Where there is food, a mouth will appear, and where there is a mouth, food will appear. Everything is somebody’s lunch.
Sound horrific––like the bad storyline from a grade B movie? As unappetizing as this idea might seem, it is in fact a very real and amazingly efficient phenomenon. Every life form on Earth survives and flourishes by consuming another portion of the world and making that food part of itself. Consider the corn plant that consumes the Earth’s water and minerals and the sun’s energy. When the corn is harvested and processed into corn flakes, the cereal is eaten by human beings and transformed into thoughts, words and actions.
Every time you eat you take for granted that the raw materials of the Earth and the energy of the sun have been reliably transformed into the carbohydrates, fats and proteins your body and brain need to function. You accept without question that the calories (energy) you consume will become the physical body you inhabit and will give that body the strength it needs to act.
The human body (anamaya kosha) is comprised of food and water. Therefore, we are redefining ourselves every time we choose which specific piece of the outside world we will bite off, swallow and make part of ourselves. In fact, the philosophy we bring to this intimate experience and our attitude toward the entire miraculous process reflect our ideas about every other relationship. So, is it any wonder then that changing eating habits is so challenging? It’s really no different from changing the personality.
If maintaining a well balanced diet were solely a matter of making good choices about nutrition, you would be a much healthier person than you are today. In practical terms, however, your eating habits are directly linked to powerful emotional forces that seek security and tie you to your family––the people with whom you regularly eat. Imagine that after reading a few inspiring health articles, you told your closest friends or relatives that you’re no longer going to eat what your family normally eats. You’re going to become a vegetarian. You will eat no flesh: no poultry, pork, beef or fish. You can imagine how disturbed others would be. “Are you no longer part of our group?” they’d wonder. “Are you rejecting our values and us? Are we not worthy of your identification anymore?” When you break with a group norm, your actions can be psychologically threatening to others, and their reactions can consciously or unconsciously pressure you to abandon your worthwhile intentions.
Through grace, this quandary logically brings you to Yoga––the science that re-engineers the personality and provides you a nurturing framework for positive change. The Yoga of Eating helps you to examine all your desires and the attachments of the senses by encouraging you to make conscious, discriminating choices concerning what, when and under which circumstances you eat. Only when your choices reflect the discriminative faculty of buddhi will your food nourish and strengthen the body, mind and spirit to the fullest extent possible.
In Yoga Science, the motivation to change the eating habits of a lifetime is provided by a new, profound understanding of who you are. By meditating every day, you access a super-conscious wisdom that awakens you to the realization that you are actually a citizen of two worlds. You are a mortal citizen of the material world of change, and an immortal citizen of the subtle, changeless world of consciousness and spirit. Your acceptance of dual citizenship makes it possible for you to view the body-mind-sense-complex as a transitory vehicle of action that houses your true Eternal Self. When you contemplate and incorporate this Truth into all your relationships, the act of eating becomes a sacrament––an appropriate, visible offering that leads to unbounded happiness.
When the Yoga of Eating becomes an integral part of your philosophy of life, the rock upon which you stand in this world, food is no longer merely “stuff” to entertain or to keep you alive. As a Yoga scientist, you recognize that food choice is one of your spiritual “fields of action” upon which you engage the world. On this particular field of action (as on all others) you are simply asked to do one thing: base your outer action on the inner intuitive wisdom of your higher Self.
From a yogic perspective, every time you face a desire for food, your consciousness is actually rendezvousing with the consequence of some previous action. The new relationship––in this case with food––provides you the perfect opportunity to diminish your personality’s limiting attachment so that the perfect wisdom of the higher Self can be employed in the world. In effect, your food choice becomes an offering to your higher Self. At the last supper Jesus, speaking as the Christ, echoes this consciousness when He offers a prayer over a piece of bread, saying in part, “This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In Christian as well as in yogic terms, food––like every other aspect of the manifest world––is considered to be the “body of Christ.” Food is a manifestation of the One Supreme Reality that is intended for your well being. If the buddhi (conscience or Holy Spirit) advises that a particular food is a shreya (the choice leading to perennial joy), consume the food as an offering. If the buddhi indicates the desired food is a preya (a choice merely serving an ego or sense gratification) you are to sacrifice the desire as an offering. Either way, your skillful action will lead you for your highest and greatest good.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna––representing the wisdom of our higher Self––teaches that “When you let your mind heed the siren call of the senses, they carry away your better judgment as a typhoon drives a boat off the charted course to its doom. Therefore, use all your will power to set the senses free from both attachment and aversion alike, and live in the full wisdom of the Self.” These verses provide a perceptive description of the disaster that awaits anyone who mindlessly remains enslaved to the charms, attractions and temptations of the senses. Krishna then advises us to train the senses by turning them into loyal servants of our higher Self. This is known in Yoga Science as the practice of pratyahara.
