If Your Family is Ill.....

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

If the family is sick, weak, prone to coughs and colds, sinusitis, digestive upsets, and other more serious conditions, we must consider that the diet is faulty, it requires only a few simple common sense rules to put our diet in order but first we must recognise the need for it. Then the willpower to carry out these changes has to be developed. That such changes are necessary for most of us is shown by the increase of disease in the world today, much of which is needless and avoidable.

Over the last few decades, with the destruction of the family unit and the growing disrespect for the traditional forms of wisdom handed down from father to son and guru to disciple, we find ourselves increasingly alienated from our heritage and roots; from those things which served to ensure the health and total fulfilment of the individual. In olden times the village wise-man or storyteller was the repository for the collected wisdom and experience of the tribe. He knew which foods to grow at which season; when variations in seasons were likely, and how to prepare food to suit seasons and needs.

As towns and cities developed and the inhabitants grew more secure from the elements and marauding tribes, the accent on food moved away from survival (mooladhara chakra dominance) and strength (manipura dominance) to mere pleasure (swadhisthana dominance). Ancient Rome is an example of the shift from natural, rustic wisdom to urban, debauched living with all its inherent evils and ills. Our present social situation mirrors the debauchery preceding the downfall of Rome. Much of our present situation is cultivated by the billions of dollars of advertising which is spent annually on convincing people they will be happy if they eat such and such a product. We think we will become happy and satisfied, strong and healthy by satisfying the dictates of taste and tongue. However, this is a limited ephemeral pleasure and we miss out on a better source of happiness, good health and vitality. Emphasis on taste alone, though important also, denies the needs of mooladhara and manipura. Our sphere of awareness shrinks and we sacrifice long-term energy and vitality for short-term pleasure. We must re-educate ourselves to balance taste with needs and to understand that by sacrificing some of our tastes and reducing quantity we gain something better overall.

We must also relearn to listen to our bodies, for many of us have forgotten how to follow the instinctive intelligence of the body, the inherent inner neural mechanisms which tell us when we are hungry and when we are satiated. Instead, many of us have turned our attention to the dictates of modem society, depending on the proclamations of scientists, doctors and nutritionists who bombard us with a huge number of often contradictory facts and figures which tell what we should and should not eat. However, researchers will be the first to admit that we but poorly understand diet and its effects on the body.

Yoga teaches us that, once we have recognised our present dilemma and sought a remedy by simplifying our diet and practising some asana, pranayama and hatha yoga shatkarma, we can not only rectify many of our present health problems, but also raise the level of our awareness and energy to manipura chakra, where we can experience vitality and joy. Our energy level increases and health naturally ensues. We also raise the level of our consciousness because we expand our awareness to involve our total body and lifestyle.

The importance of diet

Most of us think that we can shovel any quantity and quality of food into our body without suffering repercussions. As children we can digest many things that would be unthinkable for adults, though even children suffer from their excesses of sugars and synthetic foods, and we tend to perpetuate the habits learned in childhood. We would be far wiser to follow the example of Japan which has had a fully integrated nutrition program in schools for more than 80 years, using school canteens to teach proper nutrition habits while children are in a formative stage and before bad habits can develop. In western countries and in India, however, the state of nutrition and digestive problems has multiplied into an acute crisis. We begin to abuse our bodies from an early age, forming habits and likes and dislikes that are often difficult to bend let alone break.

Western nutritionists and clinical ecologists have finally begun to recognise the extent of the present day food situation. They are stating that it is often not necessary to take drugs for our symptoms because drugs can often compound the problem. For example, an asthmatic whose symptoms worsen after meals, and especially at night, is either eating too much or the wrong type of food. Instead of taking powerful anti-asthmatic drugs which have side effects and which can create addictions, we should simply reduce the quantity of our food or stop milk and milk products, fats, rice and sugars. We will not only feel better but will have better sleep and rest and more energy.

Present day nutritionists see food playing an important role in a large number of physical and mental conditions. Dr Bernard Raxlen, a psychiatrist in Connecticut, USA, states that twenty percent of all psychiatric problems would probably benefit from a nutritional evaluation. This new science, called clinical ecology, is the study of foods, moulds or petrochemicals and their effect on human behaviour, and was pioneered by Dr Theron Randolf of Chicago.

Clinical ecologists state that when molecules travel via the tongue directly to the brain, they may trigger biochemical reactions that jam the C.N.S., causing anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and phobias, all of which have been linked to food sensitivity. A hysterical woman entering a psychiatric ward of the future will not only be assessed for psychosis but also to see whether she is reacting to some food she has recently eaten. Raxlen, for example, cites several cases where one child became hyperactive after eating a banana and a teenage girl developed convulsions in reaction to animal protein.

