Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction
"Shortly after I began taking classes at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in America, I read The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnu-devananda. Much of it was eye-opening to me, especially the chapter on the "Natural Diet of Man" (which I assumed included women). I was astonished that the concept of not eating meat had never crossed my mind. I had never met a vegetarian nor heard of vegetarianism this was 1962 America.
"One day my mother decided to cook a special treat. She bought some lobsters, filled the bathtub with water so they could await their fate in comfort, and put a big pot of water on to boil. As the live lobsters were dropped into the boiling water, I heard their screams. The thought crossed my mind, 'How could I cause such unspeakable suffering to my fellow beings, just because I liked the taste of their flesh?' I understood firsthand the yogic principle of ahimsa (non-violence) and never ate meat nor fish again."
The recipes in this book are in accord with the ancient philosophy of Yoga and Vedanta the nondualistic philosophy that forms the metaphysical basis of yoga. Yoga prescribes a lactovegetarian diet for health and moral and spiritual reasons. This diet is an essential part of yoga, as it promotes a wellness that allows the rest of the discipline to proceed unhampered. A yogic diet is in itself a discipline of both body and mind, and is in accord with the spiritual principle of reverence for life, expressed as ahimsa.
Annamaya kosha (the physical body) is made of food. Our whole life can be seen as the effect of the interaction of food and life, or matter and energy, which are respectively food and the eater of food. Food is converted into energy, and energy uses food. Food is the door to a healthier life. It helps keep one free of bodily problems so the mind can concentrate and the spirit can grow. The process of cooking is a good discipline. It involves giving to others, organization, and frequently learning to work under pressure while staying calm. It also encourages cleanliness, imagination and responsibility. The yogic diet consists of pure vegetarian food freshly prepared with love. Perhaps as you achieve a proper, healthy diet you will be encouraged to tackle the other four principles of yoga exercise; breathing; relaxation; and positive thinking and meditation. Even if you are interested only in the physical yoga exercises, you will be surprised by the enhancement of your practice as you modify your diet.
The Three Gunas
"Verily, this person consists of the essence of food."
Taittiriya Upanishad, II. 1
In yogic philosophy, the mind is formed from the subtlest portion or essence of food. If the food taken in 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 brings inner peace to the body and mind and encourages spiritual progress.
All of Nature, including our diet, is categorized into three qualities, or Gunas: sattvic (pure), rajasic (overstimulating), and tamasic (putrified). A person's mental makeup may be judged from the type of food he or she prefers to eat. Yogis believe not only that "you are what you eat," but also you eat those foods that 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. The yogic diet is based on sattvic foods.
"The foods which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy, and cheerfulness, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable, are dear to the sattvic people."
Bhagavad Gita, XVII. 8
Pure foods that increase vitality, energy, vigor, health, and joy, that are delicious, wholesome, substantial, and agreeable are sattvic. These foods render the mind pure and calm and generate equanimity, poise and peaceful tendencies. Sattvic foods supply maximum energy, increase strength and endurance, and help to eliminate fatigue even for those who do strenuous work. They promote a peaceful attitude and are conducive to the practice of meditation.
Foods should be as fresh and natural as possible, preferably organically grown, not genetically modified, and kept without preservatives or artificial flavorings. They should also be eaten in as natural a state as possible either raw, steamed, or cooked lightly.
Sattvic foods include:
Grains such as corn, barley, wheat, unpolished rice, oat, millet, and quinoa. Make sure you include in your diet coarse foods such as steel-cut oats and whole grain breads. These are good for the teeth and jaws, and they stimulate the processes of digestion and elimination. Grains supply necessary carbohydrates, the main source of energy for the body, and they also contain about half the amino acids that are needed to form protein.
Protein foods such as legumes, nuts, and seeds. Proteins are the "building blocks" of the body. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to eat a good mixture of foods to make sure it includes all the amino acids essential for making proteins.
Fruits, both fresh and dried, as well as pure fruit juices, provided the ancient diet of the rishis and raja yogis. Among the many different foods, fruits stand foremost in importance in the yogis' menu or regime. The curative effects of fresh juicy fruits are astonishing. They fill the body with vitalizing, or life-giving, minerals and vitamins, and roughage (fiber). They contain alkaline matter that helps to keep the blood pure.
Vegetables are important in the diet because they contain minerals, vitamins, and fiber. The diet should include seeded vegetables (such as cucumbers and squashes), all leafy vegetables, and roots or tubers. These are best eaten raw or cooked as lightly as possible.
Herbs for seasoning and herbal teas.
