What Should Yogis Eat?

When my aunt found out that I was practicing yoga, she asked me if I was a vegetarian. When I answered “No”, she was mortified – “How can you do yoga if you’re not a vegetarian?” I didn’t know how to answer that because I didn’t understand why this was a pre-requisite. My body can still do all the poses even though I ate meat, so what’s the big deal?


If you’ve been doing yoga for a while, you would have noticed that ‘diet’ becomes a big topic among yogis. This idea of an “ideal diet” for the “ideal yogi” often causes a divide in the yoga community – the vegetarians versus the non-vegetarians. Some yogis would pass judgment and discredit you as a yoga practitioner if you’re not vegetarian, and others take a rebellious stance on the other extreme, calling vegetarian yogis unrealistic and old-fashioned.


I didn’t have a strong opinion either way, so throughout my years practicing yoga, I’ve always stayed away from this topic and continued eating what I usually do. 


Although I’ve done pranayama prior to the YTTC, it wasn’t part of my daily ritual, unlike my asana practice. As part of the YTTC, I’ve decided to give the daily morning pranayama practice a go. After a few weeks, I’ve started noticing differences. Some were predictable – “prana” means energy, so rightfully so it gave me energy.  I used to NEED a cup of coffee in the morning to function. And now, I am no longer a slave to my morning coffee. At the end of my morning pranayama practice, I get a boost of natural energy from within, which tends to last the entire day.  And I soon realised I didn’t need an external stimulant to get me through the day. I still drink coffee because I do like the taste, but the point is that I didn’t NEED it as a source of energy.


Besides that, there was another significant shift that I did not expect. I started being more aware of what my body needed, and thus being more conscious of what I consumed. For example, I didn’t feel the need to eat big meals just because it was the time of the day – like lunchtime or dinnertime. I ate when I was hungry. And instead of eating based on cravings, I felt I was more in tune with what my body needed at that present time. When I was feeling a little dehydrated, I felt more drawn to water based fruits, even though my mind preferred chocolates. I was eating less based on cravings, and more based on what my body truly needed.


As the weeks passed by, my relationship with food changed. The shift wasn’t so much in what I “should” eat and what I “should not” eat. It was in the direction of that relationship. It was no longer outward to inward – i.e. external stimulus dictating what I felt I should eat. But instead it was inward to outward – a voice or feeling within me projected out what I needed.


Don’t get my wrong; I didn’t turn into a vegetarian overnight. But there were days when I didn’t feel the need to have meat. And on days that I did have meat, as much as I could, I consciously looked for meat that was ethically farmed.


We live in a society where a lot of our actions are based on rules – whether they are part of the written law in a country, or other soft rules dictated by the society or community that we live in. Obviously some of these rules help to keep society functioning without friction – like the law not to kill another human being. But with yoga, in my view, the point of the practice isn’t to live by rules. Yoga, through the practice of asana, pranayama and meditation, allows us to tune in and practice awareness from within. From this daily practice of cultivating awareness, our actions would gradually and naturally be guided by the awakening of our senses, mind and intelligence. So, no one can tell you, a yogi, what you should or should not eat. But be prepared to feel the change from within.


