Yoga Diet: The Tri-Gunas
In keeping with the philosophy of yoga, eating the right food is considered an essential component in achieving physical, mental and emotional balance. The yogic literature speaks of three “gunas” or “tri-gunas” (elemental forces of nature):
Sattvic: Foods that are beneficial to us (pure)
Tamasic: Foods that are stale or rotten (impure)
Rajasic: Foods that are spicy/stimulating
In the ideal yoga diet, impure Tamasic and Rajasic foods are avoided, while Sattvic foods are embraced.
Aspects of the Yoga Diet
Effects of Food in the Yoga Diet
Based on the premise that what we eat affects us internally and externally, a Sattva diet – that is, a diet rich in fresh, natural (chemically unaltered), whole, and non-spicy foods – is conducive to higher thought and deep understanding, as well as to a body free from disease.
Conversely, tamasic and rajasic diets – that is, consumption of extremely spicy foods, unrefined sugars, and alcoholic beverages – are said to stimulate cravings, passions, and uncontrolled desires of the lower animal brain. These foods thus inhibit the mind from elevated thought and the attainment of profound understanding.
Yoga Diet Food Choices
Since our minds and bodies must be properly nourished to remain alert and energized, the practice of yoga should be coupled with eating the right and avoiding the wrong kind of foods.
Sattvic foods nourish the body, helping the mind maintain a peaceful state, helping the body function in maximum health, and producing a balanced flow of energy between the mind and body. A Sattvic diet is comprised of non-animal foods with the exceptions of dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and eggs.
Examples of Sattvic foods:
- Whole grains and cereals
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Pure fruit juices
- Nuts & seeds
- Herbal teas
- Milk, butter, and cheese
Rajasic diets – foods that are hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty – over-stimulate the body, make the mind restless, and destroy the mind-body balance. Rajasic foods are said to feed the body at the expense of the mind. Eating too fast is also deemed rajastic.
Examples of Rajasic foods:
- Spicy herbs
- Hot spices
- Coffee, tea, and other stimulants
In tamasic diets, energy is withdrawn and inertia sets in, benefiting neither the mind nor the body. In turn, one’s powers of reasoning as well as the body’s resistance to disease are diminished. Overeating is also deemed tamastic.
Examples of Tamasic foods:
- Fried foods
- Stale food
- Overripe food
- Frozen and preserved foods
- Junk food
Note: Any new yoga diet should begin gradually, slowly replacing habitual foods with healthier options.
Yoga Diet in Moderation
Moderation in life is a key concept in yoga philosophy, and no less so with regards to the yoga diet. In this context, moderation refers not only to the quantity of food, but also to how fast food is consumed and to the amount of flavorings, spices, and oils used.