Food and breath control for spiritual life

December 1, 2009

Types of foods

Chapter 17

Bhagwat Geeta  verses 8,9,10

Ayuhsatvabalaarogya sukhpritivivardhanah I

Rasyah snigdhah sthirahridhya aaharah saatvikpriyah II

Foods which promote longevity, intelligence, vigour, health, happiness and cheerfulness and which are sweet, bland, substantial and naturally agreeable are dear to the Saatvik type of men.

Kattamalalavanatyushnateekshnarukshavidahina I

Aahara rajasyeshta dukhshokaamyaprada II

Foods which are bitter, acidic, salty, over hot or spicy, pungent, dry and burning and which cause suffering, grief and sickness are dear to the Rajasik type of men.

Yatayamam gataras puti paryushitam cha yat I

Uchchishtmapi chamedhyam bhojanam tamaspriyam II

Food which is half cooked or half ripe, insipid, putrid, stale and polluted, and which is impure too, is dear to men of Tamasik disposition.

Food for yoga sadhana

We are going to discuss yogic diet for those people who want to lead a life of a yogi, the one whose mind is engaged with God. First of all, give up smoking and drinking because no mater how good the food is, alcohol and tobacco are going to bring down the quality of food and harm your system. Instead of drinking alcohol, do physical exercise which will digest the food, de-stress you and improve the overall health of the body and mind.

  • Abstain from pork and beef preparations. They will make the mind slow in intelligence and agility.
  • Food should be eaten consciously and not absentmindedly. Eating slowly and relishing every bite helps in digestion and assimilation.
  • Reduce sugar, oil and salt intake to healthy proportions.
  • For proteins, eat plant proteins instead of animal proteins and consume dairy products for Saativik or spiritual thoughts and mentality.
  • Water, fibre, some raw food items like fruits, salad is essential in everyday food to aid digestion and elimination.
  • Avoid artificial sweetening, colours, scents and flavouring as much as possible. And also food with preservatives should be avoided as far as possible. Instead consume foods in natural form and taste.
  • Reduce and avoid eating sticky foods, particularly maida or baking flour and deep fried foods.
  • Eat seasonal, locally grown foods according to age, activity, gender and temperament.
  • Avoid situations of worries, stress and tension. For relaxation of mind and  muscles, take massage therapy, do meditation of some kind, sing chants or devotional music and pursue other hobbies of your choice. Go for long walks for unwinding as well as de-stressing.
  • Include all the parts of the plant in your food-starting from fruits, flowers, stems, leaves, roots and even seeds. All the parts of a plant should be incorporated in our food and diet.
  • The food should be soft containing enough water content and palatable in taste.
  • It should not emit smell that displeases our senses. The aroma of food should be appetizing and pleasing.
  • Avoid very sour, very sweet, very hot, spicy and pungent foods.
  • Consume natural sugar available in fresh fruits, vegetables and dry fruits.
  • Eat foods of all colours like red, green, purple, yellow etc Eg.  tomatoes, spinach, brinjal, corn, papaya, watermelon, bananas, grapes etc.
  • Food should have nutrition for all the chakras or centres starting from mool aadhar chakra or root center to sahasrar chakra or crown chakra. Partake food and nutrition for physical, mental and spiritual activities. Our diet should be a complete package of food for relaxation, rejuvenation and restoration.
  • Add micro nutrients and supplements as daily intake. The advanced yogis eat  food which not only restores and preserves health but also for inducing anti- aging processes of mental and physical body. All the foods that have antioxidants are anti ageing.

This reminds me that when I went for a pilgrimage in the Himalayas in the summer for Char Dham yatra, I had decided to trek throughout the whole trip instead of hiring a pony or take a helicopter. But the food that was supplied by the organizers was inappropriate and badly planned. Just before we were to start our long trek, we should have been given good quality proteins and carbohydrates instead of giving fried food items. The supposedly tasty fried food did not serve my purpose as I could not walk up on foot all the way up as a lot of energy was being spent on digesting the fried food. I trekked quite a bit but I could have trekked on all the routes provided the diet was right. Therefore, our diet should be right and we must have knowledge of food science and must be aware of what we eat and why we should  eat a particular diet.

