After the practice
Your wellness goals go beyond the mat. It is crucial to develop some healthy habits in your lifestyle.
Beyond the mat, there are a few elements that you need to consider too, that are as important as those in the Yoga session are. These are essential habits for a healthy lifestyle. They affect your practices and vice-versa.
Every aspect of your life will suffer if you don't have a healthy diet. It is a difficult topic, and there are over 50.000 books on amazon on diets. We have advanced so much in many medical fields but we are still far from agreeing on what a healthy diet should look like. The main reason is that it is difficult to create a well-controlled study on eating habits over a very long period to arrive at definitive conclusions. Keeping that in mind, I would like to address the ones I believe are the most relevant aspects to consider when changing your eating habits:
Check with a Nutritionist first: Before making critical changes to your diet, you need to make sure that your body is ready for such changes. Some of us go through life suffering from insulin resistance, mild allergies, intolerance to particular foods, mineral or vitamin deficiencies and other possibilities. A small change in your diet can make a significant positive impact.
Figure how many calories you should be consuming: It doesn't matter if you want to lose weight, gain muscle mass or both, you need to know how many calories you should be eating. This number can be estimated using tools like body mass index (BMI). I don't believe it is an exact science but it is a reasonable estimate. This you should also check with a nutritionist. We all have different body types and metabolic rates. You could need more or fewer calories per day. In any case, don't decrease or increase your caloric intake drastically. If you starve your self to lose weight, your body will slow down the metabolic rate to preserve energy. Please alter your caloric intake gradually.
Keep an eye on Protein intake: You need a minimum amount of protein intake to make sure that you are regenerating tissue efficiently. This amount will be determined by your BMI and your ideal daily calorie intake. You can also ask your nutritionist about this. Personally, I need to consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight every day to keep a steady muscle mass. Please don't rely heavily on protein shakes as they are processed food.
If you are vegan... Keep the fat intake low. Because your protein sources come mostly from grains, you are in most cases consuming plenty of carbohydrates too. Most of the fuel you need will be coming from these carbs. Any additional fat will most likely be accumulated in your body as excess fuel in the form of fat tissue. Also remember to check with your doctor to see which micronutrient deficiencies you may have regarding Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron, calcium, and zinc.
If you are omnivore... You can use both carbohydrates and fat as fuel, but you need to consider the following. If your protein sources are lean meat, you can have a mix of carbs and fat for energy, as long as the total matches your ideal maximum caloric intake. If you are eating fatty meats, you will have to reduce the carbs intake significantly. Remember that calories in one gram of fat (9g) are about twice the calories in one gram of Carbohydrates (4g).
Consider extending overnight fasting: Nowadays many well-known physicians are recognizing the potential benefits of fasting. For your body to run on fatty acid fuel, your body has to consume first all carb-based fuel. Because of spikes on insulin levels, we tend to replenish the body with carbs before using body fat as a fuel source. By extending your fast a few hours after waking up, your body is likely to consume energy stored in fat tissue through gluconeogenesis. You will not starve if you still consume the targeted calorie intake during the rest of the day.
Avoid processed food: It is made out of inferior quality ingredients and toxic additives. Simple processed food like bread from the bakery is tolerable. But junk food is just junk. That includes take-out meals. At a restaurant, you are not only eating low-quality food with a higher content of sugar and trans fat. You are also eating bigger portions that leverage on carbs. You could just eat the "healthy" part of a dish, but it is hard to leave the french fries on the plate. Avoiding take-outs is not easy. You will need to prepare meals in advance. The good news is that you will save money and, if you learn to plan your cooking, you will also save time.
Avoid alcohol: Your metabolic processes are thoroughly disrupted by alcohol. Your liver overworks, and most of the drink (which is equal to far more calories than any portion of food) will end up converted into fat tissue. You will lose any benefits you could gain from a healthy diet.
Avoid sugar: To be more specific, you should avoid high concentrations of fructose, present in fruit juice and table sugar. It is as toxic as alcohol. It can only be processed by the liver, and most of it, will get also converted into fat tissue. Also, it damages all metabolic process by deregulating healthy insulin levels in your blood.
Check your micronutrients: Make sure that vitamin and mineral levels are optimal. If not, when possible, try to get the missing micronutrients through food instead of supplements.
Getting good sleep can be challenging. I occasionally suffer from insomnia too. Please consider the following tips:
Go to sleep early: All living organisms have a circadian rhythm, that is, a schedule of biological functions that are strictly related to a time of the day. In humans, many body functions related to sleep begin a couple of hours after the sun hides and stop after the sunrises. When you stay awake, these functions are poorly performed. If you go to bed late at night, you could sleep up to 12 hours, but is likely that will still feel somehow unrested.
Keep a steady routine before going to bed: By conditioning your mind, you can induce the sleeping state. Do some meditation, restorative yoga, read a book or talk to your loved ones before getting under the covers.
Avoid waking stimulus: Stop any stimulant intake, such as caffeine, at least a three hours before bedtime. Similarly, avoid watching TV, Laptop and Phone screens. They are all sources of blue light, which suppress melatonin, necessary to prepare your body to rest. Otherwise, consider using an app to neutralize the type of light from your electronic devices.
For muscle tissue to repair, or for muscles to grow, you need to avoid muscle stress. Once the muscle goes under intense stress like in standing poses, the muscles need a window of 36 hours to recover.
Because I have a daily practice, I target different muscle groups during standing poses every day. Sometimes I skip standing poses and seated poses. Otherwise, you break the recovery cycle, which could even create a deficit of muscle tissue.
Other healthy activities to consider
Earlier in this guide, I mentioned meditation and flow activities as an essential habit for a healthy lifestyle. These activities help you to stay in the healthy mind zone: Not anxious, neither lethargic. Some of these activities get your heart accelerated for a moment; some make your body move into your full range of motion.
Stay active. Walk whenever you can, hike in the woods, rock climb. Play a sport or a game, or cook with friends, creating social connections. Read, watch a movie, write, draw, or play an instrument. Sure, there is a time to plan your future, to learn from experiences, to be concerned, worry, hopeful, nostalgic. But not all the time. Actually, not most of the time. Whenever you catch your mind on these thinking patterns, please consider doing a flow activity.