Natural sweeteners, such as honey, molasses, maple syrup, and apple juice concentrate, are much better for you than processed sugar. Raw sugar is a traditional part of yogic diets in India, where, known as jaggery, it comes directly from the cane and is not processed. White sugar is best avoided in a healthy diet.
Dairy products, such as milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt, are traditionally an essential part of the yogic diet. However, modern dairy practices abuse the animals, filling their milk with hormones and antibiotics. We have, therefore, also suggested a vegan alternative for recipes, whenever possible. Even if you choose to use dairy products, we recommend you do so in moderation. They tend to intensify the production of mucus, which interferes with the natural flow of breath.
"Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry, and burning, are liked by the Rajasic and are productive of pain, grief, and disease."
Bhagavad Gita, XVII. 9
The yogic diet avoids rajasic foods because they overstimulate the body and mind. They excite passions and boisterous tendencies, cause physical and mental stress, bring a restless state of mind, and destroy the mind-body balance that is essential for happiness. However, remember this division of foods into sattvic-rajasic-tamasic is a comparative one, not an absolute. It is meant to help you gain the insight to change your diet in a positive direction. Hence, spices are used in recipes, but they are used subtly and may be phased out as your tastes become "sattvic."
Onions, garlic, radishes, coffee, tea, tobacco, and stimulants of all kind fall into this category also, heavily spiced and salted, chemical-riddled convenience foods and snacks. Sattvic food taken in the wrong place, such as "on the run," becomes rajasic. Refined (white) sugar, soft drinks, prepared mustards, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods, and anything excessively hot, bitter, sour, or saline are all rajasic and are best avoided.
Strong spices and condiments overstimulate the mind as well as irritate the mucus membrane of the intestines. Rajasic foods accentuate lust, anger, greed, selfishness, violence, and egoism, which are the barriers that separate people from each other and from their realization of the Divine. Rajas is the energy that creates dissension in life and wars in the world.
"That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten, and impure refuse, is the food liked by the Tamasic."
Bhagavad Gita, XVII. 10
Tamasic food makes a person dull, inert, and lazy; it robs individuals of high ideals, purpose, and motivation. In addition, it accentuates the tendency to suffer from chronic ailments and depression, and fills the minds with darkness, anger, and impure thoughts. Abandoning tamasic foods needs to be among the first positive lifestyle changes you make.
Meat, fish, eggs, all intoxicants, alcoholic beverages, marijuana, and opium are tamasic in nature. Meat-eating and alcoholism are closely allied. The craving for alcohol dies a natural death when meat is withdrawn from the diet.
Tamasic foods include all foods that are stale, rotten, decomposed, unclean, as well as overripe and unripe fruits. Also included are foods that have been fermented, burned, fried, barbecued, or reheated many times: half-cooked, overcooked, and twice-cooked items, as well as stale products and those containing preservatives, for example canned, processed, and many prepared foods.
Mushrooms are included in this category, because they grow in the darkness. Also vinegar, because it is a product of fermentation and retards digestion.
Deep-fried foods are indigestible. The fat penetrates into them and the digestive juice of the stomach cannot act on them. The fine nutritive essence which is beneficial to health is destroyed by frying and the food takes on the quality of tamas.
Sattvic food taken in excessive quantity (overeating) becomes tamasic.
Guidelines for Healthy Eating
"From food all beings are born. Having been born, they grow by food. Food is eaten by all beings and it also eats them."
Taittiriya Upanishad, II. 2. 1
We go on in the circle of birth and death constantly. The body is born, grows, changes, decays, dies...and is born again. Death means we now have to leave this physical body because of some karma (past action). This body came from food and goes back to the food chain.
Swami Vishnu-devananda illustrates this: "For example, I eat a nice red juicy tomato and my body grows. What happens to the tomato? It changes into my body. And my body itself is also constantly changing. One day it will die. Perhaps when you bury me you will put a tomato plant over the body. The tomato plant will say "You ate my cousin once upon a time, Now I'm going to eat you." Then beautiful tomatoes will grow. In this case, destruction of my body is construction of the tomato and you all enjoy a nice tomato sauce!"
A diet which is not in agreement with the principles of satisfactory nutrition leads to impaired physical development, ill-health and untimely death. A high standard of health, vigor, and vitality can be achieved through a well-balanced diet. Such a diet will enable you to develop your inherited capacities to the full extent.
A well-balanced and adequate diet must yield enough calories, as well as supply the various food constituents in sufficient quantities. We need both an energy source for our day-to-day functioning, and vitamins and minerals to stimulate the production of particular hormones and to prevent debilitative diseases.
