“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” -Voltaire
After spending a month in the Sivananda Ashram, I really began to see food in a new light. I began to understand that it was not just what I was eating, but how I was eating it …the energy and ingredients going into the preparation, the process of enjoying it, eating it slowly with awareness, tasting the flavors, feeling the textures… and taking it in a nourishing environment with a calm state of mind. All of these things really effect the “zing” of the food and in turn your body.
These bodies we have came from food, are sustained by food and will eventually go back into the food chain. We were taught that, “A high standard of health, vigor and vitality can be achieved through a well-balanced diet. A healthy diet means not only eating the proper foods, but eating them in proper proportion, under the proper circumstances and with the proper attitude.” (Sivananda Teacher’s Manual)
So rarely do we actually dedicate complete silence and enjoyment to the time in which we consume our food. Most of us are guilty of being on the go, in front of the computer, engaged in stressful thoughts or what it is that we have to do next. Often times we even prepare the food in haste, or add things too it that we know aren’t the best, but want it anyway…charging the food with guilt right from the start. These are all things we have heard before, but have you ever actually tried it? Tried consciously preparing a meal with love and gentleness…taking it in silence, outside in the fresh open air? Chewing thoroughly and paying attention to all of the flavors, smells, and textures while keeping your mind clean with pure focused gentle thoughts…feeling gratitude, and giving thanks?
“Did you ever stop to taste a carrot? Not just eat it, but taste it? You can’t taste the beauty and energy of the earth in a Twinkie.” -Astrid Alauda
The yogic philosophy applies a theory called “The 3 Gunas” which are “qualities” known as sattva, rajas, and tamas. These 3 qualities are ultimately applied to everything that exists. Sattva is that which manifests at purity and knowledge, rajas is represented by activity and motion, and tamas as qualities of inertia and laziness. According to the yogic philosophy on diet, “The mind is formed from the subtlest portion or essence of food. If the food taken is pure, the mind has the proper building materials for the development of a strong and subtle intellect and a good memory.
A yogic diet is one that brings inner peace to the body and mind and encourages spiritual progress. A person’s mental makeup may be judged by the food that he or she prefers to eat. Yogis believe not only that ‘you are what you eat’ but also that you eat those foods which reflect your own level of mental and spiritual purity. As your life changes in a positive way, you will also see your food preferences improving.
A yogic diet is primarily based on sattvic foods, and for the most part avoids rajasic and tamasic foods altogether. However, living in today’s fast paced society can require you to have to keep up with the changes happening in your enviroment and so a bit of rajasic energy can also be needed from time to time. Therefore, unless you are striving to be a hard-core yogi, it is best to keep a balance between the sattvic and rajasic foods, while avoiding tamasic foods as much as possible. Here are some examples of sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic foods as well as the qualities that they induce:
Sattvic foods: The foods which increase life, purity, strength, healthy, joy, and cheerfulness. They give energy to the body without taxing it . They are said to be the foundation to higher states of consciousness. These foods are savory, oleaginous, substantial and agreeable. They bestow harmony, balance, and intelligence. This is the guna that yogi/inis strive for. **Examples include fresh or dried fruit or pure fruit juices, raw or lightly cooked seeded, leafy and root vegetables, grains such as corn, barley, wheat, unpolished rice, oats, millet and quinoa. Proteins such as pulses, nuts and seeds. Herbs for seasoning and teas, natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and apple juice concentrate.
Rajasic foods: Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning. They overstimulate the body and mind, throw the body off balance and are productive of pain, grief and disease. They increase the speed and excitement of the human organism and are the foundation of emotion, activity and pain. They cause over thinking, over exercising, over working, and over consumption of material goods.**Examples include refined white sugar, soft drinks, caffeine, prepared mustards, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods, anything excessively hot, bitter, sour, or saline.
Tamasic foods: Food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, decomposed, overripe, unripe, fermented, burned, fried, barbecued, reheated many times, contain preservatives, are rotten, impure by refuse, or any food that is taken in too large of a quantity (even sattvic food). They make a person dull, inert, and lazy. They consume a large amount of energy while being digested and cause the human organism to over sleep and over eat. They are the foundation of ignorance, doubt or pessimism.**Examples include meat, fish, eggs, all intoxicants (alcohol, marijuana, opium etc.) Mushrooms and vinegar are also included in this category.
Now that we have covered the yogic approach on what to eat, here are some “rules for healthy eating” in regards to how one should eat eat from my Teacher’s Manual:
Always respect your food. Begin each meal by giving thanks for it.
Maintain a peaceful attitude during meals. Never argue or discuss unpleasant experiences. Genial conversation can create the balanced, loving environment that enhances digestion and amplifies the body’s ability to assimilate food.
Do not eat when you are angry, rest until the mind becomes calm.
Do not eat foods that are too hot or too cold, as this upset digestion.
Abandon too many mixtures or combinations of food. They are difficult for the system to proccess.
Eat at least one raw dish with each meal to keep your blood alkaline.
Try to refrain from drinking during a meal, as this dilutes gastric acids causing indigestion.
Always keep the mouth clean, it is the gatekeeper of the digestive system. Using a tongue cleaner before meals will also enhance your ability to taste.
Chew thoroughly. Digestion begins in the mouth. You should chew your food about 60-70 times per mouth full.
Eat moderatley. The secret of being healthy and happy is to always be a little hungry. Overloading the system with food hinders digestion, assimilation and growth. It also overworks the organs making them stressed and vulnerable to disease.
Take a half stomach full of food, a quarter of water and allow the remaining quarter for the expansion of gas.
(“The spirit cannot endure the body when overfed, but, if underfed, the body cannot endure the spirit.” -St Frances de Sales)
Eat at fixed times, and do not eat between meals. If you are not hungry at your meal time then fast until the next meal.
Foods are best when cooked lightly -overcooking robs them of their nutritional value and flavor.
Take some lemon and honey in the morning for energy and to purify the blood. Also take some warm water or tea to stimulate the digestive system.
Never drink cold water after a meal. The cold water will solidify the oily stuff that you have just consumed. It is best to drink hot tea or warm water after a meal.
Lay on your left side after a meal. Also try sitting in Vajra asana (sitting on the heals with knees and feet together) to assist in digestion.
Try fasting one day a week. Fasting eliminate poisons, overhauls the internal mechanism and gives a rest to the organs.
Remember God during meals and give thanks to God just before and after eating.
…Try maybe experimenting with just one or two of these suggestions and see how you feel. These notions were taken directly from Ancient scriptures, and as we see Western medicine and diet slowly moving closer and closer to a more Easternized appraoch today, it can’t can’t hurt to just give it a shot. They are subtle, but they have the potential to make a world of difference