Part I of this two-part article introduces the yogic perspective to eating, the way Yogis approach food, and holistic benefits of such a yoga-based orientation to all matters dietary.
Atkins, Keto, Vegan, South Beach: the options are endless for those seeking to work more health and happiness into their diets and consequently into their lives. In our efforts to find the diet that gives us highest levels of energy and optimum physical form, we have even reached back into the Paleo ages, and derived food tips and culinary how-tos from the cave men!
Ancient knowledge certainly has its advantages, and when we combine diets and workouts, it’s a win-win situation every single time! Imagine then, if a Yoga regimen, already so power-packed with obvious and long-lasting positive impacts, came with its own set of dietary rules and guidelines. How much more effectively we could align our bodies with the ideals and aspirations of a perfect physique, a sharply honed mind and a well-balanced life.
Happily for us, Yoga does just that. Yogic wisdom urges us to consume certain foods and proscribes others. In yogic lore, any and all food falls into one of three categories – Tamas – or inertia, Rajas or Energy and Sattva meaning pure or sublime. These categorizations do not in any way imply any physical purity or desirability of the food that we eat; simply that each type of fruit, vegetable or other food has certain characteristics that support, boost or diminish our energy levels in ways that are not always intuitive, or even the social norm.
Let’s look at it like this: Imagine a massive 4-pounder burger, packed with layers of cheese and loaded with a large side of fries. Anyone will tell you that that is a no-no, it’s high on calories, it’s awful for your heart, and, of course, it makes you want to sleep afterward, preferably for a week! But the Yogic approach to food would point out that since this particular food is high on meat, it will likely take anywhere between 48-52 hours to completely run through our systems, and get fully digested! So Yogic logic would classify this as a Tamasic food – that which has the effect of slowing down our systems and making us feel tired and lethargic.
With this in mind, all food has certain set effects – Tamasic, or foods that make us sluggish and slow, Rajasic foods – which make us highly energized, sometimes agitating our systems, and making our minds volatile and our bodies restless; and Sattvic foods – which elevates our minds, raising our consciousness and spurring us on to that ultimate of yogic goals, stillness and deep meditativeness.
These are not so much the qualities of the foods themselves, as much as they refer to the impact they have after being consumed. Consider this:
Type of food Time taken to digest (in hours)
Raw Fruit 1-1.5
Cooked vegetables 2-15
Cooked Cereals/Grains 24-30
Cooked Meat 48-52
Raw Meat 72
When food lies around inside your system for such long periods of time, rot and decay eventually set in, causing unnecessary levels of bacteria, just as it is with food left outside in a hot and humid environment.
This is one reason why Yogis advocate vegetarianism. Another reason is because yogic tradition advises us to eat whatever is genetically the most removed from the way we are structured. In this sense, plants represent the life forms that are genetically the most dissimilar to us. Meats such as beef are closer in structure to our own, fish is more removed and more unlike ours and so preferable to red meats.
In the next part of this article, we will focus on the high energy foods, and how to eat in a way that will restore and maintain a healthy balance in our eating cycles.
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