Paleo and Yoga: How do they connect?

What do you think of when you hear the word “Paleo”? If you’re a stranger to the lifestyle, a stereotype or two might come to mind: hunter, violent, eating raw meat… What about “Yoga”? Perhaps something along the lines of Lululemon’s Shit Yogis Say ad pops to your head? How representative of your attitude and lifestyle is any of that? Not much, I’d wager. So, let’s take a deeper look.

Why go Paleo at all? Maybe you have an autoimmune condition that you’ve heard Paleo can help with. Maybe you haven’t been diagnosed with anything in particular and don’t experience any striking symptoms (after all, you’re supposed to feel like crap half the time, right?), but decide to give it a go because you’ve heard it can help you feel and perform better. Anybody out there on Paleo to lose weight? 😉 Or maybe you’ve a locavore using Paleo to take your nutrition to the next level.

Whatever your reason for going Paleo may be, I think the common denominator is balance. I’m not talking only about balance within our bodies – although health and body comp are all good – but about balance with our environment as well. There’s a lot of talk in Paleo circles about sustainability and I think this kind of awareness is crucial to ensuring a future worth living. In addition, Paleo promotes psychological balance through the concept of play. When was the last time you played?

Balance is also what Paleo has in common with Yoga. Yoga emphasizes balance in the body and mind, and to some extent balance with your environment. If you’re thinking of yogi-pretzels and wondering how contorting yourself like that can promote balance, bear with me: you adapt your Yoga practice to your specific needs and goals, just as you would tweak Paleo – it’s never cookie-cutter.

I’d like to make one thing clear at this point, though: Yoga is not a workout system. It can be used as such, but it’s incomplete. Yoga can help you build cardiovascular and muscular endurance (through flow sequences), flexibility in your muscles and joints (the average chair-bound individual has no reason to worry about becoming overflexible), some muscular strength (how many people do you know that can do arm balances off the bat?), and even hone your sense of balance, coordination and proprioception, It will not help you build explosive strength or other anaerobic skills – although it will probably help your body deal better with the stress of building said skills. So, what is Yoga really about?

Well, the whole point of Yoga is to prepare you physically, energetically (I’ll come back to that), and mentally for meditation. Depending on your approach, you might start your session with a flow, such as Sun Salutations, move on to standing poses, slow down with floor poses, and settle down in Shavasana before sitting in meditation. Notice that you start by moving the body and then progressively slow down to the point of stillness. All the while, your breath follows the activity of the body, and since you need to keep your breathing under control, your mind (ideally) is engaged with that task instead of your to-do list. Ultimately, this helps us deal with stress, but also serves as a kind of self-therapy session (I’ve briefly touched upon it in this post), thus promoting psychological and emotional balance. In short, Yoga helps us connect with ourselves and become more aware, which is then reflected in our relationship with our environment, including our social circle.

I mentioned how Yoga prepares us energetically for meditation. This is the physical kind of balance that Yoga provides by stretching, compressing, and twisting the body in order to activate specific pressure points. It’s the same principle used in acupuncture: our life force (qi or prana) runs along pathways in our bodies (meridians or nadi) and is controlled by energy centers along the spine (dantian or chakra), but sometimes it becomes stuck and we need to intervene to help it flow smoothly again. If you’ve never done acupuncture, I know this may sound woo-woo, but thankfully, you don’t have to believe it to benefit from it. Just go ahead with your practice, making sure you focus on the breath, and spend a few minutes just sitting quietly after you’re done (it’s a great way to reduce stress after all :)).

So, far from being mutually exclusive, Paleo and Yoga actually share similar goals and, I believe, complement each other nicely. If you’re into one or the other, how about doing a Paleo-Yoga combo 30-day challenge?

9 thoughts on “Paleo and Yoga: How do they connect?

  1. n9vember

    Hi there, I stumbled upon your blog via another and I’m also a paleo-practicing yogini! I was a vegetarian for 20 years and a vegan for 2. Since I’ve been eating paleo (around 9 months, mostly on, occasionally off), I’ve felt a million times better than when I was eating grains and refined flours and soy and dairy… I’m sure you can relate. I’ve also had this discussion with fellow yogis in my teacher training. Some are hard-line vegans (ahimsa!) and others more flexible, like me. I so agree with your correlation of balance being a common denominator with both yoga and paleo. Namaste! Renee

    1. Dawn D. Post author

      Hi Renee and thanks for your comment! Although I’ve been practicing Yoga longer than Paleo, I’ve always been an omnivore with a passion for meat 🙂 I’ve had a really hard time coming to terms with it, though. After years and years of people always telling me to eat less meat and more grains, finding Paleo was like coming home. Nowadays, I don’t even bother justifying the way I eat. I accept myself as I am and expect the people I care about to do the same. Is this because my mood is now better regulated through nutrition that is more appropriate for me? Or is it that I’ve become more aware of myself? I think it’s a little bit of both, and in that regard both Paleo and Yoga work concurrently IMHO.

