Month: May 2012
Most people today have some idea as to what the chakras are and their function in our lives. However, in the West most of us still think that chakras is a concept that comes from the East and that we in the West have no idea or concept of it. And to some degree it is true, we are less aware of the chakras in the West than in the East, but that doesn’t mean that we are not familiar with it in the West and our wisdom and knowledge grow with every tick of the clock, to the point where the West have developed and establish a well respected study of the chakras through authors such as Anodea Judith, Caroline Myss and others.
Today the chakras, auras, subtle bodies and energy field have become much more common topics of discussion in western society, than ever before. More people are moving to a greater awareness of their own body energy – some from a desire for inner growth, others from a scientific (quantum physics) perspective and still others from a renewed sense of the sacred. In the West we have heavily relied on the eastern cultures who have described energetic connections between the mind, body and spirit. Chinese medicine relies on energy meridians that correspond to psycho-physiological states. Vedic scholars, centuries ago described the seven energy centres of the body (chakras) from a spiritual context. However, the West is busy compiling and developing its own understanding of the chakras in a very practical way today.
We do know the Chakras in the West
You just have to go into art history and have a look at the old paintings of the Renaissance and even before to realise that there was some concept of the chakras present already in the West way back then. The “halos” of energy painted around the heads of many of the saints and important religious figures constitute in my view and opinion the energy to represent the crown chakras of those figures. Did some psychic or intuitive person actually saw the opening of the crown chakra of a particular individual and the only way the artist could give expression was a halo?
I have an honours degree in language and literature and as a young student, who was already aware of the chakras and their meaning; I was always amazed at how familiar we are in the West through language of the chakras. Many of our euphemisms, espressions and poetic language tend to locate energy in particular area of the body. We speak of having a “broken heart” and feel actual pain in the chest when we lose someone we love (heart chakra). We criticize others for being “unrooted”, or “pulling the rug out from under us” (root chakra). When a situation threatens our self-confidence we feel “butterflies in our stomach” (solar plexus chakra), and get a “lump in our throat” when grief remains unexpressed (throat chakra). Personally, I am convinced that we have always been aware of the chakras in the West, but due to the strict censure of the Church we have choose to hide them a little, but the time has come for the West to be more open and vocal about the chakras and realise the impact they have on our whole experience here on earth.
By developing an inner awareness of the chakras it is possible to begin a process that includes transforming and reconfiguring these energies. In perceiving the spiritual psychology of the chakras it is possible to help achieve a more balanced, energized and meaningful life and I hope that this article will help you in achieving that goal in your life.
The Root – Muladhara Chakra
Birth is a very traumatic and disorientating event for all of us and it is a blessing that we cannot remember much of it. First of all you are suddenly pushed into a world of noise and lights and strange people and surroundings from the safety and comfort of the womb. Then at some point your umbilical cord is cut, which adds to the trauma of the birthing process. All these necessary events cut us from the security of the womb and existentially we experience separation from Spirit as we find ourselves embodied in a human form. As the umbilical cord is cut we find ourselves thrust into a dangerous, insecure and vulnerable world.
Suddenly we find ourselves in a dense, human body and we sense a world through our five senses that is very different from the one where we just came from. We must start to use our body now to experience all that we can and have to for this particular incarnation. Physically this body is made up of carbon and hydrogen – the constituent elements of the earth. The root chakra becomes activated at birth, a necessity which energetically reconnects us with the “sacred matter (Mother)” in our attempt to find our spiritual connection. We quickly learn that we cannot survive if we do not feed and nurture our physical body – making our relationship with the earth both necessary and integral to our survival. Belonging to a family, clan or group helps us to survive this initial shock of being incarnated; it provides us with security, safety and a sense of belonging. If we are strongly rooted in this initial phase of our life – strong familial ties, connection with grandparents and a safe environment for your development – we are are ensured a healthy and balanced root chakra, which result in a person that is generally happy, feel secure and has a positive self-image.
