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How to eat a yogic diet in the West

Practising yoga requires a lot of energy, so it makes sense to support and nurture the body with wholesome, nourishing foods. It’s also important to take into account your approach to eating, incorporating the principles of common sense, stress management and good health practices. 

Health and longevity are directly related to the degree of naturalness of the foods we eat. Every compromise to a natural diet is a compromise to health. It is common knowledge that alcohol, tea, coffee, soft drinks, refined or processed foods such as white flour and white sugar products, fried foods, microwaved foods, preservatives, additives, white salt, MSG et cetera do not support optimum health. Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis and heart disease are now common problems in the West and are directly linked to the foods we consume. In establishing a natural and healthy diet, it is important to gradually cut out foods that do not support wellbeing. It is also essential to cultivate consciousness of where the foods we eat come from and how they affect us.

Smoking and recreational drug taking are habits that also need to be addressed if you wish to cultivate long-term health. As well as having an impact on your mental and emotional state, they rob your body of vital nutrients. When cutting these habits out, start slowly but work consistently. Remember that knowledge is power, so aim to read as much as you can on the topic.

Throughout history, many great religious leaders, spiritual teachers and yogis have recommended a vegetarian diet, believing that the karmic consequences of eating animal foods dampen one’s spiritual powers while raising the emotions of fear and doubt in the mind. From a nutritional point of view, we believe animal flesh should be omitted from the diet. The topic is too vast to cover in this article, however if you are interested in reading more, an informative book is Diet for a New America by John Robbins. Also, try to avoid eating dairy products and eggs more than two or three times a week. Eating too many dairy products and eggs will result in lowered tissue vitality and disease.

An important consideration is when to eat. Be sure not to eat when you are tired or emotionally stressed. Yoga practitioners also recommend not eating two hours prior to yoga practice. Doing a yoga practice on a full belly not only places enormous stress on the systems of the body but also lowers the energy available for practice.

Another aspect of nutritional wellbeing is the quality of your thoughts. If your thoughts are in harmony with the natural and spiritual laws, you will be more able to live and eat in a healthy, harmonious way. Start every thought with love; the food of love is the most powerful nutrient you can ingest!

The yogic way of eating

The yogic way of eating is, quite simply, the most natural. A pure and moderated diet is the best way to bring prana (life force) into the body. The food you eat and the attitude you have towards it affects your mental and physical health. Here are some guidelines for how to adopt a more balanced and wholesome eating pattern. They will assist in bringing harmony and vitality to the body, mind and spirit.

Eat natural foods
Eat foods that are grown under natural conditions in organic, fertile soil. Not only will pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and other chemical processes be avoided, but you will also obtain significantly superior food. In Conscious Eating by Gabriel Cousens, one study found that organic foods had an average of 83 per cent more nutrients compared with commercially grown foods. Try to eat the locally grown fruits and vegetables that are in season. Support your local farmers market, which also helps ensure you are eating produce that has been picked in its prime and is not under- or over-ripe.

Eat wholefoods
Wholefoods are foods that have not been fragmented or adulterated in any way. Wholefoods contain all their original nutrients and have not been refined or enriched. Every time a chemical or nutrient is added or subtracted from a food, the natural balance is disrupted. After thousands of years of eating natural wholefoods, the human body has become biologically programmed to utilise foods in their natural state. When the composition of a food is altered with additives, preservatives, colours, microwaving, irradiation or even cooking, the body is only partially able to re-adjust. The result is early onset of chronic degenerative diseases. 

Fresh juices are an exception to the concept of eating only wholefoods. Juicing is minimal processing and is only marginally disruptive because all the live factors in the food are left intact. Raw juices contain all the elements of live food (such as enzymes, minerals and vitamins) in a concentrated form that is more readily assimilated into the cellular system and requires less digestive energy. The primary part of the wholefood that is missing is the fibre. The energy saved by not having to process the fibre goes towards the healing and repair of the body.

Eat living foods
Natural wholefoods are, by definition, alive. A food that is “living” or “raw” has not been processed in any way (including cooking). As a result, none of the heat-sensitive micronutrients have been destroyed. The full life force and energetic pattern of the living plant are best preserved so that it can transfer the highest amount of its life force to us. The minimum amount of raw, living foods we must eat to get the full benefit is approximately 60 per cent of the entire diet. It is preferable, however, to aim for at least 75 per cent.

Note: If you have a weak digestive system, you can strengthen your digestive capacity by slowly increasing the amount of raw, green, leafy foods in your diet over time. To help break down the leaves and to aid digestion, soak the leaves in organic cold-pressed olive oil for two to three hours before eating them. This helps soften the cellulose (plant fibre). Always be sure to chew the food well.