By allowing the advertising media to control your palate, you ensure yourself an undisciplined mind and an unhealthy body. Mahatma Gandhi observed that by controlling the palate you immeasurably strengthen the mind, and therefore experience a sense of physical, mental and emotional well being.
When you practice the Yoga of Eating, you increasingly understand that Yoga’s highest precept, ahimsa (non-injury, non-harming, non-violence), requires that you not ingest foods that injure your body or cause unnecessary harm to the world. As you contemplate the profound and far-reaching nature of ahimsa, you naturally examine all aspects of your life: your desires, your behavior and your emotional attachments. Ask, “Are my food desires injurious in any way? Can the medical principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and alkaline therapy make my body and mind more vital and creative?”
Desires for certain foods (even for a Big Mac) in and of themselves, are not bad. Like gasoline in a combustion engine, desire is the fuel for action. Desire is what motivates you to eat, and eating assures the continuation of your life and the entire human species. But not every desire, including desires for certain foods, will help you experience unbounded happiness. Such happiness occurs only when your choices serve the Divine wisdom reflected by a purified buddhi.
While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta report that 53 percent of illness is attributable to lifestyle choices, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop pegs the actual figure at 70 percent. Volumes of medical studies confirm that a vegetarian, Ayurvedically balanced and alkaline rich diet––rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, quinoa and legumes––is your best bet for living a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life. At the same time, you’re doing the planet a huge favor by helping to preserve natural resources and cutting down on pollution
generated by excessive animal agriculture.
While there are literally hundreds of great reasons
to practice the Yoga of Eating, here are my personal Top 10.
10 Great Reasons to Practice the Yoga of Eating
1. You’ll live a lot longer. Vegetarians live about 7 years longer, and vegans (who eat no dairy products) about 15 years longer than flesh eaters, according to a study from Loma Linda University. The China Health Project found that Chinese people who eat low levels of fat and animal products have low risks of cancer, heart attack and other chronic degenerative diseases.
2. You’ll save your heart. Cardiovascular disease is largely due to the standard American diet laden with saturated fat and cholesterol from flesh and dairy. Heart disease is found in one in nine women aged 45 to 64 and in one in three women over 65. Today, an American male eating a flesh-based diet has a 50 percent chance of dying from heart disease. His risk drops to 15 percent if he cuts out flesh; it goes to 4 percent if he cuts out flesh, dairy and eggs.
3. You’ll save money. MSNmoney.com claims you’ll save an estimated $4,000 annually when you replace a diet of flesh (chicken, poultry, pork and fish) with fruits, vegetables, legumes, quinoa and rice.
4. You’ll reduce your risk of cancer. The National Cancer Institute says that women who eat red meat every day are nearly four times more likely to get breast cancer than those who don’t. By contrast, women who consume at least one serving of vegetables a day reduce their risk of breast cancer by 20-30 percent. Studies have also found that a plant-based, alkalizing diet protects against prostate, colon and skin cancers.
5. You’ll lose weight. On average, individuals who incorporate vegetarian, alkalizing and Ayurvedically prudent foods to their diet are slimmer than flesh eaters, keep the weight off up to seven years longer and are less likely to fall victim to weight-related disorders like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
6. You’ll give your body a spring cleaning. Giving up flesh and acid-forming foods helps purge the body of toxins (pesticides, environmental pollutants, preservatives) that overload our systems and cause illness.
7. You’ll help reduce waste and air pollution. Circle 4 Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. And this is just one farm. According to the U.N., livestock raised for human consumption is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide––more than all the combined planes, trains and automobiles on the planet.
8. Your bones will last longer. Sugar and animal proteins (from flesh and milk) make the blood acidic. To neutralize this condition, the body steals calcium from the bones––contributing to osteoporosis. The average bone loss for a vegetarian woman at age 65 is 18 percent––less than half that of non-vegetarian women. Instead of milk as a source for calcium, vegetarians turn to legumes and dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
9. You’ll be more “regular.” Eating fruits and vegetables means consuming fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Flesh contains no fiber. Studies done at Harvard and Brigham Women’s Hospital found that people who ate a high-fiber diet had a 42 percent lower risk of diverticulitis, and have fewer incidences of constipation, hemorrhoids and spastic colon.
10. Your meals will taste delicious. Vegetables are endlessly interesting to cook and a joy to eat. When preparing meals, think of yourself as an artist and the food as your palette, and create a masterpiece of flavors, colors, textures and tastes. Everyone will enjoy and benefit.
Painting credit: “Nature’s Goodness” by Jenness Cortez Perlmutter ©1997