Many of us do yoga for its health benefits. However, did you know yoga is not just about yoga poses (asanas)? What we put into our bodies to fuel it is also extremely important. A car running on diesel moves and smells differently from one that runs on electricity. Not saying that we are cars, but you get the gist.
Many serious yoga practitioners follow the Sattvik diet. But let me first put out a disclaimer: It is not the ONLY healthy diet on the planet, there are other diets that are also beneficial to us, such as the Mediterranean diet, the whole food plant based diet etc. Before trying out any new diet, make sure you do your due research in order to ensure adequate and balanced nutrition. The Sattvik diet is not just based on nutrition, but also has cultural and historical significance.
Sattvik (adjective) = Comes from the root word Sattva, which is Sanskrit for “purity“, “light“, “goodness“. It is one of the three gunas, aka qualities, as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita. The other two gunas are tamas and rajas.
Rajas = State of energy, action, change (similar to Yang in Chinese philosophy). Results in passion and craving.
Tamas = State of darkness, inertia, inactivity, materiality (similar to Yin in Chinese philosophy). Results in ignorance and obstruction.
In each person, there are differing levels of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Yogis strive to increase Sattva as it enhances knowledge and joy. An increment of Sattva also suppresses Rajas and Tamas. So what are Sattvik foods?
In general, Sattvik foods are pure and light. They are mostly plantbased as yogis believe in Ahimsa (non-violence), which is part of the Yamas (the first limb of yoga). Sattvik foods include whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, seasonal whole fruits (not juices), fresh vegetables, cold-pressed oils (they should remain unheated when consumed), natural sweeteners such as honey, certain herbs and spices (basil & coriander), unrefined salts such as himalayan or unbleached sea salt, and milk or other dairy products that are sourced ethically (meaning the cows were well taken care of and calves have already had their share of milk). Dairy products such as curd and paneer (cheese) have to be made fresh on the day it is being eaten. Milk that is one or two days old has to be heated up before consumption.
Rajasic foods are spicy and stimulating. They include the allium family (garlic, onion, leek, shallots), hot peppers, fermented foods, eggplant, radishes, refined sugar, caffeinated drinks, tobacco and other stimulants, eggs, dark chocolate etc.
Tamasic foods are heavy and obstructive. They include meat, fish, garlic, onion (yes garlic and onion are both Rajasic and Tamasic!), alcohol, recreational drugs, fried or burnt foods, frozen and canned foods, refined grains, overripe or stale foods, fungi, preservatives and artificial ingredients etc.
You may notice that some of the foods that come under Rajasic and Tamasic foods, such garlic, onion, radishes and eggplant are actually very nutritious or beneficial foods. They can be used to achieve certain healing functions such as treat infections and improve sleep. Strict yogis or certain religious individuals may eat only Sattvik foods, however it is also important to understand your personal goals and motives and to listen to your body when choosing to eat or not to eat Rajasic or Tamasic foods.