Yoga Diet and cleansing
As with any discipline,
from horse riding to drama, certain practices are recommended. Over the
centuries, the great masters of Yoga have agreed on certain points. Being
human, there are many things that they have not agreed on, but seldom is
this so on two aspects of diet, these being the amount eaten, and the question
It seems unnecessary
to argue the question of overeating. Everybody who has eaten too heartily
can remember from their own experience the results. Lethargy, a bloated
feeling, pain, sickness, are all evident at times. While inwardly, if the
practice is habitual, the most obvious results are an enlargement of the
stomach, displacement of large and small intestines and formation of excessive
fat, with their attendant health threats.
Our awareness, or consciousness
of ourselves, and our expression of personality, depend upon the interactions
and functioning of each cell in the body, and of the various physical organs
and systems. What we call 'I' or 'me' is the result of all the subtle interactions
of our being. It is obvious also that if these interactions are impaired
in many ways the outer expression of ourselves, the "realisation" of "I",
is also impaired. Digestion takes an enormous amount of energy. If our
body has to process more food than it needs, it is placing undue strain
upon the system. Eating moderately is one of the principles accepted by
most teachers and another is to avoid eating meat. It must be realised
however, that most of the masters of Yoga have not been very interested
in gaining converts to their way of life. They were content to merely live
it themselves and help only those who asked, so these principles must he
read with this in mind.
Vegetarianism is one
of the principles inherent in the lives and teachings of nearly all the
masters, I refer often to the "Masters of Yoga" as there is no organisation,
body, or religious sect in Yoga. There are only the teachings and lives
of those individuals who have wrestled with life and themselves, and have
gained insight. Collectively their teachings are called Yoga philosophy
and constitute the acknowledged practices.
is recommended because through their own experience, the masters found
that meat "stimulates", or rather "irritates", the human system. They point
out that the meat eating nations are the most aggressive, and as they arc
seeking to explore the deepest levels of their own nature and mind, they
wish to avoid too much physical stimulation. This is rather like trying
to look into a pool it is easier if the wind does not cause ripples to
disturb the surface. The deeps are always there, undisturbed by the ripples,
hut cannot he seen unless the surface is as a mirror.
Another reason for
vegetarianism is that some Yoga practices aim at cleansing the system,
and gradually bringing one's being to a peak of efficiency and sensitivity.
Taking the analogy of the pool again, even if we managed to calm the surface,
we could not see into the deep if mud and dirt were suspended in the water.
The Yoga doctrines state that in the normal human body, even if healthy,
an enormous amount of cleansing needs to take place if the person is to
realise to any great degree their innate possibilities. In eating meat
we are taking into our bodies Many of the toxins and waste products the
Yogi is attempting to cleanse from his system.
A third reason is that
many Yogis have come to realise a oneness with all creation and prefer
not to take the lives of sentient creatures to use as food. It is impossible
for an observant human being not to see in the face and eyes of any animal
a kinship with themselves. My dog, who lies asleep near me as I write,
does not have the same amount of self-realisation or expression as I, but
if l watch his movements, expressions, his eyes, I cannot help but see
he is as I am, in a small degree.
is based largely upon the last of these reasons, and alto upon health considerations.
Mr. Ronald Lightowler, Secretary of the London Vegetarian Society, kindly
gave me much information on the subject from which I summarise these further
points in favour of vegetarianism. Where dairy products are eaten, all
known vitamins, minerals and sufficient fats, carbohydrates and protein
are obtained in a meatless (and fishiest) diet. Rheumatism, arthritis,
neuritis, migraine, fibrositis, cancer and arterio-sclerosis are conditions
lessened or cured by vegetarianism. My own wife suffered badly from rheumatism
until living on a meatless diet. Having worked at Tyringham Nature Cure
Clinic, where a strict vegetarian and food reform diet is practised, I
have also seen those with arthritis, cancer, sclerosis, and other serious
illnesses, respond to treatment.
