Just take a quick peek inside the kitchen of Ayurvedic educator and yoga teacher Scott Blossom’s Berkeley, California, home. In the pantry you’ll find ghee and sunflower seed butter, plus dozens of herbs, spices, and teas. In the ‘fridge, bundles of kale, carrots, and beets. On the counters, jars of homemade jams, organic raw honey, and a warm loaf of sprouted spelt bread. On the stovetop a pot of dahl (Indian lentil soup) simmers.
All of these foods reflect Blossom’s quest to meet his nutritional needs while honoring his yogic values. He spent 20 years experimenting with veganism, vegetarianism, and other dietary styles, while studying Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, before figuring out the right diet for himself and his family. In 1998 he settled on an Ayurvedic diet in which his daily food choices reflect the needs of his individual constitution, what’s going on in his life, and the season of the year.
“Eating is perhaps the single most important act for one’s yoga practice,” Blossom says, “because nourishment of the body’s tissues forms a foundation for nourishment of the mind and emotions.” One way to think about this is to imagine devoting your days to practice while feeding yourself nothing but sugar and caffeine. What effect would that have? It’s easy to see that a balanced, calm mind is much easier to come by if you commit yourself to nourishing your body properly, just as you commit yourself to asana, Pranayama, and meditation. But what exactly does it mean to nourish yourself properly? Just how do you eat like a yogi?
Admittedly, extending your yoga practice to the dinner table is not an easy task, mostly because the classic yogic texts such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita don’t list any specific foods for following a “yogic diet.” And even if they did, it’s highly unlikely that the foods prescribed in India thousands of years ago would be appropriate today for each and every one of us.
But while there is no prescribed menu for yogis, there is a yogic diet, says Gary Kraftsow, the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. “These are ingredients that enhance clarity and lightness, keeping the body light and nourished and the mind clear,” he explains. In other words, a diet that offers your body a great basis for practice—or encourages the same effects as practice—makes for a great yogic diet.
As an Ayurvedic practitioner, Blossom views the occasional red meat as medicine for his specific constitution. He still follows a largely vegetarian diet, though: “That’s what nourishes me in the most balanced way,” he says. And when he does eat meat, he sources it with great care, choosing only organically and humanely produced meats.
Not surprisingly, the interpretation of ahimsa is widely debated within the yoga community. Life, for example, has been committed to an animal-free diet for decades. He became a vegetarian in the 1970s; since 1987 he has been a vegan. “One’s suffering is another’s suffering,” says Life, who actively encourages yogis to see veganism as the only dietary choice that truly honors ahimsa. “In the Yoga Sutra, it doesn’t say be nonharming to yourself or people who look like you. It just says do no harm.”
Clearly, with such varied perspectives on what feeds the body and spirit, developing a diet that reflects your ethics and honors your physical needs can be challenging. In the end most yogis would agree that part of the practice is to develop awareness about what you eat. It’s worth spending time educating yourself not just about the possible diets you could follow but also about the origins and properties of the food you buy. And it’s essential to listen to yourself so that you’ll know what kinds of foods might serve you best in each moment. But, as you explore the parameters of your own yogic diet, allow for some flexibility. “Remember, yoga is about freedom, including freedom from your own strong beliefs and ideas,” Kraftsow says. “So don’t get caught in them.”
To begin forming your yogic diet, think about which teachings best resonate with you and how you might put those teachings into action. If ahimsa is a focal point in your value system, explore how your food choices can cause the least possible harm to yourself, other beings, and the planet. If you are attracted to the principles of bhakti yoga, you may want to make every morsel an offering—silently give thanks to the food as you prepare it and offer it as nourishment for the Divine in everything before you eat it. Or if you’re focusing on compassion for others, you may want to emphasize sharing fresh, home-cooked meals with friends in need. “When you get all these factors in alignment with your personal value system,” Blossom says, “that is the yogic diet.”
Author by Dayna Macy