Water is also a necessary part of the diet. About 70 percent of the body weight is water. There is a daily loss of about 1 1/2 quarts of water through the skin, lungs, kidneys, and the alimentary canal. Water has a greater cleansing action on the tissues than other beverages. It dissolves and distributes food. It is necessary for digestion, and removes impurities from the body. It keeps the body temperature equable through evaporation from the skin in the form of sweat.
Make all changes in your diet gradually. If something disagrees with you, reduce the quantity or eliminate it completely. With practice, you will develop an inner voice to guide you in the selection of a diet suited to your temperament and constitution; one that will maintain your physical efficiency, good health, and mental vigor.
Life may be a continual battle, but it is also a never-ending adventure. There are many dragons to be destroyed. You will have to wage war with the enemies of health impure water, bad ventilation, overwork, unwholesome food, disease germs, domestic pests such as mosquitos and flies. We are surrounded on all sides by invisible foes, the pathogenic or disease-causing microbes or bacteria. You should learn all you can about your enemies their ways, habits, and strengths. However, you can also fortify yourself by developing your inner strengths, following these healthy eating guidelines:
• Always respect your food. Begin each meal by giving thanks for it.
• Maintain a peaceful attitude during meals; observe silence if you are alone. When eating with family and friends, try not to argue or discuss unpleasant experiences. Genial conversation can create the balanced, loving environment that enhances digestion and amplifies the body's ability to assimilate the food's nourishment.
• Do not eat when you are angry. Rest for a while until your mind becomes calm and then take some food. Poisons are secreted by the glands and thrown into the bloodstream when you are angry and upset.
• Do not eat food that is too hot, nor too cold, because this will upset the stomach and produce indigestion.
• Do not force yourself to eat anything you do not like, but also do not eat only those foods you like the most.
• Abandon too many mixtures or combinations of foods. They are difficult for the system to digest. Eat moderately what you find agreeable. A simple diet is best.
• Eat at least one raw dish in each meal to keep your blood alkaline.
• Try to refrain from drinking during a meal as this will dilute the gastric juice, causing indigestion and other stomach complaints.
• Keep the mouth sweet and clean it is the gatekeeper of the digestive system.
• Eat slowly and savor your food. Chew it thoroughly, remembering that digestion of food begins in the mouth. Appetizing food and thorough chewing stimulate the flow of saliva and other digestive juices.
• Eat moderately. The secret of being healthy and happy is always to be a little hungry. Don't overload the stomach. Overeating hinders elimination, assimilation, and growth, making the organs overworked, stressed, and vulnerable to disease.
• Gluttons and epicureans cannot even dream of succeeding in yoga. Whoever regulates their diet can become a yogi. Take half a stomachful of food, a quarter stomachful of water, and allow the remaining quarter free for the expansion of gas.
• Eat at fixed times; try to refrain from eating between meals. If you do not feel hungry at mealtime, fast until the next meal. Eat only when you are really hungry. Beware of false hunger. The gastric fire is God. Wait for the appearance of this God within and only then offer Him some food.
• Try to eat as little processed food as possible.
• Foods are best when cooked lightly. Overcooking robs them of their nutritional value and flavor.
• Try not to eat large meals late at night. Do not eat rice or beans at this time, because they are heavy to digest and you will find it difficult to get up for meditation in the morning: If you are very hungry, eat something light perhaps fruit.
• Eat to live, don't live to eat. You need food to maintain body heat, produce new cells, and repair wear and tear. Be simple in your eating habits. The person who practices regular meditation wants very little food.
• Take some lemon and honey in the morning for health and energy, and to purify the blood.
• Do not practice asanas immediately after eating, nor when you are hungry. Also, it is not advisable to do any strenuous physical or mental work immediately after eating. In the morning, when physical and nervous forces are at their most vigorous, the stomach can proceed with its functions if the breakfast is followed by moderate exercise, such as a leisurely walk to the bus. After supper there should not be any work, but recreation. This is when bodily vigor is at its lowest and should not be taxed farther.
• Try sitting in Vajra Asana (sitting on the heels with knees and feet together) for 10 minutes after a meal; this will assist digestion.
• Do not become a slave to food and drink. Do not make much fuss about diet. Take simple and natural foods. If you think too much about food this will create more body-consciousness.
• Try fasting one day per week. Fasting eliminates poisons, overhauls the internal mechanism, and gives rest to the organs.
• Remember God, the indweller of all foods, the bestower of all bounties. Remember God during meals and give thanks to God just before and after eating.
Copyright © 1999 Gaia Books Limited, London
Text Copyright © 1999 by The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers