Part One: traditional Indian
texts, nutrition and diet
It is important to learn what traditional
Indian texts teach about nutition and diet in order to understand
the central role played by foods at every level of our existence
and in order to facilitate diagnosis and treatment.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, verse 16 states:
"naty-asnatas tu yogo sti
na caikantam anasnatah
jagrato naiva carjuna
"There is no possibility ("na,"
never) of becoming a yogi (a person who has mastered the science
of yoga and attains spiritual heights) if one eats too much
("ati") or abstains ("ananatah") or equally
("tcha") eats too little, sleeps too much ("svapna-silasya"),
does not sleep enough and stays up too long at night ("jagratah")."
Bhagavad Gita, chapter 7, verses 8-10
Diet and modes of eating are presented here in the context
of the three gunas ("sattva," purity, goodness;
"raja," activity, passion; and
"tama," inertia, darkness). These
three gunas are inseparable in every person; what defines
an individual is the preponderance of one guna over another,
i.e. balance. The task of the Ayurveda practitioner is to
understand these nuances and constantly adapt the diagnosis
and treatment to the patients progress.
Verse 8 describes the "sattvic" form
of life based on diet:
rasya snigdhah srhira hrdya
«The length of life ("ayuh"),
excellence of existence ("sattva"), strength ("bala")
and healthy ("arogya"), happiness ("sukha")
and satisfaction ("priti") are enhanced ("vivardhanah")
by juicy ("rasyah"), fatty ("snigdhah"),
rich ("sthirah") foods which delight ("hrdyah")
and are enjoyed ("priyah"). This is how it is for
the person who lives his life according to goodness ("sattvika")."
These beneficial foods are foods which are pure,
holy, and unconnected to the murder of a living being or to
intoxicating drugs, but to lofty substances such as the milk
of the cow or the "neem" plant with its innumerable
Verse 9 describes the "rajanic" form of
life which is characterized by desire, passion and
"Acidic ("amla"), salty ("lavana"),
overspiced ("ati-usna") and hot ("riksna"),
dried ("ruksa"), scalding ("vidahina")
foods are favored ("istah") by the person who is
influenced by the "raja" of impulsiveness, desire
and passion ("rajasasyesta") and this causes ("pradah")
him suffering ("duhka"), misfortune ("soka")
and sickness ("amaya").
Verse 10 describes the "tamasic"
form of life which is characterized by ignorance
puti paryusitam ca yat
ucchistam api camedhyam
"Food prepared more than three hours before
consumption ("yata-yamam"), without taste ("gata-rasam"),
fetid ("puti"), decomposed ("paryusitam"),
which is ("yat") the leftovers of others ("usshistam")
and also ("api") food ("bhojanam") which
he is not familiar with ("tamasa") and pertain to
his ignorant lifestyle, this is what he likes ("priyam").
In contrast, another verse, Bhagavad
Gita, chapter 4, verse 24, presents food as a prayer, sacrifice
or offering. It is often chanted as a prayer before
eating in India.
"brahmarpanam brahma havir
brahmagnau brahmana hutam
brahmaiva tena gantavyam
"He who whose nature is spiritual ("brahma")
and is drawn ("arpanam") to spiritual levels ("brahma")
as in the offering of butter ("havir or havih")
in the fire ("agnau") and who through his spiritual
soul ("brahmana") is offered ("hutam"),
then the pure ("eva") spiritual level ("brahma")
is attained ("gantavyam") by him ("tena")
and, in spiritual activities ("karma"), he is completely
Bhagavad Gita, chapter 15, verse 14,
then depicts the state of union achieved through food.
"aham vaisvanaro bhutva
praninam deham asritah
pacamy annam catur-vidham.
"Me, I ("aham"- the divine I)
am in the fire of digestion ("vaisnanarah"), being
and becoming ("bhutva") situated ("ashritah")
in the air which comes out ("prana") and in the
air which enters and descends ("apana"), preserving
balance ("samayuktah") and thus I digest ("pacami")
foods ("annam") of the four types ("catur-vidham")."
This is a far cry from simple dietary treatments.
It represents a holistic, unitary concept of the universe,
or of "Creation" as one would say in Judaism. It
is a concept in which all levels of being are one, encompassing
external and internal matter, psychological, intellectual,
spiritual and supra-spiritual dimensions.
So what I describe as the "Ayurveda-meditation-yoga
trio" is a holistic state in which all three levels of
being are experienced simultaneously.
Digestion is represented as being facilitated
by the action of the gastric fire, which is itself connected
to the divine fire, as noted by a vedic mantra in Br.had-a-ran.yaka
Upanis.ad 5.9.1, and without which digestion cannot function
("ayam agnir vais'va-naro yo 'yam antah. purus.e yenedam
annam. pacyate"). The same concept is found in Vedanta
Sutra 1.2.27 : "abda-dibhyo 'ntah. pratis.t.ha-na-c ca,
the divine presence exists in sound, in the body, in the air
but not in bodily form."
This complex knowledge, needed for good self-management, should
not complicate ones life for the Vedanta Sutra Adhyayas
lets each individual make his own interpretation, as reality
or as a metaphor and affirms this categorically in Sutra 6.4.28
(in the same way as the Talmud and Jewish religious law allows
flexibility in situations of danger and Jewish mothers know
what is good or bad for their children).
Here is the verse:
"sarva-nna-numatis' ca pra-n.a-tyaye tad-dars'ana-t":
"every ("sarva") nourriture ("anna
") has permission ("numatih") to save life
("prana") in extremis ("atyaye") and this
is stated in the scriptures ("darsanat")."
The verse alludes to the legend of poor Usasti Câkrâyana
and his wife Atiki, recounted in Chandogya Upanishat 1.10.1
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 15, verse 14 (cited above)
concludes this theme. This tradition describes in very concrete
terms the individual ways of using this fire, in the digestion
of the four forms of foods: foods which are mashed or swallowed,
foods which are sucked or licked. In his diagnosis and recommendations
for treatment, the Ayurveda practitioner bases himself on
the individuals particular taste for this or that type
Another important dietary note
We find this in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a well-known work, which
deals specifically with breathing techniques and reports age-old
traditions. It was written in the 15th century but describes
ancient traditions. Chapter II, verse 14 states:
"After a period ("kale") of regular
practice ("abhyasa"), a person attains the personal
discipline needed for self-purification. And if, during the
first stage of practice or treatment, food consisting of milk
or clarified butter is considered healthy, when practice becomes
more regular, no restrictions are necessary."
Everyone who practices Ayurveda is surprised by this flexible
approach, which evolves in accordance with the success of
Everything ends with music and singing
The patient then understands the magnificent holistic chants
which use the same word (as described in one of the most ancient
Upanishad, the Taittiriya Upanishad, which is part of the
Yajur Veda) for the anatomy of the body, the sun or the moon,
fire, food, consciousness, or higher levels. We see this in
the magnificent chant entitled "Gayatri mantra"
: the mantra repeats the words: Om, Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah, Tat,
Savitur, Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi, Dheeyo yo nah
Because of its holistic and multi-dimensional
motifs, the chant "Om, Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah" is considered
particularly therapeutic for health disorders and is chanted
by everybody. Its "sattvic" qualities make it particularly
appropriate for the hours when "sattva" is beneficial
(4-8 in the morning, and 4-8 at night), while the "rajanic"
attribute is dominant between 8 am to 4 pm, and the "tamasic"
from 8pm to 4am.
Two other references will be useful for those
who wish to deepen their knowledge:
- the Chandogya Upanishad or Chandogyopanisad Part
VI, chapter 7, verse 2 tells us that "the mind
is made up of food," which is a revolutionary idea.
- the Mahanatayanopanishad 79, 15 brilliantly
describes how all the dynamics interact and succeed each other.
"LXXIX-15: Those rays by which the sun gives heat, the
same rays transform water into rain-cloud which showers the
rain. By the rain-cloud herbs and trees come into existence.
From herbs and trees food is produced. By the use of food
the breaths and sense are nourished. When the life-breath
is nourished one gets bodily strength. Bodily strength gives
the capacity to practise Tapas (in the shape of self-control,
religious fast and so forth). As the result of such Tapas,
faith in scriptural truths springs into existence. By faith
mental power comes. By mental power sense-control is made
possible. By sense-control reflection is engendered. From
reflection calmness of mind results. Conclusive experience
of Truth follows calmness. By conclusive experience of Truth
remembrance of It is engendered. Remembrance produces continuous
remembrance. From continuous remembrance results unbroken
direct realization of Truth. By such realization a person
knows the Atman. For this reason, he who gives food gives
all these. For, it is found that the vital breaths and the
senses of creatures are from food, that reflection functions
with the vital breath and the senses, that unbroken direct
realization comes from reflection and that bliss comes from
unbroken direct realization of Truth. Thus having attained
bliss one becomes the Supreme which is the source of the universe."
After having acquired the knowledge
needed to understand and continue your training in Ayurveda
practice and diet, you can now enter the phase of diagnosis,
treatment, and fine-tuning your daily diet, without losing
The practical phase will be described in the second part of