When viewed from a materialistic standpoint it would seem that substance is our first need in the form of food. Viewed from the spiritual, the first requisites would be the subtler forms of nourishment gained by breathing fresh air, bathing in sunshine, and drinking pure water. The priorities alter with one’s perception but certainly the argument that food is top priority is flawed when we can exist in good health for weeks without food, only days without water, only minutes without air.
Nevertheless, although it may reasonably lose its place as top priority, nourishment through food is certainly top of the list for many of us and to assume a very important part of daily life and often daily indulgences.
The yogi chooses food which is fresh and natural as he sees the natural product as the measure of quality. He judges for himself the degree of prana which foods contain, calling the most vital of them the sattwic, or highest grade food. Consequently he is vegetarian in his eating habits.
Manufactured commercial foods are avoided as much as possible as most of them contain little life or prana – and seen as dead food by comparison with vital fresh foods. In addition, commercial foods often contain chemical additives and stimulants and this classes them as tamasic or rajasic foods. Commercial and carbonated soft drinks, coca cola and others, along with alcoholic drinks are either avoided altogether, as in the diet of children, or very limited in their consumption.
It is because of their love of animals as well as their judgement of food quality, that meats and flesh foods are considered devoid of life breath and prana so that the yogi rejects them completely. By comparison, plants are still able to breathe, and have the capacity to revive or to propagate through their seeds – they still have a flow of prana. Although in India raw milk is considered of great value, dairy products in our country are made from pasteurised milk and are advised only in limited quantity, particularly as these products involve the deprivation or suffering of infant animals.
In our country we are fortunate to have an abundance of healthy foods and a wide range to choose from, including fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, sprouted seeds, nuts, seeds, grains, honey, golden syrup, maple syrup, wholegrain breads, seaweeds, sprouted seeds, herbs and spices. Fungi and mushrooms are considered of value in limited quantities providing they are eaten when very fresh. Herbs, beans, and other vegetables and fruits are of course included in their dried form, as are seaweeds. As far as possible, the diet should be eaten raw. Foods that require cooking should be only lightly cooked as overcooking destroys much of its nutritional value.
A last reminder about food is to consider the importance of chewing food well. It is in the mouth that the pranas are first released at the first stage of digestion. The stomach has no teeth, and relies upon the food being broken down through mastication as much as possible. We are reminded of the cottage wisdom with its advice to take 32 chews to the bite. Not only does it help digestion, it allows us increased enjoyment of flavour!