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Friday, March 4, 2011

The Five Points of Yoga: Diet

Today, our fourth point is proper diet.  According to yogic belief, the optimal diet is the vegetarian diet.  I know to many meat eaters, this idea sound extreme!  It sounded extreme to me when I studied at an ashram this past October: I had been eating meat for 24-years and now they wanted me to give it up!? Impossible. Well, not completely impossible. It has been five months since I have touched ANY meat! Now, I will admit, I fall more into the pescetarian category, because I do still eat fish (I haven't been able to part ways with sushi yet.) But, I'm only five months into this new lifestyle, so I feel that's a good start in the right direction.

Enough of personal anecdotes and on to why you may want to consider switching to the vegetarian lifestyle. According to one of my teachers, Swami Sitramananda, the body needs food for two main purposes: for energy and for repairing tissue. To harvest energy and repair tissue, your diet should consist of four things: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and minerals. A lot of meat eaters are under the impression that gaining enough protein from a vegetarian diet can be difficult, but did you know that vegetable tissue contains a higher proportion of ALL these elements than animal tissue? I was surprised as well. Soy beans (as well as soy bean products i.e. tofu), nuts, beans, and milk contain large amounts of protein.  Rice, wheat, oats, and most other grains are sources of carbohydrates. To obtain the healthy levels of fat we need, dive into those protein sources as well as oils, such as olive oil.  Last, minerals can easily be found in vegetables and fruit.

Even though the yogic diet recommends you avoid meat and fish, it does not eliminate all animal products. It actually encourages one to drink healthy amounts of milk and use products such as honey as a substitute for sugar. However, it does suggest that one avoid stimulants and depressants such as: caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs of all kind, overly spicy foods, onions, garlic, eggs, overcooked food, old food, frozen food, canned food, sodas, and processed food. Whew... That was a long list, and I wouldn't expect anyone to quit cold turkey overnight (I am guilty of ingesting a number of items on this list.)

So why incorporate some of these ideas into your diet? First, there is the idea of non-violence. I could go into a whole long and drawn out argument of why the meat industry is terrible, but I won't step up on my soapbox just yet. However, I will say that the meat industry is filled with corruption and cruelty toward animals. Also, the meat is more often than not contaminated with hormones, chemicals, and even fecal matter that you are ingesting.  If you are interested in more information on where your food comes from, I would highly recommend the documentary, Food Inc.  Still not willing to give up meat? Then buy organic, free range foods. With these foods, you are guaranteed that your food is free of hormones, chemicals, and unnecessary cruelty.

Another reason yogis follow the vegetarian diet is it greatly improves one's asana practice and actually helps joints to become more flexible.  Also, with heart disease, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic conditions on the rise, the vegetarian diet seems the best way to prevent and remedy these diseases.

Converting to the vegetarian lifestyle and even eliminate things off of that "impossibly" long list can be a very challenging thing... That's why it should be a gradual change.  Slowly incorporate fresher options into your diet.  If you're not willing to give up meat, maybe set aside one night a week where you enjoy a vegetarian meal (Trying new things can be fun!)  But most importantly, educate yourself on where your food comes from. You just may be surprised. Om Namah Sivaya!  

**Information learned from The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta. For more information on diet, please visit this link or check out Swami Sitaramananda's book Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy.
***Please note that I am not a medical professional. Please discuss any dietary changes with your doctor.

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