“The expression of the spirit increases in proportion to the development of the body and mind in which it is encased. Therefore yoga prescribes methods to train and develop the physical body and mind.” ~Swami Vishnu-devananda
The physical body is seen as an instrument, or vehicle, for the soul on its journey toward perfection. Just like other vehicles, the body/car has specific requirements which must be fulfilled for it to function smoothly and supply the optimum mileage. These requirements are the five yogic principles: proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and positive thinking and meditation.
In previous articles, I have written about four of the five yogic principles; those being proper exercise (yoga ‘asanas’ or poses), proper breathing (‘pranayama’ or breathing exercises), proper relaxation, and meditation techniques.
I have yet to discuss the fifth principle – proper diet. Yogis believe proper diet provides the correct type of fuel. The body gets the energy it needs to work, grow, and maintain itself from the ‘prana’ (vital energy), air, water, and food. The yogic diet is a vegetarian one, consisting of pure, natural foods that promote good health and maximum vitality.
THE THREE GUNAS
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.
Pure foods that increase vitality, energy, vigour, health, and joy, and are delicious, wholesome, substantial, and agreeable are sattvic, says the Bhagavad Gita.
These foods render the mind pure and calm and generate peaceful tendencies. Sattvic foods supply maximum energy, increase strength and endurance, and help to eliminate fatigue.
Foods should be fresh and natural as possible, preferably organically grown, not genetically modified, and kept without preservatives or artificial flavourings. They should also be eaten in as natural a state as possible – 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 jaw, 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 need 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 (fibre). They contain alkaline matter that helps to keep the blood pure.
VEGETABLES are important in the diet because they contain minerals, vitamins and fibre. 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 are used 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. Therefore, dairy products should come from an organic source. 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.
Food that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry, and burning, are liked by the Rajasic and are productive of pain, grief and disease, according to the Bhagavad Gita.
The yogic diet avoids rajasic foods because they over-stimulate 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, the division of food 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, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods, and anything excessively hot, bitter, sour, or saline (salty) are all rajasic and are best avoided. Rajasic foods accentuate lust, anger, greed, s elfishness, 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 is the food liked by the Tamasic stipulates the Bhagavad Gita.
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 mind with darkness, anger, and impure thoughts.
Meat, fish, eggs, all intoxicants, alcoholic beverages, marijuana and other drugs are all 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 food includes 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, 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.
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.
During the warm sunny days of summer, there are few things as enjoyable as eating outdoors. Below I have included some wonderful recipes for a ‘Yogic Picnic’ in the sun.
Before eating, give thanks with this Sanskrit grace:
OM Anna Poome Sadha Pooe
Shankara Prana Vallabhe
Jnana Vairagya Siddyartham
Bhiksham Dhehee Cha Parvati
Divine Mother, who comes to our table as food,
You are the endlessly bountiful, benefactress of all.
Please grant us wisdom, dispassion and strength, and
O Mother, give us health.
Whether at the beach near an ocean, in a park with a stream, or at the cottage by a lake; any place near water has increased concentration of prana – perfect for meditation, asanas (yoga poses) or pranayama (breathing exercises), followed by a sattvic picnic with family and friends.
CHILLED CUCUMBER SOUP
3 1/3 cups plain yogurt
½ teaspoon salt
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup ice water
1 cup chopped walnuts
Fresh parsley leaves, to garnish
Combine the yogurt, salt, and oil, stirring until smooth. Add the cucumber, lemon juice, pepper and iced water. Chill until ready to serve, or add ½ cup chopped ice and serve immediately. Serve topped with a sprinkling of walnuts and garnished with parsley.
10 ounces firm tofu (pressed for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
½ green pepper, ½ red pepper and ½ yellow pepper, cut into bite-size pieces
20 to 24 cherry tomatoes
Oil for brushing
Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes and place is a dish. Combine the olive oil, tomato paste, turmeric, and salt and pepper to make a marinade. Pour it over the tofu, and leave to marinade overnight.
The day of your picnic, thread the ingredients onto 8 – 12 barbecue skewers, alternating the tofu cubes with pieces of green, red and yellow peppers, and cherry tomatoes.
Brush the vegetables with a little oil and cook them on the barbeque, for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the kabobs once or twice during cooking, being careful not to burn them.
1 tablespoon maple syrup or date syrup
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice or peaches, quartered plums, cubed apples and
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg pears, whole strawberries)
1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds of assorted fruits, in large
Combine the maple or date syrup, lemon zest, lemon juice, and nutmeg in a bowl, set aside. Thread the cubes of fruit onto wooden barbeque skewers, using two skewers per kabob, and brush with syrup mixture.
Light the barbeque and let it get very hot. Place on the hot grill for 2 minutes, turning over after 1 minute and brushing with any remaining syrup. Be careful not to burn. If you like, serve with your favourite yogurt.
Showcase the sweetness of summer tomatoes and peaches with this refreshing beverage. The tomato-peach base can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for 24 hours.
1 ½ lb. yellow or red tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges (4 – 5 tomatoes)
2 peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into wedges
1 ½ tsp. grated fresh ginger (1 ounce)
Honey or agave to taste
2 cups sparkling water
Puree tomatoes, peaches, and ginger in blender or food processor until smooth. Strain juice into pitcher, and discard solids. When ready to serve, pour into 6 large glasses filled with ice. Top each serving with 1/3 cup sparkling water, and sweeten with honey or agave to taste.
The warm, sunny days of our favourite season bring to mind a line from a song, “Summertime and the livin’s easy.” All of the recipes mentioned above are easy to make, and take very little time. Which suits the relaxed, laidback style of summer; and given how quick and simple these recipes are to prepare, you will have that much more time to enjoy your ‘Yogic picnic’ in the sun!
“You are an ocean of Bliss, and embodiment of Joy…. If you give up egoism, selfishness, and greed, you will realize …. here and now…. your faculties and potentialities, so rise up. Keep your faculties bright and brilliant by taking a pure diet.”
~ Swami Sivananda