I tried a pure Sattvic diet for 4 days and this is what happened

What is the Sattvic diet? 

Yogic diet builds on the principles of purity, bringing inner peace to the body and mind. Food is being classified into 3 categories – Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic (refer to illustration below). The aim of my 4 days experiment was to explore if diet can really affect my energy and mood. 

What did I eat? 

Admittedly I’m not very creative with my food choices so my diet largely consisted of the similar few ingredients. (also did my grocery shopping in bulk) 

 

Changes – and my attempt at some scientific explanations 

During this week, I just ate as much Sattvic food as I liked without counting my calories. However, based on the food that I’m eating, it’s highly likely that I’m in a caloric deficit, which brings me to my first change observed. 

(Note: all other physical activities remained largely similar as per previous weeks) 

 

Weight loss 
  • This wasn’t part of the aim that I set out for this experiment but it was obvious enough to talk about. I did receive some comments on the noticeable change in my appearance by my siblings. That said, as with other conventional diets, typically the first few days of weight loss would be the loss of water mass. Unfortunately I did not measure my body fat % hence unable to drill into the details of whether the weight loss was from fats or water or muscles. In terms of hunger level, I did not let myself starve at any point of these 4 days as I would just snack on some fruits or nuts if I were feeling a bit hungry. For people who are set out to lose weight, this diet would help as you can remain full throughout the diet. However, one downside would be the food choices and flavor options. My meals were very lightly seasoned and my sweet palate was satisfied but not my savory palate. (Random note: I realized there are a lot of naturally sweet fruits/vegetables but not naturally savory ones, potato was the closest that I could find to being savory – please do let me know if you have recommendations.)
Energy level 
  • On a typical day with my normal diet, my battery would be drained towards mid-day, especially after lunch. However, I did observe my energy remaining relatively constant throughout the day. This is likely due to the nature of Sattvic food being natural which doesn’t spike our blood sugar level after meals as compared to highly processed food. [1] https://www.levelshealth.com/blog/can-controlling-my-glucose-levels-give-me-more-energy
Mood 
  • It’s not my first trying out different diets, but given my experience with highly restrictive diets, my mood was not very good. After all the old saying goes: “A hungry man is an angry man.” Hence I was very skeptical stepping into this diet given that Sattvic food was supposed to keep the mind pure and calm. I did feel pretty calm throughout these 4 days and my mind wasn’t always filled with what to eat next (since it’s pretty much the same few things). I struggle to find a scientific explanation for this so you can try it out on your own and share with me your thoughts. 
Fitness performance
  • This also wasn’t part of the aim I set out for but on the last day of the diet I tried to do some pull-ups and I could do 5 consecutively. Was a shock as the last I tried was only 2 (but it was quite some time ago). So after resuming my normal diet (at point of writing this), I went again to try doing some pull-ups and I can now do about 3-4. I’m attributing this to the diet, but also note that the performance could fluctuate based on a lot of other factors. Again, it’s for you to try and find out. 

Conclusion 

Before I started this diet, I entered with a “I’ll do this for 4 days and never again” mindset. I also shared this plan with my family and comments I got were: “it’s not sustainable”, “it’s too restrictive”, etc. However, after completing the 4 days, I actually would want to continue with this diet given the changes that I’ve seen above, but I would not go 100% Sattvic as it’s really too restrictive and not very socially friendly. In addition, my sister is also now convinced to try out the diet (which speaks volume from my 4 days experiment). Branching from this, I would also like to experience more into diets fit for my dosha and feel the difference.

For all of you who has read this article, I urge you to try this diet and if possible, share with me your experience! 🙂 

My Yoga journey – Chapter Yama

When we first started learning about the 5 Yamas, I was very lost – it was an abstract concept that I couldn’t really internalize during class. So I took some time for myself outside of class to try and understand these 5 Yamas. While reading up on it online, I came across an article that told me to write down my 5 most negative thoughts, and so I did. 

 

1. Ahimsa – Non-violence (be it mental, physical, spiritual) 

I guess it was good that it wasn’t exactly easy coming up with those 5 negative thoughts, but there really is a difference penning things down vs just thinking about it. Anyway, the article mentioned “These thoughts themselves are a form of violence.” 

While I wrote them down, some of these negative thoughts that have kept me up at night no longer looked as concerning. It felt a lot easier to let go after seeing them as letters on a paper compared to having them running wild in my mind. 

