Yoga and the Economy, Part V – The Economy of Yoga (Yogic Diet)

It is spring 2009. Last fall, shortly after the first wave of financial crisis hit the news, I started writing a five-part article series on yoga and the economy and the economy of yoga. In articles one through four, we looked at yoga’s history as a system of wellness for the everyday householder especially applicable in today’s tough economic times. We looked at how yoga for physical exercise is economical on more than the financial level. We looked at how yoga for the emotions and mind can be inexpensive and deeply de-stressing, one of our greatest health-preventative measures available. And finally, in this last article, we will look at the personal and economical benefits of a yogic diet.

As I pointed out in the first article, even if you are exercising regularly these days but are experiencing more stress than before the economy plummeted, you are at risk of downturn in your health, or your personal economy-of-one.

It is precisely because this deep recession hits us on so many levels that we need to attend to the big three in wellness–exercise, mind work, and diet–in order to get and keep our personal economies-of-one strong. So let’s look at the yogic diet, to see what it offers.

A yogic diet is a very healthy diet. Though it is oft disputed in the yoga community just what a yogic diet is (e.g., vegetarian vs. omnivorous), there is no universal hard and fast rule. I believe this: Pick a well-balanced diet that does your body and soul good. Let your stomach and your consciousness be your guide. Keep an open mind and listen to your body. Always be willing to change your diet when necessary.

That being set, I’d like to recommend what I consider to be the most yogic of all diets. It also happens to be very inexpensive, perfect for people on a tight budget. It is called a living foods diet . This diet consists of eating as much as you want of raw, uncooked, unprocessed, and enzyme-active foods. It is yogic because one eats conscientiously using simple food preparation, one eats highly nutritious foods, and one eats low on the food chain (good for the environment and animal rights observers.)

A living food contains its own digestive enzymes, which help your body efficiently digest what you’ve eaten. If you eat a food without its digestive enzymes, your body has to create enzymes necessary for digestion, so the chemistry-based philosophy behind a living food diet, then, is that you eat the food as nature created it. When you do, your body is receiving the most nutrition from the food in the most efficient way. The body is working at its metabolic optimum when living foods are on the menu.

So what is a living food? A food that has not been cooked, or heated to about 118 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, is considered living. Raw fruits and vegetables, fresh-squeezed (as opposed to pasteurized-bottled, canned, frozen) juices, cold-pressed (as opposed to heat-processed) oils, soaked nuts, and the sprouts of beans, seeds, and grains are considered living foods. In contrast, any food cooked to about 118 degrees and higher loses its digestive enzymes; the heat denatures them. Much of our diet, obviously, is digestive-enzyme free.

A living foods diet is my favorite way to eat, and research into living foods (often referred to as raw foods, though some experts draw a line of distinction) will open a new door for you on how to think about, prepare, and eat food. There are many living and raw foods websites, blogs, and ‘un-cook’ books available to help you find your way. Living foodists eat salads, soups, sandwiches, faux meats, living foods pastas, breads, milks, dehydrated foods (cooked so slowly the enzymes stay active), cheeses, dips, sauces, cookies, smoothies, and drinks. It is far from a limited diet.

When I eat at least 50% living foods in a given day, I have more energy, and I feel more balanced and happy. In fact, I feel that when I eat living foods, my food is my medicine.

Sprouting foods is one living foods preparation technique that provides foods rich in enzyme-powered carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Sprouting entails soaking foods such as beans, legumes, seeds, nuts, and grains and then watering/draining them until they produce small tails. Foods treated in this manner grow tails because soaking and then watering them releases the food’s enzyme inhibitors. Sprouting ‘activates’ the nut, bean, etc., in other words, or takes it from a dormant state to a living state.

What’s more, sprouting provides high-level nutrition for only pennies. A pound of lentils (less than $ 2) will when sprouted yield thousands of grams of full-powered, easy-to-digest protein. (When sprouted, a seed gains up to fifteen times its weight.) A pound of cooked meat, in contrast, provides no more than a couple hundred grams of protein that is hard on the body because the digestive enzymes in the meat are denatured in the cooking process, undertaken in order that the meat can be eaten at all. A pound of sprouted food will create many highly nutritious and inexpensive meals.

Eating a yogic diet is just one way to health and pocketbook happiness. When combined with the other yogic practices discussed in this series, one will be on one’s way to great health at low cost: the perfect economic hard times antidote.