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  • Writer's pictureOphelia Farndon

Soul Food

What yoga teaches us about diet and how it might improve your relationship with food.


We all eat. It’s a non-negotiable essential to this human experience of ours. Not only does it sustain our existence, but eating is also a common denominator binding us together.


Our bodies need food to provide nutrients for cellular repair and metabolism; to support immunity against bugs and diseases; and as fuel to help us get out of bed every day and do everything we want to.


But, transcending such vestigial survival needs, food plays an even more special role in our lives. In many cultures and societies, food is used medicinally as a tonic for many maladies. But, more importantly, food is used as a medium to reconnect to with each other and the vast universe we bumble around in.  



Food has long been in the orbit of discussion and debate in the theological fields and spiritual realms. Many lineages of religion observe periods of fasting and austerity, while others proscribe particular provender for the purpose of piety. Eating is an essential conduit to expressing beliefs, intentions, and respect for consciousness.


And this is equally true of yoga.


For thousands of years, yogis have fostered food as an avenue for channelling spirituality and achieving ultimate enlightenment. From the elemental heart of Ayurveda to abstemious fasting periods teaching an unfiltered value of food, yogis are distinct diet disciples.


But underneath the many cloaks shrouding their approach to eating – from Ayurveda to raw vegan and clean eating – there is a simple, nutritious approach to feed body, mind, and spirit. 


Vital energy


Since the philosophy of yoga attributes energy as a thread weaving components of the universe together, it’s understandable the notion of diet is sewn into the yogic tapestry.


What demarcates yogic views on diet from other healthy eating regimes is the emphasis on ‘vital energy’ – of which is energy obtained directly from the sun.


The yogic approach to eating posits the closer we can eat to the Earth’s primary source of energy (the sun), the more vital our own energy and bodies will be.


As humans, we can’t produce our energy directly from the sun, so we rely on consuming it second or third hand. In the west, we mostly eat this vital energy third hand, by eating animals and their by-products.


Yogic philosophy knows the secret to a healthy, vital body lies in the very ground we walk on.


Plants assimilate energy directly from the sun by way of photosynthesis, providing us with a second hand, less diluted source of vital energy. Yoga attributes a wholly vegetarian, plant-based diet as the morally optimised way to eat, while sustaining peak physical health at the same time.



Philosophically, a vegetarian diet aligns with the ethic of non-violence, (ahimsa), and prevaricates from ingesting stagnant emotions and low-frequency energy from tertiary sources.


Complete nutrition


Food has many important micro and macro nutrients, used by the body for its energy and survival. With the yogic approach to diet, all key constituents are obtained from whole, vegetarian foods offering a complete profile of vital nutrition.


Fibre

Crucial for physical health, fibre acts as a medium for transporting waste through our digestive systems – like toxins and hormones. Fibre also feeds the millions of microbes in our guts, known as the microbiome, essential for good functioning of many of our other health systems, including our immunity and mental health. 


Fibre is not available to us in animal products, like meat and dairy. But it is abundant in plant foods.


The indigestible portion of plants, fibre takes on two forms: soluble and insoluble. 


Soluble fibre dissolves in water, whereas insoluble doesn’t. Most plant foods contain both fibres in different amounts. When we eat fibre-rich foods, the soluble fibre dissolves in the digestive tract, forming a type of gel. This gelatinous substance supports digestive health in many ways and is responsible for sweeping away any waste products that are ready to be eliminated by the digestive tract.


Soluble fibre also contributes to cholesterol reduction and blood glucose control.


On the other hand, insoluble fibre passes swiftly through the digestive tract, unscathed, drinking up water as it goes. This helps to form soft stool, promoting easy, regular excretions, essential for bowel health.


Having a significant effect on the body, fibre is crucial for our health. It acts as a cleaning sponge, mopping up mess made by our physiological systems. Fibre is plentiful from a variant source of plant foods:


  • Oats and whole cereal grains.

  • Wholegrain bread.

  • Dried fruits, like apricots, raisins, and figs.

  • Fresh fruits, like blueberries, raspberries, apples, bananas, mangoes, pears.

  • Fresh vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, butternut squash.

  • Peas, beans, and legumes, like chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans.

Protein

Carbohydrates

Fats

Vitamins

Minerals


Time to pause



Slightly more controversial, part of the yogic approach to diet includes periods of fasting.


Claiming to facilitate overall health, while simultaneously opening the door to enlightenment, fasting is heralded as an opportunity to free the body from the arduous process of eating and digesting; liberating it to enjoy other pursuits and find stillness in an undistracted mind.


Fasting is a common theme amongst many religions and holds great spiritual value. But it shouldn’t be approached lightly, especially if you have never fasted before.


The yogic approach recommends fasting on quieter days when you can be less active and more reflective. While the duration is not set in stone, most texts recommend no longer than 2 days. The fast can then be broken incrementally over several days where different foods are introduced in a specific order, (from raw foods, building back up to your regular diet).


Most importantly, modern yoga literatures offer up sage words of wisdom on who fasting might not be suitable for. If it's something you’re curious about and you have a balanced relationship with food and your body, fasting for 24 hours should be ok. Otherwise, give the yogic, vegetarian approach to nutrition a go and feel the health benefits open up new avenues for you on and off your mat.


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