So are you vegetarian?
If you’ve been a vegetarian for more than two minute’s you’ll be familiar with a voice in your ear at social gatherings: “… so are you vegetarian?” The pile of greens on your plate may be a bit of a give-away. A deep breath is timely at this point. It is an emotive subject for many and as a Kundalini Yoga Teacher, a conversation you will have with students over a lifetime.
Each one of us has a slightly different story as to how and why we started “eating vegetarian”. For some it’s due to health concerns, others for the love of animals and/ or for spiritual reasons. But what motivates you to continue on this path? And how do you make it an elevating process over a lifetime? Here are a few basics from Yogic Diet and Ayurvedic Lifestyle and Nutrition to continue to map the territory for ongoing self – contemplation.
The root meaning of vegetable comes from the Latin vegetatus “to animate or enliven ” (etymonline.com) and some do assume that vegetarianism is naturally a healthy lifestyle, yet this is not necessarily the case. “You are what you eat” is one of the basics to remember here. Not that once we have completed the digestive process you will look like a carrot if you eat enough of them (although my sister did manage to turn herself rather orange but that is a story for another time). Nonetheless, if your diet consists mainly of Prana rich, “green energy” from plants, it will be a significant boost to your health and vitality. Vayu (air), Jala (water), Akash (space), Teja (fire), and Prithvi (earth). These elements or Tattva’s as they are known in Kundalini Yoga then combine with each other into 3 Guna’s or qualities: Sattva, dominantly air- ether; Rajas, fire; and Tamas with earth.
Close your eyes for a moment and feel the difference between the movement and strength of wind as you breathe it in and how this differs from the piercing heat of fire. Then imagine the cool dark, dampness of a cave – a weighty solidity of earth unheated by the sun. This introduces you briefly to Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the 3 Guna’s or qualities that combine the 5 elements or Tattva’s.
When you reflect on these qualities in relation to the vegetarian lifestyle it can open up new ways of seeing and being with yourself and support you to evaluate and explore eating habits wisely. Increasing any one of the elements in your food will increase that element in your body. Diminishing that quality will reduce its hold on your body too. Increase the opposite quality to balance that quality out. A simple example of this is to drink water when you’re hot or put on warm clothing when you’re cold. It can be applied at a more complex level too but the principle remains the same.
Sounds simple enough, but it’s not always easy. There is an art to introducing this new juggling act to your body that is respectful of your present circumstances. One manageable adjustment at a time is the Sattvic approach to dietary changes. Working with rather than imposing a rigid, unsustainable regime that is applied in a tyrannical manner, being either a combination of angry, aggressive Rajasic and/or coming down on yourself like a ton of bricks, and therefore Tamasic in nature. Even if some of the ideas are “true” there is a big difference to meeting it with what is truly possible for you at this time.
Yet, equally, there is always a possibility of upgrading habits, even starting with the attitude that some shift is possible. Eating fruit and vegetables fresh from your garden or a local organic farmers market has a vastly different impact on your vitality than a fried veggie burger that’s been in the freezer for months, even if it is not on the extreme scale of Tamas such as animals killed and stored for food. A diet dominated by any refined processed food high in preservatives, white flour and sugar and low in Prana, burgers, pie’s, pizza, (meat substitute or not), mixed in with sweeties, cookies and cake will increase the Tamasic quality in the body. So, it’s not just the content in terms of Protein, B12 and calories but the state the food is in when you receive it into yourself.
Sattvic food includes most fresh fruit and mainly the bitter greens, broccoli, chard, spinach, salad leaves and a small quantity of seeds and nuts that are digestible to you (peeled).
Salty, oily, deep fried, fermented food such as pickles, yoghurt, the sour taste such as lemon’s, spicy food, onion, garlic, chilli increase the experience of heat in the body and are therefore Rajasic.
Anything that you can’t digest builds up waste that back up in the intestines and blocks the wider network of channels, tissues, organs and systems. This includes apparent “superfoods” that may simply not be digestible for you. Signs of food intolerance include drowsiness after eating, bloating, gas or hardness in the stomach and acid reflux or nausea. These become symptoms such as aching in the joints, headaches, “brain fog” and the generalised inflammation that leads to more chronic disease in years later.
Here is a short meditation to explore your relationship to the Tattva’s further.
The suggested beginner time is 3 minutes building up to 11 minutes per day, so something to taste before meal times perhaps?
Here are a few questions to journal about afterwards:
· Write down the ingredients of your diet and see if you can allocate them to Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
· Is there then one ingredient to remove or reduce and one new one to include?