Food of the Yogis: An Ayurvedic Perspective on the Solstice Diet
By Jai Dev Singh Khalsa
Ayurveda is not just a form of medicine that originated in ancient India, nor should it be thought of as simply a way of eating or utilizing herbs. Ayurveda cannot be boiled down to any one thing. Rather, it is a complete yogic system of living the purpose of which is to optimize the body and mind for the heightening of consciousness. Healing is a natural byproduct of this process.
From time immemorial the yogis have known that the secret to creating a body that is strong, youthful and able to carry great amounts of prana, is based on the digestive force of the fire tattva, known in this context as Agni.
For the yogi, Agni is a very important concept to understand. The Latin word ‘ignis,’ from which the English word ‘ignite’ is derived, comes from the same Sanskrit root as the word ‘agni. Agni means that which ignites, which is fire.
All of life is based on this elementary fire. The agni of the mineral realm is the volcanic fire of the earth. The agni of the plant is the fire of photosynthesis, which transforms sunlight into prana—life. The digestive fire of the body (jathar agni) is the agni of the animal realm which transforms the pranic life force into the body’s tissues. It is then the job of the human being to transform the body and mind into consciousness through the fire of sadhana. It is through sadhana that we experience the most subtle and desirable aspect of agni, the radiant body.
It is by no mistake that Yogi Bhajan chose the foods he did for the special menu that we refer to as the Solstice Diet. While it may not be apparent at first glance, this menu is masterfully crafted to give you the best opportunity to take advantage of the profound sadhana you'll be engaging in throughout your solstice experience. If your agni has to work too hard with difficult-to-digest foods, you risk compromising the effects of your hard work.
Poorly digested food results in what Ayurveda calls ama—toxicity that coats the body’s tissues and hinders its intelligence. If you can stick to the solstice diet, there is no doubt that you'll strategically position yourself for the best possible experience.
Magic Mung Beans
Mung beans and rice, also known as kicharee, is perhaps the most revered of all food preparations in the Ayurvedic and Yogic traditions. It is not by chance that this age old recipe is the staple of the solstice diet. Every good Ayurvedic practitioner knows that a mono diet of mung beans and rice is the best way to restore digestive health. Since we know that the health of the entire body is dependent on our digestion, we begin to get a sense of why the Indian culture holds this food in such high esteem. Kicharee may be the most beneficial of all food preparations due to its ability to detoxify the body, while simultaneously kindling the digestive fire and providing nourishment to the tissues...a rare trinity of therapeutic effects.
For hundreds of years many yogis have eaten a simple diet of mung beans and rice in order to provide the optimum internal environment for the yogic experience. A diet of mung beans and rice provides a perfect balance of protein and complex carbohydrates that allows your body to detoxify while still feeling nourished and strong. Within just a couple of days on a simple diet of mung beans and rice, the chemistry of the blood changes, the organs and tissues are allowed to restore from the chronic stress of dietary excess or deficiency, the body becomes energized, the stomach satisfied, and the mind crystal clear.
The Golden Herb
“There is nothing more effective than turmeric to clean your body and purify it. There is nothing more precious on this earth but turmeric. Turmeric, ‘haldi,’ it solves every problem which cannot be solved.” Yogi Bhajan, KWTC 1979
If I was allowed to use only one herb for the rest of my life, turmeric would be among the top considerations. The soup we’re served every morning at solstice and the Golden Milk that is given after tantric days are both excellent ways to ingest a healthy dose of this incredible medicine.
The turmeric you take will help alleviate the aches and pains from the long days of yoga and meditation as its anti-inflammatory powers soothe the inner structure of the body. It kindles the agni, purifies the blood and the liver, soothes the respiratory system, clarifies the skin and is powerfully anti-microbial. The benefits of turmeric are vast and far too extensive to envelope in this short article. Take it at solstice and every other day of your life!
The Solstice Spice
You'll notice that some of the solstice meals pack a punch and can be quite spicy. Of course, the more heat you can handle, the more digestive capacity you can deliver to your organism. The more digestive capacity your organism maintains, the more efficient it will be in transforming its resources into heightened awareness. Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.
With that being said, each person should be sensitive to their unique digestive environment and be realistic with what works for you and what doesn't. If you know that hot, spicy food creates havoc in your gut, avoid the hot spicy food as it will be counter-productive. Enjoy the mildly spiced mung beans and rice for now.
When I first started attending solstice, there was no way I could eat the spicy preparation of mung beans and rice, in fact I suffered from duodenal ulcers and any hot spice was treated by my body as an unwelcome intruder (ouch!). These days, the hot and spicy food is not a problem, but as a pitta person*, I still have to be mindful and make sure I don't overdo it. Ideally, we can digest this additional heat into more metabolic power for the body. That metabolic strength of body acts as good fuel for the mind which can then work to 'digest' the unprocessed subconscious garbage (mental ama) via your sadhana. That extra fuel can be useful when you're sitting in the tantric lines a day or two later.
“Normally in healing we use bananas and oranges and you might have seen in Tantric in the morning breakfast we use that. Because everything came out of the word and everything can be converted into purity of energy by the power of word. Banana is a complete fruit, complete food, minus citrus-Vitamin C. Orange covers it. So that's why it's a complete food, when there is an orange.” ~Yogi Bhajan 5/9/95
As with anything else in the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, there are no extraneous parts, no unimportant details. Everything is connected within a sophisticated web of intelligence, masterfully woven with the diagonal thread that forms the tantric field. Your banana at breakfast carries a weight that is not unlike the mudra you hold or the mantra you chant in any given kriya. Every piece has its purpose and every word has its wisdom.
“Summer Solstice Sadhana is not a joke, it's not a festival, it's nothing but a pure relationship of self and the soul and it's my wish that you should create this bond, this relationship ever and ever and stronger and stronger, Sat Nam.”
~Yogi Bhajan, 6/2/81
*Pitta is one of three body/mind types in the Ayurvedic system. Pitta is primarily fire. Therefore, the pitta person has a tendency towards being fiery and intense.
Jai Dev Singh is a yogi, teacher and practitioner of Ayurvedic Medicine. He is the creator of The Life-Force Formula and The Complete Course of Ayurveda. His innovative Ayurveda and Yoga courses have been attended and studied by hundreds of people throughout the world. He is a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist and formerly served as the Clinical Director at the California College of Ayurveda as well as the director of the college's Pancha Karma Center and Ayurvedic Spa. Jai Dev lives in northern California with his wife, Simrit Kaur, and their son. He teaches live classes and workshops regularly, as well as online and audio courses. Jai Dev's classes are powerful, penetrating and effective. He is currently a working partner at Floracopeia, Inc., and a co-founder of MedicineCrow.com, a membership based website for sharing the knowledge and wisdom of plant based medicine. http://jaidevsingh.com/