Vegetarian or Vegan
Besides being responsible for building our physical body, the foods we eat profoundly affect our mind, our senses, as well as our environment. Today, let us begin by getting familiar with the fundamentals.
The traditional Yogic diet is a lacto-vegetarian one, although in keeping with the fundamental Yogic practice of ahimsa or non-violence, many modern practitioners have eliminated dairy products and adhere to a vegan diet. Regardless, the diet consists of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote good health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. On the counter-side, processing, refining and overcooking often destroys much of the nutritional benefits. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. We should have a certain knowledge of dietetics in order to balance the diet. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) helps ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs.
Yoga professes that the sun is the source of energy for all life on our planet; it nourishes the plants (the top of the food chain) which are then eaten by animals (vegetarian), which are then eaten by other animals (carnivores). The food at the top of the food chain, being directly nourished by the sun, has the greatest life-promoting properties. The food value of animal flesh is termed as a “second-hand” source of nutrition, and is considered inferior to what Yogis call natural sources of food. These natural foods (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains) have, in varying quantities, different proportions of these essential nutrients which are easily assimilated by the body. Second-hand sources are often more difficult to digest and are of less value to the body’s metabolism.
The short answer is yes. Though people often worry about whether they are getting enough protein in their daily intake, Swami Vishnudevananda teaches that the quality of the protein is far more important than the quantity alone. Legumes, nuts and seeds are a great source of protein and provide more than an adequate supply. (They are also a great source of calcium!)
Simple, Natural, Fresh
A healthy motto is: “Eat to live, not live to eat.” It is best if we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with the life-force, or prāṇa, the vital life energy. So the greatest nutritional plan for the Yoga student is the simple diet of natural fresh foods.
As Yogis, we give attention to the subtle effect that food has on our mind and astral body. We therefore avoid foods that are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp. One who seriously takes to the path of Yoga would also avoid ingesting onions, garlic, caffeine, alcohol, marijuana (and other recreational drugs) because of their deleterious effect on the mind.
Of course any change in diet should be made gradually. Start by substituting larger portions of vegetables, grains, seeds and nuts until finally all flesh products, including eggs, have been completely eliminated from the diet.
The Yogic diet helps us attain a high standard of health, keen intellect and serenity of mind. To really understand the Yogic approach to diet we have to become more familiar with the concept of the three Gunas, or qualities of nature.