The reader may ask why there should be a discussion on diet in this book of yoga.
In fact, one who desires to make progress in yoga, should seriously ponder over one’s own diet. An improper diet is an
obstacle to the study of yoga. One who does not care for one’s
diet does not get expected benefits through yoga.
A proper diet not only nourishes the body but also works as nectar, while an improper diet works as poison and damages the body in various ways. As a matter of fact, a diet affects not only health but also nature. There is a proverb, ‘As is the tree so is the fruit’. In the same manner, we may say, ‘As is the diet so is the health’. It is commonly known that vegetarians are of peaceful nature, while non-vegetarians are of hot nature.
The diet of the persons practising yoga : Whatever we eat can generally be considered as diet. It consists of concrete things such as solid food, drinks, air and light and abstract things such as thoughts, imagination and feelings. In all the ancient books of yogashastra,suitableness and unsuitableness of a particular diet (food-commodity) has been explained. Hathayoga Pradeepika says, ‘one’s diet should be nutritious, sweet, oily and it should nourish virility. Moreover, it should please and satisfy the mind and should be agreeable to the taste.’
This kind of food is called sattvika.
Ancient books advise that the food which is excessively bitter, sour, saltish, pungent, hot or cold should not be given place in the diet. They also advise that one should avoid liquor, intoxicating things, fish, meat, eggs, asafoetida, garlic, onions and such other lustful (rajasika) food items in one’s diet.
Furthermore, according to yogashastra, stale, tasteless, rotten or stinking food item should be avoided.
In other words, the ancient books on yoga tell us that such food as would obstruct and destroy physical, mental and emotional balance and equanimity should not be taken. Rajasika (lustful) and tamasika (vicious) food produces undesirable effects on the body and the mind. Yoga is a path to control the body and the mind and so it is natural that rajasika or tamasika food items have no place in the diet of those who practise yoga.
Yogashastra gives much importance to the goodness (Sattvikata) of food. Sattvika food consists of fruits, vegetables, cereals, milk, curd, buttermilk, butter and ghee. These food items supply all the necessary constituents required by the body. For example, fruits and vegetables provide precious vitamins and minerals to the body. These constituents enable the body to resist diseases. Furthermore, fruits and vegetables contain fibres which prevent or cure constipation. It is a common experience that one who suffers from constipation cannot practise asanas well. Cereals provide mostly carbohydrates to the body. These constituents give heat to the body. Butter and ghee provide fat to the body. This constituent also provides the body with heat. Besides, it oils the joints. Proteins are available from milk, curd and buttermilk. This constituent is necessary for the constitution of the body and the reconstruction of the cells.
The yogashastra describes ‘how much to eat’ together with ‘what to eat’. That yogashastra lays emphasis on ‘mitahar’ (temperance in eating). Several yogashastras have suggested that while eating one should fill half the stomach with food, a quarterof stomach with water and the remaining quarter for free movement of air.
Owing to modern materialism, man has become the
victim of a badly adjusted diet. We do not eat to live but live to eat. Our diet has growingly become soft and spicy. We eat this type of food excessively. Very often we are misled by advertisements which say ‘Eat as much as you want and digest it with our medicines’. Excessive eating is a burden to the digestive organs. The result is that we suffer from indigestion and gas. It also causes obesity.
Indigestion, gas and obesity are the three factors which obstruct the practice of asanas and hinder the path to ‘Sadhana’.
In short, those who practise yoga should take simple and nourishing food in less quantity. If this rule is not observed, it is difficult to get mastery over asanas (the body) and impossible to get control over mana (the mind).