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Yogic Food

Food is one of the important aspects of our yoga journey. If you want to really achieve great heights in the field of yoga, food is extremely important. So, what exactly are the things you need to take care of as part of yogic food?

Image showing sattvic, rajasic and tamasic yogic food

One of the great Greek physicians, Hippocrates said that “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It is a wonderful way to summarize the importance of the food itself. He is considered to be the father of modern medicine who told us the importance of food very early in ancient times. In India, there is a very common saying which goes “Jaisa Ann Vaisa Mann” — which in turn loosely translates to “the kind of food one eats is going to affect the kind of mindset one will have”.

In yoga, when we talk about food, it is not just the food that we intake from our mouth, it is the food that we take in from all our sense organs. Every sense organ is interacting with the world continuously, feeding new thoughts, and patterns into our minds. All this together affects the mindset that we shall have.

The purpose of yoga is not just the asanas but to calm the mind. This is exactly what Patanjali said -“Chitta Vritti Nirodha” — to control or to reduce the modifications to the mind. These modifications to the mind are caused by the food we intake from all the sense organs. All of it together affects the mindset.

The choice of food that we intake is beautifully explained in Bhagavad Gita by Shri Krishna:

आहारस्त्वपि सर्वस्य त्रिविधो भवति प्रिय: |यज्ञस्तपस्तथा दानं तेषां भेदमिमं शृणु || 17.7||

āhāras tv api sarvasya tri-vidho bhavati priyaḥyajñas tapas tathā dānaṁ teṣhāṁ bhedam imaṁ śhṛiṇu

which translates to the food, sacrifices, austerity, and charity that a person prefers will be according to their Guna.

Now, what is Guna? It is a fundamental quality that influences one’s behavior. One of the qualities is Rajas — which is driven by activity, passion-driven. The exact opposite of this quality is Tamas — which is dullness, ignorance. If a person is driven by Tamas — he or she usually wouldn’t want to do anything and likes to be idle. In between these two qualities is the balance — Sattva guna. The quality of harmony, purity, and goodness.

The purpose of yoga is to enhance this sattvic tendency and to balance between Rajas and Tamas. In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna goes on to say — Yoga is all about equanimity. It is about establishing a balanced state of mind. This is exactly what is driven by the sattvic nature which in turn establishes a balanced state of mind. Krishna also says that each person makes a choice based on each of these Guna and their natural tendencies.

If a person is sattvic what is the kind of food he goes on to choose? It is explained in the below verse:

आयु:सत्त्वबलारोग्यसुखप्रीतिविवर्धना: |रस्या: स्निग्धा: स्थिरा हृद्या आहारा: सात्त्विकप्रिया: || 17. 8||

āyuḥ-sattva-balārogya-sukha-prīti-vivardhanāḥrasyāḥ snigdhāḥ sthirā hṛidyā āhārāḥ sāttvika-priyāḥ

which translates to — sattvic food promotes longevity, promotes strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. What kind of foods would that be? The kind of foods that are juicy, succulent (tender), nourishing, and pleasing to the heart. These are the prime qualities of sattvic food. As Shri Krishna says, each person chooses a kind of food based on his or her Guna. A sattvic person chooses sattvic food.

We always think that food always influences the mind but Shri Krishna says it’s the other way. The kind of food chosen by a person is based on his Guna.

To mention in detail, sattvic food is a food that is basically

  • Makes the body lighter

  • Promotes peaceful and calm mind

  • Fruits and most vegetables, grains, and cold-pressed oils fall into the category of sattvic food.

How about Rajasic food? Krishna goes on to explain it in the below verse

कट्वम्ललवणात्युष्णतीक्ष्णरूक्षविदाहिन: |आहारा राजसस्येष्टा दु:खशोकामयप्रदा: || 17.9||

kaṭv-amla-lavaṇāty-uṣhṇa- tīkṣhṇa-rūkṣha-vidāhinaḥāhārā rājasasyeṣhṭā duḥkha-śhokāmaya-pradāḥ

Rajasic food is a sort of food that increases pain, grief, and diseases. What kind of foods are rajasic? They are bitter, sour, salty, very hot, pungent, dry, and with lots of chili. If a person is choosing this kind of food, then that person is driven by a rajasic mindset. These kinds of food create restlessness, agitation, creates anger, grief, pain, and suffering. Examples are coffee, onions, spicy food, very salty, tobacco, too hot, bitter, sour food.

Moving on let’s see what was said about tamasic food. Here is the verse which explains it:

यातयामं गतरसं पूति पर्युषितं च यत् |उच्छिष्टमपि चामेध्यं भोजनं तामसप्रियम् || 17.10||

yāta-yāmaṁ gata-rasaṁ pūti paryuṣhitaṁ cha yatuchchhiṣhṭam api chāmedhyaṁ bhojanaṁ tāmasa-priyam

Tamasic food is food that is stale, tasteless, putrid, polluted, leftover, and impure. A person who chooses such food is a person with a tamasic mindset. It drains all of the energy.

Every food we intake requires some energy before it is absorbed by the body. The body needs to assimilate the food to turn into what we are today. That takes energy. Tamasic food takes a lot of energy to do this. So what we get out of these foods, ultimately will result in less source of energy. That is the reason why we get drained out of tamasic foods. One way to know is after eating tamasic food, you shall feel very lethargic. These are the qualities which indicate that we are eating a tamasic food. It also makes one dull. Examples are meat, egg, mushrooms, potatoes, fried food, frozen food, alcohol, and drugs.

With all this, you might have already come to the conclusion that a yogi should consume sattvic food. A sattvic food is what is conducive to the path of yoga — which is all about controlling the mind.

Even if one consumes all sattvic food, one should do it in moderation. Let’s look at what is moderation. It essentially means that one should eat the food, even though it is sattvic food, in moderation and not to eat too much. You should not consume a stomach full of food. Yogic text goes on to say that, one should fill only half of the stomach capacity with food, 1/4 of water and 1/4 should be kept empty. A whole of energy in turn gets used to process the stomach full of food. That is the reason one should eat in moderation.

We should also consume food mindfully. Even if you are consuming sattvic food but your mind is elsewhere, you won’t get the sattvic quality of the food that it serves. If you are thinking about something while eating or watching television while eating food, or you are on your mobile or shouting at someone, these negative tendencies around you shall affect the food you consume. It shall just drain the energy.

Also, the way the food is prepared matters. It should be with love and gratitude. If you are preparing sattvic food with a lot of negative emotions, you don’t like the person whom you are cooking, the food will not be sattvic in nature. These are the reasons, in some places even today they play some nice soothing music in the kitchen or some chants. This sets a mood in the kitchen to cook with love and gratitude. In general, yoga is not about exciting or stimulating yourself.

It is all about balance in whatever you do. The kind of food you eat also should not overstimulate you. It should necessarily help you to establish that balance.

I hope this article was useful in understanding the concepts of yogic food and its principles. Also what kind of food one should eat to achieve this yogic mindset which in turn is required for the spiritual sadhana.

This article is the excerpts from the original video on Yogic Food on my YouTube Channel. Below is the link to the video


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