Everything that we eat and drink will affect us on three levels: the physical, the mental and the spiritual. When we consume certain substances, the qualities of nature, satva, rajas and tamas, will enter our system. We will then feel light, restless or heavy depending on what we have taken.
The Bhagavad Gita informs us that a person will select their food according to the guna dominant in them. So I wish to state that the dietary regulations following are for those wishing to follow the path of Yoga and recommended by stalwarts such as Ramana Maharshi, Sankara and Sri T. Krishnamacharya.
The quality of food influences the mind. The mind feeds on the food consumed.
For the practice of any kind of yoga, vegetarianism is absolutely necessary since it makes the mind more satvic.
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi
So the first step is a vegetarian diet of vegetables, fruits, herbs, grains cereals and pulses. Dairy products are also included. In Vedic culture pure milk is that taken from a cow after the calf has drunk. It is not permitted to kill an animal either for its skin or its meat. This kind of pure milk is only available from places that adhere to these Vedic teachings, such as Ahimsa Dairy Foundation. Eggs are not permitted.
The classification is very clear in Vedic teaching. Beings are of two types sthavara (unmoving) which are plants, fruits and vegetables and jangama (moving) which are of two types: aquatic beings, animals, birds, including their eggs; and human beings.
So plant life, animal life and human life are the three categories. It is not permitted to kill any being from the animal and human category. Plants evolved first to be food for the moving beings.
And God said behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food.
The essence of all beings is Earth. The essence of Earth is Water. The essence of Water is plants. The essence of plants is the human being.
Now it gets more complicated as all plant foods are not Satvic. Following are a few examples of foods according to their effect on the gunas.
Satvic foods – Asparagus, beets, fennel, cucumber, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, sprouts, peas. Many fruits are satvic. Amaranth, barley, rice, wheat, quinoa, millet, rye. moong beans, yellow split peas. Most nuts and seeds. Milk, ghee, butter, fresh cheese (paneer), buttermilk, yoghurt. Honey (cold processed), raw cane sugar, jaggery. Mild spices.
Rajasic foods – Spicy herbs, sharp foods, hot substances, stimulants like tea and coffee. Meats, fish, eggs, salt, chocolate. Broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic. Fermented foods, pickles, sour fruits, nightshade family.
Tamasic foods – Mechanically prepared and industrial processed food. Old foods, old or over ripe fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, many root vegetables. Alcohol, drugs, tobacco. Over cooked or highly processed foods.
I mentioned earlier that food affects the mind. The most common mental health problem that people present with is a combination of anxiety and depression. In Ayurveda and Yoga, anxiety is an excess of rajas and depression of tamas. A glance through the food lists will quickly show a link between current food habits and mental health.
I will cover the subject of raw foods and food combinations in a separate article.
(Image courtesy of Julie Gibbons on Flikr Creative Commons)