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