The Correct Yogic Diet

Many people ask what the ideal diet is for yoga practitioners. During the Kriya Yoga Course held at Satyananda Ashram, Barcelona in September 1981 Swami Satyananda Saraswati gave the following reply.

A great misunderstanding has taken place in the last 20 to 30 years regarding the diet which is most suitable for the yogic aspirants. It is believed by many practitioners that a yogi should take milk, fruit and raw vegetables. However, this is not correct and I never recommend it because of my own observations and experiences on this point. Through many trials and errors I have concluded that there are certain foods which are not meant for the human body at all. If you analyse the secretions in your digestive tract and the secretions from your gums, teeth and saliva; if you examine the strength of the mucus membranes throughout the alimentary tract, and the length of the small and large intestines, and make a comparison with other carnivorous animals, or those animals who live on fruits, you will find there is an absolute difference. The length of our intestines is proof that the human body should be fed on cooked food alone.

From time to time I have mentioned the yogic diet, however I will give some additional ideas now. The best thing is that you stay in the ashram for a few days and follow the diet that we take there. Of course, this does not include butter and fat, raw foods or even fruits. The food that yogic aspirants eat should be cooked and it must contain condiments. I don't use the word spices, I use the word condiments, because condiments contain certain items that are identical to the enzymes inside the body. For example, coriander, aniseed, black pepper, green pepper, red pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and others. All these are not spices for taste; they are condiments with properties that are the same as the enzymes inside the body.

This subject of diet definitely pertains to the higher stages of yoga. When the phenomenon of kundalini awakening is taking place in ajna and sahasrara chakras, then the digestive system undergoes a change. It is not able to digest the food properly or to create what we call hunger. So, what happens when you eat a little food is that the hydrochloric secretions and enzymes are not engaged. Therefore, whatever food you take, the best procedure is that you cook it first and add the necessary condiments.

The science of diet is an independent science, but definitely it is related to every system of yoga. The diet also differs from yoga to yoga. Here I am talking about the diet for awakening of kundalini, and consequently uniting with Shiva. I am not talking about the diet you have in hatha yoga, which is totally different, because if you practise shankhaprakshalana, and then go on eating all these red and black peppers, you are definitely going to suffer. Therefore, the diet regime for a karma yogi, a bhakti yogi, a raja yogi, hatha yogi and kriya yogi will not be the same.

A bhakti yogi's diet is very free. He can eat and eat. He can take cheese and butter, and all kinds of sweets and confectionery, because the path of bhakti yoga does not slow down the digestive processes. The same thing applies for the karma yogi. He can take everything because he is working hard all day in the guru's garden or kitchen. Whether he eats raw food or cooked food, everything will be all right, because in his case, the metabolism is fast, so he does not have to be very careful about diet.

In raja yoga, when you sit for long periods of meditation, the inner body temperature, which is responsible for digestion, comes down. A heavy diet requires a higher metabolism and body temperature for the proper functioning of the digestive process. If the practitioner of raja yoga takes to these heavier foods, in the course of time, he will suffer from dyspepsia, high blood pressure, rheumatism and coronary problems.

So when we talk about diet, let us not discuss it in terms of puritanism. We must remember only one thing in this case, whether the body is capable of digesting all the food. To digest the food you eat, you need five digestive secretions in proper balance, and you also need a specific group of enzymes. Besides this, you need the correct inner body temperature, which varies in different areas of the body.

From the mouth to the rectum there are different zones. In the small intestine a constant temperature is required for a long period of time. In the stomach you need a higher temperature for a maximum of three hours. If there is a higher temperature for longer than three to four, hours, you will develop hyperacidity and stomach ulcers. If you have a reduced temperature in the small intestine, then you will have gastric troubles. And if you have a higher temperature in the large intestine, you will have diarrhoea, dysentery or colitis.

So, these temperatures are affected by the prolonged period of meditation and sadhana, and if this is part of your daily routine, you will have to adjust your diet. Firstly, your vegetables should be properly boiled so the low temperature in the body will not disturb your digestion. Secondly, you will need to add something to the, vegetables to aid the functioning of the digestive enzymes and acids and to thereby conserve energy'.

Some foods, such as papaya, pineapple and bean sprouts, actually contain enzymes. Coriander, pepper, turmeric, aniseed, cayenne, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, oil and garlic are all called digestives because they help the process of digestion to proceed smoothly. Some allopathic medicines for indigestion are actually made out of these substances. Also, there are many herbs which aid digestion. Peppermint, alfalfa and camomile are probably the best known.

Having made a thorough study of natural foods and having tried them on myself, I have come to the conclusion that a combination of natural and macrobiotic foods is best. I have also discovered that instead of cooking the food in your stomach, it is best to cook it properly in the pan. Five or six digestives should be added to the food while it is cooking. They mix into the food and the cooking process liberates the enzymes and chemicals which aid digestion. The combination of heat, digestives and enzymes breaks down the food into smaller and more basic components, thus making it easier to digest and conserving energy.

There is a wonderful food which I have evolved myself in the course of many years, because in the ashram it is not possible to have different types of diets for everybody as we don't have that much time or money. So I have tried to evolve two simple types of food - one for those who like wheat and the other for those who like rice. It is called integrated khichari. First you cook the rice and dhal and then put all the vegetables into it. You can put anything in and it will be all right. This is the cheapest and most satisfying meal I have eaten anywhere, in any part of the world. There is nothing you can compare it with. It is best for those people who like rice. For those who prefer wheat, there is another way to prepare it using cracked wheat. This must be boiled until soft, then add the dhal and all the vegetables to that and cook it well. And when you eat this khichari, you must feel free to eat as much as you want without any fear. This is the diet for a person who is ranging high in spiritual life and is about to merge into the ultimate state.

In recent years many seekers have taken a keen interest in diet, and various systems have been analysed and tried. Correct diet is a help to the spiritual aspirant at any stage. Diet is as important as yoga. But if you are only concerned with your diet and are not practising yoga, then you are a food fanatic. So, in relation to diet, there is one important point which you must also remember. Consciousness is above diet. Whether you eat fruit, cooked or raw vegetables, cheese, butter, beef or ham, it makes no difference to the consciousness.