One of the most overlooked and least understood aspects of yoga practice and a deep spiritual life is the area of diet and nutrition.
What we eat and how we eat it has a significant impact on the quality and depth of our practice.
Yoga is a practice of the cultivation of self-awareness and understanding. The methods and practices that we undertake each day are ways to help us to become more sensitive to our own selves, physically, mentally, emotionally and psychically.
The power and depth of our practice and our spiritual life is determined by the way in which each and every aspect of our lives either supports or obstructs our capacity to become more and more sensitive in every aspect of our being.
What you eat and how you eat it is an area of life that has significantly more impact than most other areas of life on your own capacity to be sensitive to your own self.
Unfortunately, most of the foods that are available to us today are foods that do not lend themselves to the cultivation of a body and mind of greater sensitivity. Most of the foodstuffs that are consumed today in our modern urban culture are foods that are highly stimulating and obstructing.
Eating a diet that is composed of seasoned and cooked meats and highly processed snack foods is so intensely stimulating to the body and the nervous system that the overall effect is to desensitize us.
Spiritual life is based on principles that are in direct opposition to all modalities that lead to greater desensitization.
The primary focus of one's spiritual life should always be to increase the degree of awareness, understanding and care in all areas of life.
Because one's diet is so central to most of our activities, it follows naturally that we should begin to increase the amount of general care in this area as much as we can.
The first step is to simply begin to educate your self. Begin to seek out educational materials with regard to diet and nutrition. Find out as much as you can about your own body and the way that it actually works. Because of the Internet, there is an incredible wealth of information out there regarding health and diet.
The key to any significant change is always understanding and awareness. Action taken without understanding or awareness has very little real power. Simply changing what you are eating without really understanding why will likely not be something you can sustain over a long period of time.
It is important that you interact intelligently with the information that you begin to apply to your own life. Each person has a different history and a different constitution. What works for one person may or may not work for another person. Do not blindly copy another person's habits or behaviors. Pay very close attention to how certain foods affect you personally. Be willing to experiment on yourself. Try not to assume anything.
What is most important is that you create a diet and a lifestyle that truly works for you. The goal is to create an overall lifestyle that supports your movement towards a state of being that is more sensitive both externally and internally.
Observing what you eat, how you eat it and how that particular food makes you feel can reflect a lot back to you about who you are. Food is obviously not just a physical phenomenon. We eat not just to support our bodies, but also as a way to feel good emotionally and mentally.
Most people in the world today eat to forget themselves. When you eat heavy or unhealthy foods, the result is much like that of a drug. Your own capacity to feel your own self is inhibited relative to what you eat and how you eat it.
Begin to observe your own habits. How often do you eat to desensitize yourself? How can you begin to eat to create more sensitivity in yourself?
Then, slowly over time, begin to create small and workable daily habits that support your capacity to feel and be sensitive to your own self.
Do not try to accomplish too much too quickly. The most powerful and lasting kind of change happens gradually and intelligently with care and compassion.
Here are some general guidelines that are simple and easy to begin with.
1. Whenever possible, increase the quality of the food that you are eating.
This means that you should always try to take in foods that are produced and prepared with the greatest amount of care and love.
For example, organic fruits and vegetable, in general, are grown on a smaller scale and with greater care than conventionally grown produce.
Try to eat foods that are processed as little as possible.
Foods that are as close to their most natural state are usually easier to digest and are lighter in nature than those that have been processed in any way (that includes most cooked foods, although some light steaming and fermenting is sometimes very healthy).
Try to eat foods that are prepared either by yourself or by someone that you know personally.
Foods that are prepared by yourself are much more likely to be treated with the greatest amount of care than are those dishes that are prepared by those that you are not familiar with.
Try to eat with an attitude of reverence and gratitude.
The quality of your mind and heart while you are eating can actually change the quality of the food that you are eating. Oftentimes, this factor is overlooked.
2. Always drink the best quality of water available.
The largest single component both in our bodies and in the earth itself is water. The amount and quality of water in us determines the quality of functioning in both our body and mind.
Most people in the world today are in relative states of dehydration. Either they are not getting the proper amount of water or the water they are drinking is of very poor quality.
Make sure you are not drinking water that has been chemically treated and is as close to its source as possible. The best water comes directly from ground or mountain fed springs. If at all possible, try to obtain your water directly from these sources.
One of the reasons why it is important to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables is that they contain within their tissues a very high quality of water. Again, try to eat organic produce, as they generally contain less chemicals and impurities.
3. Eat as many green foods as possible.
Green foods are the lifeblood of the earth. They purify and fortify our bodies and minds unlike any other food. Ill health is often directly related to the fact that most people simply are not eating enough green foods.
One very simple and powerful habit that you can begin today is to eat at least one large organic green salad everyday. No matter what else you are eating during the rest of the day, if you eat one large organic green salad, you will see a noticeable change in the quality of your body and mind over time. Very easily and very naturally, you will begin to eat healthier over time. From this very simple habit, you will see very strong changes in your body and mind. This is the power of green.
4. Make sure that joy and fun are a big part of this process.
It is important to realize that this is not a short-term process. To change one's diet is not simply to change the food that one eats. It is a process that affects you deeply on almost every single level. The functioning of your mental and emotional self is connected to what you eat on a day-to-day basis. Most people do not realize just how much inherent power there is in this kind of change. How could they? Most people never ever make significant changes to what they eat in general and how they eat it.
It is important to remember that you are not just giving up certain foods or habits, but that you are gaining significantly superior functioning of almost every part of yourself. Your body will be lighter and stronger. Your mind will be more clear and sharp. Your heart will naturally be lighter and more joyful. Your very practice will be more deep and profound. Do not underestimate just what kinds of changes you can affect simply by being more conscious of what you eat and how you eat it.
This process need not be painful or difficult. Because of the central role that diet plays in our lives, make changes with great compassion and care. Make them as slowly as you feel you need to and give yourself a lot of space to make many mistakes. This is a very personal journey. It is one that requires a lot of experimentation and a lot of trial and error. It is a journey of experience, which means that you must try things out in your own experience. Nobody can tell you what you should and should not do. You must learn on your own.
If you find that you are struggling too much physically, mentally or emotionally, it usually means that you are trying to go too fast. In this situation, simply allow yourself more time and space. Back off a little. Have fun. Better to dance through the process than it is to march too grimly. Joy must always be a part of this great process. If it is not, you will almost certainly fail.
The power and beauty of our relationship to the food that we eat is incredible. It has been a major part of the joy of my life and practice. Through this process, I have found immeasurable joy and power. I know you will too.