Yogic diet and mind balance

By Harsh Thakkar

Do you control your mind when it comes to eating what you want to eat or does the mind tell you what to eat? And how does the food one eats contribute to the state of mind?

Ayurveda is described as the traditional Indian system of medicine (incorporated in Atharva Veda, the last of the four Vedas) which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing. Balance as we know now is also one of strongest pillars of Yoga. Literally translated it would be “Ayur” meaning Life or Age and “Veda” meaning science or knowledge. In most western countries although it is considered as a system of complementary and alternate medicine. Even though I do not have the complete knowledge of Ayurveda and all its practices, whatever I have read so far it tells me that it provides guidelines for diet, seasonal routines and homemade remedies from plants and herbs to remind us that one’s health is a delicate balance between the environment, body, mind and spirit.

According to Ayurveda, food has a prominent role in achieving balanced body-mind-soul consciousness. It is said that the nature of food a person consumes reflects their nature or temperament.

Any food you eat can be categorized as either sattvicrajasic and tamasic according to its character and effect upon the body and the mind.

Sattvic food

Sattva is that which makes us curious, thoughtful, and alert.

Sattvic food is always freshly cooked and simple, juicy, light, unctuous, nourishing, cooling and refreshing to mind and body. It increases the energy of the mind and produces cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity. Sattvic food is highly conducive to good health.

Foods: Whole grains and legumes like Rice, Whole wheat, Millet, Corn, Lentils, Oats, Beans etc. Freshly picked and organically grown vegetables like Celery, Sweet potatoes, Sprouts, Cauliflower, Zucchini, Lettuce, Green beans, Spinach, Broccoli, Asparagus etc. Fresh fruits such as Apples, Peaches, Oranges, Bananas, Guava, Berries, Papayas, Pomegranate etc.

Rajasic Food

Rajas are invigorating and mentally stimulating and make us active, giving us the desire to work, push, and manifest.

This is food that is fresh but heavy. The rajasic diet is also cooked fresh and is nutritious. It may contain a little more oil and spices compared to sattvic food. Rajasic foods are bitter, sour, salty, pungent, hot and dry. It stimulates aggression, passion, fire, imbalance of the emotion, energy, alters the consciousness, and creates depression.

Foods: Fish and meat such as Salmon, Sole, Trout, Lamb, Chicken, Turkey, Tuna, Eggs etc. Excess of Sharp Spices like Salt, Pepper, Black Pepper, Ginger, Onion, Radish, Garlic etc. Stimulants such as Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, Sugar, Cola Drinks, Chocolates, Alcoholic Drinks etc.

Tamasic Food

Tamas gives us the desire to stop, slow down, and rest.

Tamasic foods cause lethargy, inactivity, mental block, severe anger, darkness, ignorance, and no control of self. These foods are considered to be highly detrimental to the body and mind.

Foods: Fried food, Eggs, White flour, Fast food, excess starch and sugar, chillies, sauce, fermented or stale food, ice creams, chocolates, preserved meats/ fruits and jams, artificially flavoured drinks, alcohol, breads, cakes, Pickles.

We have all the three Gunas / qualities within us in different proportions. All 3 of these qualities (Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic) are necessary for survival and to move in a progressive direction in life. How we respond to the events and circumstances in our life very much depends on the predominant Guna / Quality within us.

Sattva qualities make a person calm and joyful. ‘Small amount’ of Rajas makes the person active and passionate, while Tamas in ‘moderation’ is considered as grounding and promotes stability.

 

 

 

 

Pitta Pacifying Smoothie

Pitta Pacifying Smoothie

After discovering that I belong to the Pitta Dosha, I realized that my dosha is out of balance. I decided to incorporate some changes to my diet to clean up the excess Pitta in my body before the symptoms manifest.

This Pitta pacifying smoothie is perfect to put out the “fire” in me. To bring balance Pitta bodies, cold, sweet and bitter food is the best and I added turmeric powder for anti-inflammatory properties.

Pitta Smoothie

2 Karela

1 Red Apple

1 Pear

½ teaspoon of turmeric powder (1 gram)

Coconut juice

Some Ice

Apple seeds, once broken down, they contain cyanide which is very poisonous to our body. So remember to de-seed them before blending. Enjoy!

Making Vata-friendly lifestyle changes

I accidentally stumbled upon the concept of doshas about 3 years back. I had just quit my job and embarked on a sabbatical without knowing for sure what type of work I wanted to do next. My stressful job had left me suffering from mild adrenal fatigue, so I was looking for unconventional ways to “repair” and find myself. During my literature research, I came across doshas and the Ayurvedic approach to regulating imbalances. The quiz I took revealed that my dominant dosha, Vata, was out of balance. I gathered as much information as possible about ways to pacify this dosha and began making small and gradual adjustments to my diet and lifestyle. Over the next year or so, most of the extreme aspects of the imbalance were remedied with the help of diet, acupuncture (I saw a TCM practitioner for a few months), Chinese herbs, exercise and, probably most importantly, lower stress levels. Vata, however, remains my dominant dosha, so I’ve been focusing on developing a sustainable Vata-friendly lifestyle in order to prevent imbalances.

