I practice yoga but have not yet begun to focus on diet
and meditation. You stress the fact that yoga, diet and
meditation are inseparable. Can you tell me which traditional
Indian texts state this categorically, as you do?
There are many such texts but I shall cite one which clearly
answers your question for it groups together the different
techniques and explains their inter-connection. The text
is called Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter (upadesa) 2 and
it focuses on breathing (pranayama). It is a 15th century
text on Hatha Yoga but it is based on more ancient traditions
and is one of the 4-5 best known texts on this form of yoga.
It was authored by Master/Swami Svatmarama.
The text describes a holistic system and the connection
between the principal concepts: asanas (yoga postures),
bandhas (connections), chakras (energy centers), kundalini
(center connected to the divine), kriyas (successful yoga
action), mudras (exercises through gesture which are particularly
connected to spirituality), nadis (there are 7200 nadis
or conduits for the circulation of energy in the body),
Below are the first three verses which fully answer your
There are many sites which present the sacred or fundamental
texts of Indian tradition. The above text can be found:
here and in English on Youtube: click
Even if you do not understand Hindi or Sanskrit,
you can learn from these videos of Pranayama exercises by
the celebrated Master/Swami Ramdev: click
Here is the English translation of the text
he preceding question leads me to ask you the following
question: does the Bhagavad Gita, a work to which you accord
great importance on your site, contain a section specifically
devoted to food?
Yes, Chapter 17, verses (slokas) 7-10. I cite these verses
below as well as the main Sanskrit words so that you can
deepen your knowledge of the subject.
Verse 7: "Food
(aharah), for every person and everyone (sarvasya), belongs
to three types (tri-vidhah) depending on what one likes
(priyah). It is also associated (tatha) with our approach
to religious sacrifices (yajnah), deprivation and acts of
This means that our personal constitution, food predilections
and tastes depend on our individual connection with the
three "gunas." We, therefore, need to know our
own nature and understand the role of food and the fact
that it should contribute to our wellbeing and not aggravate
negative tendencies or imbalances. This is why it is important
to go through a diagnostic stage. The following verses present
a clear, succinct description of the different ways we relate
The verse continues thus: "Between them (tesam) their
differences (bhedam) listen (shrenu)."
The word "listen" occurs often in these texts,
just like the Hebrew "Hear O Israel."
Verse 8: "Those
who want (priyah) 'good' to be dominant (sattvika) choose
foods which prolong life (ayuh), provide existence (sattva),
strength (bala), health (arogya), happiness (soukha), satisfaction
(priti) and they choose foods that are juicy, fatty, compact
and rejoice the heart (hrdyah)."
The text helps us to understand to what extent all these
levels are in interaction and in symphony. Understanding
ourselves is therefore an indispensable stage. This verse
presents the most noble of the three gunas (phonetically
sattva, radjas and tamas, but written as sattva, rajas and
tamas). Chapter 14 describes the dynamics of these gunas
at length, which are not only physical or psychosomatic
but also involve the divine essence (see verse 7, 14 to
understand the dangers of adopting a nutritional lifestyle
that is disconnected from the source).
Verse 9: "Foods
that are bitter (katu), salty (lavana), too spiced (atiusna),
hot-spicy (tiksna), dry (ruksa), burn (vidahinah), are appreciated
(istah) by those who have a strong raja guna which arouses
violent passions and engenders suffering (dukha), misery
(soka), illness (amaya)."
The text stresses the fact that, in the guna structure,
we are in the presence of a veritable "dynamic"
which causes (pradah) these behavioral characteristics.
Only self-understanding can enable a person to manage these
complex characteristics, which can easily become dangerous
"It is food that is prepared three hours before a meal
(yata-yamam), without taste (gata-rasam), putrid and fetid
(puti), decomposed (payusitam), remains left by others (ucchistam)
and what is untouchable (amedhyam) which are liked by those
who have a tamas guna and are ignorant."
The verse describes tamas guna. If we look at all four verses,
we see that the more we are disconnected from the divine,
the more disconnection dominates our lives. This is why
the text stresses knowledge, self-understanding, the human/human,
human/divine relationship characterized by the word "listen,"
and the importance of blessings and rites of offering or
sacrifice before the intake of food.
This is a concept that is far removed from simple dietetic
advice, just as yoga in its true meaning of "connection
and union" is far removed from simple gymnastic positions.
Happily, unlike yoga, the dietetic principles of Ayurveda
have not been distorted, due to their complexity and to
the fact that they require in-depth diagnosis of a person
and meticulous choice of foods that re-balance the gunas
and the doshas.
At these levels, it is hard to promote falsehoods and the
kind of exploitation that often characterizes warped yoga
practices (positions and respiration). We now understand
why the third component, meditation, is based on respect
for these principles and cannot be distorted.
The final chapter of the Bhagavad Gita (18,
4-22) elaborates on these concepts further and stresses
the need for blessings and rites of offering or sacrifice
with the intake of food. It is important to read its many,
important points of advice regarding behavior.
But, in order to fully understand the three gunas (gunatraya),
one should read slowly Chapter 14 of the Bhagavad Gita which
begins with these significant words: "The supreme divine
entity, which stands above all possible representations,
reveals His supreme wisdom, supreme (uttamam), transcendental
(param) knowledge (jananam), which solely enabled all (sarve)
the Sages (munayah) to attain (gatah) perfection (siddhim)
in this world and beginning with this world."
