Dieting is catching up around the world. ‘To Diet’ – is more popular for better looks than for sound health. High calorie junk foods are shunned. A struggle between the palate and the desire to slim down continues.
The Yogic concept of food however, takes into consideration the total dimension of human existence. Yoga believes, apart from the atoms and molecules of which our gross physical body is made, we possess prana, mind, intellect, emotions and the spiritual dimensions. Yoga is the process by which we bring an integration of the entire personality at all these levels. If the stamina of the body is to be developed, the prana should be brought to a harmonious balance, the mind should be calmed down, the emotion should be stabilized and the intellect should be under total control.
A ‘Balanced Diet’, therefore, according to Yoga, is that diet which restores balance at all levels. Only such diet could aid in a holistic way of living and development of personality!
Tamasika food – Those food which are ‘dead’, partially spoiled, which have lost their essence, which have been processed a great deal, which have been preserved in some way having no spark of life about them, or which lack the vitality of food, are Tamasika. These food may add ‘matter’ to the physical body, may nourish the grossest aspect of the body but they create a feeling of heaviness.
Eating Tamasika food makes one lethargic. One may vacillate between an irritating restlessness and a tendency to fall sleep. Due to external circumstances like busy work schedule, even when a healthy person resorts to such diet; functioning gets sluggish and diseases of degeneration and accumulation of excessive toxic matter are likely to occur leading to illness like obesity, arthritis, hardening of the arteries, etc.
When food is spoiled, its chemical structure breaks down, resulting in acidity; nutrients are destroyed. Rather than being useful, they may breakdown into products which cannot be used by the body. Instead they are under circulation and act as irritants to the nervous system as well as to the other cells, tissues and organs.
Rajasika Food – Food that which stimulates the nervous system, speeds up metabolism is called Rajasika. Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, green chilies, pepper etc are examples of Rajasika foods. Rajasika food energize, but not in the sense of lending a clear balanced energy. They tend to stimulate and push the organism to increase its speed and to indulge more in physical activity, sensual pleasures and comforts. Spiced and cooked to perfection food with lots of rich sauces, tempts one to eat more and leads the attention to the savor of the food and away from the internal signals.
Such a diet, no doubt creates in an individual brilliant energies and keeps all vigorous men restlessly striving to fulfill their uncontrolled passions and desires. Hence, in their final reactions, they lead the eater towards a life of productive ‘pain, grief and disease’.
Sattvika Food is defined as:
“ayuh sattvabalarogya sukhapritivivardhanah rasyah snigdhah sthirah hrdyah aharah sattvikapriyah”
– Bhagavad Gita
It means, those food that increase the ‘life and vitality’, purity, ‘strength and stamina’, health, happiness, ‘cheerfulness and good appetite’, are termed Sattvika. These foods are savory, oleaginous, substantial and most importantly agreeable to the system.
In contrast to Rajasika foods that supply strength to just the muscles, Sattvika foods give strength from within. Sattvika food is:
- fresh, wholesome, natural, of good quality, mild in spices, neither over nor undercooked
- are experienced as lending a calm alertness
- which augment joy and inner cheerfulness and
- Shape a state of quiet energy
Such food is believed to nourish the consciousness. They add vitality to the total system by bringing a perfect, harmonious balance of energy state. They don’t pull energy from the body; they rather give the body lightness, alertness, energy and create clear consciousness.