Last time I hear that people discuss more and more about how food affects their lives. And I agree with phrase “You are what you eat”. For many years I experience different ways of how to eat properly, how to enjoy what I eat and what is good for me. Any dog or horse trainer will tell you that what is fed to an animal influences its behavior. Although we like to forget this when it comes to ourselves,what we eat has a huge influence not only over our physical well being, but also over our thoughts, and ultimately our emotional and spiritual well being.
I am not a vegetarian, but as I practice yoga, I realize that some food make me feel heavy and prevent to improve my practice. Yoga is basically a healthy life style for spiritual upliftment, that why it is important to know what we eat. Yoga suggests and supports naturally grown fruits and vegetables, all grains, pulses and dairy products as a healthy diet.
Yoga diet is based on the concept of eating well-balanced wholesome foods, which not only strengthen and make flexible the body, but also help to relieve the stress in the mind. Yoga doesn’t classify foods based on vitamin, mineral, protein or nutrient content, but follows the philosophy that the actual benefit of all ingredients of the food can be maximized by consuming them in the most natural form.
Our great Yogis were observers of the nature. They have studied the nature very minutely and precisely. Milk is the first food taken by all babies: human or animal! A very natural form of food for any life! Produced by the body and for the nourishment of the body! So all of the natural form of the dairy product is covered in Yogic diet.
Many classical yogic texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, contain advice on a yogic diet.
In yogic literature food is traditionally classified according to its effect on the body and mind, using the the three Gunas: Sattva (the quality of love, light and life), Raja (the quality of activity and passion, lacking stability) and Tamas (the quality of darkness and
inertia, dragging us into ignorance and attachment):
- Sattvic food promotes clarity and calmness
of mind and is favourable for spiritual growth. It is “sweet, fresh
and agreeable” and includes most fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables,
particularly green leafy vegetables, whole grains, honey, pure water and
milk (with the reservation that commercially produced milk may not
nowadays be so sattvic…). Given the amount of pesticides and chemical
fertilisers used on commercial crops, only organic products still qualify
as Sattvic, and tinned or frozen food certainly don’t. Sattvic food are light in nature and it easy to digest.
- Rajasic food feeds the body, but promotes
activity and therefore induces restlessness of mind. It disturbs the
equilibrium of the mind and is generally to be avoided by yoga
practitioners. Rajasic foods include most spicy foods, stimulants like
coffee and tea, eggs, garlic, onion, meat, fish and chocolate, as well as
most processed food. Eating too fast or with a disturbed mind is also
considered rajasic. Rajasic food is heavily processed and should be avoided
by those whose aim is peace of mind, but will benefit people with an
active lifestyle. A little rajasic food can be sattvic, for example, hot
spices can help digestion, and therefore help create peace of mind!
- Tamasic food (to be avoided) induces heaviness
of the body and dullness of the mind, and ultimately benefits neither. It
includes alcohol, as well as food that is stale or overripe. Overeating is
also tamasic. The traditional advice is to fill the stomach half with
food, one quarter with water, leaving the last quarter empty.
The nature of food can change. Cooking is the most obvious way to change the nature of
food. Grains become sattvic only after cooking. Honey becomes tamasic (poisonous) with cooking. The nature of a food also change by being in combination with other foods and spices, or if it is stored for periods of time. Generally grains should be aged a bit (they become more sattvic) but of course, fruits shouldn’t (they rot and become tamasic).
How and when to eat is also important. One should not eat too late at night, for there
should be a gap of at least two, and preferably 3 to 4 hours between supper and sleep. Food should be freshly prepared and eaten with attention, respect and gratitude. While one should eat to live, rather than live to eat, food should be tasty, so as to be appreciated. The attitude of the person preparing the food is important as well, as the mood of the cook permeates the food. Most Indians still prefer their lunch box prepared at home to lunch in a restaurant for this reason, and some yogis only eat food prepared by themselves or other
The issue of food combining is also important, for even the right foods taken in wrong combination can cause problems. Without going into too much details, let’s just say that some types of food combine well, while others, because of the difference in the digestive process they require, should not be mixed. For example, strong proteins should not be mixed with carbohydrates. To be safe, avoid mixing too many different types of food
in the same meal.
Another important issue with a yogic diet is that of vegetarianism. Not only are fish and meat specifically listed amongst the “food injurious to the yoga” by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (I, 59), but eating the flesh of dead animals violates the first principle of yogic ethics (yamas) as laid down by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, that of non- violence (ahimsa). Yogis believe that the fear of death permeate every cell the body of an animal when it is slaughtered, and therefore, the traditional yogic diet is lacto-vegetarian and avoids eggs as well as all animal flesh (including fish!). Indeed modern research has shown that vegetarians are generally in better health than meat eaters. Proteins that can be obtain from nuts, dairy products and legumes are generally of a better quality than meat.
Now it’s up to you how to eat, make your best choice…