Yoga is the only science that has laid great emphasis on food over centuries. In fact, there is a whole branch – called Anna Yoga – devoted to food for health and happiness.
Yoga over centuries has developed a concept of a balanced wholefoods diet and an eating philosophy. These principles of good eating use powerful techniques which help in maintaining a strong and health body, a stress-free mind and a positive spirituality within this mixed up world.
Never has this yogic philosophy of a balanced wholefoods diet been felt more than today when 97% of all health disorders can be traced to a faulty nutrition and diet.
It has been observed that (East) Indian civilizations suffer least from bowel problems, constipation, indigestion and other food related disorders such as obesity. This is because the Indian philosophy of cooking and eating draws heavily from the yogic philosophy of eating.
Yoga does not strictly dissect food into vitamins, minerals, protein etc. The yogic philosophy is that the true benefits of these ingredients can be had only when they are NOT isolated but as much in their natural form as possible.
The key to true health is to have a balanced wholefoods diet. A balanced diet ensures that all the faculties of digestion work smoothly – absorption, assimilation and elimination. A balanced whole foods diet ensures a healthy you!
It is extremely important that all these 3 aspects work well together. If all these aspects work in harmony it is extremely unlikely that you’ll suffer from health disorders and even obesity. Often “synthetic” or “processed” foods create conditions that disrupt this balance. This leads to several physical and psychological problems. Over years, this can have dangerous consequences.
What are Wholefoods?
Wholefoods are edible substances which are as close to their “whole” or natural state as possible. They have not been pre-processed in any way which would disturb their nutrition or flavor. They are therefore free of all processing additives or subtractions.
The overall idea of wholefoods, is to buy foods which are –
In bulk and not pre-packaged
As chemically and additive free as possible
In season from as close to the source as possible
As whole and in their most simple form as possible
Organic & unrefined
The yogic diet is usually a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, simple, natural foods which are easily digested and promote health. Simple meals aid the digestion and assimilation of foods. Nutritional requirements fall under five categories: protein, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins. Eating foods first-hand from nature, grown in fertile soil (preferably organic, free from chemicals and pesticides) will help ensure a better supply of these nutritional needs. Processing, refining and overcooking destroy much food value.
There is a cycle in nature known as the “food cycle” or “food chain”. The Sun is the source of energy for all life on our planet; it nourishes the plants (the top of the food chain) which are then eaten by animals (vegetarian), which are then eaten by other animals (carnivores). The food at the top of the food chain, being directly nourished by the Sun, has the greatest life promoting properties. The food value of animal flesh is termed as “second-hand” source of nutrition, and is inferior in nature. All natural foods (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains) have, in varying quantities, different proportions of these essential nutrients. As a source of protein, these are easily assimilated by the body. However, second-hand sources are often more difficult to digest and are of less value to the body’s metabolism.
Many people worry about whether they are getting enough protein, but neglect other factors. The quality of the protein is more important than the quantity alone. Dairy products, legumes, nuts and seeds provide the vegetarian with an adequate supply of protein. The high protein requirement still being used by many Health Departments is based on antiquated data and has been scientifically disproved many times in the laboratory.
It is best if we understand that the purpose of eating is to supply our being with the life force, or Prana, the vital life energy. So the greatest nutritional plan for the Yoga student is the simple diet of natural fresh and vegetarian foods.
However, the true Yogic diet is actually even more selective than this. The Yogi is concerned with the subtle effect that food has on his mind and astral body. He therefore avoids foods which are overly stimulating, preferring those which render the mind calm and the intellect sharp. One who seriously takes to the path of Yoga would avoid ingesting meats, fish, eggs, onions, garlic, coffee, tea (except herbal), alcohol and drugs.
The Yogic diet will help you attain a high standard of health, keen intellect and serenity of mind. However if considering vegetarianism, you must also consider that this path does not suit all people.
To really understand the Yogic approach to diet we need to be familiar with the 3 Gunas or qualities of nature.
The 3 Gunas of Nature & Food
In the unmanifested Universe energy has three qualities known as Gunas that exist together in equilibrium: Sattva (purity); Rajas (activity, passion, the process of change); and Tamas (darkness, inertia). Once energy takes form, one quality of the three predominates. On an apple tree, some of the fruit is ripe (sattvic), some ripening (rajasic) and some overripe (tamasic). But no matter which quality prevails, an element of each of the other two will always be present as well. The three Gunas encompass all existence, all actions, being found in all beings and objects surrounding us. In all people one of the three Gunas has superior strength and is reflected in all they do and think. It also reflects a stage in our lives (Rajas – growth, Sattva – Being, Tamas – dying/ageing) Only in enlightenment are the Gunas completely transcended.
The Yoga aspirant always exerts to increase Sattva in his/her lifestyle. One of the most dramatic changes that can be made is adjusting our diet. The Yogic system of nutrition recognizes three types of food:
This is the purest diet, the most suitable one for any serious student of yoga. It nourishes the body and maintains it in a peaceful state. It calms and purifies the mind, enabling it to function at its maximum potential. A sattvic diet thus leads to true health: a peaceful mind in control of a fit body, with a balanced flow of energy between them. Sattvic foods include cereals, wholemeal bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, pure fruit juices, milk, butter and cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouted seeds, honey, and herb teas.
Foods that are very hot, bitter, sour, dry, or salty are rajasic. Rajasic foods can also be unripe or still at the growth stage. They destroy the mind-body equilibrium, feeding the body at the expense of the mind. Too much rajasic food will overstimulate the body and excite the passions, making the mind restless and uncontrollable. Rajasic foods include hot substances, such as sharp spices or strong herbs, stimulants, like coffee and tea, fish, eggs, salt and chocolate. Eating in a hurry is also considered rajasic.
A tamasic diet benefits neither the mind nor the body. Prana, or energy, is withdrawn, powers of reasoning become clouded and a sense of inertia sets in. The body’s resistance to disease is destroyed and the mind filled with dark emotions, such as anger and greed. Tamasic items include meat, alcohol, tobacco, onions, garlic, fermented foods, such as vinegar, and stale or overripe substances. Overeating is also regarded as tamasic.
By Danielle Bryant BSYA