 

Food was the easiest aspect to tackle. A Vata pacifying diet should comprise 55% grains, 20% of vegetables, 15% fats, dairy, and nuts, and 10% pulses. Among those, foods that have an inherently sweet, sour or salty taste and a warm, liquid, oily or heavy quality should be favoured, while pungent, bitter or astringent foods should be avoided, as they to increase Vata. So, for instance, I’ve increased my consumption of carrots, beetroot, sweet potatoes and okra, and reduced intake of broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. All food should be consumed warm and preferably in soupy format, while drinks should be consumed hot. For years my breakfast had consisted of uncooked oats with yoghurt and nuts, consumed at room temperature. To create a Vata-friendly version, I switched to oats cooked in dairy milk or almond milk with berries, soaked and peeled nuts and a pinch of cinnamon, eaten warm. I’ve reduced my sushi and sashimi intake and swapped raw green salads for warm, cooked salads. Now, some of these changes were easier to cope with than others. I’d never been into ice cream, cold beverages and green salads, so avoiding them was no big deal. I do love my spicy food, however (the spicier the better), so turning down the heat was not a particularly enjoyable process. I also do not function as a proper human without my morning coffee, so that is one habit I’m sticking to, Vata or no Vata.

 

In addition to selecting Vata-pacifying foods, I also started making a conscious effort to eat my meals slowly and in a quiet environment, rather than on the go or while working. Vata individuals are prone to indigestion and bloating due to a vishani agni type of digestion. In order to stimulate agni, I try to eat fresh ginger with salt and lemon juice before my main meals, and I refrain from drinking water or other liquids for one hour following the meal.

 

As far as physical exercise is concerned, as a Vata individual, I naturally gravitate towards workouts that involve moving quickly, like barre and HIIT routines. However, in order to balance Vata, I need to include exercise routines that are calming and grounding, such as restorative yoga, tai chi, swimming or weightlifting. This is the reason why I started going to yoga classes and, even though I found the slow tempo of yoga quite painful to sit through. That is, until I found Vinyasa yoga and my craving for fast movement was satisfied. Still, while I love Vinyasa, I make a conscious effort to balance it out with slower forms of yoga and/or longer relaxation sessions in Savasana at the end of the practice. When practicing on my own, I make sure to include rooting asanas like Vriksasana and Virabhadrasana I and II, as well as forward bends (e.g. Paschimottanasana) and twists (e.g. Vakrasana). I am currently working on incorporating calming breathing exercises that balance excess Vata, like nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) and bhramari (humming bird), and massaging sesame oil into my skin daily before bathing.

 

I believe that the relaxation and stomach cleansing techniques I learnt during my YTT course will help me to make further progress on my journey to a Vata-friendly lifestyle.

We are what we eat

Most of us will consider the food choices we make as a reflection of our internal state – if we are stressed out, our eating style will be affected by it. Conversely the food we consume affects our bodies as well as the mind. Each and every cellular molecule in our body is created from the food we put into our body, including the water we drink and the air we breathe. Besides nourishing our bodies, food affects the quality of our lives, our moods, energy and our overall physical and mental health.

It is also too easy to lose our connection to the food we eat, and how we eat it. How many times have we felt pressed for time and we eat on the go, consuming what’s convenient and fast, rather than adequately nourishing our body. We have learn to block out signals from the stomach, suppress our cravings, rather than trying to really understand and determine what our body requires.  Often many of us have eaten something simply because “it’s there,” rather than because we’re actually hungry for it.

Yoga teaches us to be mindful of all our lifestyle choices and how they impact us. When your life is balanced and relaxed, your diet routine is set right. When I turned to yoga, I never imagined how it could transform my eating habits. I was going through a difficult phase and started experiencing symptoms like a high heart rate, a racing mind, and complete inability to stop and calm down. These, in turn, affected my eating habits and my body was experiencing a lack of nourishment.

Through consistent meditation and asana practice, I could find myself making small changes to my food choices. My mind was calmer, more focused and aware, I gave more importance and respect to food as it was the source of energy for my body.

Practicing awareness and mindfulness has made me question where my food comes from and it extends beyond going to the supermarket to purchase, say an apple. It helps me gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of the apple from seed, to photosynthesis, to plant, to farmer’s hand, to transportation, and finally to me.

