Yogi Or Householder? Thoughts On Diet

Yogi Or Householder?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So what’s it going to be: khichari or a smoothie? Choose carefully….

Simple grain blends cooked with maternal care in pressure pots,warm porridges with ghee, milk and aromatic spices.

Or fresh juice blends, even green leaves and herbs, enriched with powders and seeds blended and enjoyed straight up from the blending jug. Supplemented even with some nuts and dried fruit, maybe some probiotic yoghurt, a super food or two.

Yogi or householder is a way of thinking about the difference between the yogic and ayurvedic diet inspired by Dr. David Frawley’s book Yoga and Ayurveda which so clearly distinguishes the two and was enlightening for me personally and in my healing work.

Although hatha and ayurveda have long been entwined, I think it is safe to equate ayurvedic and householder as it is somewhat rare to find ayurvedic dietary prescriptions for an ascetic lifestyle and mostly, like Chinese medicine, nourishing and easily digestible foods are favoured.

Now, there is no Yin without Yang and food choice is only one side of the equation. Our diet needs to match our constitution and digestive capacity and generally how prana is moving through our body. It is not unheard of that accomplished yogis and monks maintain large and noble figures while subsisting on perhaps only a handful of humble, daily rations. This points to a very high level of assimilation power or digestive fire and attests to that yogi’s general pranic stability.

As a Shiatsu therapist working out of the Chinese medical framework, I frequently recommended people include more warming foods, most especially in the morning. The digestive fire, a concept that loosely aligns with our metabolism, must be kindled in the morning and peaks with the sun at high noon. The Buddha ate one meal a day before noon, a still living tradition, which recognizes the period before noon as the optimal time for assimilation. An important consideration on a minimal diet over the long term.

Just to be painfully clear, yogi or householder is not a class distinction in this context but a way of thinking about lifestyle and self-care. As teachers and practitioners it’s about learning to read where we are at and how best to support the body processes that are the silent base of support for all our experiences and aspirations. Processes that can become loud and troublesome when they go out of balance.

As the twentieth century saw the doors fly open to so many secret and guarded traditions, don’t so many of us find ourselves yogi householders? Alternating between sattvic retreat centres and modified morning practices to get 20 min in before elbowing our way onto a train for a full day of urban hustle. Om.

Also read: Ahara Vidhi: A Disciplined Dietary Guidelines by Charaka

Warm, Cooked Food: The Nourished Householder

Cooking is a form of predigestion. Most traditional, staple foods around the globe require some form of cooking. Through cooking we meet our body half way. This not only makes indigestible food digestible but conserves vital energy. Raw and cold food requires more energy to digest and can be taxing, particularly on the long term.

Warming foods, especially in the morning will ideally kindle and support the all important digestive fire or jatharagni. From a traditional point of view, snuffing out the digestive fire in the morning weakens our capacity to digest food for the rest of the day. Undigested food is a major source of toxins that get stuck in our systems and create a base for other more serious ailments to develop.

A grain based diet of warming foods, with dairy items like ghee and milk have behind them tradition and long term sustainability. One of the most important criticisms of diet fads and a critical question to ask ourselves is the sustainability of any diet. Nothing is absolute here, medicine in the wrong dose becomes poison and poison in the right dose becomes medicine. Knowledge ancient and modern is open for us to use wisely.

Also read: Why Two Meals a Day Is Better Than Three?

Cold, Raw, Cleansing: The Modern Yogi

Cold and raw foods create a light feeling in the body and for many produce a clean, coffee-like buzz. In Chinese medicine, this is mostly the liver-moving effect, particularly if you are taking raw greens. Although juices and raw greens are much cleaner than coffee the light feeling might be misleading. The misleading part is that the harm to the digestive fire that is not always apparent. In fact, lowered appetite is often seen as a major benefit. Over time, the effects of decreased assimilation power accumulate.

Low digestive fire on the long term means that the annamaya kosha or “food-body” is not being optimally maintained because it cannot assimilate food through the power of the pranamaya kosha or “pranic body”, no matter how many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients it contains.

It is worth pointing out that classic texts like the Hatha Pradipika pay serious attention to the digestive fire and how asana and pranayama modify and strengthen it. This is also why the availability of nourishing foods are an essential pre-requisite to intense hatha practice. I personally believe that this is a vital area for the yoga renaissance of the 21st century to grasp and develop.

That said, in a toxic age raw cleanses and periods of raw eating can be hugely important. In a world full of constipation, toxic bioaccumulation and cancer raw food cleanses are an essential source of healing. For anyone that awakens to the yogic path later in life, who may have spent years stressed, taxed and surviving on fast food, sodas, processed foods, food taken at improper times, eaten at their desk etc etc etc raw food cleansing is like a cancer curing oasis, a weight loss genie and a wonderful way of eating in closer connection to the plants. But is it sustainable as a permanent lifestyle?

The simple answer to that is, it depends on your constitution.

How can we get an idea about the state of our constitution and our digestive fire? Stay tuned for the next blog.


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