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.

 

 

 

 

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

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