Thank you for your question. It enabled me
to present the yogi system of foods in Ayurveda in a holistic
An English translation of the Bhagavad Gita (1909) can be
found free on the Internet: click
I would like to ask you a question about Ayurveda and
food. We are a group of 7 young French tourists in India
and we have consulted your site in order to better understand
Indian mentality and customs. Three of our group, who are
Jewish, were surprised by the major role you accord to food
for physical and psychological health. We have also witnessed
the importance of food offerings in temples. Our Jewish
friends say that Judaism has many rules governing food,
rites before eating and prayers after eating but they are
not able to explain to us the meaning of these rules. Can
you explain them to us and compare them with Ayurveda and
- Your question covers immense ground and I shall have to
limit myself to the main principles which help us to understand
human behavior of individuals and of nations at many levels
and which also represent methods of preventing sickness
and maintaining good health.
You will have understood from my site to what extent Indian
tradition connects all the different levels of a human being.
The exact meaning of "yoga" is, in fact, "connection."
The person who has understood this has understood what it
means to be Indian. Food is part of the connection between
all these levels, both in its contribution to maintaining
a healthy balance and to creating pathologies.
The Western approach always tries to separate these levels,
to "secularise" them and render them scientific
but it fails in this and is thus forced to develop concepts
such as psychosomatic illnesses or psychopathologies. Diets
that are solely biological are useless.
The Indian approach, in contrast, considers food in the
framework of a relationship, an offering by humans to the
Creator (called variously by the different Schools) and
an offering of love and devotion (see Bhagavad Gita 9.26).
Westerners and culinary experts naturally stress the need
for beauty and taste in food but an offering of love in
a relationship is something altogether different. Likewise,
eating food solely as a sensual pleasure (joy of feasting,
atma-karaat, BG 3.13) is viewed, in Indian culture, as an
aberration, even as theft "stenah." Its much broader,
holistic, approach offers a regulation which "appeases"
(mucyant) the entire being and purges grave errors or faults
(agham). This is how the idea of a meal as a sacrifice (yajnah)
was born. It goes far beyond the recitation of prayers before
or after a meal.
This idea extends also to the process of digestion (vaishvanarah,
BG 15.14) which is propelled by a vital action, represented
as a divine fire combined with the two aspects of respiration
(the air which enters and descends, or apana; and the air
which is exhaled or prana). At this point, the foods are
activated according to their four types or catur-vidham.
The influence of the planets on food is also emphasized:
the moon, for instance, is seen as influencing the development
of taste (BG 15.13).
- We are talking here about a holistic anthropology
rather than just a philosophy or religion. Regulation is
integrated in all our vital processes or bhogan (BG 3.12).
To this, one must add the
specific constitution of each individual which is determined by a diagnosis of
the doshas and gunas at the starts of an Ayurveda course of treatment. Refer,
on the site, to the article "What is Ayurveda."
- I can now enlighten you regarding certain
Jewish approaches to food which have a similar holistic
dimension. I am not going to discuss grace after meals,
the purification of hands before a meal (netilat yadayim),
the purification of utensils (kosherize), the types of food
considered kosher, the separation of foods, the organization
of a kitchen and its utensils.
I am going to discuss what
underlines these practices in order for you to understand better the differences
and similarities with Indian tradition. For this, I shall base myself primarily
on Reshit Hokhma (Commencement of Wisdom), the foundational work by the great
17th century Sage, Rav Eliahu ben Moshe Vidas, and in particular the section called
Shaar Hakedusha (Gate of Holiness).
- A primary principle of Judaism is that oral
food is viewed in the framework of an inner dependency on
spiritual food represented by the Torah and its laws: "Blessed
art thou O Land, when thy king is the son of nobles and
thy princes eat in due season, for strength and not for
drunkenness!" (Ecclesiastes 10. 17). "In due season"
here refers to the time reserved for the study of and meditation
on the Torah. This is why it is also written in Ecclesiastes
9.7: "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy and drink
thy wine with a merry heart for God now accepteth they works."
This text, which refers solely to the Torah, also
imparts a holistic approach: food represents both the need to eat and the need
to nurture oneself on the Torah; the need is as much that of the Creator as of
the created; joy is as much physical as it is spiritual; and everything is within
a relationship with the Creator. This is the most traditional teaching even if
many texts today, which cover practices during a meal, focus primarily on rules
of kashrut and formal rites of prayer. In this aspect, I do not have to point
out the similarity with the foundational texts of Indian tradition. It is evident.
Rav Vidas emphasizes a second major principle: "what
is the kavana, intention of the act of eating?" The answer is simple: it
is "to unify, leyahed" with the Creator. This means: "that all
our actions are for Heaven (le shem shamayim)" as is written in The Ethics
of the Fathers 2.12 and in Proverbs 3.6: "In all thy ways, know Him."
Judaism, "knowing" means achieving unity with and within the highest
levels of Being. The terms are different from those of Indian tradition but the
orientation and holistic vision are the same. The chapter that deals with love
tells us that the great Sages of antiquity strove to "unify with the divine
in their daily actions." This is also the ideal which is taught today to
every Jew. The text continues: "in the reality of eating and in its details
there is total unification, vehen be metsiut haakhila bifrateya yesh yihud gamur."
Rabbenu Behaye, another great Sage, writes that this unification is achieved solely
through the action of the body (ella al yade haguf). As is written in Psalm 103.1:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name."
He explains this thus: "for the strength of a being is discovered and achieved
only through the action of the body till it achieves completeness (shlemut)"
and "in the wisdom of On-High lies the act of eating." And so, it is
through the act of eating, that the supreme verse is fulfilled: when Moses, Joshua
and the 72 Sages ascended Mount Sinai, the text says: "vayehezu et haElokim
vayokhlu vayishtu, and they saw God and did eat and drink" (Exodus 24.11).
In answer to your question, I have given you
insight into the dynamics that underlie the concrete act
of eating in these two civilizations. It is now up to you
to integrate and meditate on these principles which were
handed down to us by the greatest Sages and to make your