It is interesting to observe people who are coming to my Yoga for Weight Loss and Detox classes regarding their understanding of diet or rather misconceptions of it.
Most common diet misconception is the one degenerating the body into nothing more than un-organic machine mechanism meant to masticate, metabolize and defecate. Let me be more precise what I actually mean by it: One morning, many years back when still living in Mysore, I had a breakfast appointment with several American friends of mine; Upon shopping all the necessary items and returning back home, a girl in the group exclaimed loudly: “Papaya, we have forgotten Papaya.” “Forget it now, we will buy it morrow”, was my replay upon which she argue: “We need Papaya, we need potassium. ”The answer left me rather baffled. I have never thought of food in terms of potassium, protein, calcium, magnesium, B12 and so goes the list. There was no reply from my site and we have walked again all the way to the shop to get that Potassium in the form of Papaya.
I have always eaten what my body craved for.
Years on, I am getting similar objections from my students when I tell them to cut down on certain types of food to Detox and loose weight faster, or get rid of certain illnesses. “No yoghurt? but I need calcium for my bones”, is the usual refrain, or similar echo of more or less half anguished, half panicked answers of people with severe digestive problems or excess of weight, or both.
What is a medicine for one person, might as well be a poison for another one-goes the old adage.
People are of various types and accordingly they digest food, or varieties of food differently.
In Yoga and Ayurveda (two interlinked practices) we don’t look what body needs in terms of vitamins and minerals only, but rather how powerful the digestive fire (Jhataragni) is for you to absorb the nutrients from the food that you eat. The digestive fire varies in strength among the people; some can literally digest stones, while others hardly anything, even if so light and innocent in its composition.
The answer to this lies in the health of the inner organs, particularly the liver. It is the liver where Jatharagni, or digestive fire dwells. Pollute the liver with all kind of toxins from smoking, alcohol, drugs, fatty and fast food, pesticides and soft drinks and you will invariably suffer the result of poor digestion, loose motions, bad breath, migraines, joint and back pains as well as emotional thug-of-war with the near and dear ones. The weakness of the liver is not solely contributed to the above mention substances; over indulgence in sexual activity, over work, mental and emotional stress due to severe circumstances and environmental pollution are the culprits too. Yes, when liver fails, the kidneys will take the charge; when they will get overworked, the strain will go to the heart-detoxify the liver and blood and you will shine forth with your health.
The body isn’t a machine that needs exactly the same amount and the same type of oil, or fuel every single day. The body is an organic entity that works according to the construct of the mind, the seasons and according to the spiritual evolution of the soul. The fuel-food for it has to be prepared accordingly. In the snow prone countries the winter gear on cars changes too; similarly the fuel for our bodies will change as well. What can be eaten during the summer is definitely not applicable during the winter. The summer foods cool the body, the winter ones warm it up. The spring sets forth nourishment in the form of vitamins and minerals, the autumn bulks us against the winter. Also in the tropical areas with six seasons, traditionally some foods are cancelled not to bring the sickness. In India, in monsoon, dairy and green leaffly vegetables and curds were traditionaly left out in the period called Chaturmasya (rainy season).
The type of food that gels with three humours of Vata (airy), Pitta (fiery), Kapha (watery) is the need of the day for the people with the same type of bodily constitution. However the work influences the choice of food too. And above all, the food for the spiritually absorbed is of different standard all together.
Body isn’t a machine in the lines of a car. Body is a machine that is far more advance and thereby unique in the entire existence.
Feeding it requires right knowledge and a lot of common sense. We should not think how much potassium, calcium and other nutrients the body needs. We have to first think what body is capable of digesting, that alone will ensure absorption of nutrients and strengthening of bodily compositions. Eating dairy products like yoghurt for the sake of calcium, to strengthen our bones is utterly stupid if we are not able to digest it. Common problems in people who eat lots of yoghurt and cheese, is the weakness, back pain and constant tiredness; clog the system, especially the colon and the tiredness and back pain will set in. Tiredness can be also due to the lack of insulin in the pancreas. Excess of sugar is to blame too. Sugar in the form of processed white isn’t the only trouble; excess of fruit sugar (fructose) can lead to the problems also. Needless to mention that alcohol consumption causes the sugar go up and increases Kapha and Vata tremendously.
Let me get back to the point.
The body produces toxins when the food is not digested. The toxins become a hard matter around our tissue and bone. The air, the Vata humour in the body is in healthy situations warm and fluid. When the food that can’t be digested is turned into a toxic mass it prevents airy-vata humour to move around the other two humours of Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water). There goes the problem: Due to the inability of Pitta-the fire to be fanned by the air-vata, pitta in turn ceases to warm up the air. Once the air loses its warmth it becomes cold and the cold air doesn’t move around. The only place for the cold air to store itself is in the joints. Needless to say, many have experienced the pain in the joints in the form of various illnesses. Therefore listening to the body rhythm that propels digestive fire is of paramount importance. The digestive fire is strongest midday, the weakest at night and early morning-therefore eat well at midday.