The mindfulness of yoga has taught me to listen to my body, make nutritious choices, and consume enough food to fill my stomach. I had a newfound relationship with food, where I began feeling it was my responsibility to supply my body and mind with the right energy sources.

My Dosha Smoothie

Smoothies are great, who doesn’t love a good smoothie?  You get to put loads of lovely fruits and veggies together, blend them up and there you have it, a tasty chilled drink that fills you up. So with my love of smoothies and learning about the doshas I just had to make a smoothie only using the foods that are related to my dosha, I call it the ultimate smoothie. Firstly by doing this I did research and took a few different quizzes (just to make sure) to know what my Dosha was. Upon this search, I discovered that my body type is predominantly Vata. So know I needed to know what foods were good for my dosha body type, Vata. So again I did lots of research and came up with a long list of foods for Vata dosha bodies. So from this list, I chose out a few things that I could make my smoothie out of.

 

The list of ingredients for my ultimate smoothie:

-Blackberries

-Raspberries

-Blueberries

-Strawberries

-Half a banana

-Avocado

-Cucumber

-Cilantro

-Oats

-Natural yogurt

-Coconut flakes

 -Almonds

-And chia seeds

topped up with coconut water to help blend it all together.

 

In the end, my smoothie was delicious and super healthy. I’m always suggesting my friends who don’t have a blender, to go get one! I rant on firstly about how love smoothies, especially a strawberry and banana smoothie, YUM! I tell them that making smoothies is really easy and can be really yummy and healthy at the same time. For me personally, eating food and trying to gain weight has always been a hassle, and sometimes it really handy to just blend something up quickly to give your body what it needs. You can even buy powdered nutrients and protiens to put in your smoothies to enrich it even more, but that isn’t for everyone. 

A Vatta pacifying version of my favorite workout snack…

Understanding that I’m a Vata-Pitta Dosha, below are two versions of one of my favorite workout pre/post snack, Oats! As a Vata dominant Dosha, I to eat before every workout or feel lethargic during my workouts. For YTT, I make my cold overnight oats each Sunday in a giant mason jar that I have for breakfast each morning (sorry Nauli…). As I’ll be heading to Boston in a couple weeks, I wanted to prepare a warm version of my favorite oats to pacify my Vatta dosha that will likely be thrown out of balance (too much) given the cold weather.

Warm Carrot Cake Oatmeal
For the oatmeal:
1 cup (125 g) finely grated peeled carrot
1 1/4 cups (310 mL) unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash ground nutmeg, to taste
Pinch fine sea salt
1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Toppings:
Chopped toasted walnuts
Raisins
Shredded coconut

Cold Strawberry Chocolate Overnight Oats (current obsession)
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (heaping) rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax meal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
0-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries

The Yogic Diet: Cranberry Banana Bread

The Yogic Diet

Food has such a powerful impact – affecting our physical appearance, physiological processes and emotions. With such a diverse variety of food items to choose from, making small changes in what we eat and observing the effects these have on our body help us to decide which foods best nourish our bodies and minds.

The Yogic Diet comprises 3 main gunas (categories): Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Sattvic foods are seen as pure, wholesome foods that increase energy and prana (life force) within us. These leave us feeling calm, refreshed and alert, and are generally primary sources of energy so are largely plant-based. Sattvic foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, nuts and oils, whole grains, legumes, honey and mild spices that have not been processed.

Rajasic foods are said to be stimulating, such as spices, caffeine, tobacco, processed sugar, onions and garlic. They make one overly alert and thus difficult to find calm.

On the other hand, Tamasic foods make one feel dull, sluggish and perhaps even lazy. These include alcohol, meat, fish and mushrooms, as well as foods that have been frozen, fermented, reheated, fried, stale or laden with preservatives. Unfortunately, this is the kind of food the large majority of the population consumes in this day and age, be it due to convenience such as microwave meals or taste preference, it not only provides insufficient prana to the body, but also inadequate fuel for the mind. From a nutritional perspective, some of these food items may not necessarily be harmful to health – for example frozen vegetables or meat still retain majority of their nutrients, but the process of freezing has depleted its prana. 

Besides that, the manner of preparation and the way it is eaten can also determine the guna. Food that is prepared with love and awareness is Sattvic, while overeating or scoffing down your food is said to be Tamasic, even if the food itself is Sattvic. Thus, we would ideally have wholesome foods prepared with love and care, eaten in a mindful and relaxed manner.

The effects of food on our body can perhaps best be seen in meditation. During mediation, the 2 main issues are an over-active mind, brought about by ingesting excessive Rajasic food, and conversely, falling asleep due to too much Tamasic food. Thus, Sattvic foods are best for attaining the balance between the 2 to quiet the mind whilst maintaining alertness to explore our thoughts.