Tips for life: Key points

Sun
Without the sun all life would die. You need a certain amount of light on your bare skin and through your eyes to be healthy. The sun also balances the biorhythmic hormonal cycles of the body. The key point regarding sunlight and UV radiation is moderation. Sunbathing is one of the best ways to increase the fire in your constitution and is recommended for those who have a weak digestive system and trouble digesting or tolerating an increased amount of raw foods. Yoga and ujjai breathing also increase digestive fire.

Breathing
Conscious deep breathing, known as pranayama, brings in the healing forces of oxygen (prana, or life force), calms the thoughts and re-balances the system.

Bathing and brushing
Daily bathing has a powerful healing and cleansing effect and is considered by yogis to be beneficial for health and spirit. Dry skin brushing with a natural-bristle brush before bathing helps tone the skin and circulatory system and aids the elimination of old, dead skin cells.

Earth
Spending time in contact with the earth (for example, gardening and taking longs walks in nature) assists you in absorbing the health-promoting magnetic radiation of the earth. This is especially important if you spend full days working in a high-rise city environment where contact with the earth is minimal.

State of health
Visit a healthcare practitioner to enquire about any inherited or constitutional weakness and eat accordingly. Have yourself tested for food allergies and avoid any foods you are allergic to (some foods may only have to be avoided temporarily). 

Greens
Eat at least one but preferably two green salads a day. Try to include greens such as kale, watercress, dandelion greens, raw broccoli, sprouts and tray greens such as buckwheat and sunflower sprouts. Increasing the amount of green leaf vegetables in your diet increases the alkalinity of the body and loosens the constriction of body tissues. It also soothes the nerves and calms the body. Those with chronic back and muscular pains should eat plenty of green vegetables and green leaves because of the high content of alkaline minerals, which helps relieve pain. Green leaf foods decrease overall stress in the body and increase flexibility and strength, factors which facilitate yoga practice.

Timing
Start each day with the lighter foods and eat heavier foods during the middle of the day. Eat lightly in the evening and do not eat after 6pm. 

Cooked foods
In 1930, the Swiss physician Paul Kouchakoff showed that eating cooked foods caused digestive leukocytosis, an increase in white blood cells in the digestive and circulatory systems as a result of white blood cells being withdrawn from the immune system. This constant depletion of white blood cells taxes the immune system, leading to diseases related to immune suppression. Kouchakoff also found that when subjects started a meal with raw foods equalling more than half the meal, they were able to have some cooked foods and not present with digestive leukocytosis. Conversely, it was found that if the foods were highly processed or microwaved or were junk food, not only did leukocytosis occur, but the normal white blood cell ratio also became so deranged that it resembled the pattern of blood poisoning from eating contaminated meat.

When eating cooked foods, try to make the meals simple by eating only one type of cooked food or animal food at the meal and always include a large salad.

Raw and biogenic
Try to eat at least 75 per cent of your food raw and include biogenic (“live”) foods such as sprouted nuts, seeds, grains and grasses. They have all the nutrients essential for bountiful human health and longevity. The germ in a biogenic food possesses the reproductive power for the perpetuation of the species. This “spark of life” in the germ is passed on to those who eat the germ in its live form. Having sprouted, nuts, seeds and grains become considerably easier to digest as the enzyme inhibitors are washed away and the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates become predigested into simpler forms.

As a general rule, when germinating seeds, nuts or grains, soak them overnight in three times the amount of water. Rinse the following day and germinate. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds and pepitas can be eaten without them having sprouted.

Green juice
Drink two 300mL glasses of green juice per day. Some of the best ingredients to use are beet, kale, parsley, barley or wheatgrass, celery, spinach, broccoli, cucumber, sunflower or buckwheat sprouts, dandelion greens, carrot and apple.

 

Two delicious juice recipes

2 carrots
2 kale leaves
½ medium cucumber
2 large apples
2 stalks of parsley
1 stalk of celery

2 handfuls of wheatgrass
2 carrots
2 large apples
2 stalks of broccoli (florets)
1 thin slice of fresh ginger 

Note: Add more apple and carrot if the juice is too bitter or too strong.

 

Your choice of juicer should be carefully considered. Most home juicers are the centrifugal type and the quality of the juice extracted from this type of juicer is less than ideal. As the centrifugal mechanism spins at high speed (more than 1000 revolutions per minute), it both shreds the produce and produces more friction and heat. This causes nutrients in the produce to oxidise more rapidly and be destroyed. Centrifugal juicers also tend to waste produce because they are unable to fully break down the cell wall and extract all the juice.

