How to eat like a Yogi

This article presents some psychological observations on food consumption from the perspective of a practitioner of Integral Yoga. If you are looking for guidance on nutritional aspects, there are other pages on the web which may provide that information.

Our consciousness is locked up in habits (repeating thoughts, desires, impulses, food habits, etc) and has created this complex personality we call “ME”. Part of the process of Yoga is to break those habits and unlock the energy so it can be redeployed to go inward. This is traditionally referred to the practice of detachment whereby one learns to separate Purusha (Being or Spirit) and Prakriti (Becoming or Energy).

One of the habits which must be broken is the desire to consume without control.   Overeating can be said to be a deformation of the desire for love. We want to be full and happy but unfortunately, we keep filling ourselves with food and end up contracting all kinds of diseases. The desire for love gets deformed into the desire for satiety. The true way to be happy is to fill ourselves with Divine Bliss but in order to do that one must first gain control over, among other things, the desire to consume recklessly.

From a psychological perspective, one may identify three ways of eating:

  • Way of the Glutton: This is where the person fully expresses his/her desire and indulges in food whenever and wherever possible.
  • Way of the Epicure: The person reforms the desire for food and begins to consume it as an art form. A great deal of effort is expended into distinguishing between various cuisines and what is good for the palate, etc.  This may be fine in itself but it is not the path of the Yogi.
  • Way of the Ascetic: The ascetic suppresses desire for food and rejects flavour and taste as part of a harsh disciple. This just defers the actual problem because the rejected desires remain repressed in the subconscient and emerge later in moments of unconsciousness.

Sri Aurobindo & the Mother advised another way of food consumption which is neither of the above; it may be called the Way of Equality (Samata) where one eats consciously without surrendering or repressing the desire for food.  This is aligned with the dictum of the Gita 6:16 (“naty-asnatas ’tu yogo ’sti na caikantam anasnatah na cati-svapna-silasya jagrato naiva carjuna” One who eats or sleeps too much or too little cannot become a Yogi).

In this method, one recognizes that food is necessary only for nourishment but not for indulgence. One does not admit to a rigid system rules regarding food consumption (i.e. eat only carrots or legumes, and so on) but tries to follow a system of psychological observation to separate and liberate the desire for food from the act of eating. Why are rigid rules not needed? Because the practice of Integral Yoga leads to a greater consciousness (AKA change of consciousness) so at each stage, one must discard old principles and adopt new ones which are consistent with the changed consciousness.

These are some of my practical observations on how to gain greater consciousness over the act of eating:

  1. Eat alone : Eating with a bunch of people immerses you into the herd mentality, where you become unconscious, start talking and lose awareness of what is being eaten.
  2. Eat in silence : This increases consciousness of the various parts of our body (throat, stomach, tongue) while are we consuming food. Consequently, one is able to stop eating at the right point.
  3. Reject food which is hot, spicy, pungent food (Rajasic): This provides temporary stimulation of the senses, heats the blood as well as the mind but is not conducive to Yoga because it decreases calmness and enervates the inner mind.
  4. Reject food which is stale, rotten or ill-cooked (Tamasic): This includes soft drinks, street food and fast food.   It provides temporary relaxation to the senses but degrades the functioning of the mind.
  5. Eat food which is easy to digest : One must observe and consume only the foods that are easy to digest; the actual selection may differ based on the  individual constitution.  One must determine which food brings energy and which food depletes energy.  If we feel heavy after eating and lose energy in digestion, then we have no alertness left for contemplation.
  6. Eat a little less: This creates more energy, alertness and consciousness within the body and helps meditation.
  7. Eat only when you are hungry and not just because it is lunchtime: This is necessary because in Yoga, the habits which we have nursed since birth have to be broken. We must start living more by the Light from Above and less by reason and even much less by impulse or habit.
  8. Abandon the notion of favorite food: Learn to eat everything with equality. In terms of consciousness, a favorite food is equivalent to a habit recorded in the subconscient.  All such habits have to be ultimately discarded.
  9. Avoid fasting : This increases strain on the nervous system and works against the practice of Yoga, which requires a robust physical body that can retain the power and light which inundates the body during meditation. The need for food begins to decrease at later stages of Yogic life as explained here — Man does not live by bread alone
  10. Avoid snacking/noshing : This is again an unconscious act where the mind is inattentive to the quality and quantity of food being consumed.  Snacking must be avoided because goal of Yoga is to do all activities consciously and therefore, all such unconscious actions must be discarded.
  11. If you are hungry, do not eat immediately: Learn to enforce a time gap between the impulse to eat and the corresponding act of eating. This leads to an awareness of the pangs of hunger which ripple through the body at eating time. One should observe that hunger triggers multiple reactions within the being:
    1. The mouth begins to salivate as it awaits food.
    2. The stomach muscles start to contract and demand action.
    3. The face and the throat may strain in anticipation.
    4. The body begins to feel a little weak and starts to sweat.

