Yoga Principles of Diet
Modern man lives at the risk of self-poisoning through the foods he consumes. Body tissues are continually undergoing a change of structure, and the multitude of cells that make up the body are constantly dying off while fresh material is supplied.
This fresh body-building material can come only from the food one eats. While the first Yogins placed great importance on diet, it is only in the last few years that Western scientists and physicians have paid attention to this subject.
In laboratory tests with animals, and, to some extent, by controlled diet on human subjects, it has been proven that the proper adjustment of diet can not only cure and prevent certain diseases, but may even prolong human life. It is also believed that with a change in diet, it is possible to change the character of a person.
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Physical and Mental states
For physical and mental well-being, quality and quantity of food play important parts. As to quantity, the old texts enjoin the Yogi to eat until his stomach is one-half full. While the Yogins did not hand down their dietary instructions in terms of carbohydrates, calories, and vitamins, their treatment of dietetics has been found to be scientifically correct.
Types of Food
Aside from the philosophical principle of non-injury which would preclude killing animals for food, Yogins believed that man is essentially an herbivorous animal. It can be noted that all of the higher apes are not flesh eaters. A meat diet is actually believed to be unsuited to the human digestive system.
Experiments in Europe and in the Caribbean countries have shown that persons on low-protein and non-flesh diets have greater endurance than individuals on high-protein and meat or mixed diets. Only in the last few years has the Western medical profession begun research on the harmful effects of animal fat in food as a cause of high blood pressure and coronary seizures.
Many modern authorities on nutrition (we are not considering crackpot vegetarian theorists) advocate most strongly the exclusive use of dairy products, vegetables, fruits and nuts as the most beneficial human diet. Even among fruits and vegetables, certain types are considered especially valuable. Basically, Yogins found that man’s natural instincts would lead him to the most beneficial foods.
Foodstuffs which are pure, agreeable, sweet, easily digested and nourishing are those which are recommended. These are dairy products and sweets, fresh milk products, natural butter, honey and sugar; cereals—wheat, barley and rice; legumes—beans of different types; vegetables and herbs—eggplant, all varieties of cucumber, okra, spinach, sprouts, lettuce, celery, and other broad-leafed vegetables; tubers—carrots, potatoes and medicinal roots; fruits—mangos, berries, figs, plantains, dates, apples.
No spices are allowed in the Yoga diet as they are considered stimulating and harmful, and as the vegetables recommended are highly rich in mineral salts. In addition, recent research by scientific Yoga institutes has established it as fact that condiments are a burden on the digestive system, and produce acids which poison the bloodstream. Following the Yoga diet, a person whose food intake contains a liberal amount of uncooked fruits and vegetables and only moderate amounts of protein and starches has little need for inorganic salt and will feel little desire for it.
Highly-seasoned stuff and stimulating drinks are considered unhealthy in the Yoga diet. Foods that are sharp, sour, pungent, bitter and heating are prohibited. It has been found that food that has been cooked, grown cold, and heated again is unhealthy and that overcooked jams and jellies have really little food value. Roasted foods also are among the prohibited items.
For those engaged in mental pursuits or in somewhat sedentary occupations, a well-balanced vegetarian diet is preferred to a mixed-meat diet. It is easily digested and when selected in proper and tasty combinations, it completely meets the needs of the individual. From another point of view, it is a far less costly diet than the high-protein meat diet.
No exact quantity of food that would satisfy every individual has been established. Some require a higher intake than others. In the old Yoga texts, it is stated that one may “partake of food according to his desire.” Commentaries on this text emphasize that moderation (mitahara) is the guiding principle. One should eat no more or less than is absolutely necessary to satisfy one’s appetite. Almost all the authors of Yoga texts interpret this to mean that half the stomach should be filled with food at each meal, leaving one-quarter of the stomach space for water, one-quarter for air.
For bodily health, it is suggested that the Yoga adherent limit himself to three meals a day: a light breakfast at 8:30 A.M.; lunch at 1 P.M.; and the main meal at about 6:30 P.M. It is also considered injurious to fill the stomach with food before food previously eaten has passed through the pylorus. This usually takes about four hours.
Some Yogins consider it harmful to drink water during meals. Many drinks about a pint of water on arising in the morning. This, it is believed, will wash down the residues of the alimentary canal through increased peristalsis, and will also facilitate evacuation. During the day, about two quarts of water should be taken to purify the nose, stomach, intestines and the bladder.