As mentioned above the best food is the one consumed as per the bodily constitution of Vata, Pitta and Kapah, and according to the season. It is not so simple to ascertain the right constitution. Usually we check the pulse, heart beat, to know the present humour. But to know the inherent humour we have to know a bit of a history of the person too. Just because somebody looks bulky doesn’t necessary means that the person is a Kapha type. The inherent constitution of humour might be something else then the one that is projected outwardly. How so?
Dependence lies on the nature of the work, lifestyle, diseases and several other lifetime influences in the person’s life. Alternatively, we can deduct the right constitution through screening of the body in the form and shape of teeth, eyes, face, limbs, hip as well as through the native horoscope chart.
It might be a bit complicated for an average person to ascertain on its own the type he or she belongs to. However, the safest way to consume food is to remember the ways of Jataragni-the metabolic fire. As said earlier, the fire is the strongest midday when there can be some luxury in eating. Mornings might work for some, though the safest is to wait till the hunger is really deep seated. In the morning the toxins aren’t cleansed yet fully and the fresh intake of food without adequate metabolic fire will push them back in to the body. In addition, it is also good to expel the last vestiges of stool before having a bite in the morning. To excelerate digestive fire, a tongue cleaning, i.e scraping with a metal is the method applied by yogis on a daily basis twice-morning and evening. When the coating on the tongue after scraping appears thick and darker rather then light and whitish, know that the food hasn’t been digested well and has in turn formed toxins. The special tongue scraper you can perhaps order online.
Another great method is to push your middle three fingers down the throat, tickle it a bit and cough the mucus up and out. However gross it sound-it is indubitably a healthy act. By expelling the excess mucus, Jatharagni increases tremendously.
The food that will nourish the body best is the one that has inherent purity in it; it is preferably produced organically; it is seasonal; it is grown locally and it also helps if it is cooked with purity in mind and in the kitchen that is clean. Everybody knows that home food tastes way different then the one bought outside. Though sometimes it can be reversed but generally this is the case.
It is essential for the healthy eating to include some fat in the form of Ghee-purified butter (the recipe and description of its virtues you can find in Yogapedia). Ghee is the only fat that builds the fire, as it doesn’t impair the functioning of the liver. Indeed it strengthens it. Ghee is the most important food for the yogis; It acts as a vehicle for the herbs and nutrients to enter all the levels of the body’s tissue and exacerbate affect of the food on the organism and subsequently the mind. The mind is the fine and final product of the food we eat. As the old adage goes: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”
As an alternative a coconut oil can be used in the summer.
Different places, with different culture have different eating habits. To give a one structured recommendation regarding the varieties of food would not do the justice. Therefore mastering Prana is an essential component of yogic practice for better eating.
The food should essentially be eaten when the right nostril is open. It is governed by the Sun and therefore rules the power of digestion. When the left one, which is governed by Moon, is open, utilize it for drinking. When both are open-don’t eat or drink as the body refuses the nutrients. Therein lies the whole science of doing the right type of work, or living certain lifestyle based on the openness, or closeness of the either nostril. Regardless which nostril is open at night, after 6pm, do not take any food. For a sound sleep the right nostril will do the justice. During the day the left one should predominantly be open, except when there is time for a meal. This is a rough guide. More you can read at Yogapedia’s Yogarahasya where the knowledge of Prana is analyzed and explained.
Ultimately, the detox and weight loss as well as the good portion of yoga therapy, isn’t only based on the liver, but on the colon too.
Colon is the magnet for all the things we eat and its health depends on the type of food and the amount of food we consume. Fast food breeds harmful bacteria in the colon, which in turn results in poisoning and malfunctions, with a dramatic impact on the nervous system-lose limbs, speech difficulty, migraines, cancer anyone? Cases of extreme colon malfunctions are also dysentery and constipation.
In yoga, beside liver purification, we give the utmost importance to colon cleansing. Shat- kriyas, or the six purificatory actions are the ways and the means to do precisely that. They are well described in Yogapedia’s Yogachikitsa-yoga therapy. There are also laxatives to be used in colon cleansing. Ayurvedic herbal preparation Triphala is the way to keep the health of colon under control. For the yogis, the herbs are set to be the food.
They are other alternative cleansing therapies, some almost identical to yogic methods that one can subscribe to.
Colon cleansing will not only expel toxins, but also free radicals which promote abnormal tissue to grow malign, eventually causing cancer.
Colon cleansing will surely make the skin glow and activate that inner joy for living and sharing the good.
In a nutshell:
Observe your Prana, i.e how the right and the left nostril effect your eating, sleeping and defecation. Make sure you sleep early. Don’t forget that every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two, and every hour after midnight only as half. Sleeping late kills the fire and breeds bacteria. Avoid fast and fatty food, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee. These rules will set you free, for they are meant to liberate your digestive fire and with it the capacity to absorb the much needed nutrients from the food. In addition, make a “Slimmer in 60 days”* yoga program your companion at least thrice a week. The changes in your digestive fire and with it the happiness will be tremendous.
Light to all.
* Visit www.franzandrini.com for details.
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