Yogic Guide to Eating for your Inner Fire

How to consciously keep your metabolism bright for holidays, winter weather, and the second wave of Covid

Agni (photo from the mantle above my fireplace;Washington DC, 2015)

I believe in yoga as a state of being — more than an activity, a destination, or even a style of living. Its sister tradition, Ayurveda (ayur= life; veda = knowledge), guides yogis in shaping daily habits into sacred, uplifting, healing practices that bring the practitioner in tune with the natural world we connect with during practice.

As the changeability of fall gives way to the steady cold weather of winter, we can keep our body-mind awake and in balanced health by turning up our inner fire. Here are my favorite ways of keeping my Agni burning bright:

Movement

Bring more dynamic, powerful movement into your practices. On the mat, you can work on jumping higher and lighter in your Ashtanga vinyasa transitions, focusing on the strength of your arm balances, and working with dynamic transitions such as drop backs for backbends and drop overs for headstands.

Finding strength and balance in my home yoga studio; yesterday in East Village, nyc

Off the mat, the weather is the perfect invitation to move quickly when you are outside. Running, sprints, jump rope, and tennis are all socially distant ways to fire up your fire. Aim to dress appropriately but also light enough to motivate you towards creating that healing heat. Sweat is one of our primary detoxification processes. Aim to work your way there daily, and your body will be in fine tune all winter long.

Practices that build heat, tapas, are a foundational aspect of the yogic eightfold path. Other ways to incorporate tapas into your daily life are through pranayama practices.

Nourishment

Every sip of water, bite we eat, is an opportunity to bring in natural nourishment for body-mind. Ayurveda teaches the importance of how the meal is prepared, meaning we take care that the person preparing the food is in a calm, caring, clear yogic state of mind. The ingredients should be fresh, local, and the highest quality that suits your budget. Meals are prepared in the simplest, smallest quantities needed — very different from the pre-prepped and/or restaurant delivery culture that has become even stronger through the pandemic.

Such a treat to find beautiful strawberries in winter! Farmers markets, first thing ni the morning, have little miracles like these (the rest of the pint was my breakfast :)

I find it safer and more serene to buy produce at open air farmers markets, which are open throughout the winter, and carry the local foods that are growing naturally now: roots, dark leafy greens, and the heartier squashes of winter. These are exactly the foods that Ayurveda recommends for us in winter. Simple stews are grounding, and we can amp up the heat with spices such as chili, ginger, and my latest non-Indian favorite: harissa.

Some new yogis are surprised to find that we are meant to avoid onions and garlic, because they are known to disturb the meditative mindset. It was easy for me to stop eating meat, dairy, wheat and soy — known allergens and toxins — but garlic was tough! I’ll have a clove or two in my cooking a couple times a year, when they are super fresh (early spring, early fall) but other than that, I find so much flavor in soup stock I make with fresh miso.

Other than denser, spicier meals, you can keep your Agni happy with hot water and herbal teas (simmer whole cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom for a perfectly caffeine-free, Christmas-tasting, after dinner cup of comfort).

Inspired Home Life

While spending more time indoors, keep your home life uplifted with the sensations that inspire you to be alert and interested in movement. Flickering candles bring literal fire to the home, and music keeps the energy flowing for you. I love playing whole albums — very old school, but I respect the journey of the music as intended by the artist. My latest favorites are Henry Mancini (especially the Breakfast at Tiffany’s soundtrack) and Jean-Pierre Boistel (Percussions pour la danse).

And to keep you creative in the kitchen, here are my favorite non-traditional flavor combinations:

— Miso + tahini

— Harissa + sunflower seed butter (I make the latter at home in the blender)

— Miso + cumin + pepper

— Mustard + nutritional yeast

And traditional only if you’re Bengali: Mustard with coconut

For dessert flavors: I love

— vanilla with tamarind

— maple syrup with chai spices, and

— dates with coconut.

For a tune up on your Ayurvedic basics: Fundamentals

Stay warm, stay bright, stay in touch! You can find me on twitter, YouTube, instagram and writing about yoga practice on megnapaula.com/blog and exploring yoga philosophyon ConsciousandCurious.com.

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Megna Paula

Megna Paula

yogi | artist | duke alum | east village nyc | teaching: rocketyoganyc.com | megnapaula.com