However, if our sense of security and belong was neglected as young children, when fear and disruptive behaviour was the norm in our environment and if we had a disconnected relationship with nature, our parents and our clan, then we end up feeling “unrooted” later in life. Insecurities and anxiety will surface and issues with our right to be here will surface as well. Feeling disconnected from earth (the mother principle, think here mother earth) will lead to various forms of depression and other psychological symptoms such as fear of becoming ill, aging and dying, feeling ungrounded and vulnerable, chronic anxiety and unnecessary neuroses surface as well.
It is important to remember that we can heal root chakra issues through compassionate self-healing techniques such as finding ways to reconnect with the earth through spending time in nature, doing gardening or hiking trips. Establishing a practice where we honour the earth as sacred and as the Mother by exploring our caring and nurturing nature through acts such as concern through environmental issues, participating in recycling programmes and voicing our concern about issues such as pollution and global warming. A great way of healing is to foster closer relations with estranged family members, or create a circle of friends where you feel safe, secure and have a sense of belonging. Joining groups, associations or clubs is also a great way to establish a sense of felling secure and belonging.
The root chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 1-7 years. It is interesting to note how many toddlers during this time eat dirt; many if they have the opportunity bake mud cakes at some point during this developmental stage. This stage is called the formative years and that points directly to the importance of establishing a strong root chakra based in a strong group or family system for the individual to further develop.
The Sacral – Svaddhistana Chakra
Now that the individual is more at ease and secure in his/her environment and have come to grips with physical reality, enters the next energetic challenge for the individual – the energy of the sacral chakra is about establishing relationships. The second chakra holds the energy of all relationships we encounter in our lives – the first relationship we encounter is that with our parents and the energy of this relationship lays the foundation for all future relationships in our lives. If we were nurtured by our parents we will find it easy to nurture other relationships in life, but if we experienced rejection, future relationships may be more challenging for us than usual. During this phase we learn the value of give and take of sibling rivalry; the devotion or betrayals of friendship; the intimacy and vulnerability of sexual attraction; and the ability to produce and nurture our own children.
If we do not learn to connect to others through emotional intimacy we remain alone, estranged or dissociated. When our early needs for intimacy and love are thwarted through abandonment, abuse or neglect, we find it hard to trust and begin to doubt our ability to attract love or find passion and joy in life. Eventually we end up with issues relating to intimacy, physical avoidance, accepting or perpetrating abuse in relationships, sexual dysfunction, parenting problems and a lack of passion and motivation in life.
To heal the energy of this chakra involves learning to recognise our wounded “inner child” and how to respond to the demands which manifest as episodes of painful memories that arise – these can be of neglect, rejection or abuse. A great deal of healing can be achieved if we can learn how to forgive not only others, but also ourselves and in that forgiveness we learn how to release guilt and blame. It means gently finding the courage to open ourselves to emotional intimacy and often a wise and trusted counsellor or healer can facilitate this process. Developing self-compassion and self-nurturing is the key to balance the energy of this chakra.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 8-14 years. It is during this phase that young boys will develop a love for their mother and the greatest hero in a girl’s life would be her father at some point. Proceeding to school suddenly they meet new people and they form “best pal” friendships and suddenly teacher is always right and you are always wrong, because teacher said so! It is also during this time that many will experience their first love and the elation that goes with it, but many will also experience the pain of a broken heart, learning the reality of relationships.
The Solar Plexus – Manipura Chakra
Now that we have established a relationship with the world and with those around us, the next challenge of the solar plexus chakra is to create a sense of self in relation to the world we live in – other words we need to learn to love ourselves now. It is time to assert our self-worth and self-esteem. During this phase we need to become masters of our own universe and in doing so we empower ourselves to fulfil our desire to be the best we can in this life. The energetic challenges of solar plexus chakra are are locked up in the desire to learn self-control, humility and awareness of our purpose in life.
