“Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC)
The yogic diet is a natural one. Anyone following the principals of yoga must, when choosing what to eat, take into consideration the ecological implication, conserving natural resources, as well as ethical and moral issues regarding cruelty to animal.
Traditionally the yogic diet was called a diet of ‘fruits and roots’. It would consist largely of whole grains, beans, root vegetables, seeds and nuts, fruits and leafy vegetables, and some dairy foods in the form of milk.
When a yogi eats, he or she should recognize not only that the food nourishes the body, but that its inherent qualities will also have an effect on the mind.
However, there is often confusion around the right foods to eat in order to nourish and develop body and soul. Many yogi today adopt a vegan diet because of the ethical issues regarding the farming and consumption of dairy produce, and some exist on a diet of only raw foods.
Choosing the Right Foods
Since the essence of food forms the mind, a pure and moderated diet of foods produced by the combined effects of sun, air, soil and water is the best prescription for physical and mental wellbeing. The goodness we gain from these fruits comes at first hand, bringing harmony and vitality to the aspirant. Full of prana (vital life force), it keeps the body lean and supple and the mind clear and focused.
To coin a phrase, you are what you eat. We should aim to eat food that increase our sattvic (purity and harmony) qualities and increase prana. Eating pure food is followed by purification of the inner nature.
When eating, one half of the stomach should be filled with solid food, one quarter with liquid (water or any healthy juice) and the other quarter left empty to allow for ease of digestion. This also prevents mental stress afterwards.
The importance of raw food for the purpose of purification cannot be underestimated. Raw food is our most direct source of prana, and by eating raw foods we can directly increase prana, not only in the body, but also in the mind. It also cleanses the nadis or nerve channels. For optimum physical and spiritual health 50 – 80 per cent of a person’s diet should be made up of raw food.
In contrast meat comes from creatures that have already processed the optimal natural energy drawn from different plants. Animal flesh contains a high proportion of toxins and lack vitamins and minerals. Human anatomy and physiology bear a close resemblance to that of fruit-eating primates than to carnivorous animals, so that by eating meat we compel our bodies to adapt to a diet for which they were not designed.
Apart from questions of health and nutrition, there are other significant implications to eating meat. Ecologically it is inefficient and wasteful: 50 per cent of the world’s cereal is fed to livestock, and, as protein converters, livestock are inefficient. One acre of cereals will produce five times more protein than the same area devoted to raising animals for our meat consumption.
While people are better informed about vegetarianism, many do not find a vegetarian diet appealing. One of the meat-eaters main objections to it is on the concern of protein deficiency, and in the process believes that they need far more than they actually do.
On the contrary, research has shown that a balanced vegetarian diet provides all the protein the body requires. Nuts, dairy produce, spirulina and legumes all supply the high-class protein. Ironically, meat eaters obtain the worst quality protein from their food – animal protein contains high level of uric acid that can’t be broken down by the liver. While some of the uric acid is eliminated from the body, the rest are deposited in joints, causing stiffness and eventually leading to problem such as arthritis.
The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet
A vegetarian diet is rich in fibres and high in polyunsaturated fats. Lack of the dietary fibre that unrefined plant food contains can lead to a number of disorders of the intestine. The health of the entire body begins with the state of the colon, so eat to live and don’t live to eat.
Vegetarians consume almost twice as much fibres as meat-eaters. They also consume less fat, and he fats they do eat tend to be polyunsaturated and not the saturated animal fats that raise cholesterol.
Statistically, vegetarians have a lower incidence of heart diseases, kidney diseases and cancer. Their resistance to diseases is generally higher that that of meat-eaters and they are less likely to suffer from obesity. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet is a prime preventer of osteoporosis, to the extent that vegetarian women suffer from it less than meat-eating man.
Making the transition to a vegetarian diet
If you do decide to become vegetarian, start by integrating small changes one by one, observing moderation all along the way. Every change should come from a natural inclination and not from a feeling of guilt or obligation.
Try cutting out red meat first, then poultry and finally fish and seafood; replace them with fresh fruit and vegetables and raw nuts. There are some great vegetable recipe books available and plenty of free recipes online. Be imaginative about your food choices – it will be easier to make the transition if you are enjoying what you eat.
The philosophy of vegetarianism
While reflecting on a vegetarian diet, meat-eaters should ask themselves whether they can consume with a clear conscience the flesh of a living being that has been slaughtered, often under the most barbaric conditions. It’s easy to ignore the horrors of the meat industry when we are faced with neatly packaged portions of meat or fish at the supermarket. We no longer make the connection between the product and the animal that has been killed for our consumption.
Ahimsa – non-harming and non-violence – is amongst the highest laws in yogic philosophy and cannot be ignored if we are to grow spiritually. For a yogi all life should be sacred.
Once you become conscious of where your food comes from and how it affects your body and your mind, you will gradually become more receptive and realize that all creatures are as divine as you are.
Fasting is another way to bring the mind and the senses under control and to cleanse and rejuvenate the body. A lot of energy is spent on digesting food. Resting the digestive system allows the energy to be used for spiritual development and for healing, expelling the body’s toxins.
On no account should fasting be confused with dieting: its purpose is solely for purification and self-healing.
Fasting need not be the restriction of all food and drink. There are different types of fasting, for example liquid or juice fasts, which involves the intake of liquids only – water, fruit or vegetable juices. Some fast involve the intake of just one food for a period of time, such as watermelon, to purify and cleanse the body. Another fast involves eating just one meal at the start of the day and nothing for the rest of the day for two days each week.
Fasting is best done communally and under the guidance of a teacher. In isolation, it is perhaps best to fast just one day a month. A fast should begin on a day of rest and is facilitated by quietude and meditation with some light exercise and fresh air.
Do not fast for more than 36 hours at a time. As the body cleanses old impurities, you may experience aches and pains, weakness and nausea. Excessive discomfort shows that the cleansing is proceeding too rapidly, and the process should be moderated by intake of heavier foods.
Source: The complete Yoga Tutor – Mark Kan