Watch yourself when this happens without succumbing to the desire to eat!  Gradually, try to extend this time gap from a few minutes to (say) half-an-hour until you have gained complete consciousness over the impulse to eat. It is these little battles of detachment which must be won before one can proclaim a complete victory and regain full self-control over eating.

In later stages of Yogic development, one observes few more things:

  1. The teeth have a mechanical habit of gnashing when food is denied. This is because the muscles in the face have been habituated to the specific movement of eating since childhood.
  2. As one grows in consciousness, one perceives that the food is imbued with the vibrations of the cook. Food which felt tasty or spicy before suddenly begins to smells bad if the person who cooked the food is not spiritual in nature.

Bon appetit!

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35 thoughts on “How to eat like a Yogi

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  6. SS Lahiri

    You become what you eat — is a famous saying. Yogi Sri Krishnaprem( had visited Sri Aurobindo and was a friend of Dilip kr Roy) used to cook his own food in his Almora ashram.

    Reply
  7. ipi

    Raw and Honest
    http://www.aurovilleradio.org/health/diet-a-nutrition/1122-raw-and-honest

    Would you like to save money, eat less, feel better, and help the environment all at once? A new revolution in eating, the raw food diet may lead you to do all of this and more. This edition of Towards Sustainability will delve into inner as well as outer sustainability. Are you familiar with Prana: the life force? According to Anandi, Prana is most available to humans in raw food. Listen to the following interview with Anandi from KOFPU to learn more about the benefits of raw food, her personal journey, and upcoming workshops so you can learn to cook and eat raw as well. “You are what you

    Inspiration:
    But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.

    Raw food (Life Food):
    1.Uplifted mind,energy increased,ego,anger,desire reduced with eating raw food.
    2.When you meditate you protect yourself from the surrounding reactions.
    3.Food should be colorful to eat.
    4.Vegetables,fruits,seeds,nuts govern the raw fruit.
    5.Vegetables come with enzymes.

    Cooking:
    1.Sugar content increases by cooking.
    2.Cooked food make enzymes depletion leading to different health issues.

    http://www.aurovilleradio.org/health/diet-a-nutrition/1901-ten-minutes-with-anandi

    (Sandeep: For more on Anandi Vaithialingam’s work, see
    No fireworks at Anandi’s kitchen – Deccan Chronicle Article
    Kottakarai Organic Food Processing Unit
    AuroAnnam)

    Reply
  8. Pingback: How can Sri Aurobindo smoke and drink while practising Yoga? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  9. Sandeep Post author

    Eat alone : Eating with a bunch of people immerses you into the herd mentality, where you becomes unconscious, start talking and loses awareness of what is being eaten.

    Eating with a bunch of people can increase vital/social bonding but it is detrimental to the development of our spiritual consciousness. Two new studies confirm the observation in this article that it is best to eat alone!

    From Time Magazine “How People-Pleasing May Lead to Overeating”

    A new study by Case Western Reserve University researchers shows that people-pleasers tend to overeat in social settings in an effort to make other people feel more comfortable. They feel pressure to eat, whether they’re hungry or not, in order to match what people around them are eating. Problem is, they tend regret their choices later. “It doesn’t feel good to give into social pressures,” said Julie Exline, a Case Western Reserve psychologist and lead author of the study, in a statement.

    […]

    In a separate paper appearing online in PLoS ONE, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands explored the effects of social eating in a different situation. They observed 70 pairs of women dining together in a lab set up to look like a restaurant. The researchers watched the women from a separate room, through a hidden camera, and recorded how many bites of food each participant took — and, importantly, when.

    The researchers found that the women tended to mimic each other’s eating behavior — taking bites when their dining partner took a bite. This mimicry was three times more likely to happen at the beginning of the 20-minute meal than at the end, possibly because the women, who were strangers, were trying harder to make a good impression at the outset, the researchers surmise.

    Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/02/how-people-pleasing-leads-to-overeating

    Also see the Scientific American article “synchronized Eating: Social Influences on Eating Behavior”

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2012/02/01/synchronized-eating-social-influences-on-eating-behavior/

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      Cognitive Roots of Binge Eating

      Eating disorders are not just about food. That much has been clear for decades, but researchers are still working to untangle the complex psychological, cultural and physiological roots of afflictions such as binge-eating disorder (BED) and bulimia. Now a growing body of work is finding that disordered eating is connected to attention deficits and poor self-awareness.

      Read more @
      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-cognitive-roots-of-binge-eating

      Reply
  10. Sandeep Post author

    Another weakness that one must surmount is eating when depressed – i.e. “comfort food”

    See this article “Chicken Soup for the Lonely Soul: Why Comfort Food Works”

    It’s no secret that people often consume comfort food when they experience negative emotions, as an attempt to create within themselves a more positive emotional state. In a paper recently published in the journal Psychological Science, psychologists Jordan D. Troisi and Shira Gabriel proposed that “comfort food derives its appeal from cognitive associations with relationships and that the comfort of comfort food can be understood by examining its effects on loneliness.”

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/2011/11/24/comfort-food/

    Reply
  11. Sandeep Post author

    Mindful Eating as Food for Thought from the New York Times

    Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

    Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.

    The concept has roots in Buddhist teachings. Just as there are forms of meditation that involve sitting, breathing, standing and walking, many Buddhist teachers encourage their students to meditate with food, expanding consciousness by paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each morsel. In one common exercise, a student is given three raisins, or a tangerine, to spend 10 or 20 minutes gazing at, musing on, holding and patiently masticating.

    for the full article, see
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/08/dining/mindful-eating-as-food-for-thought.html

    Reply
  12. Sandeep Post author

    Offering Food to the Divine

    In most religious traditions, people say a brief prayer and offer food to the Divine. The Mother explains the value behind this tradition in this short excerpt:

    ….as long as our body is compelled to take in foreign matter in order to subsist, it will absorb at the same time a considerable amount of inert and unconscious forces or those having a rather undesirable consciousness, and this alchemy must take place inside the body. We were speaking of the kinds of consciousness absorbed with food, but there is also the inconscience that’s absorbed with food—quite a deal of it. And that is why in many yogas there was the advice to offer to the Divine what one was going to eat before eating it (Mother makes a gesture of offering, hands joined, palms open). It consists in calling the Divine down into the food before eating it. One offers it to Him—that is, one puts it in contact with the Divine, so that it may be under the divine influence when one eats it. It is very useful, it is very good. If one knows how to do it, it is very useful, it considerably reduces the work of inner transformation which has to be done.

    The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 7 July 1954

    Reply
  13. Sandeep Post author

    On one hand, you have people who live by the dictum “variety is the spice of life” and eagerly rush to a different restaurant to eat every day; On the other hand, you have people who always want to eat the same food that they ate since childhood. The first tendency is rajasic and the second is tamasic. One has to overcome both these weaknesses.

    In this passage, the Mother elucidates on the second weakness:

    And then, finally, habits!… There is a charming phrase here —I appreciated it fully—in which Sri Aurobindo is asked, “What is meant by ‘the physical adhering to its own habits’?” What are the habits which the physical must throw off? It is this terrible, frightful preference for the food you were used to when you were very young, the food you ate in the country where you were born and about which you feel when you no longer get it that you have not anything at all to eat, that you are miserable.

    I don’t know, I believe there won’t be a dozen people here who have come to the Ashram and eaten the food of the Ashram without saying, “Oh! I am not used to this food. It is very difficult.” And how many, how many hundreds of people who prepare their own food because they cannot eat the food of the Ashram! (Mother slams the book down on the stool.) And then, they justify this! So it is here that these ideas begin to come, and they say, “My health! I can’t digest well!” All this is only in their head. There is not a word of truth in it. NOT ONE WORD OF TRUTH. It is a perpetual lie in which everybody lives, and in this matter, indeed, I may tell you what I think, you have not advanced any farther than the mass of human beings.