Dr. Ernest Tipper,
who studied the absence of cancer in non-meat-eating African tribes, ascribes
the two greatest cancer causes as meat eating and constipation. Dr. Hindhede,
Director of the State Nutrition Laboratory in Copenhagen, also says, "Cancer
of the digestive tube occurs very rarely among uncivilised people who live
on a mild vegetarian fare." Nor does one become "weak" when not eating
meat. There are many vegetarian athletic record holders, from weight-lifting
Dr. M. Beddow Bayly,
in his booklet "Diet in Relation to Health and Disease," published
by the Vegetarian Society, says:
There are also interesting
American findings on the healing of wounds after operations. Frequently,
when operation wounds proved troublesome or slow in healing, a strict vegetarian
diet (i.e. no meat, fish or dairy products) brought about remarkable changes.
So vegetarianism, ancient or modern, is not without definite physical benefits.
Whether one practises Yoga for physical or spiritual goals, vegetarianism
is desirable, though not obligatory.
remarkable fact which was emphasised some years ago by a prominent bacteriologist,
is that whereas in the new-born child the contents of the lower bowl are
acid in reaction, the addition of meat to the diet later on results in
their becoming alkaline and hence prone to putrefactive changes, the products
of which, aided by constipation, are absorbed by the body and give rise
to all kinds of chronic inflammation of the tissues, such as arthritis
and neuritis. Also no article of diet putrefies so readily, or gives rise
to such noxious products when ingested, as do the corpses of animals."
people feel that by simply not eating meat they are thereby eating a correct
"Yoga diet." Since supplying food to the public has become an industry,
it is difficult to have a correct Yoga diet by simply not eating mess.
For one thing constipation, in part caused by over-refined foods, is one
of the most basic causes of ill health. One may not eat meat, and still
be very constipated.
The Gheranda Samhita,
an ancient classic on Hatha Yoga, gives detailed information upon what
to eat. It says "He who practises Yoga without moderation of diet, incurs
various diseases and obtains no success. A Yogi should eat rice, barley
or wheaten bread. He may eat Mudga beans, Masa beans, grain, etc. These
should be clean and free from chaff." "Pure sweet and cooling food should
he eaten to half fill the stomach, eating thus sweet juices with pleasure,
and leaving the other half of the stomach empty is called moderation."
Of course the foods
mentioned pertain largely to only one part of the world and it must be
remembered also that the food industry had not, at the time the hock was
written, begun its encroachment on national foods. The rice referred to
was unpolished, with all its vitamin content and roughage. The wheaten
and barley flours for the bread were unrefined. So much whole grain flour,
beans and vegetables would soon restore natural habits and eliminate constipation.
Today we must approximate
a Yoga diet by carefully selecting our food purchases. Generally speaking,
any book on food reform will outline an excellent diet. But in brief eat
only brown flour products. (Wholewheat bread is not brown flour bread but
a commercial mixture of white and brown. For the full grain of wheat ask
for whole sheet.)
A doctor, made an experiment
on animals and on himself, living for two weeks on only white bread and
water. Then, later, living only on whole wheat bread and water. At the
end of the fortnight on only white bread and water he was seriously ill
and the pigeons on white flour died. At the end of the fortnight on brown
flour he was perfectly healthy, and the pigeons on whole wheat lived.
Similarly, white sugar
is a poison to the system-not a food. It also uses necessary vitamins just
to digest it. The experience of many years at the Bircher-Benner clinic
also shows the folly of many present dietary policies, one of which is
the cooking of too much of our food. The clinic has found that for the
cure of many serious illnesses, and to keep the body in robust health into
old age, at least half of the daily diet should be uncooked. Another of
their principles is to start each meal with raw food, (see `Eating Your
Way to Health" by Ruth Bircher, published by Faber). The clinic maintains
that uncooked leafy green vegetables benefit health to a greater extent
than any other food and should he taken daily. Apart from other considerations,
the chlorophyll content:
Promotes growth of red blood cells better than iron therapy.
respiration and nitrogen metabolism of cells.
utilisation of protein.
body of unpleasant odours.
thyroid activity and healing of wounds.
acid-alkaline balance in body.
Even edible herbs
can be used, as long as the leaf is green.
It is interesting to
note that even carnivores such as dogs and cats, must have plenty of green
grass or substitutes, or become ill. When actually sick, cats and dogs
will eat large quantities of grass. We too can benefit from grass, dandelion
leaves, plantain, watercress, mint, chives, parsley, nettles, etc. The
Bircher-Benner clinic also found that meat is best left out of the diet.
