Every time we go online or open a newspaper or magazine we will find a new ‘miracle’ diet that will supposedly allow us to lose all the weight in the blink of an eye and that will make us the healthiest we’ve ever been. These diets usually involve being very restrictive with the kinds of food that we eat, but having celery juice in the morning and a whole head of lettuce for lunch is not a good plan long term.
Achieving and maintaining physical health is, of course, one of the basic aims of yoga. If we lack physical health, we cannot advance mentally or spiritually. If you are sick and you try to meditate, what will happen? Well, Nothing. Your mind feels foggy, you feel sleepy, your back and your neck hurts, your foot is falling asleep, you need to cough, and you’re also getting a migraine.
Therefore, we have the 5 points of yoga:
– Proper exercise;
– Proper breathing;
– Proper relaxation;
– Proper eating;
– Positive thinking and meditation.
All of these are the tools to achieve health.
The Yogic diet is very simple, and follows the rules that doctors already recommend: have of freshly prepared, wholesome food that gives us energy (or Prana, a derivative of that universal energy which keeps us and the universe alive). You should eat slowly and chew properly. Avoid snacking. Do not overeat, rather leave some space in the stomach for stronger digestion. Eat with awareness, avoiding discussions or distractions of any kind. If we feel stressed while eating, it will impact our digestion. Have food that was prepared with love and care. Meat is greatly discouraged as we will absorb the last emotion that the creature felt before passing, which is usually fear, anxiety, or anger. The Yogic diet is therefore historically vegetarian, but many yogis nowadays prefer to take a step further and become vegan.
Eat to live, don’t live to eat.
Food is divided in three categories called Gunas, or qualities of nature:
Sattvic foods are fresh, in season, pure, and create balance. Sattva is the quality of light, knowledge, balance and purity. These are the kind of foods we should eat the most. These foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk, grains, legumes etc.
Rajasic foods are stimulating and if taken in excess can make us aggressive and irritable. They give us a big rush and then have us crash. We should have these in moderation. They include spicy and salty foods, as well as sugar and caffeine.
Tamasic foods create dullness, they represent the principle of inertia. All stale foods are tamasic and even freshly cooked food becomes tamasic after couple of hours of preparation. They are hard to digest, and make us more prone to illness. These also include meat, alcohol, processed foods, onion, garlic etc. Tamasic foods are strictly discouraged for those on the spiritual path and even for those who aren’t, are best kept to a minimum.
Achieving health is not an easy task, but we should do all we can and not take it for granted.
Living in the hectic, modern world makes it hard to follow the rules of proper eating, because we’re stressed, we’re in a rush, we don’t know where our food comes from, we eat foods that cannot be grown without the aid of chemicals, and at the first sign of illness we rush to medicines and antibiotics that deal with the simptoms but not the root of the problem.
Having a perfect, proper diet is extremely hard, and food should not become such a big factor in our lives that it defines who we are.
Experiment with food, listen to your body, really try to understand what gives you energy, what makes you feel tired, but also try to gauge what is doable for you.
Be kind to yourself.