Traditional Ayurvedic Center

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), etc.
Below are the first three verses which fully answer your question:

There are many sites which present the sacred or fundamental texts of Indian tradition. The above text can be found: click here and in English on Youtube: click here

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

Here is the English translation of the text quoted above:

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 charity (danam)."

My commentary:

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 to food.
The verse continues thus: "Between them (tesam) their differences (bhedam) listen (shrenu)."

My commentary:
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)."

My commentary:
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)."

My commentary:
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 and extreme.

Verse 10: "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."

My commentary:

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 manner.

An English translation of the Bhagavad Gita (1909) can be found free on the Internet: click here

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 Indian culture?

- 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."

In 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 own input.

See also Ayurveda and diet

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