Sunitha Prasobhan (@miss_sunitha), 200hr Yoga TTC Sept 2017


Yoga Philosophy in a Nutshell

By Elaine Ee
Coming across yoga philosophy for the first time can be a little bewildering. For the uninitiated, yoga philosophy can feel like an abstract universe of esoteric concepts with unpronounceable Sanskrit names. Yet it can be made straightforward and concrete. Here are five key ideas to get you going.
#1: Don’t forget the other 7 limbs of yoga
Yoga is not just about getting into postures like a pretzel. In fact, Asana practice—which how the modern world defines yoga—is only one component of one path of yoga.
Before this gets too confusing—let’s start with what yoga is. Yoga means union—of body, mind and spirit. There are four paths to this union: Karma yoga, which put simply means doing deeds without any intention (or expectation); Bhakti yoga, which is a devotional form of yoga; Jnana yoga, which is acute self-reflection and the study of philosophy; and Raja yoga—also known as Ashtanga yoga, which is the control of the mind.
Practice of Asanas is one part, or limb, of Raja yoga, and there are seven other limbs. Without sounding like a laundry list, the seven, in this order, are: Yamas and Niyamas (living a ethical, pure life), Pranayama (controlling the life force), Pratyahara (detachment from the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and, the final stage, Samadhi (attainment of a super state of consciousness). Asanas is the third of the eight limbs, and means holding steady poses to still the body, to in turn still the mind.
Only when all eight limbs are viewed together is a yoga practice whole. So take your practice beyond the classroom, and into your life and live the eight limbs.
#2: Prana is the master teacher
In most yoga classes, the instructor will ask the students to do Pranayama—the fourth limb of yoga—which most will understand as breathing exercises. But what is ‘prana’ exactly? It’s more than just inhaling and exhaling oxygen and carbon dioxide—it is the life force, the vital energy that courses through your mind and body, that keeps you ticking and allows you to be balanced and in control. A similar concept exists in Traditional Chinese Medicine, known as ‘qi.’ Like ‘qi,’ prana is the fuel that keeps your engine running, and just like high-grade fuel helps a car perform at an optimal level, prana in a good state helps you function at your best—physically healthy, mentally alert but calm, engaged but at peace, active yet still.
Pranayama, or yogic breathing techniques, is the best way to harness and control the prana. Breathing can help prana rise or cool down, remove blockages, and bring about physical, mental and emotional healing. During yoga practice, Pranayama is what sustains your Asanas, centres you and helps you go further and deeper into your practice. So the next time you are in class, and the teacher says ‘breath,’ remember there’s a whole lot more to it.
#3: Karma is unfinished business
The term ‘karma’ has been used a lot. It is commonly understood to mean ‘destiny’ or ‘retribution’ and is described in terms of ‘good karma’ and ‘bad karma.’ In fact, karma is something quite different.
Karma is what stems from unfulfilled desire. What this means is—in each one of us dwells very deep urges. They may be so buried embedded in our subconscious that we are not aware of them, but they shape our character and drive our thoughts, decisions and actions. They may be things like the desire for acceptance, for recognition, for security or for love. Until we let go of our basic desires, they will continue to drive us and we will continue to produce karma through our chosen deeds and their consequences—which is why karma is called ‘unfinished business.’
Fortunately, there are ways to wrap up our unfinished business, like by mastering our mind and will through the practice of Raja yoga. Taking care of unfinished business frees us from our karma and allows us to lead a higher existence—the pinnacle of which is Enlightenment.
#4: Stuck in Samsara
Because of our karma, we remain caught in the cycle of birth and rebirth. This means that even after our physical bodies die, our soul remains on this earth and enters a different form, as it continues to seek its unfulfilled desires. And that before our soul entered our body it probably already existed in someone else’s. And it will continue to do this until it lays to rest its desires.
This cycle is known as Samsara, which is often depicted as a wheel. But before you think you are going to come back as an eagle, a worm or the next Bill Gates, remember that striving for a particular form is a desire in itself. Of course you have to believe in reincarnation in order to accept this paradigm, but even if you don’t the thought that one should purify and advance one’s spiritual development already offers huge potential for one’s yoga practice and one’s life.
#5: Be Sattvic like the sun
One level of existence that is higher but not yet fully enlightened is Sattva, which means purity and knowledge. A Sattvic person is highly evolved, discerning, and spiritual, and understands the path to Enlightenment though he or she may still be seeking it themselves. It is one of three basic qualities of living things, called Gunas. The other two Gunas are Rajas and Tamas. Rajasic people do not see the truth and operate mainly at an emotional, egotistical level. Tamasic people live in darkness—they are ignorant, negative and destructive. These three Gunas are in all of us, in varying degrees at different times of our lives. Together, they form the human existence.
Ultimately we want to move beyond the human existence, beyond even Sattva, to become enlightened, free from Karma, free from Samsara.
As you can see, yoga philosophy is not just about ideas or thought. It is a holistic way of looking at life itself, in which everything from the past, present and the future, to how you think, how you breath, what you do, is interconnected. The best way to comprehend yoga philosophy is to live it. Only then will you internalize it and will it become as natural to you as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Because yoga philosophy is not static words on a page, or something that a preacher says, but a living philosophy that guides you through life and to finally your highest fulfillment.