What should I eat? When should I practice?

If you are a Mysore Ashtanga practitioner, key aspects that you need to deal with are your food and the time of your practice. What should you eat? Or more importantly, what should you not eat? At what time of the day should you practice? Similarly, is there a time of day that you should not practice at? I will attempt to draw a broad framework to suggest to you a line of thinking to arrive at personal answers to these questions.

Let’s start with your tummy.

If you are practicing in the morning, early morning, then eat nothing before practice. Practice on an empty stomach. Given that yoga is a practice requiring focus on breathing, having nothing in your tummy is a huge positive for your practice. You can and should eat after your practice. Try and make sure you are eating food that is freshly prepared and balanced; with sufficient nutrients to enable recovery.

If you are practicing at hours that are not in the early morning, then you should try and maintain a 2-3 hour time gap between your meal and start of your practice. Different body types respond differently to food, and different types of food. If you have eaten food that is light on your digestive system and you are of the fire-type (pittha dosha – faster digestive process), you may be able to practice as early as 1.5 hours after your practice. If you have eaten a heavy meal and are of the earth-type (kapha dosha – slower digestive process), you may need to wait for 4 hours after your meal before you hit the mat.

Your practice, your objective of your practice, and the quality of your digestive system all need to be considered to tune your diet. When I say quality of your digestive system, I mean things like how quickly your digestive system can process food, how completely your digestive system can process food and how resilient it is to experiments.

  • If you are practicing yoga for 3 days a week and you are only doing it to stay sufficiently healthy in body, you may not need to change any of your dietary preferences at all.

  • If you are practicing yoga for 5 days a week and you are doing it because you feel it helps your body and mind and helps you stay happy and healthy, you will need to listen to your practice more closely and make adjustments to your diet. Whenever you have a particularly good practice, note what you ate the previous few meals and try to repeat them. Whenever you have a particularly lethargic or painful practice, note what you ate the previous few meals for ideas on what to avoid. Be open to experimenting and adjusting your diets and see how they affect your practice. Introduce fasting one evening meal a week.

  • If you are fully committed to the path, then you need your food to be subservient to your practice. Your practice will need to guide your diet. You may need to give up parts of your diet that may have been integral to your earlier lifestyle. Commitment to yoga means that you are ready to change everything for the opportunity to continue your practice. You will need to invest in experiments to understand your body composition and the types of foods that support your practice and the types of foods that work against your practice. Common experiments could involve trying vegetarian diets, vegan diets or diets that are specifically tuned to your body type through working with a nutritionist. Fasting will need to become more integrated to your lifestyle. Intermittent fasting should be experimented with. Your goal should be to spend quality time on the mat every day with sufficient energy to stay positive and aware throughout your practice. Your diet plays a key role in enabling a strong practice.

Now, to the time of your practice.

It is essential to understand when you can practice and when you should not. Personally, I have practiced at all hours in the day; and night. I have practiced at 1am right after getting up from a disturbed sleep; and followed it up with sleep. I have practiced at 11:30pm after returning home from a long day’s work just to ensure I don’t miss that days’ practice. I have skipped breakfasts, lunches, dinners to ensure I can be on the mat. I have tried practicing right after a long drive, just before a flight and sometimes, just before my actual practice (it is not as crazy as it sounds, you can talk to any ashtanga practitioner and I am sure they will nod in agreement). From my experience, your biggest considerations for the time of your practice are the time at which you last ate and the likelihood of having a disturbance-free practice. You should typically allow 2-3 hours after a meal before you start your practice. Also, you should always make sure that your practice is at a time when you can completely focus on your practice. Trying to squeeze in a practice in a small interval of time or in a marketplace environment where there are lots of disturbances generally yield poor results. It may make greater sense to skip such a practice to save energy for a fully focused practice at a later time that day.

My daily personal practice is at 2:45am. Everything is standstill at that time. A beautiful silence engulfs the practice. The early mornings seem like the most ideal time for a yoga practice as your mind tends to be less burdened at that time. I learnt this from Shri Sharath Jois’ (flagbearer of the Shri. K. Pattabhi Jois tradition) practice as I read that he starts his practice at 2am or a bit earlier. It struck a chord with me. I have met several ashtanga teachers who, inspired by Sharath, start their day between 2 and 3 am. Honestly, after having practiced early morning for over 5 years now, I wonder if I could have ever maintained my practice while continuing to serve as teacher without exploring this part of my morning.

As the day wears on, mundane thoughts take over and inhabit your mind more firmly than in the early mornings. However, practicing at 4-6pm can be very rewarding as your body will have warmed up during the day and you will see significantly more flexible response from your body during these hours.

It is important to remember that your practice is far more important than the time of your practice. To keep up your practice, no particular hour is better than another. If you are unable to practice early morning, find a slot of time later in the day when you can practice. If you want to be a consistent practitioner, you will need to prioritize your practice every single day. Sometimes, you may have conflicts with your other work that makes it harder to practice during your regular hours. On such days, you can practice before you sleep. You can skip dinner and practice rather than eating away; with the added benefit that a strong practice can lead to really good sleep as well. If you make a determination that you will try and practice every single possible day, then you will start noticing that the day has 24 hours and every single hour is available to maintain and progress your practice. You will learn to find unique times and ways to keep up your practice. You will also learn how your body responds at different times of the day, during different seasons, and under various life circumstances. These experiences cannot be translated in writing. I can only invite you to try and practice at various different times of the day just to experience your practice, your body and your mind. Practicing at different times of the day also helps strengthen your practice and your confidence in your ability to maintain and grow your practice.

By - Gowrisha

November 9, 2019

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