Paul Yanick, director of the Woodbridge Hearing Centre in New Jersey, USA found that his hearing was diminishing at the age of nineteen until he was almost totally deaf at the age of twenty six and the victim of tinnitus, a loud and constant ringing in the ears. After reading research that hearing disorders were linked to metabolic problems such as hypoglycaemia-and hypothyroidism, Yanick corrected his hypoglycaemia by changing his diet and starting to exercise. In this way he stopped his tinnitus and improved his hearing by forty percent in two months. At his hearing centre he has found that by using exercise and individual dietary tailoring for a group of seventy people, they could better understand speech by an average of twenty five percent, more accurately perceive the difference between tones by thirty percent, and of the forty patients with tinnitus, thirty four reported relief from buzzing and some claimed it completely disappeared.

Although refined, processed and chemically treated foods are most implicated in the disordering of the natural channels of absorption and utilisation of vitamins, minerals, and so on, other factors are obviously involved. Scientists have recently found that the time of day we eat our food is extremely important. For example, coffee taken in the morning is deleterious to our health because it works out of phase with our natural biorhythms. It gives our body a high when it should be in low gear, a more relaxed state, and interferes with the activity of certain enzymes, hormones and chemicals. Coffee taken at 3 p.m., is thought to be in harmony with and an aid to body rhythms and natural cycles.

The ability to use chemicals and foods to readjust body rhythms is presently being utilised in designing diet for pilots and for people suffering from jet lag. Its theory is presently being extended into designing drug schedules for patients because drugs exert maximal beneficial effects at certain times of day. Yogic sciences have long been aware of the benefits of utilising body rhythms and natural cycles, for example, eating at certain times of the day to conserve and maximise energy, however, this area of application is still in its infancy, though scientists are becoming aware of the need to increase the quality and nutritional value of foods sold on the market. Dr Mark Hegfted, administrator of the US Agriculture Department in Washington, USA, has stated that, "Rich foods with little nutrients will be phased out as the world population expands and safe, quality and nutritional foods will be introduced."

Altering the diet

There are five main areas of dietary indiscretion, areas which are potentially disease inducing:

  1. Overeating
  2. Eating without feeling hungry
  3. Wrong foods
  4. Wrong time
  5. Eating while tense or emotionally upset.

Probably the commonest cause of lethargy, digestive upset and other disease problems is overeating. Very few people understand the art of eating and can stop when the stomach is sufficiently full. Most of us go beyond our needs. We are influenced by desires and cravings for pleasant sensory experiences and cannot see the future unpleasant consequences of our action nor can we connect our diseases with our past indiscretions and bad habits.

The purpose of eating is to take in nutrition and sustain physical energy. At the same time the food should be palatable and enjoyable if it is to be conducive to relaxation and good digestion. The process of digestion requires the breakdown of food, absorption through the stomach and intestines, assimilation by the tissues and elimination via the faeces, urine, breath, skin and other excretions. Overeating interferes with the total process. The breakdown of food is impeded because the stomach and intestinal walls are overstretched, preventing the churning action which brings food into contact with the digestive juices. A lot of food remains undigested and merely rots or putrefies.

Absorption is impeded because the channels for absorption become clogged, tiring after continuously working to take in the overload we have imposed upon ourselves food wise. The tissues become saturated and the energy for elimination is reduced as it is put into absorption, assimilation and utilisation of the extra, excessive food. We think that by putting many nutritious foods into our body we gain more energy, strength and health. However, this is a fallacy and in fact we lose because not only do we waste a lot of energy in breaking down an unnecessarily large amount of food, much of which is simply excreted, but we cannot absorb even a small portion due to poor digestion and blocked assimilation. The net result is energy loss, lethargy, overweight and digestive problems.

Eating when we are not hungry is also common. Many of us simply eat because food is there and this also is a mistake because hunger is a sign that the body requires food and is ready to digest it.

Wrong food means either bad combinations, dead, synthetic foods, or excesses of anything. For example, eating meat, ice cream and a soft drink in one meal is a harmful combination, while too much ghee or oil will spoil a reasonably balanced meal.

Timing of meals should be according to the body energy cycles and rhythms, the best times being between 9-12 a.m. and before sunset, with no snacks in between. However, these timings can be adjusted.

Many people eat in a state of tension and anxiety, in a hurry, their minds ticking over the day's events, or emotionally upset over some trivial incident. This upsets the blood and nervous flow to the stomach, setting the sympathetic nervous system in motion rather than the required parasympathetic activity.

By adapting a few natural dietary rules and yogic practices into daily life we can maintain good health and rectify many problems which have developed due to unhealthy habits. Thereby we prevent future disease problems and the inability to enjoy our food and gain the glow of vital good health.