I have always thought that I have been pretty kind to myself, but this small activity revealed the violence that I was exhibiting towards myself. What I’ve reflected on was only the Ahimsa to self part and have not yet explored the Ahimsa to others part. I’m still working on being kinder to myself and others. 

 

2. Satya – Truthfulness 

This Yama to me was the simplest to understand yet hardest to do. To self: I can’t say that I have been fully truthful to myself, lies have been said to make myself feel better and sometimes it has been spoken so many times that even I do not know what is the truth anymore. To others: given that sometimes truth can be hurtful, it is an art to balance the truth and other’s feelings (ahimsa). I’m still learning to be truthful. 

 

3. Asteya – Non-stealing

Given that the spirit of Asteya is linked to contentment, I would say that I’m halfway there. At first glance, I would say I’m pretty content with my life, happy to have my family and a bunch of good friends. However, given that I’m always looking to learn new things, picking up new hobbies, not very sure if that defies the spirit of Asteya. In addition, there are still times where I feel envious of others, which is entirely against the nature of Asteya. I’m still learning to let go. 

 

4. Brahmacharya – Energy moderation 

This was the hardest Yama to understand. I chose the easiest to understand interpretation of this Yama – to control and direct our energy in the right direction such that we can gain courage and strength and be happier. I understand this as refraining from misusing our energy such that it drains our energy reserve. For example getting too uptight/upset over something beyond my control, like I realized wasting my energy being upset when someone has already inflicted harm is meaningless. I’m still learning about this Yama. 

 

5. Aparigraha – Non-possession

This Yama is really similar to Asteya in my opinion. Not taking more than needed, being contented with what we have. Some of the baby steps that I’m looking at to start embracing this Yama: 

  • Materially, to re-evaluate and practice minimalism (my room is a cluttered mess) 
  • Internally, to forgive and let go 

 

Based on my understanding, I see “letting go” as a resounding theme throughout these Yamas. Have to admit that my brain is always filled with random thoughts, so much so that it’s hard to turn down at night (hence it takes me a long time to fall asleep). Going through these Yamas made me realize that I might have been lying to myself that I’ve let go of certain things but subconsciously they still bother me. I do recognize that it’s kind of unhealthy hogging onto these thoughts and definitely a roadblock on my yoga journey, but I also see these roadblocks as being temporary. I am making a promise to myself to clear them! 

Thank you for reading and I’ll be off to my pranayama practices. 

Should you meditate?

meditate

/ˈmɛdɪteɪt/

verb

  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.

 

 

Are you happy? Where do you derive happiness from? In this COVID-19 situation with a lot of negative news around the world, I actually don’t find myself smiling/laughing as much as before (it also doesn’t help that I’m partly separated from my family by the borders). 

 

Recently I watched a TED talk by Matt Killingsworth who did a study on people’s happiness moment-to-moment. Shall not dwell into the details, if you’re interested you can watch the entire video in this linkAnyway, the result of the study showed that people who are focusing on their task are generally happier and mind wandering is likely a cause of unhappiness. And it also suggests that people mind-wander at least 30% of the time. 

 

Let’s do some self reflection here, how many times in a day are we actually single-mindedly focused on our task at hand? I’ve got to admit that I’m guilty of overloading my brain and mind, I even find it hard to watch a YouTube video by itself, there is always a window to play Tetris beside the YouTube video. Especially since this COVID-19 outbreak, working from home has introduced a lot more distractions. How many of us let our minds wander during a telcon, thinking about what to eat for lunch/dinner; thinking about that laundry that has yet to be done; thinking about when we can get to travel again? 

 

I might have wandered off, but we’re going to talk about meditation real soon. In a research that was conducted on 48 undergraduate students who were split into nutrition class and a mindfulness class (which consisted of focused-attention meditation and 10min of daily meditation outside of class) over a 2-week span. Results showed significant improvement in the working memory capacity of students who were in the mindfulness class.

The graphs show results for working memory capacity as a function of condition and testing session.

 

In both the probe-caught task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs) and self-reported TUTs, students in the mindfulness class showed a reduction in mind-wandering after 2 weeks.

The graph show results for self-reported task-unrelated thoughts as a function of condition and testing session.

