I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga for almost 15 years now. I have to say that my diet has definitely been a huge factor in my practice and my life.
Niyama is the second limb of yoga. It has to do with personal observances. The fuel (food) that we put into our bodies definitely relates to this limb. In many respects it is all about the self discipline we need to avoid all the inferior and even harmful foods and drinks that we come into contact with as we shop in grocery stores and eat out in restaurants. It’s a challenge to be sure!
Here’s an average day for me. In the early/mid morning I eat nothing but fresh fruit and superfood smoothies. I also hydrate with pure water, I use distilled water with a little fresh squeezed lemon and a pinch of sea salt to add electrolytes. This is perfect if I am teaching or taking class in the morning. My body has just been infused with life giving nutrients and enzimes and is loaded with energy. I’m not bogged down wasting that precious energy digesting a huge breakfast. I also try to drink a lot after class to re-hydrate.
That takes me to about noon. By lunch I’m usually really hungry! As we say in Massachusetts “I’m Staaavin!” Since I’m a vegetarian my choice at lunch is usually a veggie sandwich. Organic tomato, avocado, cukes, romaine lettuce, spinach, peppers, eggplant, and sprouts are some of my mainstays. I use grape seed vegenaise as a dressing adding a couple of cloves of fresh (crushed ) garlic and some sesame, chia and sunflower seeds to the vegenaise. The medicinal properties of fresh garlic are legendary. Awesome for the immune system. For bread I use a variety of health food brands, Ezekial, Alverado ST, Rudi’s, lightly toasted. Consider gluten free breads. If I (cheat?) with chips I get a good brand like Garden of Eaton.
Niyama, the act of eating consciously
If I’m teaching or practicing in the afternoon I don’t eat again until after I’m done and then just a little bit. Really, the less you eat the less hungry you are. If I get home in the evening I might have a little rice and a salad, or some pasta. I always try to drink a lot in the evening to keep hydrated. Other dishes I have for supper are salads, salads, and more salads, pastas, grain loafs and veggie burgers, steamed and quick fried vegetables, rice dishes, the list of awesome vegetarian fare is endless, and eating as much raw foods as possible is essential.
How does this help my yoga practice? I have more energy and stamina, There’s less in my stomach and digestive system so it’s easier to stretch and compress, I’m hydrated so my muscles are hydrated and less prone to fatigue and cramping. I never drink during class, therefore I have more focus because my body has what it needs to function properly. I have the peace of mind knowing that I’m doing the best that I can in giving my body what it needs, so it leaves me free to focus on my mental game, and of course, my breathing.
my yoga food tips
So! Some of my tips are: first of all, do the best you can. Read labels, try to eat a little less, check out superfoods, foods rich in omega 3, choose organic fruits and vegetables, get a juicer, use medicinal herbs, go raw, eat seeds and sprouts, consume less sugar, watch for GMO’s, eat more fresh raw foods, less processed foods, cut back on the coffee (try green tea) Generally speaking, do research and make wise choices. There’s a lot of information out there, some good some not so good. Find out what makes sense and works best for you and your yoga practice.
As for what I call the dark side, well, I don’t drink alcohol or smoke so I can’t really relate. My yoga class suffers if I had an order of french fries the night before for gosh sakes! I can only imagine (and I’ve seen from the teachers prospective) how someone feels in a morning class after drinking and smoking all night. Just try to remember what that stuff does to your body and try your best to cut back or maybe quit. We all struggle with our addictions and bad habits, it’s the human experience. Don’t beat yourself up and remember you always have the chance to start again.
In closing I have to say that I truly believe in yoga and the practice of hatha yoga. If you are committed to a regular daily practice I think you will move away from all these “bad” habits. You will find that they are a hindrance to your yoga practice.