However, if our desire to establish a strong sense of ourselves is met with over-control, shaming, authoritarian and intentional ego-damaging behaviour, we are left with a debilitated and wounded sense of self. These manifests as a sense of “I am not worthy” and guilt, other manifestations include a lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. Many feel disempowered, victimised or lacking a sense of purpose, feeling that life is a constant battle. In turn, when we feel deprived of power, we may resort to modes of controlling like bullying others; confuse aggressiveness for assertiveness, manipulating others with either tyrannical behaviour or emotional blackmail.
To heal the energy of this chakra comes about through restoring a sense of personal power, self-respect, courage, healthy humility and learning the power of grace. When we face our own stories and fears with compassion and loving-kindness, we learning that there is release and grace in these episodes and that is an extremely empowering moment for such an individual. If we learn to use the power of love to transform our issues of guilt and shame, we nurture a sense of innate goodness within ourselves, at the same time we create awareness that we are co-creators with the Divine, instilling a sense of personal power. Finally, becoming aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature helps us to act responsibly and move forward with self-initiative, meaning and purpose.
The sacral chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 15-21 years. This is one of the most challenging periods of life not only for the individual, but also for the parents. Suddenly their innocent child disappears into his/her room only to emerge on morning looking like an alien. And if they don’t spend time in their rooms behind closed doors, your child spends more time in front of the mirror making sure that there is not a hair out of place. It is the time in life when the young adolescent discover his/her body and the powerful sexual energy it houses. The individual also become aware of he/her own sexual identity and how parents and society reacts towards them determines much of their behaviour later in life. Fortunately this phase also passes and the next phase is a more balanced phase.
The Heart – Anahata Chakra
The heart chakra serves as the bridge between the lower energies and the next three higher energies. As we exit the solar plexus phase into our heart, we come to experience ourselves as safe, connected and respected. Our energy begins to shift from a focus on the individual self towards a more generous and altruistic outlook. We notice that we feel grateful for the opportunity to live life, and want to give back. The heart chakra now becomes activated as the centre of love, compassion, kindness, devotion and generosity. The direction of energy in the body begins to move upwards in its desire to reconnect to the greater source of Divine love. We begin to experience universal compassion – the sense that we are connected to all beings on the planet. We may feel our hearts touched by images of young children a world away playing amongst the rubble of war. We know and have a sense of caring both for ourselves and others and feel compelled to take this love out into action.
As I have stated above, the heart is the bridge from the energies of the lower chakras into the higher chakras and if we experienced a lack of security, intimacy and self-esteem in the lower chakras, then we have problems with a heart chakra that will be closed and fenced off. Typical issues of the heart chakra are displayed and manifested as lack of compassion, anger, hatred, stinginess, being overly concerned with safety and protection, fear of loving too much and showing love to others, unexplained grief and heart-ache may all indicate wounding in the heart chakra.
To heal the heart chakra, we need start from the bottom and work our way up again. We need to first pay attention to the old wounds that still lurk in the lower chakras before we can successfully heal the heart chakra. Learning to love ourselves and our shadow places is the first step towards creating a sense of love and compassion for others. Accepting the gift of forgiveness and allowing ourselves to forgive allows deep healing within the heart chakra – forgiveness both for ourselves and others. Visualisation, devotional chanting, yoga, prayers and meditation are powerful vehicles for opening the heart. Many people find that compassionate encounters with the suffering of others are a means to open their own heart. It is also important to become aware of our own divine nature and beginning an intimate, sacred process of surrender to the Divine order. In other words let go and let God!
The heart chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 22-28 years. During this time many people bridge the divide between a life as a care-free youth or student into a responsible citizen who care for those around him/her. For most it is also the time during which they will meet their life partner, get married and settle into a life that is marked by much love and reaching out. It is a time that we cross many bridges, at age 28 an important bridge is crossed in the sense that up till then your body grew and was young, from now on the body will degenerate and age will take its toll as we progress.
The Throat – Vishuddha Chakra
Our voice with all its own vibrations brings us now in direct contact with other vibrations around us. As we grow into deeper awareness of our chakras, we also begin to discover our ability to tap into the vibrational energy field around us. The wave patterns of sound become our connection to an unseen world that we are aware of, but don’t know yet how to experience it. This is where the energy of the throat chakra becomes valuable as it helps us to make sense of all these different vibrations which we use for communication, self-expression, creativity, speaking our truth, and at the subtlest levels, telepathy, channelling and clairaudience (ability to perceive sounds outside the physical realm).
When our self-expression in the throat is repressed or silenced in some violent way, the throat chakra closes down and energetically our ability to express ourselves appears blocked. Instead of being a two communication system, the one way is blocked, energy comes in, but doesn’t leave us and this impediment of the natural flow of vibrations result in a person who has no voice or who carries no authority in his/her voice. We are all too familiar with the childhood maxim “children should be seen and not heard”, the silencing of women’s voices in our patriarchal systems and the stifling of creative talent for fear of ridicule impedes the flow of throat energy. Many people have deep and dark family secrets that they shamefully keep, others lives in constant fear, because they are being yelled at or shamed into silence by an over-bearing parent, all actions that will impede the throat chakra. Eventually the chakra will “shutdown”, the person will rather keep quiet than to speak his/her truth or mind in order to keep the peace and eventually this will lead to a complete lack of self-expression from such an individual, leading to frustration and anger.
Just as King Edward VI in the King’s Speech had to learn that he has a voice and that he has the right to speak in order to overcome his stuttering due to the stifling voice of his father and Queen Mary, we also need to realise that we have a right to voice. The next step to healing the throat chakra is finding our own truth and relearning the ability to express ourselves. Once we have achieve this we can proceed to give ourselves permission to cry, to voice our hopes, fears and opinions, we can share our stories and we can engage in active listening with others. We can honour self-expression through finding creative outlets – writing, art, gardening or music. For some people it is important to reduce the pollution of vibrational noise through meditation or silent retreat.
As the throat chakra begins to heal, the grosser vibrations of sound no longer create interference. We begin to tune into more subtle layers of vibration, including the development of psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairaudience and opening to divine revelations such as those experienced by mystics through the ages.
The throat chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 29-35 years. During this time many people find that they have to talk their way through life, they have to talk to get that next promotion or they have to talk to convince others of an opinions or view. It is also the most vocal time in personal relationships with our partners as many problems are sorted out verbally and we also need to do a lot of talking to our children who are suddenly at ages where vocalisation becomes important. It is also a very social period in the life of most and as such demands much attention to how we express ourselves in this phase.
The Third Eye – Ajna Chakra
Our third eye is not only the centre of our intellect, but this is the centre where we develop qualities such as discernment, inner knowing, wisdom and clairvoyance or intuitive seeing. It is the place where we develop our ability to stand outside of a situation, become the observer or seer and without getting too involved make conscious choices about the road ahead or the situation in hand.
From the third eye centre we develop and create our belief system and we learn to judge fairly like Solomon from this place. However, if we are faced with a fear-based and authoritarian belief system, then we start to doubt our own sense of wisdom and of knowledge and ultimately we doubt ourselves and our ability to form our own truths. The result of this inability to form our own truth leads to confusion, negative beliefs, blind faith, narrow mindedness and mental rigidity. We may feel cut off from our emotions and become overly attached to empirical, dogmatic theories and beliefs and very often the individual may be overly argumentative to the point where he/she will aggressively defend their point of view, even make war about it or kill for it.
Allowing the inner guru to take charge and to bring us to the point where we develop the willingness to see is the first step that we can take on healing out third eye. This willingness to see means that we open ourselves to that truth that is beyond physical seeing and allowing our intuition and inner knowing to become our guiding light and primary guru or teacher. When our inner guidance starts to develop and when we start to listen and trust our inner guidance, then we can assess our old fear-based beliefs, judgements and criticisms and as we see that there is nothing to fear, we can let them go and replace them with our inner knowing and new truths. It is also process of opening the heart and to start “feeling” the messages of the heart instead of “thinking” what they should be.