    I make an exception for the very, very, very rare ones who are not like that. They could be counted on one’s fingers. And all, all justify this, all, all—“Oh, my poor children! They are not used to eating this food. How shall we manage? They will die because of this change of food!” Well, I, indeed, can give a remedy for that. You take a boat, take a train and go round the
    world several times, you are obliged to eat in each country the food of that country, and after you have done this several times, you will understand your stupidity… It is a stupidity. A frightful
    tamas(dullness). One is tied up there like this (Mother makes a movement with her hands) to one’s gastric habits.

    The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 9 June 1954

    Reply
  14. Pingback: Dharana Shakti : the capacity to sustain spiritual experiences | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  15. mike

    “I don’t know, I believe there won’t be a dozen people here who have come to the Ashram and eaten the food of the Ashram without saying, “Oh! I am not used to this food. It is very difficult.” And how many, how many hundreds of people who prepare their own food because they cannot eat the food of the Ashram! ”

    l’ve only ever visited the ashram once in my life [from UK]. l travelled lndia and even went to sathya sai baba’s ashram and a sikh one in Delhi. l can tell you the food at SA’s ashram had a totally different quality to it. That was the best meal l had in lndia.

    Reply
  16. Pingback: A contemplation exercise before going to sleep | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

  17. Sandeep Post author

    From the New York Times

    The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

    What I found over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.

    read the full article @
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/magazine/the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food.html

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      from the article…

      The military has long been in a peculiar bind when it comes to food: how to get soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. They know that over time, soldiers would gradually find their meals-ready-to-eat so boring that they would toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. But what was causing this M.R.E.-fatigue was a mystery. “So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring,” Moskowitz said. The answers he got were inconsistent. “They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough.”

      This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

      Reply
  18. Vanaheim

    What about allergies people can have to food ? Did SA or the Mother mentionned things on this topic ?
    I myseft have allergies to sea food and some fruits like bananas, kiwi, nuts.
    This has been proved by blood analysis and for exemple when I eat kiwi or nuts, I have headhaches or mouth ulcer. It is possible that the immune system and the cells begin to change with integral yoga.
    I believe allergies crisis can threaten life.
    I’ve read some things too on intolerance which is a bit different from allergies. People from a culture for example can be intolerant to the aliments and food from another culture which can manifests with tiredness, headaches, inflammation or mouth ulcers.
    This is quite restrictive but I don’t know what to think about it ?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      I don’t recall Sri Aurobindo or the Mother discussing allergies anywhere. These may be disorders of the vital being.

      Reply
  19. mike

    Perhaps this can help:
    “Illness and Corresponding Psychological Factors

    Since man is not just a body but a being with thoughts and emotions, it is quite possible that his illnesses and physical disorders have a psychological origin also. In other words, we cannot look at his illness as purely physical but look for emotional factors behind these illnesses also. Here I intend to give psychological factors that are normally associated with physical disorders

    Illness — Psychological cause:

    1. Hypertension — A tense and anxious personality.

    2. Tuberculosis — Emotional depression

    3. Cancer — Vital depression

    4. Migraine — Excessively meticulous personality

    5. Stomach ulcer — Too much worry

    6. Poor appetite — A cheerless and dejected mood

    7. Skin disease like Psoriasis — Persistent irritation

    8. Diabetes — Insecurity and fear of future

    9. Digestive disorders like loose motions — Insecurity and fear in the vital

    10. Joint disorders like knee pain — Suppressed irritation

    11. Asthma and other allergies — Lack of enough vital energy to sustain normal life

    12. Chest pain like angina pectoris — Tight unyielding and inflexible personality.

    13. Infertility — Deep seated fear of having children

    Whatever be the nature of the illness, mother’s peace descending into oneself gives quick and lasting relief to the affected devotee. Visualising peace flowing from Mother’s hand as She blesses the devotee should give a good relief. Let us say a devotee has severe joint pain. He imagines that Mother is blessing him by putting her hand over his head. If he imagines peace flowing from Her hand and descending through his body and reaching his affected knees, then that would give some relief. Imagining one’s body to be filled with Light can also have very good curative effect. For example a person with chest pain (angina pectoris) can imagine that his heart vessels are full of Mother’s light and that they are widening his arteries also. If his imagination is real, then the spiritual light will widen his arteries and reduce the pain just like the drug digitalis reduces the pain by widening the patient’s arteries. Those with ulcer can visualize peace reaching down to their stomachs. As antacids reduce acidity, the peace will also reduce acid production and help restore the stomach lining. Women who have trouble conceiving, can imagine receiving a new –born baby (boy or girl as their choice) as a gift from Mother which they accept happily.”

    Reply
  20. mike

    There is an mention of these illnesses [allergies etc] in Satprem’s book ‘The Adventure of Consciousness’, but it is Satprem saying it l believe.

    http://www.motherandsriaurobindo.org/Content.aspx?ContentURL=_staticcontent%2fsriaurobindoashram%2f-09+e-library%2f-03+disciples%2fsatprem%2fthe+adventure+of+consciousness%2f-11_independence+from+the+physical.htm

    “There are two other categories of illness that need mentioning, which are not directly related to any fault of ours: those that result from subconscious resistance (we will discuss them later with the purification of the subconscient) and those that may be called “yogic illnesses,” which result from an uneven development between the higher levels of consciousness and our physical consciousness. For instance, our mental or vital consciousness may widen considerably and receive new intensities, while our physical consciousness still lags behind in old vibratory movements and cannot withstand this increased intensity. This leads to a loss of equilibrium that may bring on illnesses, not through the intrusion of any outer agent, microbe or virus, but through a disruption in the normal relationship among the inner parts of our being; such illnesses may include ALLERGIES, colloidal disorders of the blood, and nervous and mental disorders. Here we are touching the problem of matter’s receptivity to the higher forces of consciousness, one of the major problems of the supramental yoga. This is also one of the reasons why Sri Aurobindo and Mother insist so much on the development of our physical body; without it, we may be able to go into ecstasy and soar straight into the Absolute, but we are unable to bring the intensity and plenitude of the Spirit down to our “lower” kingdom–the mental, vital, and material realm–in order to create a divine life there.”

    Reply
    1. gopal

      Thanks MIke, especially the Link to the adventure of consciousness.Mother had high regard for that book… said she could see Aurobindo was with Satprem, when he wrote that book. After reading that all these become an occasion for the inner Hunt to these outer malaises in the body. Learnt something about the real INDEPENDENCE and individuality.

      Reply
  21. NAshwin

    //Overeating can be said to be a deformation of the desire for love.
    //The desire for love gets deformed into the desire for satiety.
    Brother Sandeep,I am surprised to read this.Can you explain how?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      This is something you can discover once you learn to exercise control over food intake. You will observe that people eat even they are not hungry because they feel emotionally empty inside.

      This remark was based on the Mother’s insight. She had said:

      It has been said that the tiger’s need for devouring is one of the first expressions of love in the world. I think that long before the tiger, there must have been primitive creatures in the depths of the sea, which had only this one function: a stomach. They existed only as stomachs. And so they swallowed – that was their one occupation. Evidently that was one of the first results of the Power of Love infiltrating into Matter, for before this there was nothing: there was perfect inconscience, complete immobility, nothing stirred. With Love movement began: the awakening of consciousness and the movement of transformations. Well, the first forms, it may be said, were the first expression of Love in Matter. So we can go from the need of swallowing which is the only consciousness – a need of swallowing, of uniting – right up to… Excuse me, we say that Love is the power of the world – it is a primitive way of uniting with things, but it is a very direct way: one swallows and absorbs the thing; well, the tiger indeed takes a great joy in it. So there is a joy already, it is already quite a high form of love. You may go higher and end up with one of the highest expressions of love in human beings: the total self-giving to what is loved, that is, to die for one’s country or to give one’s life to defend somebody, and things like that. That indeed is already… fairly high. It is still mixed with some mud. It is not the highest form but it is already something. And you see all the steps, don’t you? Well, from this one has still to climb a good deal to reach the true expression, to reach what I have described, which is at the summit of the ascent – I would not like to travesty my own words (Mother takes her copy of “The Four Austerities” and reads):

      The Mother, Questions and Answers (1954): 14 April 1954

      Reply
  22. mw

    “I have said that your consciousness has come down into direct contact with the external physical nature which is always full of the lower movements and when that happens you see them as they are, when they are not under the control of the mind and psychic. Everybody has to come into this direct contact — otherwise there can be no transformation of this part of the being.”

    Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga – III: Transformation of the Physical – I

    Reply

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