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Yoga Diet and Cleansing
Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp
Yoga of Cleansing the Nadis – Chapter 2
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 of meat.
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.
Basically vegetarianism 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 the depths of a pool, and 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 the body 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 highly 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 smaller degree, and in some areas, as in love and forgiveness, he is superior.
Modern vegetarianism is based largely upon the last of these reasons, and also 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 fishless) 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 to walking.
Dr. M. Beddow Bayly, in his booklet “Diet in Relation to Health and Disease,” published by the Vegetarian Society, says:
“A 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.”
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.
Unfortunately, many 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 meat. 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 book 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 wheat.)
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:
1. Promotes growth of red blood cells better than iron therapy.
2. Stimulates respiration and nitrogen metabolism of cells.
3. Improves utilisation of protein.
4. Reduces insulin requirements.
5. Improves circulation.
6. Helps heal tuberculosis.
7. Rids body of unpleasant odours.
8. Aids thyroid activity and healing of wounds.
9. Restores 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 has 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 as people.
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 drugs that powerfully influence the body and mind, or as deleterious to full health. They nned to be carefully used even if we cannot at present in give them up. Naturally the same applies to smoking.(Tea, coffee and cocoa interefere with sleep, and much inability to sleep deeply arises from their frequent and daily use.)
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. But 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 light.
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 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 their practices, usually under the direction of one who hat achieved this goat (a guru), the Yogi or Yogini aims to find release from the various factors that have hitherto controlled thm. This state is called Liberation – or, 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 etc.
This is not done by an inner process of denial of natural urges, 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, but particularly by innate hurts, habits and ideas. 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 liberation still lives within these opposites. hut is to a large extent no longer controlled by them. By this I mean that if something causes us physical, or even emotional mental pain, we stop doing it. Thus our actions are “conditioned” by pain, just as they are conditioned by numerous other factors such as fear, trying to conform or ‘fit in’ or be seen as a ’success. 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, relationship, wealth, health, that is 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 seem illogical, but only if viewed from our present narrow medical viewpoint. A viewpoint which tries to heal an individual by treating symptoms rather than systems; by only looking at the body instead of the whole person. It is 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 most 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 some salt – teaspoon to a pint – then hold the cup to the nose and sniff 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 but is 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. Sometimes people 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.
Lastly, 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 and emotions, aids in stilling the unquiet mind, and strengthens the will.
As several chapters could be devoted to this subject alone, 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 starvation.
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 needs and nature. For this reason alone, consideration of our diet physical welfare, clothing and needs, is necessary to Yoga Relaxation.