We can heal the energy of the third eye by placing a greater emphasis on using and developing our inner awareness and witness consciousness. Another import ant technique is to look for the symbolic and esoteric importance behind events or interactions. One of the most valuable tools in our shed of techniques are to record our dreams in a dream diary en to start to see a pattern in the interpretation of these dreams. Practicing equanimity, detachment, and surrendering judgments may also help us on our journey of healing. As we become aware of the deep spiritual qualities of our own nature, we move into a place of greater clarity, wisdom and acceptance in the third eye.
The third eye chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 36-42 years. Around this time most men and women will start to enter their menopause/andropause and we start a hormonal change in our bodies. As a result of this we start to rethink our lives, our purpose and many either divorce during this time or they change careers or they just start to relax more in life a bit, adopting a more relaxed attitude. Much thinking is done during this time as well, as most start to realise old age and retirement is around the corner, old beliefs is shed and overall the individual enters a more embracing approach to life than before.
The Crown – Sahasrara Chakra
Our innate nature is Divine and as we develop greater awareness of this, our energy is increasingly drawn upwards towards its desire to unify with our source of Being and Origen. In yoga this process is described by the last limb of yoga namely samadhi, this process of spiritual awakening or enlightenment is facilitated through opening the crown chakra. Energetically, an open crown chakra appears as light emerging from the top of the head, hence the halo above so many saint’s heads in paintings.
Connecting to Spirit or the Divine and living our Truth and the willingness to surrender to the Divine are all indicators of a balanced and properly functioning crown chakra. When we are at this stage we can inspire others with inspirational ideas or thoughts, we have the ability for prophetic thought. It also allows for a deepening of our devotion, experiencing Divine ecstasy, transcendence and liberation from identification with suffering.
If this chakra doesn’t function properly we experience this period as the “dark night of the soul” as it was described in the poetry of St. John of the Cross. When we are distracted or overwhelmed by the difficulties and pain of life, we may experience loss of faith in a compassionate Divine force. We start to doubt our own belief that we are spiritual as issues of disbelief and depression cloud our inner knowing and overshadow our Divine nature. We falsely identify with the world and our bodies (maya or the illusion in yoga) and feel “existential angst” which disconnects us from our realisation that we are on a journey back to the Divine. For some the sense of isolation and spiritual depression may seem unbearable and they may end it all with a violent act against the soul.
The greatest healer of this chakra when wounded is our ability to surrender to the Divine and to trust the spiritual process in our lives. To commence the healing process, it is wise to find a spiritual path or practice to which the individual can commit completely and with full surrender. It has now nearly become a cliché, but living in the present moment, trusting that we have all in that moment and that every moment is Divinely perfect opens us to all the experiences that life offers us and it instil in us a trust in the Divine process. Mystics, saints, great gurus and even the Christ and The Buddha through the ages have turned to prayer, meditation, contemplation, yoga and silent retreat to support their spiritual journey; we can learn from these great souls and make time for our own time with Divine on a regular basis. A trusted spiritual guide or teacher may offer compassionate facilitation along this path.
The crown chakra corresponds to the physical age of man which is 43 and onwards. If you listen to dinner conversation around a table where people of this age group is present, sooner or later the conversation will turn to “do you remember this or that” or you will suddenly realise how this or that friend of yours have change his/her views suddenly about the Divine. For many this time of their lives is an opportunity to open an elegant window onto the soul and see the miracle of the Divine in their lives in every moment. During this time many see a culmination of all the other ages and as they age there is a deepening of their understanding of the amazing qualities, attributes and spiritual nuances of their soul. It is the journey home manifested and we realise that our journey is not just about reaching our destination, but it is also about all those little stops along the way.
“If I start doing yoga, must I become a vegetarian?” I am now in my fifth year as a yoga teacher and this question always feature somewhere during the conversation with most potential students who want to do yoga with me. The short answer is no, you don’t have to, but if it is a natural development and outflow of your yoga with me, then it is your choice to allow it and to follow how the inner world wants to manifest Itself in the outer world. This article will map my own personal journey from meat eater to vegetarian and back to meat eating again and in that I trust it might give some answers and consolation to those out there who need more than just vegetarianism is the ultimate choice or the preferred one if you want to do yoga.
Map of my own Vegetarian Journey
My own teacher Sri Durga is a vegetarian and a very avid one and she used to advocate vegetarianism strongly in her classes, to the point where I decided soon after I started yoga in 1999 with her to also make the transition to being a vegetarian. And please don’t get me wrong, I adore her and I respect her for her strong stance on this issue. Around me all those other vegetarians and fellow yogis looked so healthy and as I always had a problem with maintaining my weight, I really pinned all my hopes on vegetarianism to be the next big weight loss programme for me combined with a yoga practice.
By May 2000 I ate my last piece of kingklip and so started my vegetarian food journey. Initially I felt great, didn’t lose any weight, in fact I started to pack more kilograms around my waist and developed the most terrible heartburn, but being a Taurus, the stubbornness in me prevailed and I stuck to my newly found vegetarian diet. By 2003 the most terrible muscle aches in my legs started to appear. Initially I thought it was just sore muscles from the yoga and the 10+kg I have gained since starting on my vegetarian journey, ignoring the messages my body was sending me so desperately at night. Eventually I spoke to my teacher and fellow yogis about my aches, and my teacher recommend that I add more magnesium to my diet and that I take a Vitamin B12 plus B-Comp injection at least once every three months. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the aches and pains better, in fact it got worse.
By 2005 I have picked up 15kg since my vegetarian journey started. I also become very depressed and the doubt about my diet and yoga started to creep into my consciousness. In October of 2005 I went to India for the first time and I was shocked by many aspects of India, but the one thing that shocked me the most was the realization that India is not the great vegetarian loving nation as portrayed in Western media and articles. In fact my experience was that most Indians actually eat meat at least twice a week if they are not a swami, pundit or some religious leader. And that was the turning point for on my vegetarian journey.
Back home in South Africa, I decided to still stick to my vegetarian diet, but to research more. I started to look at my family history. Both my father and eldest sister was diagnosed with pernicious anaemia and my father especially had huge issues with this disease. He died in 2006 of a massive heart attack after suffering a serious and very low iron deficiency due to the fact that his body couldn’t absorb vitamin B. And as it is a genetic disease, I had to consider this for myself as well. At this point I started to look like Batman’s seriously overweight sidekick, Robin, huge black circles around my eyes, loss of energy, always tired and an increase in muscles aches throughout my whole body now, made it nearly impossible for me to function. I then saw an Ayurveda doctor who prescribed more eggs and a greater combination of plant based legumes, nuts and cheese for me, which to my great dismay didn’t make a difference at all except to my weight! The higher carbohydrate diet just pushed me faster towards the edge of diabetes and when I was test a in 2007 for diabetes I was classified as being pre-diabetic. This was where I decided enough is enough and started to introduce fish and chicken back into my diet. Within months my weight started to stabilise and the severe muscles aches and cramps disappeared. My energy levels returned to normal and the constant tiredness start to dissipate.
In hindsight I can say this: Vegetarianism is great and I am a great supporter of this diet and lifestyle choice, but before you plunge yourself into it, research your family history, check your parents for diseases and syndromes that will affect your journey into vegetarianism as it could have serious consequences.
What about Ahimsa – the practice of non-harming and non-violence
Being a vegetarian is not the ultimate way of honouring this yogic value. It is clear from my own account above that what I thought was a non-violent and non-harming lifestyle choice perpetrated so much violence and harm against my own body, that I have to ask questions about the violence I allowed against my body and how it resonated with this first yama of yoga.
I also think there are much bigger issues currently to consider in our strife for ahimsa than just becoming a vegetarian. The other day I visited one of my very good yogi friends and as she prepared a lovely vegetarian meal for us, I couldn’t help to notice that the beans she prepared was from Zambia (we are in South Africa), the carrots from Zimbabwe, and the petit pois from Uganda and the couscous from Tunisia. Our whole meal was imported! The violence against Mother Earth to get all those foods to South Africa is huge in terms of carbon from the fossil fuels burned to get those foods here. It is also more difficult to get information about ethical treatment, usage of pesticides and gm seeds from those countries, than from your own country. And let’s not get started on the violence against so many farmers and families in South Africa due to the lack of income, loss of jobs and farm land, because of imported food. Eating closer to the source of your food is not just serving you better, but the whole world in a very authentic way.
Ahimsa in terms of my food journey, is to know where it came from, how it was produced and as a fish and poultry eater, I like to know how these animals were treated, were they happy and living in good conditions, cared for with love? There are farmers who dearly love their animals and who rear their animals with respect and compassion, and my choice is to eat those animals from those farmers. I look towards local producers, where my food only had to travel a few kilometres by road instead of thousands of kilometres by air and road from some strange country where I don’t even know how my vegetables were cultivated.
Ahimsa for me is also to support initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays and to encourage people who eat meat everyday to consider eating meat every second day. As a chef I have to work with meat, I can’t avoid it and as such I always treat the meat I am working with, with great respect, honouring in that way the animal that died in order for me to prepare some great meal as nourishment for someone else and not seeing it as just another piece of dead animal on my chopping board.
Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras and Your Diet
For most yogis it is a problem that Patanjali nowhere in The Yoga Sutras makes special mention about diet and what foods you should or shouldn’t eat. Even the Bhagavad Gita doesn’t list any specific foods for following a “yogic diet.” And I suspect that if they did, the list would be very problematic for us as Westerners and also what was appropriate then, might not be appropriate today.
Despite that fact that there are no clear guidelines, I think as yogis we can look to Ayurveda and what it can offer us in terms of a great basis on which we can base our future food explorations and choices. Ayurveda tradition differentiates between the three Gunas where foods that are considered sattvic, include most vegetables, ghee, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Rajasic foods such as coffee, eggs, cheese, peppers, salt and fish increase energy levels and Tamasic foods, such as onions, meat, and garlic slows the metabolism. However, in the West we know the many health benefits of garlic for example and for me it doesn’t make sense to exclude it from my diet or to even list it as Tamasic. Maintaining a balance between all three Gunas is more important in maintaining a healthy and light body and this doesn’t mean to eat just Sattvic foods. Consider also your constitution or Dosha, there are three Doshas, Vata, Pita and Kapha and how they are in balance with each other.
The vegetarian diet made me sick, but I am still attracted to the non-violence of the first yama of yoga and as such I had to discover the truth for me. And my truth is that I still need animal protein to function appropriately. For me an omnivorous diet, one that consists of moderate amounts of animal protein and enough fruits and vegetables makes more sense and is more appropriate for where I am than a strictly vegetarian or even vegan diet. Since I do eat animal protein, I always honour the duck, the chicken, and turkey or prawn or trout by not wasting its life force or mine, but to use that force to heal myself and others, and to teach, inspire, and help people evolve. My ethics about what to eat came down to my personal truth and that is that an omnivorous diet works physiologically far better for me.
Clearly, with such varied perspectives on what feeds the body and spirit, developing a diet that reflects your ethics and honours your physical needs can be challenging. In the end most yogis would agree that part of the practice is to develop awareness about what you eat. It’s worth spending time educating yourself not just about the possible diets you could follow but also about the origins and properties of the food you buy. To begin forming your yogic diet, think about which teachings best resonate with you and how you might put those teachings into action.