Having seen this type
of diet make impressive and fundamental changes in people's physical appearance,
I can vouch for it, but it hat positive effects upon the personality also.
I have seen pasty-faced nervous individuals whose skin and body come alive
again, leaving them feeling quite different persons.
The meatless diet without
the other changes is sometimes only a superficial change, with little benefit
except moral. While the other changes, even with only a cutting down of
meat, will prove of enormous benefit. Tea, coffee, cocoa, soft drinks and
alcohol must at least be recognised as deleterious to full health, even
if we cannot at present in give them up. Naturally the same applies to
I realise, however,
that only those who are seeking this information will be advised, that
most could not make the change even if they wished, being ruled by their
unnatural appetites. In these cases it would lake more than eloquence to
bring changes. To sum up this section on Yoga eating practices we can put
it all into one sentence, Moderation in a vegetarian diet, and eating as
much uncooked and wholesome foods as our circumstances allow.
Moving on now to another
phase of Yoga health recommendations or practices, I must mention cleansing
methods, fasting and clothing, In attempting to explain practices that
are almost completely misunderstood by most of my contemporaries, I face
a difficult task, especially as I have not yet explained why an individual
should aim at such thorough physical disciplines, I am not even a master
of these practices myself but from what I have seen I can confidently state
that when rightly understood, these are logical outcrops of a search for
a very definite goal. (Let the later chapters explain that point further.)
In the west we are
often accustomed to thinking of a Yogi sitting on a bed of nails, torturing
his body in a variety of ways. This may leave us with the impression that
Eastern Yogis are strange, rather futile, human beings who lack proper
perspective of life, and waste their lives in unproductive though amusing
ways. A few words of explanation may help us to see these men in a different
For a start, most of
the emaciated, naked, "bed of nails" characters are either beggars or professional
entertainers, The classics of Yoga seldom if ever mention sets of torturing
the body. When asceticism is practised in Yoga it is done for very different
motives. For instance, to discipline and control the nervous system, and
thus gain understanding of the body-mind relationship. The human personality,
as I have said already, is the result of the interaction between the many
parts of our being. If we think of our "self" as being distinct from our
body, education, fears, aims, biological urges, and the mystery of life,
we misunderstand ourselves. it is only when we realise our inter-relationship
with all these that we can begin to understand who we are. Through his
practices, usually under the direction of one who hat achieved this goat
(a guru), the Yogi aims to find release from the various factors that have
hitherto controlled him. This state is called Liberation-or, a paradoxically
enough, Yoga (union).
The same aim is sought
in Buddhism, where the individual seeks to find liberation from all the
factors of human destiny. in other words, he or she seeks a state of being
in which there is freedom from fear, lust, ambition, hopelessness, individuality
This is not done by
an inner process of denial of natural urges - rather this may apply outwardly,
but rather is it done by a dropping away of the restrictions that usually
bind us. For example we are bound by our sense of being one particular
sex, by the boundary of our reasoning powers, by our prejudices and fears,
by the limitations of our senses and awareness. Because the Yogi aims at
being released from these things, the condition is sometimes called "going
beyond." That is, beyond the opposites of good and evil, awareness and
unconsciousness, love and hate, desire and desirelessness, and all the
other opposites of our condition. The one who has found to liberation still
lives within these opposites. hut is to a large extent unconditioned by
them. By this I mean that if something causes us physical, or even emotional
or mental pain, we stop doing it. Thus our actions are "conditioned" by
pain, just as they are conditioned by numerous other factors. But the "liberated"
Yogi, if he sees that a certain thing is worth doing, will do it despite
pleasure or pain. He is thus in an unconditional state - liberated.
I mention this to explain
why human beings go to such lengths. For it is easy to imagine how superior
the unconditional state is to the normal one, for one's happiness or bliss
is also unconditioned by the countless irritating factors of circumstances,
health, people, and finance, usual to us.
