals, and can not be ignored.
So, in terms of ahimsa, the yogi’s baseline diet should be vegetarian, with the only dairy products coming from animals which were treated kindly. Unfortunately, that will mean few dairy products at all, unless you happen to own a chicken, which may not be a bad idea.
All the “eat local” and “carry recyclable” bag people have a point. Even if you’re not harming animals or the earth with your diet, if you’re doing it by unnecessarily using resources and creating waste, it’s just as bad. It seems like every single thing down to individual apples are wrapped in plastic these days, and shipped from Argentina or Colombia. I could cry when I think of all the plastic and petroleum I consume, and I am a conscious consumer.
But we can’t forget about the idea of satya, or truth, in the midst of our attempts to be good practitioners of yoga through food.
I recently wrote an article called “Veganish; Why I Am (Mostly) Vegan” in which I detailed my many shortcomings as a vegan. I admitted to craving, and occasionally indulging in cheese, eggs and fish. While that is clearly not following the mandate of ahimsa, is is following the mandate of satya, and because no one is perfect, being frank about our imperfections is as important as trying to overcome them.
If I claim to be 100 percent vegan because I know that that is the yogic ideal, and perhaps also because I am trying to lead by example (and fear that allowing anyone to see me falter will make them take me less seriously), I am a liar.
Lying can have as many hurtful repercussions as causing physical harm, among them, fostering the illusion of my own enlightened state at the expense of others, causing me to privately rebel because I am holding negative energy, and denying myself and others paths of growth and sincerity.
Most of us live in a different world than the founders of yoga, but that doesn’t mean we can’t interpret their philosophies so that they work smoothly in our modern lives. We can and we should.
Being a sangha, or community of people who strive for peace and truthfulness, for calm and universal compassion, for discipline, strength, and health in body and mind, is the most transformative path we can take.
In other words, if our heart is in the right place, the rest will come.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman