Yoga for the Whole Food Vegan – A Beginner’s Guide

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The connection we have with our bodies is a powerful one. So powerful that people are able to lower their blood pressure, increase their concentration, and even increase their confidence just by figuring out how to tap into the connection they have with their inner self.

We might not realize it, but most of us are not in tune with ourselves. Instead of understanding what our bodies are trying to say to us, we tend to be so busy with our daily lives that we lose the ability to ‘check in’ with ourselves. Sadly, the longer this goes on the harder it is to re-establish this connection.

This is one of the reasons so many people turn to yoga. Yoga is more than an exercise routine and it is more than a way to stretch and relax the body. While it does provide a lot of benefits to the body, yoga actually goes much deeper than that. Yoga allows us to get in touch with our inner selves and become more in tune with our bodies. While many exercise programs help us to lose weight and become more healthy, yoga provides the added benefit of allowing us to change the way that we connect with not only ourselves, but also the world around us.

There is a saying that yoga helps us to ‘find our edge without falling off’. In other words, a good practice is designed to push you to your limit without taking you farther than you are able to go. Unlike other workout programs that encourage you to keep up with the group, yoga encourages you to look inward so that you are able to hear what your body is saying and respond to it.

But having a good yoga routine is only part of building the mind body connection. The second part is having a diet that supports the way that your body was designed to work and also supports the flexibility and mental concentration that is needed to help you go deeper into your practice.

Today you will learn how you can use food and yoga to find your optimal true self.

Why Yoga?

There is no shortage of workout routines out there.  And these routines promise to do everything from burning fat and helping you to lose weight to helping you to increase your stamina and creating muscle. and while some of these workouts are too good to be true, many of them do what they promise, and they are able to help you to find the body that you want.

But What is the Price You Are Paying?

The problem with a lot of exercise routines is that they are very hard on the body. Typically they require us to push ourselves and they don’t pay much attention, if any, to making sure that you are using the proper form. The result is that you are much more likely to get injured, and sometimes these injuries can take months, even years, to properly heal. Traditional exercise routines also tend to be very hard on the joints, which can lead to lifelong consequences if ignored.

But what is perhaps the most unsettling thing about traditional exercises is that they don’t encourage us to listen to our bodies. While it is a good thing to push yourself physically, it is also important that you know how to hear what your body is trying to tell you. It is important that we know how to be in tune with our bodies, because that will allow us to truly understand when it is okay for us to push ourselves, and when it is time for us to rest.

Somewhere between pushing yourself to the limit and pushing yourself too far there is a magical place where you are able to figure out how hard you can truly push yourself without causing injury to yourself. Many times people are pleasantly surprised to find that they are able to accomplish much more than they thought. But without learning to understand what your body is trying to tell you, it is easy to push yourself too far and even risk injury.

Physical Benefits of Yoga

Traditionally, yoga is about strengthening not only the body, but the mind as well. It is not uncommon for people to end each practice with a meditation, giving them time to center their minds and become more connected to not only themselves, but the world around them. When you practice yoga, you learn two qualities that you are able to use in any situation:

How to breathe through discomfort – there are many things about life that are uncomfortable. Whether it is going to a job that you hate or dealing with family stress. When you learn how to focus on your breath during these times, you learn how to get through difficult situations with ease.

How to react consciously to the world around you – instead of reacting on emotion, yoga teaches us how to think first and react second.

And even though it isn’t your typical workout, yoga is still able to offer the traditional benefits of working out. Such as increased flexibility, strength, muscle tone, and weight loss.

Health Benefits of Yoga

Surprisingly, yoga has many health benefits as well. This is why people who are dealing with everything from injury to routine illness to cancer rely on their yoga practice to find relief. On the surface, it might seem like the only thing yoga has to offer is stretching and breathing, but because yoga works on a much deeper level, you are doing much more than simply stretching and breathing.

So let’s say that you are dealing with chronic back pain. Your doctor will likely recommend that you find a low impact way of exercising, because there is always a greater risk of injury when you are having any type of back issues.  Even with physical therapy, the relief is typically temporary and many times you are left to do the exercises at home, meaning if you are not aligned properly you will be more likely to cause yourself pain, or stress your muscles. On the other hand, when you take a yoga class specifically designed for back pain, such as a Chair Yoga class or a Yoga for Back Pain class, you are in a room with an instructor who can guide you through everything and ensure you are using the proper form. The poses themselves are designed to stretch the body without stressing the body and many classes offer use of their yoga props, which will allow you to go more deeply into your poses without straining the body.

The same is true when you take a yoga class designed for cancer patients or cancer survivors. Typically, these classes are focused on ways to gently stimulate the immune system and detoxify the body without stressing the body. These classes are also typically designed around exercises to stimulate bone building, keep the range of motion and relax the mind and body. All of this is essential to someone facing cancer or someone who has survived cancer. Many times the treatment of cancer leads to bone loss, scar tissue from surgeries, and depression. With a yoga class designed for cancer patients all of these issues are addressed in a safe, relaxing environment.

Yoga can even be used to increase fertility. Because yoga is able to focus on the body as a whole, everything from your endocrine system to stress levels can be addressed in a single yoga session. Over time, addressing these issues will make it easier for you to conceive.

When you practice yoga, you aren’t just doing something good for your body physically, you are also doing something good for your body mentally. Those who practice yoga frequently tend to feel more connected to themselves, more confident, and more healthy overall.

How Food Fuels the Body

Have you ever eaten a meal right before you hit the gym? Did it make you feel tired, slow, and bloated during your workout? Because you are pushing your body during your workout, you have to be careful what you eat beforehand. You aren’t just looking for a healthy food, you are looking for something that is light, easy to digest, and gives you a burst of energy.

The same principles apply when you are eating for your yoga workout. During your yoga workout, you are stimulating your digestive system. While this is a good thing, (after all your digestive system is key to your overall health), this can also cause stomach upset during your practice. The thought of passing gas during your yoga practice might seem embarrassing, but most people who practice yoga look at this as a natural process and something that is vital for your health.

Still, there is a big difference between removing gas from the system and eating a heavy meal right before your practice. If you are looking for something to eat before your yoga practice, look for things like:

  • Seeds/Nuts
  • Banana
  • Peanut Butter

After your yoga practice, it is a good idea to hydrate the body with water or have a healthy smoothie. Basically, you are looking for light plant based foods that give you energy before your workout and foods that focus on hydrating and rebuilding after your workout. But remember, keep your pre-workout plant based food light to avoid any tummy upsets during your practice.  

Eating the right foods is not just important while you are working out, it is also important in the day to day life that you live between your workouts. For instance, let’s say that you go through each day without consciously thinking of the foods you are eating. You want to get into shape so the days when you go to the gym, you are sure to eat a plant based snack just before your workout and you are always sure to hydrate right after. Sure, you may feel good in the moment, you may even feel good after your workout, but that doesn’t mean that you are any closer to being healthy. Everything that you have just accomplished in your yoga practice is diminished the second you stop eating for your body, making anything that you have accomplished on your yoga mat a temporary feeling at best.

On the other hand, if you consistently eat healthy in addition to your yoga practice, you are giving your body everything it needs to be nourished and you are making your workouts more effective.

Why the Whole Food Plant Based Diet is Great for Yoga

Just like people who do crossfit tend to follow a paleo diet, people who do yoga tend to follow a whole foods plant based diet. While there is no ‘set’ way eat when you are practicing yoga, many people who follow yoga prefer to eat plant based. For them, eating this way allows them to reduce the inflammation in their bodies, find the energy that they need and more important than anything, help them stay in tune with their bodies.

Many times, they will follow a ‘Forks Over Knives’ path to healthy eating. This means that they will rely heavily on grains and plants to help them meet their daily needs.

Their diet will be rich in:

  • Grains/Legumes
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables

They will also avoid foods such as:

  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Sugars

Eating as a whole food vegan can be very different from eating a whole food diet for meat eaters. The biggest difference being that whole food meat eaters do not typically eat grains, but they instead follow a more paleo approach. Because whole food vegans do not have meat in their diet, they generally eat an abundance of grains.

And for the whole food plant based vegan, there are a variety of ways that their diet is able to help them in their yoga practice.

For More Flexibility, Look for Foods that Reduce Inflammation

So much of yoga is based on the ability to breathe, move, and stretch, But did you know that the foods you eat can actually hinder your mobility? Many times we think that our muscles are too tight to complete certain poses, but inflammation is actually to blame. Many of us have inflammation in our bodies and we do not realize it. There is usually no pain or discomfort that comes with inflammation, the symptoms are usually very subtle. They can present as rosacea, sore muscles, or even just the feeling that you are constantly getting sick.

Once the inflammation is removed from the body, many people find that they have more energy, get sick less often, and are more flexible. 

The beauty of eating a plant based diet is that many of the foods you eat on a whole foods plant based diet are naturally anti-inflammatory. These include:

  • Turmeric
  • Blueberries
  • Leafy greens (dark)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Beets

Adding these foods into your diet is an easy way to achieve a deeper yoga practice.

Foods Can Allow You to Concentrate

When many people think of yoga, they imagine someone stretching on a yoga mat surrounded by candles and soothing music. And while that does happen in yoga, there are also times when your yoga practice will involve complicated flow sequences or the ability to stretch in complex positions.

This is where the ability to concentrate comes in. When you are able to put your mind solely on your practice, you will not only be able to enter more of a meditative state, but you will also be able to remember the proper forms and sequences your instructor is showing you. This doesn’t just allow you to get into and out of the poses safely, it also allows you to keep challenging yourself in your practice and moving on to more complex moves.

Plant based foods are great for boosting your concentration, which is another reason why they are essential for the person who is practicing yoga. Some of the most popular plant based foods that you can eat for brain power include:

  • Whole Grains
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Avocados

Each of these foods will help to increase your memory, concentration, or both. As you can imagine, this will not only help you during your yoga practice, but it will also be beneficial during your ‘life off of the yoga mat’ as well.

Plant Based Foods for Energy

One thing that you have to have in yoga as well as daily life is energy. You don’t just need energy to get up and go in the mornings, you also need energy to be able to keep you alert and awake throughout the day.

When eating plant based, there are many foods that will help you to keep your energy levels strong. But unlike the kind of energy boost that you get from your daily cup of coffee, using plant based foods for energy will not cause you to crash midway through the day.

Some plant based foods that will give you an energy boost include:

  • Hemp Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Kale

For a more substantial energy boost, these foods can easily be thrown together to make a salad that will keep you going all day long.

As you can imagine, energy is a key factor in your yoga practice. While some yoga practices focus much more on breath than movement, an intense flow or hot yoga class requires that you are able to have enough energy to sustain you through your class. As a reminder, it is also a good idea to keep water handy whenever you take a more intense yoga class.

Plant Based Foods for Relaxation

As mentioned, another key piece of a successful yoga practice is the ability to calm the mind and relax the body. When we have such busy and stressful lives, the act of clearing your mind can be a challenge. And when you are not able to settle your mind during your practice, you will not be able to experience the full benefits of your yoga session.

The ability to relax is also an important part of our everyday lives. So many times we go through the motions of life being led by our emotions. While this may feel good in the moment, it can easily lead to poor decision making. When we act off of emotions, we don’t always see the bigger picture, rather we are looking ‘in the now’. However, when we are able to approach life situations with calmness we are able to take emotions out of our decision making process, this leads to clearer thinking and more level headed decision making.

Some examples of plant based foods that will keep you relax include:

  • Cherries
  • Almonds
  • Berries
  • Pumpkin Seeds

When you choose a whole foods plant based diet, you are not only doing something amazing for the world around you, you are also doing something amazing for yourself and your yoga practice.

Yoga Essentials

Whether you choose to practice yoga at a local studio or you prefer to practice at home, there are a few things that will help you to enhance your practice. While none of these things are required for you to begin practicing yoga, they will help you to achieve a deeper and more satisfying practice.

Clothing

It only takes one look at a sports store to know that there is no shortage of yoga clothes that you can buy. Everything from pants and sports bras to jackets and headbands are available for people who practice yoga. And many of these clothes are very fashionable, making them easy to not only wear to your class but also presentable enough that you can grab a smoothie after practice and not worry about people staring.

But while these clothes are fun to buy, and wear, they are not required for your practice. In fact, the only thing you need is a comfy top and a comfy pair of pants. You want to remember that you will be doing a lot of moving and stretching so you want your clothes to give you a full range of motion. It is also important to remember that you will be doing a lot of bending, so very loose fitting shirts or pants may allow others to see more of you than you feel comfortable with.

Mat

Your yoga mat will quickly become your sacred space. When life gets tough, you will start to look forward to the time that you spend alone with your yoga mat. This will be your place to not only push your body, but to also relax, calm your mind, and connect with yourself.

While most yoga studios will have spare mats to use, these have likely been used by others before you, and this can make it hard for you to feel comfortable laying in some of the deeper meditative poses, (some even have you putting your face on the mat, which might feel awkward if you are using a mat that has been used by others).

While everyone will be looking for something different in their mat, there are a few things that every mat should offer. Mainly, it should be firm enough to make you feel supported but it should also be comfortable enough to allow you to feel comfortable doing poses on your feet, hands, and knees.

Props

In yoga, props are used for a variety of things. But their job is essentially to help you to achieve a better range of motion and also make you feel supported. While these should be readily available at your local studio, it is a good idea to invest in the props that you use so that you can have them for your at home practice. Typically, these props consist of:

  • Bolster – a rectangular pillow, a bolster can be used in many ways But many people use this to support the back and spine.
  • Strap – a yoga strap is used to go deeper into stretching poses without placing stress on the rest of the body. For example, if you are laying on your back you can place a strap on over your foot and pull it towards you for a deeper leg stretch.
  • Blocks – in yoga, there are some poses that require you to be flexible. But for those of us who do not have that flexibility, we will have to sacrifice form in order to achieve the same yoga poses. A yoga block is essentially a way to bring the ground up to your level. By placing your hands on the blocks, you are able to have solid support, allowing you to experience poses that require flexibility, even if you are not flexible

While you don’t need any tools for your yoga practice, these are a few things that will help you take your practice to the next level. 

How to Make Yoga Part of Your Everyday Life

In order for you to get the most from your yoga practice, you will want to make it part of your everyday routine. While this might sound intimidating, the beauty of yoga is that you can do it for as little as 10-15 minutes and still see amazing benefits from it. Of course, you can also practice longer, as this will only enhance the health and detox benefits of your practice.

Set A Time to Practice Daily

One of the best things you can do when you are creating a routine is to have a designated time and space to do your practice. While this might seem a bit odd at first, over time your body will look forward to your daily practice and the second you step on your yoga mat you will be able to clearly focus on your practice without thinking of any outside stresses.

Do Yoga Stretches in the Morning for Energy

A great way to wake up the muscles in the morning is by doing a few simple yoga stretches. There are even stretches that you can do while you are in bed, allowing you to slowly transition into the start of your day. Things like side stretches, twists, and bending poses are a great way to unlock your energy.

Do Meditation and Stretches at Night to Calm the Body

Just like certain poses will build energy in the body, other poses will help you to bring calm to the body. Typically these poses take place while you are laying down, allowing you to start relaxing and unwinding. To end your nighttime routine, it is a good idea to lay in savasana for as long as you need.

Have a Yoga Practice During the Day

Your morning and night time routines are simple ways to wake the body up and prepare the body for sleep. But if you want to get the true benefits of your yoga practice, you should have a longer practice at some point during the day. Typically these practices can last anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes and they will include stretching, poses, and a small meditation afterwards. For even better benefits, you may want to do a few flow practices during the week, these will detoxify the body, get the heart beating, and allow you to sweat.

If You Are New to Yoga, Join a Local Yoga Studio

While it is perfectly fine to practice at home, you will want to be sure that you are doing your poses correctly, modifying poses where you need to, and advancing your practice without risking injury. Additionally, if you are new to yoga, you will want to experience different types of practices to discover what is right for you From a breath based yoga like Kundalini yoga to a gentle yoga like Chair yoga to an intense Hot yoga, there are a variety of practices for you to experience, and each practice will help you in a different way.

The  beauty of yoga is that your practice is your own. You are only requested to do what feels right for you and your body. Once you start to practice daily, you will likely settle into your own timeframes for your practice, and that is okay, because the only person you have to answer to in yoga is yourself.

Conclusion

When you choose to eat a whole food plant based diet, you aren’t just doing something that is good for you, you are also doing something that is good for the world around you. Because this diet is cruelty free, you have the satisfaction of knowing that no animals suffered in order for you to eat. Because this diet is focused on foods in their most natural state, you know that you are only giving your business to organic farmers, and because you are not eating any processed foods, you are making a statement to the food industry that you are not going to sacrifice your health so they can make money.

Because yoga is focused on both you and the world around you, it is the perfect compliment to anyone following the whole food plant based vegan diet. For yoga students, it is important to be connected to the world around them while respecting everyone and everything.

While there is no ‘set diet’ that you have to follow when you practice yoga, many people choose to combine their yoga practice with a healthy, whole foods plant based diet.

When you eat plant based, you are eating a diet of foods that are natural and from the Earth. Because yoga is based on being connected with yourself as well as the world around you, many people feel that eating foods fresh from the Earth is an easy way to feel that connection.

When you combine the power of a whole food plant based eating with the strong mind-body connection that yoga has to offer you will reach your optimum health and weight in a natural, stress free way.