Breath control

 Refer Bhagwat Geeta Chapter 4,  verses 29/30

Apane juhivti pranam praneapanam tathapare I

Pranaapangati ruddhwa pranayamparayanaah II


Apare niyatahaarah prananpraneshu juhavati I

Sarvepyete yagyavido yagyakshapitkalmashi II

Translation-Other yogis offer the act of exhalation into that of inhalation, even so other, the act of inhalation into that of exhalation. There are still others given to practice of Pranayam (breath control), who having regulated their diet and controlled the process of exhalation and inhalation both pour their vital airs themselves. All these have their sins consumed away by sacrifice and understand the meanings of sacrificial worship.

This shloka is about performing sacrifices or yagyas with many things, one of them sacrificing the prana and indicates observing the incoming and outgoing breath through the scientific techniques developed by sages for regulating breathing.


The word Pranayam is comprised of two Sanskrit words ‘prana’ plus ‘ayama’.

Prana means life force, ayamam means extension or expansion. In totality, it means extending one’s life by extending the length of breath by breathing systematically by applying some breathing techniques for various aspects of respiration and mastering inhalation and exhalation.

Pranayam utilises breathing to influence and increase the flow of prana or life force in the nadis or energy routes/channels of the energy body called pranamaya kosha, the life force sheath or body of a human being.

The various techniques of Pranayam are the methods whereby the life force can be first activated and then regulated and expanded in order to go beyond one’s normal limitation and reach a higher state of awareness and vibratory energies.

Prana is the force which exists in all animate and inanimate things. Pranayam is generally defined as breath control but it does not convey the full meaning. Therefore, it should not be understood or considered as mere breathing exercises aimed at supplying extra oxygen into the lungs.

Steps of Pranayama

There are four aspects or steps of Pranayama

  1. Inhalation or pooraka
  2. Exhalation or rechaka
  3. Internal breath retention or Antar Kumbhak (Kumbhak means pot)
  4. External breath retention or Bahir Kumbhak

The different practices of Pranayam consists various techniques which involve the above stated aspects of breathing.

However, at the higher stage of Pranayam  which occurs during advanced stages of meditation, there is another mode of Pranayam which is called ‘Kevala Kumbhak’ or spontaneous breath retention. During this higher state, the fluctuation of prana ceases and breathing stops for some moments and simultaneously high level of awareness and complete oneness with Reality is attained. Body consciousness drops for those exclusive moments. There is complete stillness of mind and the life force used for breathing suspends. It is the precursor and beginning of experiencing Cosmic Consciousness.

In fact, one must know that the most important part of Pranayam is actually Khumbhak or breath retention. But this  should not be done forcibly as it comes with gradual development of breath control and respiration. In order to strengthen the lung capacity, nervous and pranic systems, more emphasis should be given on inhalation and exhalation in the beginning. Gradually at one particular stage, with Guru’s Grace and benevolence, the Kevala Kumbhak or the stage of oneness with the Infinite is attained

Pachkosha, five sheaths Furthermore, the  human body comprises of five sheaths, bodies or koshas, beginning from gross to more subtle, which account for different aspects and functions of human existence  and they are known as-

  1. Annamaya kosha– the food or material body
  2. Manomaya kosha- the mental body
  3. Pranamaya kosha- Bioplasmic or vital energy
  4. Vijnanamaya– The psychic or higher mental
  5. Anandmaya Kosha– the transcendental or bliss body

Although all five sheaths function together to form an integral whole, the practice of Pranayam deals mainly with pranamaya kosh.

Correlation between breath and our health

Most people breathe incorrectly using only a small part of their lung capacity, thereby depriving the body of oxygen and prana so essential for all the vital processes and activities of every cell. Prana is also extremely vital for the performance of our brain functioning.

Pranayam corrects our posture to start with, introduces correct breathing habits, strengthens the muscles of the back and pulmonary cavity.

It also establishes a regular breathing pattern, breaking the irregular breathing habits. Rhythmic, slow and deep breathing calms the mind and also endows longevity in humans because respiration is directly related to the heart. A slow, rhythmic rate makes the heart stronger and better nourished and healthier. Deep regular breathing increases the absorption of life force in Pranayam resulting in vigour and vitality and well being of the practitioner.

Pranayam removes the blockages in the various nadis, the energy channels of life force thereby enabling increased absorption and retention of prana. As the sadhak or spiritual practitioner requires a calm state of mind the Pranayam techniques are very useful in this endeavour.

Once the mind is stilled, the gateway to higher Cosmic Consciousness opens leading the seeker to higher states of awareness and evolution.

Some types of Pranayams are:- Nadi Shodhana Pranayam, Bhastrika Pranayam, Kapalabati. A teacher’s guidance is essentially for its practice.

For reference and more information on Yoga, you may take help of this book-

‘Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga.