The Diet of Patanjali
Admittedly, extending your yoga practice to the dinner table is not an easy task, mostly because the classic yogic texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita don’t list any specific foods for following a “yogic diet.”
And even if they did, it’s highly unlikely that the foods prescribed in India thousands of years ago would be appropriate today for each and every one of us.
But while there is no prescribed menu for yogis, there is a yogic diet, says Gary Kraftsow, the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. “These are ingredients that enhance clarity and lightness, keeping the body light and nourished and the mind clear,” he explains.
In other words, a diet that offers your body a great basis for practice—or encourages the same effects as practice—makes for a great yogic diet.
In the Ayurvedic tradition, foods that are considered sattvic include most vegetables, ghee (clarified butter), fruits, legumes, and whole grains. In contrast, tamasic foods (such as onions, meat, and garlic) and rajasic foods (such as coffee, hot peppers, and salt) can increase dullness or hyperactivity, respectively.
But maintaining a diet that keeps your body light and your mind clear doesn’t necessarily mean eating only sattvic foods. What is best for you and what in the end will best support your yoga practice is informed by your constitution (known in the Ayurvedic tradition as vikriti) and your current state (prakriti), Kraftsow says. “Both need to be considered,” he adds.
In this way of thinking about nourishment, what you need as an individual may be very different from what someone else needs. And what you need at this moment in your life may be very different from what you needed five years ago or will need five years from now. Perhaps the ancient sages were relying on wisdom when they chose not to lay down a yogic diet for all to follow. Just as you learn to listen to your body on the mat, so you must listen to your body at the table.
Beyond the basic needs of the body, many modern yoga practitioners suggest that a yogic diet should take into account the values and philosophical teachings of yoga. Many people name ahimsa, the yogic precept of nonharming, as an influence on their dietary choices—although how they put that principle into action varies.
Just as different styles of yoga teach different versions of the same poses, and different teachers offer different, even contradictory, interpretations of the Yoga Sutra, so do yogis consider a wide range of possibilities in exploring a yogic diet. But while personal interpretations may vary, there is a consensus that exploring a yogic diet is important. “For yogis, food choices reflect personal ethics,” says Blossom. “They are inextricable from our spiritual development.”
Or, as Jivamukti Yoga cofounder David Life says, “Not everyone can do Headstand, but everybody eats. Because of this, what you eat has more impact and matters more than whether you can stand on your head.”
With this in mind, we asked several well-known teachers and self-described foodies how they arrived at their current food choices. Because different yogic values resonate with people in a variety of ways, everyone had their own ideas about what constitutes a yogic diet. But what these yogis can all agree on is that their yogic principles have strongly influenced how they feed themselves.