Cranberry Banana Bread topped with chia seeds and butterfly pea flowers 

Ayurvedic Doshas

Ayurveda translates to complete knowledge about life. It focuses on balance of the interplay between the body, mind and spirit, where imbalances lead to illness. There are 3 main doshas (changeable body types) –Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each body type is associated with the 5 different elements – Vata goes with air and space/ether, Pitta goes with fire and Kapha goes with water and earth. Your dosha is determined by 3 main criteria: physical appearance, physiological processes and your behaviours or mindset. By doing an online quiz, we found out our doshas, where most people have 1 or 2 dominating doshas. Besides that, we learnt about the health conditions each dosha is more susceptible to, and how to alter our diet to prevent this. I have summarised some characteristics of each dosha below:

Properties Vata Pitta Kapha
Element Air, Space/Ether Fire Water, Earth
Stature Thin Medium Large bones
Skin type Dry skin Oily skin Good skin
Metabolic rate High Medium, warm temperature Low, but strong immune system
Mental characteristics Quick learner, spontaneous and likes change Opinionated, intense focus, usually a leader Easygoing, friendly, slow learner but retains information well, likes routine
Weaknesses Poor at managing finances, fickle Domineering, poor anger management Frugal
Medical conditions susceptible to Constipation, restless sleep, arthritis, depression, anxiety Inflammation, hypertension, coronary heart disease Metabolic syndrome: Obesity, type II diabetes, high cholesterol

Let food by thy medicine

In Ayurveda, diet plays an important role in affecting our physiological processes, acting as both a preventative and therapeutic measure. There are 6 main Ayurvedic tastes – sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent, which are also associated with the elements as shown in the table below:

Ayurvedic tastes Elements Dosha suitable for
Sweet Earth, Water Vata, Pitta
Salty Water, Fire Vata
Sour Earth, Fire Vata
Pungent Fire, Air Kapha
Astringent Air, Earth Pitta, Kapha
Bitter Air, Space/Ether Pitta, Kapha

Pitta-Pacifying Food 

Most of the class is Pitta dosha, so I made a pitta-pacifying cranberry banana bread to celebrate the end of our first week of YTT200. Since Pitta is associated with the fire element, Pitta-pacifying foods consist of those that are cooling, hydrating and subtle. These help to balance moisture, achieve optimum temperature and neutralise any excess acidity in the body. As such, Pitta should increase intake of sweet, astringent and bitter foods and decrease that of salty, sour or pungent. As a general guideline, hot, spicy and fried food should be avoided, as well as fermented foods such as sour cream or alcohol. A more comprehensive recommendation of foods that Pitta should consume is shown in the table below:

Pitta Pacifying Food Chart
Pitta pacifying food, source: https://www.theayurvedaexperience.com/blog/pitta-diet/

Cranberry Banana Bread Recipe 

As we practice asanas for 2h a day, we need to replenish the glycogen we’ve consumed, as well as provide our brain with the much-needed fuel for the afternoon of theory. Since our brain’s main metabolic energy is glucose, which we derive mainly from carbohydrates, I thought banana bread would be a generally sattvic snack to fuel us through YTT (which is also gluten-free). It has elements of Pitta-pacifying ingredients such as sweet overripe bananas, oat flour and cretan honey, astringent cranberry raisins and a small amount of cinnamon that contributes to the bitter taste. I’ve also topped it with chia seeds which absorb water to keep us hydrated and is rich in fibre to aid digestion. Besides that, butterfly pea flowers have anti-oxidant, anti-depressant properties that reduce stress and hypertension, and is beneficial for hair and skin.

 

Cranberry Banana Bread ingredients

Ingredients

  • 3 medium bananas
  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp cretan honey
  • 3 eggs
  • Cranberry raisins
  • Chia seeds
  • Butterfly pea flowers

Method 

  • Preheat the oven to 180°
  • Add the dry ingredients into a bowl
  • Mash the bananas and add them into the bowl
  • Add the wet ingredients and mix well
  • Fold in cranberry raisins
  • Grease baking tin (I like to use the inside of the banana peel, it works pretty well!)
  • Pour the mixture into the baking tin and top with chia seeds and butterfly pea flowers
  • Bake for 25min, then leave in for another 5min with oven off
  • Enjoy!

And there you have it, a quick easy pitta-pacifying snack fix. Would love if you gave the recipe a try, let me know what you think!

Kyla x

Ayurveda Body Type

Ayurveda is the complete knowledge of life. It is derived from ancient India Philosophy. Based on the philosophy of Ayurveda, it say that all the matter in this universe are made of 5 elements: air, water, space, fire, and earth.  They are made by this 5 elements with different proportion, so that there are variable creation in the universe with different characteristic.Read More