Q: I think I remember reading in one of Abbot George’s writings that “fasting is not the way.” Should an occasional fast, or time-restricted eating be considered healthy or unhealthy?
Body-identified people who aspire to be yogis think that the body is what is wrong with their minds, when it is the mind itself that is the problem. And the mind is a field of energy formed of the food we eat. This is the teaching of the Chandogya Upanishad:
“Mind consists of food. That which is the subtle part of milk moves upward when the milk is churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, the subtle part of the food that is eaten moves upward and becomes mind. Thus, mind consists of food” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.4; 6.6.1-2,5).
Therefore diet–both what we do and do not eat–is a key element in attaining success in yoga. However, what we think is also a key element in the condition of our mind. And that is where correct sadhana comes in. But that is another matter altogether, and I will stay with your question.
Pure body, pure mind?
The body-identified for some reason are obsessed with fasting. They think that if they purify their body by fasting they will purify their mind, but they are wrong. (However, I have observed that a lot of “yogis” are intuitively very intent on things that will leave their mind alone while they entertain themselves with disciplines such as fasting which will leave the delusions of the mind safely and surely intact. Such persons are the kind that love to let everybody know they are having “a day of silence” or are “on a fast.”)
There is no doubt that people who have harmed their body and mind by eating destructive things or good things in a destructive, mistaken manner, can be benefitted by a very mild form of abstinence from food such as a day on water or juice alone.
Effective body cleansing
The best way I know to clear the body of toxins is that advocated by Joe Cross in his website (rebootwithjoe.com) and book Reboot with Joe Juice Diet. He worked with physicians every step of the way in developing the regimens present there. The website even has a file you can print out and give to your doctor for his information. This is important because you can harm yourself greatly by any diet or fasting if your body cannot handle it. So I recommend you look at the site for reliable information.
Since we are on the subject of eating in a kind of backhand way, I want to include here what I have written in Bhagavad Gita For Awakening about some of the foolish things regarding diet put forth by contemporary Indian yogis who should know better, especially in the climatic conditions of India.:
Prohibition of salt. Salt is essential to correct brain function. Lack of salt produces mental and physical debility, which is why sensible employers supply salt tablets to workers who perspire a great deal while at their job.
One hellish summer I was in Benares and feeling terrible, hardly able to think. I had gone to visit the publishers of the Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, whose main office was in a sweltering attic. As I sat there feeling like I could die and afraid I was going to pass out, I came to the conclusion that I should leave my fellow travelers in India and return to America and check into a hospital for tests. I really felt that bad. Mercifully there popped into my mind the matter of salt tablets used by workers during extremely hot weather or working conditions. Upon leaving there, I went directly to a drugstore and bought some. That night before sleeping I took several, and awoke in the morning feeling completely well and mentally alert. So from then on I kept salt tablets with me when traveling in India.
Nothing can justify the prohibition of salt except in special medical cases such as high blood pressure, and then it should be made by a qualified medical practitioner. Yet this moronic dictum is to be found in many books on yoga.
Prohibition of chillies. Anywhere in the world, but particularly in a tropical climate like that of India, intestinal parasites are an inevitable problem. And few things are more helpful in eliminating them than chili peppers, especially fresh green ones. Chillies contain a natural form of quinine that is very cleansing for the digestive tract and helps in warding off malaria, another tropical danger. To tell yogis to never eat chillies in any form is irresponsible as well as ignorant.
Prohibition of garlic. Equally nonsensical and irresponsible is the prohibition of garlic. Garlic is the best antibiotic nature has to offer. It cures many ills and destroys intestinal parasites and cleanses the intestines. Large amounts of garlic can be of supreme help at the onset of colds, flu, and other troubles. It is also very beneficial in high blood pressure and insomnia.
Prohibition of onions. Onions purify the blood and tone up the digestive tract. They also enable a person to endure hot weather (raw onions are especially good for this). They are beneficial in every climate, but in India they are especially so. Not only did Sri Ramana Maharshi consider prohibition of onions and garlic silly, he actually wrote a satirical song about his mother’s exagerrated aversion to even touching them. Since one of his disciples, Annamalai Swami, was in charge of building in the blistering hot weather, he had him eat so much onions that he reeked of onion and consequently became known in the ashram as “Onion Swami.”
Prohibition of all spices or flavorings. This is utterly silly. The spices and other flavorings used in traditional Indian cooking have genuine health benefits. For example, Sri Anandamayi Ma formulated a recipe her devotees called “Anandamayi Kitchuri.” For flavoring it contained turmeric, ginger, anise seed, fenugreek seed, cumin seed, plenty of chilis and salt. This was eaten by those who practiced intense sadhana under her direction. Each of those ingredients has a medicinal value, and Ma said that if this was eaten daily as the major item in the diet, they would not become ill. I have eaten some of the food that Ma herself ate daily, and it was hot! Those who had eaten Ma’s cooking told me the same. Sri Ramakrishna used to tell those who were cooking for him: “Put in enough spices to make a pig squeal!”
The “Sattwic” myth
There are those in India that call their food prohibitions “eating sattwic,” but Krishna will say in just a few verses that tamasic people like and recommend tasteless food. The idea that the yogi’s life is to be bland and boring does not come from real yogis. And that applies to food, as well. Krishna will also point out that sattwic people like flavorful food. As one famous yogi told me: “Boring people like boring food and interesting people like interesting food.”
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