What Should Modern Yogis Eat?

Via on Nov 8, 2013

grapes

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.

vegan dinner cutting boardSo, 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.

We also need to think about the way food gets to our plate.

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.

 

Like elephant vegetarian & vegan on Facebook.

Editor: Cat Beekmans

{Photo: Stock.xchng & Flickr.}

About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a certified Yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, student of Buddhism, vegan chef and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. She aims to apply the principles of Yoga to real life. Between teaching Yoga, holding vegan cooking seminars, writing and cycling she spends her time as a taxi service to her children, being walked by her dogs, and trying to dream up an alternative to doing the laundry. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and you can never dance too much. You can connect with Erica on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

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14 Responses to “What Should Modern Yogis Eat?”

  1. sabine says:

    Great article, thank you…..uhammmmm….just one wee mistake that made me giggle…"few dairy products at all unless you happen to own a chicken"…. My chickens don't give me milk or cheese -although that would be the perfect answer to my vegan problem!
    Peace and Smiles…

    • Erica Leibrandt Erica says:

      Sabine, you're right!! Not sure what I was thinking!

    • Kevin says:

      Traditionally, eggs would be included in the term dairy because the word dairy refers to a building used to store those items –such as milk, cheese, and eggs–that require a cool temperature. Eggs are not milk products, but they are dairy products.

      • Kevin says:

        But I could be wrong, it is a pretty old definition. Nice article by the way.

        • Erica Leibrandt Erica says:

          Kevin, thank you. Somewhere along the line I thought that eggs were considered dairy products. Right or wrong, Im glad I wasn't completely off base!!

  2. Very true, we should adapt the ancient philosophies to our modern lives. The beauty of Ayurveda is that this is taken into account- Ayurveda says that wholesome food is that which is according to a person's own location and habits, and recognizes that the diet that's right for one might not be good for another. Ayurveda was always meant to be adapted to the individual and the situation, so it's never outdated! The Ayurvedic diet and yogic diet are actually not the same- a yogic diet is not vegan, but vegetarian, incorporating milk, raw foods, and fasts. An Ayurvedic diet on the other hand recommends more cooked foods, and is not necessarily vegetarian. With the exception of very dedicated yogis who's digestive fire is strong enough to counter the vata aggravating qualities of a yogic diet- which can cause imbalance otherwise, an Ayurvedic diet is recommended for balancing the physical body.

  3. sandra says:

    There are many references in the traditional texts (like Charaka Samhita) to the use of meats and meat soups for the treatment of "Vata imbalance" – the Ayurvedic diet is not vegan, it's not necessarily vegetarian either. Ayurveda also takes into account one's country of origin, current place of residence (if different), and current state of balance/imbalance (as opposed to your state from birth). Once you learn about the qualities (gunas) of the Tridosha model, it's really easy to figure out a proper diet for each. The most successful vegans and vegetarians are those who are primarily Kapha dosha (from birth or imbalance); Pittas can be veggie or not (the seasons can affect this strongly). The least successful vegans are Vatas – they are already quite light to begin with so the light vegan diet would only emaciate them more plus they may not be able to digest raw food well. Vatas really DO need animal products in their diets!

    Obviously, our diets should be free of contaminants whether chemical or karmic. The industrial "food" model is unhealthy all around, not just because of the suffering of the animals, but consider how the monocropping and genetic modification of many staple crops is driving both human disease and the destruction of healthy ecosystems! The demand for soy is destroying the rainforests, the palm oil trade is causing loss of orangutan habitat… Even a vegan "compassionate" diet is not best for the planet! Animals have always been part of a healthy ecosystem and over population of any one species throws everything out of balance.

    WE are the problem, nature would easily adjust if WE were less abundant. Nature is already working on the problem of human overpopulation. We will survive only if and when WE learn how to live with Nature and stop fighting against it.

  4. sandra says:

    There are many references in the traditional texts (like Charaka Samhita) to the use of meats and meat soups for the treatment of "Vata imbalance" – the Ayurvedic diet is not vegan, it's not necessarily vegetarian either. Ayurveda also takes into account one's country of origin, current place of residence (if different), and current state of balance/imbalance (as opposed to your state from birth). Once you learn about the qualities (gunas) of the Tridosha model, it's really easy to figure out a proper diet for each. The most successful vegans and vegetarians are those who are primarily Kapha dosha (from birth or imbalance)

  5. Donna Stubbs says:

    Beautiful article. I always love your honesty, clear thinking, and realistic approach without abandoning high ideals. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Really, I'm surprised you aren't getting more push-back and talk about humanely-produced meat, and I am glad you were blunt about the suffering of animals used to produce dairy and eggs. Bravo!

  7. Aaron says:

    Great article… Thanks!

  8. jsferret19 says:

    Loved the article!

  9. Jonagold says:

    I have recently become so frustrated by the yoga world's fixation on what precisely everyone should be eating , when I feel there should be more urgent concern that everyone is fed.

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