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Diet, how and when you eat is probably the most important factor for yoga practice.

If you look at the ancient texts on yoga they recommend a minimal diet of a little rice, a few vegetables, some mung dal (lentils) and ghee (clarified butter). The assumption here is that the practitioner is spending most of the time sitting in meditation or study and otherwise minimalising activity. However, a diet like this may not be sufficient for someone who has a stressful job or is physically very active.

What is perhaps most important to note is that food and eating are there for the purpose of nourishing the body which has an inate healthy apetite for what is beneficial. Unfortunately, in our modern society, divorced from the rythms and influences of nature, our apetite has become completely disturbed and confused and all kinds of unhealthy eating habits have resulted.

We no longer know what is healthy to eat, how much to eat or when to eat. We use food for the sake of pleasure instead of nourishment, we eat excessive amounts and we eat all the time. The foods we choose are produced in all kinds of artifcial ways and many kinds of chemicals to stimulate the taste buds and encourage us to eat to excess.

Apart from the influence of food on the body, we find that food influences our mental state to a very high degree and we can thus divide food types into three broad categories:
Food which promotes a healthy, calm, focused state of mind.
Food which stimulates and disturbs the mind.
Food which makes the mind dull.

The right kind of food is called sattvic food, when eaten in appropriate amounts and at the right time of day, this kind of food generates the ideal state of mind for practicing yoga and a healthy body. Characteristics of this kind of food: natural, fresh, organic, easy to digest.

Food we find stimulating may contain caffeine, chillies, refined sugars etc. Although in appropriately small quantities these substances may have beneficial effects for producing certain results, when used in excess they have extremely negative consequences for our system.

Other types of food we use for "relaxation". These foods, full of preservatives and other mind-dulling influences are taken to give a certain "comfort", but also result in very negative consequences for the human system.

In adiition to the types of food consumed, negative consequences result from excessive eating and eating at the wrong times.

It is impossible to give a general diet which will suit all individuals. Students will need to develop a sensitivity to what foods are beneficial and which ones harmful. A student who also has a job which involves a lot of physical work will need a more protein rich diet than one who's work is sedentary. One who's work requires great mental effort, or who is exposed to great stress may also require more food.

It is a general reccommendation for yoga students that they follow a vegetarian diet, however, for those who have a long history of meat eating, changing to this way of eating overnight may not be possible or advisable. If you are a habitual red meat eater and are wishing to transition to a healthier way of eating, you may start by first substituting white meat or fish and gradually reducing the frequency of meat eating. Equally, if you eat white meat you may transition first to fish and so on.

As you start practicing yoga, you will notice that your eating desires slowly change. If you listen to your body, the transition will be healthy and happy.

Why would one wish to change diet?
Food is the single biggest influence on our state of health and happiness. Food not only builds the body, but directly affects the way we think and feel. In fact you could say that the body and mind are nothing but the food we have transformed through our digestive process.

In the initial stages, yoga is a process of healing. Dietary habits have contributed significantly to our dis-ease. The recommended diet for yoga practice involves eating foods which are easy to digest (this varies from individual to individual). In addition, the stomach should be filled only half full of food and one quarter with liquid. It is much better to eat two or three meals rather than "grazing" continuously, the stomach needs a break between meals.

The two biggest problems we face are overeating and wrong diet. Even though someone may eat an enormous amount and remain thin, or feels weak when not eating in the suggested manner, this is generally an indication of using wrong foods.

According to yoga, mind and body are both made from the same substance, so whatever affects the mind affects the body and vice versa. Often when we feel depressed, angry or stressed, we eat - this pacifies the body momentarily and calms the mind, but ultimately causes dis-ease. It is said that at birth, each creature has an allotted amount of food to eat during a lifetime. If we start to eat more than our allotted share, we take food which is meant for others, causing hardship and suffering for which we have to pay. When we have eaten our allotted amount of food, we die.

The same is said about the number of breaths we have in a lifetime. The number of breaths is limited. If we breathe slowly, we live longer, if we breathe quickly, we use up our credit and have a shorter lifespan. From a certain point of view everything we consume can be regarded as food - this includes what we absorb through our senses, and what we purchase with our earnings. If we just consume and consume, then we also become prematurely consumed!

Yogic Diet
As a general rule, it has been stated above that food should be easy to digest. The more liquid food is when it gets swallowed, the easier it can be assimilated. Spicy foods, oily fried foods, stale foods, refined sugars and grains, chemically enhanced foods (flavored/processed etc) should be avoided. Also food should be organic and fresh and ideally prepared by oneself or someone one knows - re-heated, canned or frozen foods are also to be avoided.

The base of a meal is the grain content, this should form the majority of the bulk of a meal. Vegetables and protein rich foods should generally be consumed in much smaller proportions. Drinking a little water with each mouthful is recommended.

Try to be kind to the stomach! Observe when a meal provokes gas, stomach pain, constipation etc. and it will be possible to eliminate unhealthy factors. After eating one should feel refreshed not heavy and lethargic (this is an indication of overeating and wrong diet). It should be noted that even "healthy" foods such as whole grain rice can be difficult for some people to digest.

Normally the process of digestion takes around 24hrs or less from consumption to elimination. However, flesh foods (meat) may take days to digest - this will place an unduly heavy burden on the digestive system, diverting energy from other activities and ultimately leading to dis-ease. In the advanced yogi the digestive process may take only four hours, freeing the system for contemplation and meditation.

 
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