According to Sage Patanjali ‘Yoga’ is a discipline which unifies mind and body and brings cessation to mental tendencies. Yogic Diet is an integral part of yoga and human existence. In the light of Indian philosophy diet is considered as a sacred entity. Taittariya Upanishad says, “Annat purushah”: The individual grows out of the food that he takes. Shrimadbhagvad Gita, the fountainhead of Indian school of thought considers diet as ‘Yuktaahar’ which means balanced diet.
“A diet that is wholly conducive to the practice of Yoga and spiritual progress is called Yogic diet. According to yogic philosophy gross part of food nourishes the outermost sheath i.e. Annamaya Kosha and subtle part of food nourishes the Pranmaya Kosha and Manomaya Kosha of a person. These different sheaths symbolize different levels of consciousness. To raise one’s consciousness one should purify the outermost sheath by following prescribed dietary guidelines Pathya(wholesome) /Apathya (unwholesome) as mentioned in these Yogic Scriptures. These scriptures tell Quality, Quantity Timing and order of taking food.
Definitions of Yogic Diet according to Yogic scriptures:
Bhujyate shivasamprityeh mithaarah saa uchyate”
Swami Swatmaram says, “Eating sweet and unctuous food offered to the almighty leaving one quarter (of the stomach) empty this is known as Mitahara”.
By Maharishi Gheranda in Gheranda Samhita:
“Shudham sumadhuram snigdhamadurardhavivarjitim
Bhujyate surasampreetya mitahaaramim viduh”
“They call that Mitahara which is pure, sweet, lubricated and fills only half the stomach and which is palatable and is eaten to please the god”.
Importance of Yogic diet:
Yogic diet plays an important role in the success of Yogic practices. For success in yogic practices at the time of beginning right food choices are indispensable. Yogic diet is also an essential prerequisite before practicing pranayama.
“Mitahram vina yastu yogarambham tu karyet
Nanarogo bhavetasya kinchidhyogo na sidhyati”
He who begins the practice of yoga without controlling his diet suffers from many diseases and does not make progress.
“Adaou sthanam tatha kalam mitharam tathaparam
Nadishuddhim tatah paschat pranayaamam cha sadhyet”
(Gherenda Samhita – 5/2)
Maharishi Gheranda says that four essential requirements for practicing pranayama are place, time, mitahaar and purification of nadis (energy channels).
“Brahmchari mitahari tyagi yogprayanah
Abdadurdhavam bhavet sidhau natra karya vicharna”
(Hathapradipika – 1/57)
A person who is a devout practitioner of yoga, practices continence, Yogic diet (Mitahara) and renunciation attains success in one year or little more;there is no scope of doubt in this statement.
“Yuktaahaarviharasya yuktachestasya karmasu
Yuktaswapnavbodhasya yogo bhavatidukhah”
(Srimad Bhagvad Gita- 6/17)
He whose food and enjoyment are balanced, whose movements in actions are balanced, whose sleeping and waking is balanced, his yoga becomes eliminator of sorrows.
Shrimadbhagvadgita classifies three types of Yogic Diet
Samkhya philosophy says this world has three attributes namely, Sattvic, Rajsic and Tamasic . Likewise, every person has three distinct qualities which are predominant and decide the nature and likings of an individual. Shri Krishna says, people with three different qualities favor three different food types .
Yogic system of Shri Krishna categorizes diet into three groups:
“Those that increase lifespan, mental essence, strength, health, comfort, and pleasantness, that are flavorful, Unctuous, stable, and satisfying to the heart are the foods that are favored by sattvic.”
Sattvic diet is also referred to as Yogic diet . It is considered as natural state of unprocessed food that which is fresh and free from any additives or preservatives. Sattvic diet should be consumed in its natural form as possible, i.e. raw, steamed or very lightly cooked. Sattvic diet comprises of Whole grains (carbohydrates), Pulses, lentils, nuts and seeds (proteins), Fresh fruit and vegetables (vitamins and minerals), Herbs, Natural sweeteners such as honey (in small amounts), etc.
“Bitter, sour, salty, excessively hot, pungent, dry, and burning are the foods favored by rajsic, causing discomfort, depression and illness.” (Bhagavad Gita, XVII, 9)
Rajasic items of food should be refrained in a yogic diet; they include: Caffeinated drinks such as tea and coffee, Overly processed food, Artificial additives in food. Hot chilli or anything that can irritate the mucous membranes. Garlic, onion, mushrooms, etc.
“Not fully cooked, flavorless, smelly, stale, leftover by others, not fit as an offering is the food flavored by the tamasic.”
Tamasic diet contains food items which are heavy and cause fatigue or lethargy in a person. Such foods are best avoided by people suffering from chronic ailments or depression. Tamasic diet include food items like: Red meat, Alcohol, Stale or rotten foods, Overripe or unripe fruits, Burnt food, Overly processed foods, Fermented food, Deep fried food.
Basis of yogic Diet
Various yogic scriptures identify food items to be as Pathya (wholesome) and Apathya (unwholesome) food and forms basis of Yogic diet. They are discussed as follows:
Apathya/ Un-Wholesome food:
The foods which are prohibited (for the yogi) are: those which are bitter, sour, pungent, salty, heating, green vegetables (other than those ordained), sour gruel, oil, sesame and mustard, alcohol, fish, flesh foods, curds, buttermilk, horse gram, oil cakes, asafetida and garlic.
Unhealthy diet should not be taken, that which is reheated after becoming cold, which is dry (devoid of natural oil), which is excessively salty or acidic, stale or has too many (mixed) vegetables. Pathya/Wholesome food:The most conducive foods for the yogi are: good grains, wheat, rice, barley, milk, ghee, brown sugar, sugar candy (crystallized sugar), honey, dry ginger, patola fruit (species of cucumber), five vegetables, mung and such pulses, and pure water.
