By Shameem Akthar August 2003 Brahmaarpanam brahmahavir Brahmaagnau brahmanaa hutamBhramaiva tena gantavyam Brahmakarmasamaadhinaa. -Bhagavad Gita, IV: 24 (Brahman is the oblation, also the offering, by Brahman is this oblation poured into the fire of Brahman, the one who sees Brahman in all will reach Brahman. This Vedic prayer is offered before meals, with the agni signifying digestive fire.) Several people spurn yoga because they fear it involves giving up their favourite foods. Many things our palate enjoys are taboo in yoga-meat, coffee, garlic, spices, etc. Even its meal timings seem particularly severe-just twice daily, one at around 10 in the morning and the other between 6 and 8 p.m. in the evening. But yoga’s austerity is not a severe one. It is not joyless. There is a lot of lightness and cheer packed into its austerity, even if it may seem a contradiction. Yoga’s first rule is ahimsa, starting with no violence towards yourself. It means that if you feel you cannot live without meat, you may indulge yourself. But when you continue practising yoga with dedication, your craving for most things will leave you. This is its beauty. At some point, usually if your yoga practice is regular, you will find yourself saying no to red meat, or even white meat. According to yoga, if you were to deliberately deny yourself anything, chances of you subconsciously craving for it and therefore returning to it are greater. If you are rational, you will realise that yogic reasoning with food is superb. While people the world over are reverting to this wisdom of the rishis, Indians, for some strange reason, celebrate their spirituality with the wrong attitude towards food! Surveys done among Asians living abroad show that eating habits of Indians are among the most unhealthy. To examine the reason behind it is beyond the scope of this column. Let us examine instead, the yogic rules towards food and see how it may be incorporated in our daily lives so that we not only live longer but also better! The ancient system of praying before each meal was most sensible and probably the least followed today. But mindfulness is crucial even today in ensuring that we eat only how much we need. In fact, nothing aids dieting and weight-loss better than mindfulness. Yet another yogic rule: to keep the menu simple. Combination foods work only by working an already strained digestive system. Also, always leave one third of the stomach empty. Compare your stomach to a mixer-grinder. If you fill it to the brim, chances of you extracting any chutney from it are less. You need to leave some space for the blades to spin, and be effective. Why should your stomach be any different? Another yogic rule: chew your food, eat slowly. It is a misconception that digestion starts only in the stomach. Actually, it starts at the moment that you view your plate. That is why mindfulness, a prayerful attitude, was encouraged! As your salivary glands get acti vated, they first start by working on the starch entering your mouth. Chewing your food also keeps the satiety centre in your brain well-tuned. Meaning, it fires off the ‘I-am-satisfied-with-this-meal’ signal after 20 minutes. If you mindlessly keep chatting and not noticing what you eat in the first 20 minutes, you will end up eating more, of which later, you will not digest easily. Worse, you will get bloated and unhealthy in the bargain. The food that does not get digested but gets pushed out of the stomach into the tract, starts rotting, which only sucks up all the water in the intestines, blocking the absorption of useful minerals, etc. That is why yoga suggests such a long gap between meals. There has to be enough time for the entire digestive act-the more you overburden the system, the more you end up with useless calories which get stored in your body as fat and you get less of the minerals and essential ingredients. Also, if you do not allow the digestive tract to empty at its own pace, you are practically choking the system. Somewhat akin to clogging the drains so that the system fails and the rot swells over! Which is why yoga insists you never eat to the point of satiety. In fact, research shows that just before any important assignment-be it driving a truck or making a presentation or facing an interview board-you must eat only so that you are kept a little hungry.
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