 

Before I go into the scientific explanation as to why the results are this way, would like to talk a bit about meditation and what it is. The 6th limb of yoga is Dharana, defined as “The mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts; awareness of the object is still interrupted.” (Maehle (2006: p. 234)). This is the pre-step before meditation, Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga. In layman terms, meditation technically asks for the mind to be blank without any outstanding thoughts, not even one. 

 

Students in the above mentioned research are introduced to Dharana, where the mind is trained to concentrate and focus on only one thought, which could be the breathing. Like how athletes train to improve their performances; how we run to improve our stamina, we can also train our minds to concentrate. This is what meditation is about. We let go of the distractions in the world and learn to control our mind. We can concentrate on that one item we set our minds to without it wandering off thinking about what to eat next. 

 

If you’re just like me who struggles to maintain focus, there is good evidence (scientifically backed if you’re science-driven) pointing to meditation as a method to dampen distracting thoughts and reduce mind-wandering. I have been very long-winded, but to answer the question of whether to meditate, my answer is yes. 

 

P.S: Besides the points that I’ve presented above, there were also studies relating better working memory capacity to improvements in IQ. So, if you’d like to be happy and improve your IQ, I suggest you start meditating today! 

How to nail that Pincha Mayurasana

If you’re still thinking of pincha mayurasana as a nemesis, look no further as this post helps you to befriend this move with detailed breakdown and conditioning exercises to let us nail that move!

Pincha Mayurasana

Breaking down the move (Anatomy movements and muscles involved)

In pincha mayurasana (or forearm stand), the arms are flexed at the shoulder joint (ideally at 180deg, we’ll talk more about this later) and also 90deg flexed at the elbow joint; the shoulders are externally rotated. Keep pelvis posteriorly tilted to maintain a straight back.

In this pose, rotator cuff muscles are engaged to externally rotate the shoulder and stabilize it (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor). Deltoids and pectoralis major/minor are engaged to flex the shoulders. The abdominal muscles are engaged to prevent a unwanted backbend. For the legs, adductors are engaged to keep the legs together for a better control and quadriceps to keep the legs straight.

 

Getting there

Since this pose engages a lot of muscles, a lot of exercises will help in a way or another. That said, I would like to bring the focus to our shoulders that is the key in this pose. There are 2 aspects that I’ll be focusing on in this post.

Shoulder opening exercises

Mentioned earlier on, the arms are flexed at the shoulder joint ideally at an 180deg angle as this would decrease the load on the shoulders and will require less strength in the pose. It is not impossible to do with <180deg angle, but it becomes closer to a planche position which makes it extremely heavy (why make life harder than it already is?). This is also the same for handstand! After understanding the theory, we need to make sure we can execute it practically. With that, let’s dive right into the exercises!

180deg angle at the shoulder
  1. Extended puppy pose (Uttana Shishosana)

With arms extended in front, bring the chin to the floor and think of getting the chest down the floor.

Extended puppy pose

For a more intense stretch, you can place your hands on a yoga block for more room to open up your shoulders.

Elevate your arms up in puppy pose for a more intense stretch

2. Cow face pose (Gomukasana)

Another great shoulder opening exercise, remember to keep the chin up in this pose and think of opening up the chest. If you’re not able to grab your hands, use a towel and slowly work towards finding your other hand!

 

Strengthening exercises

As much as flexibility in the shoulders can help lessen the load, we still need basic strength to hold us in the pose. Introducing some shoulder and core strengthening exercises that you can add into your usual conditioning routine.

a. Dolphin pose is amazing to help get that pincha mayurasana, with the similar arm position as in pincha, it’s a good pose to help get use to the position, open up the shoulders and strengthen the muscles.

Dolphin pose

If dolphin pose is not yet achievable, there are variations to be done. Hold an elbow plank, it’s still a good exercise to help strengthen both the shoulders and the core.

b. If you’re comfortable in dolphin pose, bring it to the next level by lowering into elbow plank from dolphin and then pushing back up again to dolphin. In the elbow plank position, try to think of chin to floor. Make a conscious effort to keep the elbows in and try to resist the hands from closing in to each other, use a block if necessary.

Lowering down from dolphin to elbow plank

Even if pincha mayurasana is not in your plan, these stretching and conditioning exercises are still good to add into your regular routine.

So where are you on this journey? Let’s keep practicing and work towards perfecting this asana!