Greetings from the Land of Enchantment: Conscious Eating

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Conscious Eating

The 3HO lifestyle arrived here in the United States in the early 70s, at the very beginning of the Health Food movement. One could argue that the yoga lifestyle 3HO engenders was the seed that began the health food movement here in the United States and abroad. If not solely responsible, it was surely on the ground floor of what has become a multi-million dollar industry.

As a kid, I grew up in a standard American household—meat and potatoes, cold cereal and milk, etc. But I was at least in a home where everything was homemade and most of the time—fresh. And on PBS there was this lovely woman called Kathy who showed you how to make homemade yogurt and steamed greens. I was fascinated by her. It took 30 years for me to find a path that mirrored her same equanimity and poise when it came to food. And it I didn’t take to it easily.

Once I began studying Kundalini Yoga it took me a while to take on the entire lifestyle—and I still struggle with parts of it—namely Sadhana! But once I became a Level One Instructor, it took me about 9 months to become a full-fledged vegetarian. Since then I’ve struggled with my eating issues—compulsively eating foods that don’t really make me feel good and certainly don’t nourish me. I’ve gained weight since becoming a vegetarian, which of course, is discouraging. As I began addressing my food issues, I felt like I needed more protein so I introduced eggs into my diet; but that felt like I was compromising my identity as a Teacher, even if only a little bit, and when I hear that little in my mind I am reminded: “don’t let yourself down, don’t be a part of anyone’s let down,” and I experienced my own duality.

Over the past few months, in conjunction with the beginning of the Aquarian Age, several of my fellow teachers who’ve been on this path for many years have begun eating meat again. Their reasons are as diverse as they are: They don’t feel grounded; they feel they need more nutritional supplementation; or they just want to. But most of them feel the same level of duplicity that I experience when I eat eggs. One solution is to figure out how to talk about our own experience and still hold the identity of a Teacher as outlined by Yogi Bhajan without compromising our students’ experience. Another solution is to renew our commitment to the 3HO vegetarian lifestyle. I’m not a fanatic and the code of excellence describes a lifestyle that is both broad and deep. What we put in our mouths is not the beginning or the end of what a Teacher’s identity. Nevertheless, it’s a concrete way of understanding and experiencing what it means to be a yogi.

I have decided to renew my commitment to conscious eating; eating foods that will make me feel not only good but Great! My new goal is to have 90% of my diet be made up of vegetables, beans and legumes, and fruits. Lots of raw and lots of steamed green things; include starchy veggies and whole grains a few times a week; at least one cup of beans or lentils a day; three or four fruits and a handful of nuts as well as a teaspoon of flax seeds to get my “good” fats. This is the diet advocated by Dr. Fuhrman in his Eat to Live book, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to renew their commitment to a vegetarian diet. (I also recommend Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer if you need a reminder of what the industrial food paradigm does to animals—even in the organic market.)

Meat is tamasic; and as Kundalini Yogis we are striving for a balance of Rajasic and Sattvic energies in our foods. It has been proven over and over again (see Eat to Live for citations) that meat is the number one dietary contributor to cancer and heart disease, not just here in the United States but around the world. If you feel like meat grounds you, then Yogi Bhajan’s answer was martial arts. If the pressures of the Aquarian Age are challenging your connection to the earth, try gatka; try karate; try kick boxing! Become kick ass—with a kick ass diet! If you feel you need more protein, eat more greens—they have the highest protein to calorie ratio of any other foods. I’ll never forget being in a workshop with Dharma Mittra, a world-renowned Hatha Yogi and Teacher. He had us raise our hands if we were vegetarian. Out of a room of a 100 people, a handful of us raised our hands. He almost left the room he was so incensed. He had us hold out our arms and asked us, “Look at this arm, it is made of chicken! Do you think you can reach the state of meditation and consciousness you seek when you are made of chicken?”

That moment has always stayed with me. I do want a consciousness that is sattvic and pure—and rajasic when it needs to be. I do want a meditative mind, a healthy body, and light-filled spirit. And with only a small amount of time on this new regimen I already feel the difference. I feel happy, healthy and holy and that’s what our lifestyle is all about, isn’t it?

This post originally appeared in 3HOs Blog, February 2012.


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