There are many ways
in which this state can be sought, and to some degree found. The physical
or physiological practice such as Hatha Yoga is one of these ways. These
physiological methods are based on a deep understanding of the body. Long
before Harvey demonstrated the circulation of blood, it was written about
in Eastern sacred literature. Long before we discovered the microscope
and discovered bacteria, microscopic organisms were similarly mentioned
as factors in disease. But the classical Indian approach to illness and
medical practice was much grander and more cosmic than the occidental.
One might almost call it a religious approach, but our idea of religion
is too narrow, and belittles it. Illness and health were viewed from the
viewpoint of the WHOLE person. This included one's physical, emotional,
mental and spiritual nature; one's individual and cosmic nature; one's
past, present and future; one's origins and destiny.
Hatha Yoga is based
on such a viewpoint, aiming at the "whole" being. Some of the practices
may teem illogical, but only if viewed from our present narrow medical
viewpoint. A viewpoint which tries to heal an individual by treating him
as if he were a being outside of time, space and fate. Now much better
to see a person as one who is inexorably bound up with all life.
This brings me to the
cleansing methods often used with the asanas. Under the direction of a
guru, these and the postures arc used to help the person to experience
the unconditioned state, to wipe away Karma (the results of actions built
into the body), or for the lesser purpose of improving general health,
One of the moat practical of these is that used for cleaning the nasal
passages. This is called in Sanskrit "Vyut Krama." One fills a cup with
lukewarm water, adds a pinch of salt, then holds the cup to the none and
sniffs up the water. With practice the water can be drawn into the throat
and mouth and then expelled, This cleanses any matter from the nose, and
is particularly useful if working in dusty conditions. There is another
method called "Sit Krama" in which one takes the water into one's mouth
and, holding the head low, expels it through the nose by breathing out,
This is harder to achieve butts much better, and worth perseverance for
those who suffer blocked nasal passages, catarrh, head colds, etc.
"Vamana Dhauti" is
another method also using water. Under a guru it is sometimes practised
daily to cleanse the body of phlegm, but for general use it should only
be occasionally employed when needed. It consists of drinking one or two
pints of clear water, Then, by putting the finger down the throat, vomiting
it all up again. This is excellent to use when one has accidentally eaten
something that is bad, As soon as there is discomfort in the stomach through
eating such food or drink, this method should be employed. Its results
are wonderful and immediate, except in severe food poisoning.
Other useful practices
are cleaning of the teeth; scraping the tongue clean with the fingernails;
cleansing the ears to remove wax; and gazing fixedly at a small object
without blinking. This last one greatly strengthens the eyes, and can be
used in conjunction with another one for this purpose, That it focusing
the eyes on a distant object, then quietly focus them on the point of the
nose, working the gaze backwards and forwards.
If you wish to practise
any of these methods, do not be like the fool who bails out his boat without
replacing the bung. If you are ill in some way, and continue eating dead,
unclean, unwholesome foods, you have still left the bung out. it is foolish
practising the Yoga methods while the most basic facts of diet, rest and
exercise are being overlooked. A lot of people, I know, would prefer to
suffer a peculiar cleansing method (or take pills and medicines and suffer
operations) rather than change their diet and way of life.
The other method of
cleansing, fasting, should also be practised only as a start or aid to
a new regime not as a dramatic fight against wrong living. Both at once
are too much of a strain on the body. Fasting, used correctly, can be one
of the greatest physical and psychological cleansing methods of all. It
gives the body a chance to burn up all excess tissues and toxins. it quietens
the nervous system sad emotions, aids in stilling the unquiet mind, and
strengthens the will. As several chapters could be devoted to this subject
atone, I will do no more than refer you to the writings of others. Suffice
it to say that in the German prisoner-of-war camps, prisoners who had entered
with organic illnesses were often found to be cured after their enforced
fasts though the fasts there were taken to the point of malnutrition and
Lastly, the Yogi should
try to avoid all tight, restrictive clothing that interferes with circulation
and the normal activities of the body. Lithe in body, responsive in mood,
quiet in mind, clean inwardly and outwardly, these are Yoga ideals. We
cannot be properly relaxed or content if `we are overworking, eating inadequate
foods, or living contrary to our deepest feelings. For this reason alone,
consideration of our diet physical welfare, clothing and needs, is necessary
to Yoga Relaxation.
and Relaxation", chapter 2. by Tony Crisp