Hatha yoga is unique for maintaining proper health. But that is only one aspect of hatha yoga. It is also a complete step-by-step system that can take you to the ultimate goal of God-realization and perfection. Therefore do not mistakenly think that hatha yoga is only a physical practice for proper health.
At the inception of your practice, however, you will most likely be relating to hatha yoga for proper health. In that perspective, there are five principles that you should observe:
(i) proper exercise, (ii) proper breathing, (iii) proper relaxation, (iv) proper diet and (v) positive thinking.
Proper diet is also very important. It is like the fuel that you put into your body. When they tell you, “Don’t put leaded gasoline in your cars because it is not good for them,” what do you do? You make sure you do not put leaded gasoline in your car. When you are born, you do not come with a manual that tells you what food to eat. But in our scriptures, it is very clearly outlined what you should eat. Most times we do not follow it. The Muslims during Ramadan fast for one month from sun up to sun down. What do they do? From sun up to sun down they do not eat but as soon as the sun has gone down, they gorge themselves with food and feast all night. It defeats the whole purpose! It is not what the scripture meant. You give yourself a whole month to purge and purify the body, giving it some chance to get rid of toxins. But by doing what they do, they actually create more problems. It is better if you eat during the day than during the night!
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika very clearly tells you what diet to use and what you should avoid. With everything I teach you, I lay a foundation and teach you the basic principles behind it. Once you understand the principles, anything can be adopted to achieve that objective. Proper diet is very important if you want to maintain good health. Most of the problems people experience are due to bad eating habits. When you were small, you knew instinctively what to eat. Then you became confused. It takes a long time to desire pure foods simply by doing your asana practice. You need to start eating properly right away. Many diseases like arthritis and cancer arise from wrong eating. Proper diet, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper exercise and positive thinking will all help to accelerate this process.
If you observe proper diet, it is like a fast. It is a discipline where you are not overtaxing the system by putting in too many toxins. In the beginning, just modifying your diet is advisable. You are giving the body a chance to get rid of a backlog of waste. Some people hear the words ”fasting” and ”purify” and they go overboard. It should be done step by step. Fasting is something you can approach until you reach that point where it becomes enjoyable. As you continue with your practice, you will learn about the kriyas, which are cleansing exercises that help to get rid of gross impurities. Once you learn the kriyas and practice them, you find that when your body gets rid of the gross impurities, you feel you do not want to eat food. You do not feel hungry. If you fast on just water that day, it is equivalent to many days of other people fasting. When people fast and don’t do the kriyas, the impurities are circulating in their body. That is why they feel lethargic and nauseous. So everything is a process.
As you become more intimate with your body, you get in touch with its real needs. At some point, there are certain foods that will become repulsive. As the process of refinement through yoga continues, you will become sensitive to the agony and suffering endured by animals in the process of slaughtering. You will naturally stop eating meat. But to start, if want to become a vegetarian and you are a meat eater, stop eating meat, then fish, then eggs. When you start like this, then naturally as the body becomes purified, you will feel that certain things are not suitable for you. Your body will reject them. But you have to start the process of purification.
Food plays an important part in the functioning of the mind. If the food is impure, the mind also becomes impure. Therefore diet is of primal importance. Sattwic foods are the best for a yogic practitioner. They consist mainly of cereals, fresh and dry fruits, raw or freshly cooked vegetables, beans and legumes, tofu, tempeh, ghee and pure organic milk. Light and nourishing food like this is easy to digest. It also increases vitality, strength, endurance and health. If you want to have a sattwic diet, remember that any change in diet should be done progressively.
It is not only important to have a healthy diet but it is important to have a moderate diet. Overeating is the chief cause of most diseases. In Sampoorna yoga, we teach people to take a moment before eating to develop reverence and gratitude for the food, to eat slowly and consciously, chewing well, to fill the stomach with 1/2 solid food, 1/4 liquid and to keep 1/4 space empty, to eat at regular times and only when hungry, and to eat in a peaceful atmosphere.
We are nourished not only by food through our mouth but also by our ears, eyes and nose. All that we take through our senses is food. Therefore those who want to accelerate their progress on the path of yoga should be vigilant about the kind of papers and books they read, the kind of movies or television programs they watch, the kind of environment they live in and the kind of music they listen to.