- How Diet Affects Your Yoga Practice

How Diet Affects Your Yoga Practice

vegetablesResponsiveness to yoga practice

You cannot lessen the effect of yoga, but you can certainly lessen or even prevent your responsiveness to it and the effect it will have on you. That is why it is so important that you read a book of necessary practical advice called How to be a Yogi: Practical Advice to Serious Yogis. There the Yoga Life is explained without which the practice of yoga will be of little significant effect. A few things that follow are from that book, but only a very few.

The bodies, physical, astral, and causal, are the vehicles through which the individual evolves during the span of life on earth, and must be taken into serious account by the yogi who will discover that they can exert a powerful, controlling effect on the mind. If wax and clay are cold they cannot be molded, nor will they take any impression. If molasses is cold it will hardly pour. It is all a matter of responsiveness. Only when warm are these substances malleable. In the same way, unless our inner and outer bodies are made responsive or reactive to the yogic process we will miss many of the beneficial effects. Hence we should do everything we can to increase our response levels, to ensure that our physical and psychic bodies are moving at the highest possible rate of vibration.

Diet and Yoga

A fundamental key to this is diet. For just as the physical substance of the food becomes assimilated into our physical body, the subtler energies become united to our inner levels, including our mind. The observant meditator will discover that the diet of the physical body is also the diet of the mind, that whatever is eaten physically will have an effect mentally. Here are some statements about the nature and effect of food that are found in the basic texts of India, the upanishads.

“From food has arisen strength [virya], austerity [tapasya], mantra, action, and the world itself” (Prashna Upanishad 6.4).

Ascetic discipline (tapasya) and prayer (mantra) are essential to religion, and here we see that the food we eat is their basis. And obviously the kind of food we eat will determine the quality of our discipline and prayer.

“By food, indeed, do all the breaths [pranas, life forces] become great” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.5.4).

“Man, verily consists of the essence of food” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1.1).

So we are what we eat.

“From food, verily, are produced all creatures–whatsoever dwell on earth. By food alone, furthermore, do they live.…From food all creatures are born: by food, when born, they grow.…Verily, different from this, which consists of the essence of food, but within it, is another self, which consists of the vital breath [prana]. By this the former is filled. This too has the shape of a man. Like the human shape of the former is the human shape of the latter” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.2.1).

The spiritual, astral body is drawn exclusively from food, so diet is crucial in spiritual development.

“Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind. Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana.…The mind, my dear, consists of food, [and] the prana of water…” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.5.1, 2, 4).

“That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter. In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind. The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana. Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, [and] the prana consists of water” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.6.1-3,5; the same is confirmed in 6.7.1-6).

“Now is described the discipline for inner purification by which self-knowledge is attained: When the food is pure, the mind becomes pure. When the mind is pure the memory [smriti–memory of our eternal spirit-Self] becomes firm. When the memory is firm all ties are loosened” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.2).

“On food rests everything—whatsoever breathes and whatsoever breathes not” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.5.1).

“In the body there are nerves [nadis] called hita, which are placed in the heart. Through these the essence of our food passes as it moves on. Therefore the subtle body receives finer food than the gross body” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.2.3).

Both meditation and diet refine the inner senses so we can produce and perceive the subtle changes that occur during meditation.

Negative effects of meat eating

Meat is both heavy and toxic–especially from the chemicals spread throughout the tissues from the fear and anger of the animal when it was slaughtered. So our minds will also be heavy and toxic from eating meat as well as poisoned by the vibrations of anger and fear. And then there is the karma of killing sentient beings. Moreover, the instinctual and behavioral patterns of the animals will become our instinctual and behavioral impulses. Fruits, vegetables, and grains have no such obstructions.

Consequently, our mental energies will be light and malleable, responsive to our spiritual disciplines. Few things are more self-defeating than the eating of meat. From the yogic standpoint, the adoption of a vegetarian diet is a great spiritual boon. By “vegetarian” I mean abstention from meat, fish, and eggs or anything that contains them to any degree, including animal fats.

Other factors in health, physical and spiritual

Our general health also contributes to our proficiency in meditation, so a responsible yogi is very aware of what is beneficial and detrimental to health and orders his life accordingly, especially in eliminating completely all alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs whether legal or illegal. Caffeine, too, is wisely avoided, and so is sugar.

All of the above-mentioned substances–meat, fish, eggs, animal derivatives, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs–deaden and coarsen the mind and body–and consequently the consciousness. Thus they prevent the necessary effects and experiences of subtle Breath Meditation, reducing it to an exercise in relaxation and calmness rather than the means of liberation–for which it is solely intended.

10 ways to improve your yoga practice

The sum of all this is that we must do more than meditate. We must live out our spiritual aspirations by so ordering our lives that we will most quickly advance toward the Goal. This is done by observing Yama and Niyama, often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga. They are:

  1. Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness;
  2. Satya: truthfulness, honesty;
  3. Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness;
  4. Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses;
  5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness;
  6. Shaucha: purity, cleanliness;
  7. Santosha: contentment, peacefulness;
  8. Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline;
  9. Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study;
  10. Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God, especially in the highest sense of uniting our consciousness with Infinite Consciousness through meditation.

Further Reading on ways to improve your yoga practice:

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