“When food is pure, the mind is pure; this creates an oasis for awakening and provides an awakening that affects every level of our being.”
Chandogya Upanishad (8th –6th century BCE)
Yoga being a holistic system of self-development offers clear advice on the ideal diet that will complement and enhance our spiritual practice.
According to yogic texts, what we choose to put into our bodies will affect our mind and emotions. Some foods will aid steadiness and balance while others create agitation and restlessness. If you’re looking to progress on the yogic path this is something you may want to pay attention to.
The recommendations for a yogic diet can be best understood by learning about the three ‘gunas’ (qualities); Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, a teaching which dates as far back as Vedic times, around 1500 BCE) and are described as being present in all life forms, but in different proportions.
Sattva = peaceful, healthy, compassionate, positive emotion, and constructive attitude.
Rajas = activity, passion, competitive, impulse, mental agitation, potentially good or bad.
Tamas = lethargy, dullness in the mind, ignorance, destruction, and negative emotion.
From these descriptions it’s pretty clear that from a yogic perspective it’s beneficial to work on increasing our Sattvic qualities, minimising Rajasic qualities and eliminating Tamasic qualities.
Diet is a very practical and relatively easy way to do this.
To increase qualities of Sattva, it is advised to follow a vegetarian/vegan diet (adhering to ahimsa, non-violence) that includes fruit and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, beans and lentils, plant-based oils, herbs and spices such as cinnamon, basil, coriander, ginger and turmeric. Ultimately, all these foods are high in prana (life-force) and involve a conscious choice to honour all living beings and the planet.
To decrease Rajasic tendencies try to minimise foods that are very hot and spicy, stimulants like coffee and black tea, meat, eggs, salt, sugar, onions and garlic. Eating too quickly also increases rajas and can leave us with indigestion and heartburn, plus we haven’t taken the time to really appreciate and enjoy our food. To maintain Rajas all of the time leads to stress on the physical and mental bodies and ultimately burn out.
Drinking stimulants like coffee causes the release of adrenaline in our body and so for people who suffer from anxiety (which is now considered one of the most common health problems in the western world) it would be advisable not to have too much caffeine, as this would exacerbate these feelings and create more agitation.
Tamasic foods include alcohol, tobacco, heavily processed, microwaved, refined foods, and stale left over food. These foods are all low in prana (life-force). Overeating is also regarded as tamasic and will leave you feeling lethargic and sleepy. We can probably cast our mind back to several Christmas days where we’ve felt ready for a nap on the sofa after gorging on way too much at Christmas lunch, or when we’ve felt strong negative emotions and reached for the most unhealthy option to try to numb our feelings. To maintain Tamas constantly leads to dullness, no sense of purpose or direction and ultimately depression and low self esteem.
In the current day and age we can add to this the importance of sourcing organically produced food. The widespread use of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers is extremely detrimental to the environment and our bodies. The Soil Association, the UK’s largest organic certification body asserts that organically produced crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) have up to 68% more antioxidants than non-organic.
Choosing a vegetarian/vegan diet is also hugely beneficial to the planet. The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined (IPCC report 2014). Moreover factory farming of livestock animals is inhumane and unethical. If we eat a balanced vegetarian Sattvic diet we can easily get enough protein without eating meat.
Our choice to live more healthily and with an awareness of how how choices affect the world around us will support our body, the earth and benefit our yoga practice. Our mind will become clearer and our body lighter, both physically and energetically.
As a path of self-inquiry yoga encourages us not to accept anything at face value but to explore and test ideas for ourselves to see what the results are. Our conviction and faith in the path will be much stronger if we do. Small choices each day, such as choosing healthy ethically produced wholefoods to nurture our bodies will raise our vibration and align us with positivity and well-being.
“Nature gives all her wealth to human beings. Just as Nature is dedicated to helping us, we too should be dedicated to helping Nature. Only then can the harmony between Nature and humanity be preserved.”
Nibodhi. Annapurna’s Prasad: Ayurvedic Cooking For Health And Longevity. Mata Amritanandamayi Mission Trust, 2009
Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Statistics: Anxiety https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-anxiety
It’s Nutritionally Different/Why Organic? Retrieved from
Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change