  2. Melisa

    Hi! I found your blog in another “paleo + yoga” google search. I have been absolutely struggling with the concept of ahimsa (I am a yoga teacher) and my body’s desire to eat a paleo diet. I was vegetarian for almost a decade when I went on the candida diet (very similar to paleo) as a vegetarian. I almost wasted away. I decided I had to incorporate some meat. And I felt better than I remember feeling for YEARS. Since then (almost a year ago), I have gone back and forth from vegetarian, to paleo, to back again a few times. The cycle is always the same, I get sick and tired of feeling sick and tired on the vegetarian diet, and go back to paleo. Then when I start feeling better again, and forget how crappy I felt before, I start feeling morally bad about eating meat and beat myself up about it until I return to vegetarianism.
    Man, I struggle with it.
    I am trying paleo-strictly- for one month starting today. No cheats. Depending on how I feel at the end will determine my future diet. The concept of ahimsa toward the self is definitely at play here.
    So glad I found another like-minded yogi!

    1. Dawn D. Post author

      Hi Melisa,
      Thanks for your comment.
      For me, meat-eating was never connected to any moral issues, so I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through. Personally, I find I can practice ahimsa in the way I eat by choosing meat that comes from properly reared animals.
      Let’s face it, modern “farms” tend to look more like manufacturing plants, with animals packed in limited space and given sub-standard feed. These animals are low on the food chain, and are meant to eat vegetation and then get eaten by predators, but that doesn’t mean that they should be mass-produced in such a manner.
      Therefore, I try to eat meat from animals that lived out their life the way they were supposed to, moving around in the open, taking in lots of sunlight, and grazing on grass. This course of action satisfies the principle of non-violence as far as I’m concerned.
      Best of luck with your paleo challenge 🙂

  3. Trying to both yoga and the paleo diet

    Great post. It is tough to connect the two. The only way I see how they fit together is the return to the natural. The paleo diet is the cave man diet, it was what our bodies were supposed to eat before farming overtook evolution. I look at the paleo diet as feeding my physical, while yoga helps me mentally and spiritually.

  4. briankroeker

    Interesting read. My wife and I are trying a grain-free experiment next month (we’re both yogis) and I was searching around for anyone doing the same. In regards to Ahimsa (practicing non-violence) in relation to how we eat, it’s too often the knee-jerk reaction for people to state that vegetarianism is the only way to truly practice Ahimsa. I disagree.

    In India (the birthplace of this concept) you have an “endless growing season” and people have access to fresh vegetables and grains all year round, whereas, if you live in a climate like mine (Western Canada), you have a very short growing season and otherwise have to supplement with imported fruits and veggies. In that case, unless you are a super back-to-earth-type who cans, pickles and stores root vegetables for consumption during that long winter season, you are forced to import your fruit and vegetables.

    Aside from the harm you may be inflicting on yourself by solely eating grains and vegetables, what violence are you doing to the earth by importing fruits and veggies from hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away? What is the carbon footprint of your beloved kale and avocado? In comparison, eating meat from a local compassionate farmer looks far less “violent” when viewed through a wider lens.

    Just like I think we need to adjust our yogasana practice to suit the individual, we also need to understand that one size does not fit all when it comes to diet and adherence to the yogic principles set out by Patanjali over 2000 years ago. By the way, he never said anything about eating vegetarian, but he talks about acting with devotion to the Source (Ishvara Pranidhana).

    I think that if done consciously (Where is my meat coming from? Under what conditions did this animal live and die?) and with devotion (Giving thanks to the animal and the Creator for sustaining you and dedicating that energy to doing good works), then eating meat can be a part of a balanced yogic diet.


    1. Dawn D. Post author

      Excellently said, Brian! Thank you for taking the time to write such an insightful comment. Hope you and your wife find balance in your experiment.

  5. bradd graves

    Hi There!

    It is a misconception that yoga and the consumption of any substance, including meat, is forbidden in any absolute sense. First of all, only Hindu religionists who have incorporated yogasana into their systems insist that Ahimsa requires vegetarianism. These are the people who introduced Yoga to the west so naturally that is want most yogis are have come to believe. Yet this position is only one flavor of yoga. Many Yogis in India eat meat for a variety of reasons. Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, recommends meat in certain situations for certain people. At the core of yoga is intelligent personal choices for vibrant living that lead to a deeper relationship with nature and cosmic unity consciousness, not a set of rules that are true for all people all the time. Ahimsa has to do with intent and refraining from ego-enjoyment in the treatment of others. Remember that Krisha himself told Arjuna to go and fight (kill people in war) because that was his dharma as a soldier. The act of killing in itself is not the issue; what is at issue is your state of consciousness at the time. If your body needs a certain amount of meat for health, and you take only what you need for that purpose, it is yogic and not against ahimsa.


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