The best type of juicer is one that masticates the produce at low speeds (less than 120 revolutions per minute), therefore preserving the health-giving qualities of the juice. Masticating juicers produce a very dry pulp because the juice is completely extracted. This provides a greater return on your investment.

Grains
Try to eat grains no more than three times a week. Grains, except for millet and buckwheat, are acid-forming in the body. They can place strain on the digestive system, causing hypertrophy (enlargement) of the pancreas and unnecessary depletion of enzyme reserves. Pancreas weight as a percentage of total body weight is two to three times greater in humans than animals living in the wild. This is because humans eat mainly cooked food. Interestingly, the populations that subsist primarily on cereals display the greatest incidence of hypertrophy. According to Improving on Pritikin by Ross Horne, pancreas weight in Malays and Filipinos, whose diets emphasise rice, has been found, on average, to be 50 per cent greater than that in Americans.

When eating grains, soak them overnight in three times the amount of water, then rinse. This washes away the enzyme inhibitors that put a strain on the pancreas to produce more enzymes. Soaking also reduces cooking time. Always consume grains with a large green salad and try to avoid wheat (a very hybridised grain and most likely to cause allergies), using spelt products instead.

For those who like to eat cooked cereals for breakfast, here is a healthy alternative.

Live muesli recipe

½ cup soaked almonds
½ cup soaked sunflower kernels
¼ cup soaked buckwheat (hulled)
½ cup soaked dried fruit (for example, apricots, raisins, dates)
¼ cup freshly grated coconut

Blend all ingredients in a food processor to the desired consistency, adding water from the soaked fruit as required.

Water
Drink water according to thirst but try to have at least one litre per day (more is required if you are eating a higher percentage of cooked foods). Raw foods are often water sufficient and eating a healthy, raw diet means that the body has less toxins to flush out. Too much water can overwork the kidneys.

Supplements for the practising yogi

Ideally, you should receive all your nutrients from whole, organic, mostly raw foods. However, the supplements suggested below are greatly beneficial for the practising yogi and have the ability to increase the body’s vital force. Like introducing any new food, you should do it gradually and observe the body’s response. There are advantages and disadvantages to supplementing your diet. Should you have any questions, consult a qualified health practitioner.

MSM
MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane) is a naturally occurring sulphur compound found in plant and animal tissues and is essential for optimum health. Because MSM is extremely volatile and is either evaporated or destroyed by cooking, most people have a deficiency. Some of the richest sources of MSM are found in pine needles, pine nuts, aloe vera and wild grasses.

MSM greatly enhances the structural integrity of connective tissue and joint cartilage. It has been found that arthritis sufferers have a third of the normal MSM concentration in the blood. MSM can help arthritic conditions by improving joint flexibility, reducing stiffness, inflammation and pain and breaking up scar tissue. Take one-quarter to half a tablespoon twice daily in water and gradually build up to one tablespoon twice a day.

Silicon
Silicon is present in blood vessels, bones, cartilage, connective tissue, hair, ligaments, the lungs, lymph nodes, muscles, nails, skin, teeth, tendons and the trachea. David Wolfe, author of The Sunfood Diet Success System, calls silicon “the yoga mineral”. It helps maintain flexibility and elasticity of tissue. As there are many types of silicon supplement, from tablet to colloidal form, take as directed on the label. 

Maca
Maca is a rainforest herb of the potato family. It is an important food in the diet of native Peruvians. Maca is rich in amino acids and high in protein, vitamins and phyto-nutrients. It contains eight minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc. Maca has been shown to increase endurance, mental clarity and fertility. It reduces mental and physical stress and balances hormonal irregularities. It is an important food for those with anaemia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mix two to three teaspoons of Maca powder in juice or water. 

Probiotics
Probiotics are another important supplement, containing beneficial gut bacteria. They greatly improve the intestinal environment, allowing for better digestion, assimilation and elimination. There are many varieties on the market. Take as directed on the label. 

Remember that supplements, as the word implies, should be used to supplement the diet. If you take supplements but make no positive dietary changes, you will probably be wasting your time and money and compromising your health. By eating with more consciousness and awareness, your mental and physical vitality will be restored and enhanced. If you make fundamental changes to your diet and restore the nutrient balance in your body, not only will you notice greater physical vitality but also new strengths of character emerging. This in turn will increase your desire and ability to fulfil your true potential.

 

Susan Famularo is a registered nurse and natural hygienist. She managed the Magic Garden Health Centre with her partner, educating people about fasting, raw foods and yoga. She has more than 15 years experience in the field of nutrition. For further information or advice phone Susan on (02) 6685 4221.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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