Veg v/s non-veg debate: Looking through the yogic lens

You are what you eat. That’s the principle yogic approach which takes a holistic view of human health, on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. The ancient treatise of Patanjali Yoga Sutra speaks of the concept of 'Ahimsa' (non-violence), as one of the core values of yoga. The ethical discussion on non-vegetarianism, cruelty to animals, animal-to-man diseases, toxin secretion during slaughter, and lack of economics in meat production are undeniable truths. Apart from this the human body and its digestive system is naturally designed for a vegetarian diet. Today, the entire debate between vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is practically resting in favor of the former with research and statistics available in bookshops and on the internet. Simply stated, vegetarian food is easy to digest; contains antioxidants, fiber, an array of vitamins; low in calories, sugar, fat, and reduces your chances of getting diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension and almost all cancers. Numerous sites including The American Dietetic Association, World Cancer Research Fund and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey contain a wealth of knowledge on this. If that doesn’t alarm you away from non-vegetarianism, let’s focus a bit on a fascinating aspect of yoga which speaks of food.

Better food makes better mood

Ayurveda classifies food not as proteins or carbohydrates etc. but according to its effect on the body and mind. It classifies food based on three qualities or gunas that governs human life – sattva, rajas and tamas.

  • Tamasic food creates lethargy or sluggishness
  • Rajasic food creates activity or restlessness
  • Sattvic food, which consists of vegetarian fare, creates lightness, energy and positivity

These three qualities are present in our body in varying degree and have a direct influence on us, our moods, emotions and consequent health. There is an ancient Ayurvedic proverb which sums it up- “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”

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Scientifically speaking, we need food for two reasons: as fuel to produce energy to exist (prana or life energy) and as raw material to regenerate the body. Yoga says that our system is a seamless blend of the body, mind and spirit. An irregularity in the body affects the mind and unpleasantness in the mind manifests as an ailment in the body. It has been observed that the practice of yoga, accompanied with a sattvic diet, can truly create wonders. This is because when one does Yoga,  pranayama (breathing techniques), and complements it with sattvic food, the prana levels in the body increase. This creates a lighter, positive, happy and harmonious state of being. In fact, many yoga practitioners have experienced that one of the major impacts of yoga is an increased awareness of their body and mind. This allows for their natural progression towards sattvic high-prana generating food choices. It is almost as though the body desires to return to its innate mechanism which is attuned to a vegetarian diet. The best encapsulation of this is by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of The Art of Living, who says, "When you become subtle in your mind and go deeper in your heart, you turn vegetarian naturally.” Another marvelous benefit of a daily dose of yoga, coupled with a vegetarian diet, is that it is one of the easiest ways to stay fit, look younger and get that glowing skin and hair. But it would be prudent to allow more celebrated vegetarian yogis to make that all-consuming point.

(Written by Shatakshi Chowdhry with inputs from Kaushani Desai, Ayurvedic Cooking expert and Sejal Shah, National Coordinator for Sri Sri Yoga (India).)