The yogi should take nourishing and sweet food mixed with, ghee and milk; it should nourish the dhatus (basic body constituents) and be pleasing and suitable.
Yogic scriptures strongly discourage habit of Over-eating and encourage moderation of diet .
Yogic literature treading on the Indian philosophy ‘Ati sarvatra varjyet’ i.e. excess of anything is bad; it strongly recommends diet should be taken in moderation and overeating should be avoided at all cost. Also, Higher Yogic practices such as meditation and pranayama are done while sitting for long hours for which light and easily digestible food is more pertinent. Some of the similar discussions are made as under: Shrimadbhagvadgita also lays emphasis upon the diet according to yoga
“Naatyashyantastu yogosti na chaikantamanashanathah
Na chatiswapnashilasya jagraatau naiv chaarjun”
There is no yoga for a person who eats much or who eats nothing at all for one who is inclined to excessive sleep or one who awakes altogether, O Arjuna.
“Atyaaharah pryascha prajalpo niyamagrah
Jansanghascha laulyam cha shadbhiryogo vinashyati”
Yoga gets futile by over-eating, over-exertion, talking too much, severe austerity,public contact, and fickleness (of mind).
“Pratahsnanopvasadi kayaklesavidhim tatha
Ekaharam niraharam yamante ca na karayet”
(Gheranda Samhita 5/31)
He should avoid early morning bath, fasting, etc. or anything that causes fatigue. Similarly, he should avoid eating once a day, or not eating at all or eating again within three hours.
“Annen puryedardha toyen tu tritiyakam
Udarasya turiyaansham sankrakshedvayucharne”
(Gheranda Samhita- 5/22)
One should fill half the stomach with food food, one quarter with Water and the fourth quarter should be reserved for the movement of the air.
Timing of Yogic diet
The order of timing, spacing of meals at what intervals and breathing through which nostril should be dominant while eating. Such guidelines are also the mainstay of these yogic scriptures. Some of the guidelines are discussed here as under:
- He should avoid early morning bath, fasting, etc. or anything that causes fatigue. Similarly, he should avoid eating once a day, or not eating at all or eating again within three hours. (Gheranda Samhita-5/31)
- When the air enters the sun energy channel, it is the proper time for the Yogi to take his food (i.e, when the breath flows through the pingala/ right nostril); when the air enters the moon, he should go to sleep (i.e., when the breath flows through the left nostril or the ida). (Shiva Samhita- 3/36)
- The Yoga (pranayama) should not be practiced just after the meals, nor when one is very hungry; before beginning the practice, some milk and butter should be taken. (Shiva Samhita- 3/36)
Attitude while consuming food
Yogic scriptures not only shed light on what food group is conducive for yogic practices they also talk about the Manasthithi (mental attitude) with which a person should consume his/her meals. This mental attitude brings positive changes into the biochemistry of a person.
Swami Swatmaram says, “Eating sweet and unctuous food offered to the almighty leaving one quarter (of the stomach) empty this is known as Mitahara” (Hathapradipika-1/58).
Maharishi Gheranda says, “They call that Mitahara which is pure, sweet, lubricated and fills only half the stomach and which is palatable and is eaten to please the god”. (Gheranda samhita-5/21)
Above discussed definitions of Mitahara (Yogic diet) share similar sentiments of mansthithi by offering ones food to god (with in oneself) or the deity. Thus consumed meal with such mental state brings harmony between body and mind.
Effect of Mitahara (Yogic diet)
Yogic diet does not limit its positive impact to physical health but also brings harmony to a person’s state of mind.
“Ahaarshudhau satvashudhih satvashudau dhruvasmritih
If the food is pure then pure will be the essence of the body, purity of physical body leads to stability of memory and if the memory becomes stable a person will not suffer mental conflicts.
Shiva Samhita rightly explains the Vipaka (after taste) of the types of food has on different levels of the body after their digestion.Of the four kinds of food (i.e., that which is chewed, that which is sucked, that which is licked and that which is drunk), which a man takes, the chyle fluid is converted into three parts. The best part (or the finest extract of food) goes to nourish the linga sharira or subtle body (the seat of force). The second or middle part goes to nourish this gross body composed of seven dhatus (humours).
The third or the most inferior part goes out of the body in the shape of excrement and urine. The first two essences of food are found in the nadis, and being carried by them, they nourish the body from head to foot.
Father of modern medicine science -Hippocrates statement “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” also supports this idea of Taittiriya Upanishad. In taittriya Upanishad food is considered as a medicine- “Aushadhibhyah annam” The Taittiriya tells us that there was thus the creation down to the earth, and from the earth arose vegetation of various kinds, herbs or aushadhis which became the diet of the individual, the Purusha,
Generally, Yogic diet is of vegetarian (Sattwik) type which is easily digestible and keeps one full of energy and healthy. “The health advantages of a vegetarian diet include a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and colon cancer. Vegetarians generally have lower blood pressure and cholesterol readings as well”.
Yogic diet is specifically designed for yogic practices such that a Yogic practitioner does not get ill and throughout his practice he/she remains healthy.
Yogic diet is mainly of vegetarian type. This type of diet also finds its basis in the thought of ahimsa (non-violence) the first Yama (Self-restraint) and Niyama (Personal observances) especially, Shaucha(cleanliness/ Purity) and Santosha (contentment) of sage patanjali’s eight-fold path of Yoga. Thus, yogic diet is primarily vegetarian, moderate and pure (unprocessed and unadulterated).
People having sedentary lifestyle can be immensely helped if they along with their regular Yogic practices also follow Yogic diet. As yogic scriptures say that certain dietary precautions are kept under consideration before practicing various Yogic practices.