In the name of Yoga our goal is to keep the mind peaceful and food not only plays an important part in the health of the body, but it plays a very important part in the condition of the mind. So, you have to be very careful about what you are eating. To understand this better, I would ask you to go to a zoo and watch the animals. Notice which kind of animals are peaceful and what they eat, and also which animals are restless and what they eat. There is a marked difference in the mental attitude of those two categories of animals. There are also physical indications. If you go near a cow, a goat, or a horse, you can put your face right up against their mouth and you won’t find any foul smell there. On the other hand, you can’t even go too close to the other animals because their mouths smell bad, their cages smell bad, and their excreta smells bad. This is because of the non-vegetarian food that they eat.

We see these differences in people also. Even if some people don’t take a bath for a whole month, they don’t smell bad because there is no bad perspiration at all in the body. But other people have to take a bath every day and need to use plenty of soap to wash away the bodily odors. They might even hesitate to remove their shoes and socks or raise their arms high, in public. Why? Because what goes in, also comes out. So, I don’t need to say what is good to eat; you can understand it yourself by observation. Just remember that food plays an important part in the health of the body and in the peace of the mind.

That’s the reason that if you want to be a good yogi, you must be really careful about what you eat, what you drink, and what you inhale. Plain water is free; nobody charges you for that. But, if it is going to be mixed with some carbonated gas, you have to pay for it. When some ingredients are allowed to ferment, then you pay even more for that. When the fermented liquid (alcohol) goes in, then you get fermented too and your head reels. What is good for us is free, and what is not good is expensive. The air that goes into the lungs is also free. Nobody is going to charge you any money if you decide to take an extra-long breath. But if you want to buy an extra-long cigarette, that nicotine is very expensive. The oxygen that nourishes your body and purifies your blood is free. But what many people do is to ignore that free nectar and buy poison.

At the very same time, everyone knows that cigarettes bring illness to the body and sometimes can create cancer. Millions are spent to bring the cancer and millions are spent to remove it. And in America, every cigarette packet has a warning: The Surgeon General says it can harm you, but people still smoke. When they ignore nature’s free gift of nectar, and instead pay for the poisonous nicotine, don’t you think that they should pay for the mistake they make? It is our Mother Nature that punishes us with diseases as a result of these actions. But, in the name of Yoga, we take care of what goes into the body. And even if somehow you have made mistakes, knowingly or unknowingly, once you stop putting toxins like alcohol and cigarettes into your system they can all be eliminated through a yogic lifestyle. As long as you don’t put any more toxins into the body and you begin the cleansing practices of Yoga, you can eliminate what is already there.

Yoga takes care of the body and the mind because peace of the mind can be disturbed even by the diseases of the body. Yoga tells you what to do to take care of your health in a very direct way. Some religious practices tell you what to do for the health of the body, but it is indirect, not obvious. Among many religions, on the most auspicious days such as Good Friday for one example, they ask you to stay away from eating meat. That means that if you want to celebrate the Good Friday, you stay away from meat. Logically speaking, that means that if you stay away from meat then that day becomes a Good Friday. So, if you want to make any day a good day, stay away from that. That is what they are saying in an indirect way. They tell you what to do to make a day a good day, a spiritual day. But Yoga doesn’t use a roundabout way. Instead, it’s direct. It tells you that if you are interested in physical health, stay away from certain things. You are born with ease, but if you put undesirable things into your body, your ease gets disturbed.

Whenever your ease gets disturbed, you call it dis-ease. Your ease is disturbed. You had ease and then you disturbed it. Now the question is, “What disturbs your ease?” A baby’s body is almost as flexible as a rubber ball. The baby is a yogi at birth because it is born with ease. As long as they just drink mother’s milk they are at ease and then slowly, slowly, we introduce our delicacies and the ease gets disturbed.

Some parents don’t want to allow their children to make the same mistakes they have so what do they do? They call the child, make the child sit in front of them, and they give very good advice. “Child, I love you, I don’t want you ever  to drink or smoke.” At the same time, the parents smoke and drink! We slowly spoil the children. Gradually, all kinds of toxins are put in and they get lodged here and there in the joints and tissues. The unhealthy thinking spoils the mind, the toxins spoil the body. So, if you could take care of your food, there would  be no arthritis, no gout, no problem. But still, if you already have made some mistakes and have these problems, you can take some Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga classes. The Hatha Yoga practices and the breathing exercises are very efficient in eliminating toxins. Those toxins are burnt out by your deep breathing. Your body becomes very supple and filled with vitality. So, physically you are supple and strong; mentally you are clean and strong. This is the aim of Yoga.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda