Sadhguru, Isha Foundation
Sadhguru: The body is essentially an accumulation of food – breakfast, lunch and dinner. So what type of food you eat definitely has an impact on what kind of body you build. In Indian culture, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge about what you should eat based upon the type of life you choose. If you want to become a wrestler, you eat one kind of food. If you want to use your brains, there is another kind of food. If you want to evolve spiritually, you eat another kind of food. It depends on what you are making the body fit for.
Different people have different requirements of fitness. For a laborer, fitness is to be able to work twelve hours a day. If you are an athlete, you are thinking of hundred meters in eight seconds. If you are a spiritual seeker, you are looking at your body in terms of being a conducive instrument for higher possibilities. Depending upon the orientation of your life, you accordingly choose a certain kind of food. This wisdom and knowing is deeply embedded in this culture.
The way you eat not only decides your physical health, but the very way you think, feel and experience life. Trying to eat intelligently means understanding what kind of fuel this body is designed for and accordingly supplying that kind of fuel so that it functions at its best.
Let us say you bought a petrol car, but you pumped kerosene into it and drove it around. It might still move about, but it would not function at its optimal capacity, and its lifespan could also be seriously affected. Similarly, if we do not understand what kind of fuel this body is designed for, if we just force whatever comes onto our plate into the system, it will definitely not function at its optimum level, and its lifespan can be reduced. Compatibility of the fuel and of the machine is of great importance if you are seeking a certain calibre of function.
What kind of food is the human system really designed for? One can easily experiment with this and see. Don’t ask your doctor, your nutritionist, yoga teachers or anybody. When it comes to food, it is about the body. Ask the body – not your tongue – what kind of food it is most comfortable with. The kind of food your body feels most comfortable with is always the ideal food to eat.
You must learn to listen to your body, if you want to understand what is the best food to eat. As your body awareness evolves, you will know exactly what a certain food will do to you. You do not even have to put it into your mouth. One can develop this kind of sensitivity that if you just look at or touch the food, you will know.
If you eat certain foods, the body will become happy. If you eat certain other foods, the body will become dull and lethargic – these foods will increase your sleep quota. If you sleep for eight hours a day, that means if you live for a hundred years, you have slept for thirty-three of those years. You have spent one third of your life sleeping! Another thirty to forty percent goes in eating, toilet and the other ablutions. There is very little time left for life.
In terms of the quality of food that is entering you, vegetarian food is definitely far better for the system than non-vegetarian. We are not looking at it from a moral standpoint. We are just looking at what is suitable for the system – we try to eat foods which would make you comfortable in the body. If you want to do any activity properly, it is extremely important that your body is at ease. So, what you eat should be the kind of food with which your body would be most at ease and would not struggle to get nourishment out of.
Just experiment and see, when you eat vegetarian food in its live, uncooked form, what a difference it will make. The idea is to eat as much as can be consumed in its aliveness. A live cell has everything to sustain life. If you consume a live cell, you will see the sense of health in your system will be very different from anything that you have known. Cooking the food destroys the life in it. Eating foods after this process of destruction does not give the same amount of life energy to the system. But when you eat natural food, it brings a different level of aliveness in you. If one eats lots of sprouts, fruit, and whatever vegetables that can be eaten in a live condition, if you bring in at least thirty to forty percent live food, it will sustain the life within you very well.
The Impact of Food on the Mind
As I said earlier, the type of food we eat also has a huge impact on the mind. An average American is said to consume 200 pounds of meat per year. At the same time, you will see that a large number of people in the West are taking antidepressants at some point in their life. If this meat consumption is brought down, a significant percentage of people will not need antidepressants anymore. Meat is a good food to survive if you are out in the desert or the jungle. If you are lost somewhere, a piece of meat will keep you going, because it provides concentrated nourishment. But it should not be a daily food that you eat when there are other choices. There are many ways to look at this. One thing is, animals have the intelligence to realize in their last few moments that they are going to be killed, no matter how cunningly or how scientifically you do it. Any animal that has the capacity to express some kind of emotion will always grasp when it is going to be killed.
Suppose you come to know right now that at the end of this day, you are going to get slaughtered. Imagine the struggle that you would go through, the burst of chemical reactions within you. An animal goes through at least some fraction of that. This means when you kill an animal, the negative acids and whatever other chemicals are in the meat. When you consume that meat, it creates an unnecessary level of mental fluctuation.
When we get ourselves into such a mental state and treat our bodies violently, we cannot expect the world to be peaceful. The world is quite peaceful without human beings. It is only the way we live upon this planet which creates violence. There are very violent, brutal situations on the planet, like battles and wars. They need to be handled – there’s no question about that – but the everyday violence with which we live also needs to be addressed. Every year, we are killing billions of land and marine creatures. When we cause so much violence, we being healthy and peaceful is not going to happen.
If human beings just maintain a few simple things, 90% of the ailments on this planet would just disappear. One simple aspect about health is just to use the body. If you use the body sufficiently, it has everything to create health for itself. I would say, if we physically used our bodies as much as we should, 80% of the ailments would disappear. Of the remaining 20%, another 10% is because of the type of foods people are eating. If you change that, another 10% would disappear. That means only 10% of the ailments would remain. Those have happened because of a variety of reasons. One is karmic, another could be atmospheric and there are other aspects that could have happened in the system, which can be looked at. Out of all the sick people, if 90% of them become healthy just by using the body and eating the right food, 10% could be easily handled. But now, the volume of ailment is so big because we don’t eat properly or we eat very properly and we don’t use the body properly.
Too many people die from chronic ailments, and more than that, even when they are alive, they cannot live well. Illness is the first level of violence. You cannot be peaceful when you are ill, because your body is in a constant battle. The fight with some virus, bacteria, or something else that comes from outside is one thing. But a chronic ailment is like a civil war. You created a battle within your own system, without an outside enemy. And unfortunately, the maximum number of chronic ailments exist in some of the most affluent countries on the planet. That means when affluence comes, we are losing all our sense. This has happened in the West in a big way, and we are seeing similar things happening in Indian cities. It is not just about the medical aspects, the number of people who die, and various other things. The biggest problem is the number of people who are alive but cannot live a full life.
What You Eat and How You Eat
The content of the food definitely has a big impact, but how you consume it is equally important. Whether you eat an animal, a vegetable, or whatever else – essentially, food is a piece of life. Something that was a life by itself becomes a part of you. One life transforms itself into another – that is what eating means. It is not just digestion – it is one life fusing into another. When you put another piece of life into you, how it merges with your body and what this produces depends on how you keep your chemistry while you eat. How you should be, when you should eat, in what posture you should sit, and how you should welcome the food into yourself – these things are being completely ignored today.
Traditionally, in India, we have always been taught how you should be when food enters your body, what condition you should be in, what posture you should be in, how you should approach it – these are very big things in the East. Not just the quality of the food we consume – how we consume, how wantonly or how consciously, is very important.
I have seen people who are successful professionals in many US cities, standing on the roadside, stuffing their face with whatever food they get from vendors there. This is not the way to eat. I feel really sad for such people – you do not see an element of joy on their face. They may have less than half an hour to go, eat, and come back to work and make more money. If you live like this, how can you not suffer? It is very important that you eat a meal consciously, with a certain sense of involvement with the food and the people around you.
The first thing that we were taught is if food appears in front of you, you hold your hands upon the food for a few moments to feel how the food is. If something appears on my plate and I just feel it, I know what to eat and what not to eat without having to taste it. My hands are the first level of knowing the food.
It is important to know the food that is going to become a part of you. Even if you do not physically touch it with your hands, just by being conscious, you will clearly know how the food will behave within you. The decision whether a particular food should go into you or not changes from day to day, because your body is different every day, every moment. If you feel the food, you just know whether it should go into you on this day or not. If the necessary awareness is brought in, we do not have to tell people what they should eat. Every meal, they should decide what to eat at that time.
One must remember there is nothing religious, philosophical, spiritual or moral about the food we eat. It is a question of life sense. Every individual must arrive at one’s own balance of diet, not by taking vows, but by observation and awareness. Above all, every day, that which sustains your life is the food that you eat, the water that you drink and the air that you breathe. When you eat, recognize this food as yourself. It is other forms of life that we are eating – the other forms of lives are giving up their life to sustain our life. If we can eat with enormous gratitude for all the living things which give up their life to sustain our lives, then the food will behave in a very different way within you.
Ranked amongst the fifty most influential people in India, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, visionary and bestselling author. Sadhguru has been conferred the “Padma Vibhushan” by the Government of India in 2017, the highest annual civilian award, accorded for exceptional and distinguished service.