In Yoga, mitahara means moderation in food. It is a tapas of Kriya Yoga and Krishnmacharya includes it as a yama in Ashtanga yoga. In the Hathayogapradipika it says that ‘The Siddhas know that among yamas a moderate diet is the most important.’ HYP 1:38. HYP lists overeating as one of the six causes by which Yoga fails,HYP 1:15. In yoga we are attempting to master the mind, and then go beyond the mind. If you are unable to control a gross activity like food, how will you master something as subtle as the mind?
Also it is accepted in Yoga and Ayurveda that food affects the body and mind. Food will increase, balance or decrease the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha leading to health or disease in the body. Food will increase, balance or decrease the three gunas of sattva, tamas and rajas so leading to peace, dullness or pain in the mind. It is very important to understand this and apply it to be successful in Yoga. Many people leave Yoga and say that it does not give the promised benefits. Others continue to practise and do not attain the full benefits suffering from vacillation and instability. This needs to be investigated. If you only boil potatoes for 10 minutes they will not be cooked, they will only be cooked if you keep them boiling for 20 minutes. In the same way the practice of Yoga needs the correct conditions and application to come to fruition.
Krishnamacharya gave three reasons for practitioners not succeeding in Yoga.
1) They are not following the rules such as vinyasa.
2) Their teacher is not teaching them using the secrets and techniques that are in his/her experience.
3) The teacher has not instructed them properly about the place and time of practice, the appropriate diet and drink and activities for the practitioner.
We can benefit ourselves and others by our practice of Yoga. It is considered that meat imparts rajasic vibrations to the mind and alcohol tamasic vibrations. Rajasic and tamasic input is to be reduced for success in Yoga. It is also estimated that if the wealthy nations reduced their meat and alcohol consumption by 50% this would release enough grain to feed all the worlds hungry. So by reducing the consumption of these items we could improve our health, progress steadily in Yoga, help many suffering beings and reduce our impact on the earth.
To give all the elements of a balanced Ayurvedic diet and lists of foods according to the gunas is beyond the scope of this article. I recommend that you investigate this subject with your teacher or through books. The following book is highly recommended on Ayurvedic aspects of diet. The Ayurvedic Cookbook. The recipes are mainly very Sattvic, therefore also meeting the requirements of a Yogic diet.
Please give careful attention to diet for health, to support your Yoga practice and for the benefit of other beings and the earth.
May you enjoy peace and happiness.