what and when to eat; practice and food

i have been practicing for over a decade now, and I notice more and more the effect of foods on my body. the quantity and quality of food ingested influences my practice as well as the amount of liquid i had, ideally mostly decaffeinated and non-alcoholic.

so I can understand that so many of my students are struggling to find the type of food they eat prior and after the practice as well as the timing. i am not a nutritionist and food is such a personal issue, it’s difficult to comment on what’s helpful for someone else, but I am happy to share what has worked for me.

we are all unique with different body types and nutritional needs. for many yoga practitioners, following a vegetarian diet is a moral choice they make; practicing “ahimsa”, non-violence as a basic precept of the ashtanga system. others find a vegetarian diet with as much variety as possible beneficial to their asana practice.

if you practice in the evening, try to have a snack at least two hours before practice and make sure to hydrate throughout the day. most of us lose our appetite right after practice, so eating a light dinner post practice would feel natural.
if you have a morning practice, some schools advise a completely empty stomach which does not work for some practitioners; they get light-headed and weak, especially those with low blood pressure. follow your body’s clues! a consistent yoga practice fosters sensitivity, we become very aware of the subtle and not so subtle messages that our bodies are sending to our brains. we just need to listen. try to have as much fruits, veggies, whole grains as you can, and limit your processed food intake. for me finding the right carbs was key; I grew up on crusty european breads and very much enjoyed the delicious german pastries in recent past. but I did not enjoy the heavy feelings I used to get when I stepped on my mat the following day.

for ashtangis, the issue of food is paramount as most of us practice a demanding sequence very early in the morning. having coffee before practice is enticing for several reasons; it helps us wake up at 4 am and get out of bed when it’s dark and cold outside, also having an empty stomach is essential in some asanas. this is a very personal choice, and whatever decision a practicioner makes it’s important to be non-judgemential towards others. it’s a good idea to practice moderation in everything we do, on-and-off the mat.

in mysore, most of us have a very light dinner early, anu’s famous smoothie comes to mind. I have found that eating early, slowly and consciously help me feel light, energetic the next morning.

again, these are just my observations I have had over the years. I do crave bad carbs during the winter months from time to time, but I learn quickly; the mat is like a mirror, good and bad. try and experiment with different healthy food choices and you will find your perfect pre and post meals.