Yoga for Dinner: Basic Principles of a Sattvic Diet. ~ Tracey Narayani Glover

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Just as a yoga practice is so much more than being able to touch our toes, a yogic diet is so much more than fitting into a pair of jeans or detoxing the physical body.

According to the teachings of yoga and its sister science of longevity known as Ayurveda, human beings are part of an interconnected web of life. These ancient sciences teach us that our own health and well-being are not separate from that web.

A yogic diet honors and respects our interconnection with all life while acknowledging the varying needs of our individual constitutions.

The ideal yogic diet is one that is considered sattvic, or harmonious, for the spiritual aspirant, in contrast to a tamasic or rajasic diet, which are believed to foster lethargy or hyperactivity, respectively. A sattvic diet helps support our other spiritual practices and is consistent with the other teachings of yoga.

Most notably, a yogic diet honors the teaching of ahimsa, or nonviolence to any sentient creature, which is the foundation of the yogic code of ethics. A sattvic diet avoids the killing or harming of animals in any way. This is why a yogic diet has always been a strictly vegetarian diet.

Traditionally, dairy (but not eggs), was an important part of a yogic diet. But what made dairy sattvic in nature in Classical India was the love of a cow for her calf, and the loving and even worshipful relationship between humankind and cows.

In our modern world of factory farming, where dairy cows and their calves experience unending suffering and slaughter, obtaining dairy is at least as harmful (or himsa) as obtaining meat, which is why many modern Ayurvedic and yogic scholars now believe that dairy can no longer be considered sattvic.

In addition to being vegan, a sattvic diet is both nutritious and easy to digest so that our overindulgence from the night before doesn’t sabotage our morning meditation or hatha practice. Sattvic foods are fresh, whole and natural. Sattvic food is cultivated with love and respect for the environment. Ideally that means it would be organic, and local foods are always a good choice.

Traditional guidance recommends eating foods that are ripe, raw or even better, lightly cooked (easier to digest), freshly prepared (eaten within four hours of preparation), and not overly spiced or oily. As a general principle we are advised to select foods which promote lightness in the body and clarity in the mind.

Within this general framework, there can still be much variation between what is right for you and what is right for me. A hallmark of the Ayurvedic system is its recognition that all individuals are just that, individual, and that we, as individuals are like a river, in a state of natural and constant flux.

What works for one person may wreak havoc on another person’s digestive system. And what worked for me when I was 20 and living in an arctic Michigan may not work for me at 40 living in the sweltering Deep South.

Ayurveda counsels us to pay attention to our own bodies and trust our own intuition. We know better than anyone what works for us and what doesn’t. If spicy foods don’t agree with us, we should avoid them. If raw foods make us sick, we should eat cooked food. If we aren’t digesting our food properly, we aren’t absorbing nutrients, and it doesn’t matter how many vitamins are in that raw kale salad if we can’t digest them. So it’s as important that we prepare our foods the right way as it is that we select the right ingredients.

In order to figure out what foods are most harmonious for us as individuals, it can be helpful to know our dosha, (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha), considered in Ayurveda to be our mind-body type. Knowing our dosha can help us organize and interpret our own intuitions and experiences. Often the recommendations for our dosha will reinforce what we already know, which reflects the real brilliance of Ayurveda. Many dosha tests can be found on-line.

There is no one size fits all yoga diet. There are certain general parameters, but within those, discovering our right diet is very much a practice of self-inquiry, self-discovery and self-discipline, like the rest of our yoga practices. The pillars of a yogic diet are that we honor our connection with all other life and trust our own intuitions about our specific and ever-changing individual needs.

Following are some general principles of a sattvic diet:

Foods to Eat:

• Fresh, sweet fruits of all types, preferably taken whole.
• Almost all vegetables except onions and garlic.
• Whole grains, such as rice, wheat and oats.
• Beans like mung, adzuki, lentils and soy (including tofu and tempeh).
• Not overly roasted or salted nuts and seeds such as almonds, coconuts, walnuts, pecans and sesame. All good natural plant-based oils like sesame, olive, and sunflower.
• Natural sugars such as jaggery, brown rice and maples syrups, molasses.
• Spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, cumin, coriander, turmeric, mint, basil, fenugreek and other such sweet and digestive spices.
• Herbal teas, natural water and fresh juices.
• Foods prepared with love and mindfulness.

Foods to Avoid:

• Meat, fish, eggs and dairy
• Artificial, processed and junk foods.
• Canned food, except naturally canned fruits and tomatoes.
• Animal fats, margarine and poor quality oils.
• Garlic, onions and other over-spiced food.
• Fried food.
• White sugar and white flour.
• Artificial sweeteners.
• Old, stale, over and reheated food.
• Alcohol, tobacco and all other stimulants.
• Tap water and artificial beverages.
• Microwaved and irradiated food.
• Genetically engineered food.
• Any food prepared or eaten in a disturbing environment, or while feeling emotionally unbalanced.


