How Yogis need to eat (and not eat)

Master teacher Aadil Palkhivala says the food you have eaten within 12–24 hours of your practice determines how your body responds to it. Get his guidelines for the best diet for yogis.

YJ EDITOR
Aadil Palkhivala
 Tony Felgueiras

B.K.S. Iyengar-trained yoga teacher and Purna Yoga co-founder Aadil Palkhivala, who leads YJ’s upcoming Master Class online course, says the food you have eaten within 12–24 hours of practicing yoga determines how your body is going to respond to your practice.

“The practice of asana cannot substitute a bad diet,” he says, adding that the yogic principle of ahimsa (non-harming) applies to nutrition, too. “It is violence to your body that causes you fatigue and depletes your body’s energy and life force.”

Good nutrition has two parts, Palkhivala explains—one is what you eat, and the other is what you avoid. “We have contaminated our Earth so nefariously, so sadly, so deeply, that it’s really difficult to find good foods. There is no question that we have to eliminate caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, refined sugar, artificial chemicals, and GMO foods. Anything once in a while is fine; yoga is about moderation, but know that you’re making a choice. As one of my friends who is a leading expert on nutrition says, one teaspoon of refined sugar after a meal annuls all the benefits of the meal.”

Foods Yogis Should Eat

So, what SHOULD you eat to enhance your practice? Your dosha, or Ayurvedic constitution, may help inform your diet, Palkhivala says. “Start to listen to your body and eat accordingly. Svadhyaya, or self-knowledge, also applies to nutrition—knowing yourself, knowing your body. Very often Ayurvedic charts are wrong. Remember what matters is how you feel after you’ve eaten. If you feel like you need a nap, it means your food is taking energy from you, instead of giving you energy. Notice if your mind is clear or foggy—that tells you whether your nervous system is stressed. If your heartbeat rises, that could mean you’re allergic to your food.”

Generally speaking, if your constitution is vata, eat grounding foods, like root veggies, Palkhivala recommends. If your constitution is pitta, eat more cooling, soothing foods, like salads and cheese. If your constitution is kapha, eat more heating foods, like soups, more spices, and more chillies, he suggests.

Foods Yogis Should Avoid

Palkhivala believes Americans should steer clear of “toxic” wheat, noting that organic Einkorn wheat is a healthy alternative and can be used to make all of your wheat products. Millet, quinoa, amaranth, and any of the other grains are also good choices, he adds. As for dairy, it should be organic and come from cows that are nurtured and cared for, he says.