Yoga and vegetarianism

Like any other system of integral well-being, Yoga has specific dietary rules. Most of the dietary wisdom of Yoga has been transmitted orally. However, some general rules and also certain specific instructions are found in the various Vedic Scriptures. Writes Juan Carlos Ramchandani.


The reason why, since ancient times, the Yogis paid so much attention to diet is expressed in a few words in the Chandogya Upanishad (VI.5.4), which asserts that the mind is "composed of food" (in Sanskrit anna-maya). According to these teachings, the grossest part of the meal is removed through the digestive tract, the less gross is which sustains the body, and the subtlest becomes mind (i.e., nourishes the nervous system and the brain process). The mind supported by food is known as lower mind or manas. The higher mind, or buddhi, temple or source of wisdom, is not composed of food.

In recent times, all these notions have been expressed in a popular Indian saying: "According to what one eats, so will be your mind" (yatha tatha manah annam).

Increasingly seen more nutrition as an important factor for the maintenance of health. Practitioners of Ayurveda, System originating in India for the maintenance of health, could see it long time ago. His wisdom was extended to Yoga, and this in turn influenced the Ayurveda. The main purpose of the diet Yoga isn't just the keep or restore the physical health, but keep the inner middle, mind, free of impurities. In the Bhagavad gita5,000 years ago, we find the following triple classification of foods:

  • The foods that they like to those who are in the plane of the mode of goodness [nature satvica] increase the duration of life, purify the existence of one and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. These meals are juicy, greasy, pleasant and healthy heart.
  • Meals that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, spicy, dry and burning, like those who are at the level of the mode of passion [rajasica nature]. These foods cause grief, suffering and disease.
  • The food being prepared more than three hours before being swallowed, redoubtable, broken and rotten food, and food made from leftovers and impure things like those who are drawing from the the dark mode [tamasica nature] (XVII.8-10).

Unhealthy foods

Later many spiritual teachers and their respective philosophical schools joined also this triple division of food related to the three qualities of nature: sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance). Over time, Scripture would be more specific, and mentioned in particular plants and other foods appropriate or unsuitable for Yogi. For example in the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika (one of the major yogic texts), alcohol, fish, meat and garlic are listed as unhealthy foods and increasing ignorance on who swallow them. Instead it recommends wheat, rice, barley, herbs, leguminous green, butter, sugar moreno, honey, milk and ghee (clarified butter).

We could cite many other writings of Vedic and especially related to Yoga where there is a special emphasis on need to eat in the mode of goodness (vegan or lacto-vegetarian diet). Also mentioned that you should eat in moderation and they warn that overeating causes all kinds of diseases and hinders the final attainment of the Yoga.

However, the wide range of dietary guidelines, the texts of Yoga offered are valid, but it is also true that the diet must adapt to the needs of the individual. For this reason, it is advisable to experiment with own nutrition and learn how to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Yogic diet

Like most Hindus, Yogis are lacto-vegetarians, and balanced consumption of fruit, vegetables, cereals and dried fruits with milk and dairy products.

The reason of hindu and Buddhist vegetarianism is at its most philosophical and ethical, but also take into account the health. Hindus and Buddhists, as well as the sincere Western practitioners of Yoga, observed the ethical principle of not kill (ahimsa) and, as a result, they hate do it to feed.

Mahatma Gandhi, a karma-yogui specimen made it clear that, unless we feel a natural inclination for a vegetarian diet, we must cultivate a firm moral conviction. Put it in the following terms:

Be unconditional of vegetarianism requires a moral basis... Because it is linked to the development of the spirit and not the body. The human being is more than meat. Your spirit is that matters to us. Therefore, vegetarianism should start with the moral basis: that man was not born to be a carnivorous animal, but to feed on the fruits and plants which the land produces. (Of his biography Harijan)

The Yogi and the Yogini must maintain a balance between his personal experience and the proper guidance of a qualified teacher. So they can discover what kind of foods are indicated for its Constitution and what at the same time stimulate the element satvico that promotes physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Feed our inner being

For Yoga, the Act of eating required to participate consciously in the process of nurturing our body, so that way you feed, at the same time, our inner being. We can eat a vegetarian meal, with all the nutritional value of nature, but if we eat it distracted and indifferent, perhaps while watching television, we lose the opportunity to perform the practice yogic offering by each meal.

Yoga is much more than physical exercises, it is a way of life, a complete and ancient philosophy that includes control of breathing, concentration, internalization, meditation, relaxation and nutrition course, and the above mentioned this should be vegetarian.

The great masters of Yoga are vegetarians and they advise their students to follow a vegetarian diet. Among others we quote Prabhupada, Krishnamacharya, Shivananda Swami, Vishnudevananda, Indra Devi, Pathabis Jois. And those who are still present in this world: B.K.S. Iyengar and Desikachar, as well as their millions of followers around the world.

Juan Carlos Ramchandani smallWho is

Juan Carlos Ramchandani is priest hindu, master of Yoga and a doctorate in classical hindu philosophy. Author of 10 books and numerous articles on Yoga and Hinduism.

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By • 28 jan, 2013 • section: Signatures, Nutrition