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Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Lucy Kalantari


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anonymous Aug 15, 2014 5:21pm

Great article. Yoga really is about a whole lifestyle and satwic is a way of life that covers so much it's a way to create peace in the world.

anonymous Aug 1, 2014 8:54am

The author seems to believe there is no dairy available in the US that isn't factory farmed. This just isn't the case. I'm in TX and our main grocery store, HEB, has just released an entire line of Organic cheese and dairy products. They are from grass-fed cows and are certified organic. There's also a wealth of local dairy from small farmer's that do not use typical factory farming methods of torture and unwanted antibiotic usage (and GMO corn fed diets, ect). You could also, given the land and means, raise your own dairy cows/goats and obtain the most local milk possible. As long as you obtain yours responsibly, dairy can be sattvic and a welcome addition to a yogic diet.

    anonymous May 5, 2015 3:48pm

    Hi Samantha, for years I also believed that I could avoid supporting cruelty by purchasing organic dairy products, but the reality is that in order for a cow to produce milk, she has to give birth. Organic or not, she will be impregnated, and then her baby will be taken away from her (because the whole purpose of the dairy is to sell that milk which means her own calf can't drink it)- female calves will be kept at the dairy to produce milk, but the male calves are still considered useless to the industry and so are either raised for veal, sold to be slaughtered for cheap meat, or simply killed. This is true whether organic or not. In India where Ayurveda originated, the practice of killing males was forbidden, so dairy did not support killing. But in the modern era, and certainly in the US, there is no question about the males being killed one way or another. I urge you to contact your organic dairy and they will confirm this practice. And though a cow's natural lifespan is about 25 years, even organic cows are still sent to slaughter at about age 5 because their bodies are so depleted that they stop producing milk at a profitable yield. With this kind of suffering inherent to the dairy industry, we can no longer consider dairy to be sattvic.

anonymous Jul 19, 2014 8:14pm

Raw unpasturized milk taken from small organic organizations that treat their cows well is available in most metropolitan areas, and and is probably the most sattvic and nourishing food there is, according to both Ayurveda and Yoga. Eating onions and garlic in moderation is often good for Kapha's, correcting tamasic tendencies and moving them towards sattva. Eating too much fresh fruit is not particularly good for Vata people. In actual fact, Ayurveda says primarily that you should eat whatever makes you healthy. In actual fact, Yoga says you should eat very little (of whatever it is you eat) and breathe a lot more. The religious overtones of this article do not really belong in to the world of yoga per se, but to Hinduism. And yes, Jessica, Ghee is one of the most sattvic foods on the planet. It increases ojas perhaps more than any other food. Since it is simply clarified butter, it definitely falls under the dairy category. Eat it! you're body will be so glad you did!

anonymous Jul 18, 2014 8:11am

Great post Lucy! Quick question…although it's technically dairy, is ghee considered a sattvic food?

    anonymous May 5, 2015 3:36pm

    Ghee has traditionally always been considered sattvic, but because of the cruelty inherent in the modern dairy industry, it can really no longer be considered sattvic, but because ghee has for thousands of years been considered sattvic, it's hard for people to question the tradition. But if we really understand that a sattvic diet is one that honors all life, it would be hard to argue that any dairy products could be considered sattvic in the modern era, unless those products were obtained from a farm where we knew that the baby calves were not being taken from their mothers, where we knew the calves weren't being sold to slaughter, and where we knew the female cows were not being treated like machines as they are on modern dairy farms… The only place that could meet this criteria would have to be a Krishna farm, farms runs by Krishna Devotees, where they do indeed raise even the males for the duration of their lives. Thanks for the question. And apologies I'm only now seeing it!

anonymous Jul 9, 2014 11:58pm

On what basis are you differentiating tap water and natural water? As an environmentally-conscious yogi, it's hard to justify drinking any water that doesn't come straight from the tap. Would you recommend drinking bottled water over tap water?

    anonymous Jul 11, 2014 11:32am

    Considering tap water has hundreds of toxic chemicals like flouride and pesticides in it, it's probably not a good idea to have that as your main source for water. I would buy a 5 gallon BPA-free re-usable water jug with a dispenser for your house. It usually lasts me about a week before I lug it up to whole foods for a refill (about $1.50). This way you get pure water from a local source, without all the toxins.

    anonymous May 5, 2015 3:29pm

    I use a filter on my tap so that we don't consume all those toxic chemicals but also don't create any additional waste for the environment.

anonymous Jun 27, 2014 3:50pm

Hi Lucy! Thanks so much for your comment. Naturally canning is really more like naturally jarring- like as in mason jars- so if you or a friend or some small shop pick your own fruits or tomatoes and can them yourselves, you'll know they were canned (jarred) fresh and aren't full of preservatives and sodium and don't have hormone disruptors like BPA in the can lining. Dr. David Frawley has many great books on Ayurveda. And the Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen by Talya Lutzger is a great cookbook. Also Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti yoga, is coming out with a cookbook, which I already know will be wonderful 🙂 Love and Light to you on your path. Peace and Namaste~

anonymous Jun 27, 2014 9:28am

Really interesting article! Thank you! A couple of questions…
'naturally canned fruits and tomatoes' – how do I differentiate? Not that I regularly eat canned foods. But when I do, for the sake of convenience, it'd be helpful knowing how to pick the best available.

Do you recommend any Sattvic, or Ayurveda cookbooks? I'm new to all this!

Thank you, and namaste.

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Tracey Narayani Glover

Tracey Narayani Glover, JD, RYT 200, has been many things, including a juvenile delinquent, a lawyer, and an animal rescue officer. At the moment, she is a yoga teacher, writer, and vegan chef living on the Gulf Coast with more rescued animals than she will admit in public. You can connect with Tracey through either of her websites (here and here), or through Facebook. Find Tracey’s fiction on her website.