Food for the Body That’s Good for the Soul
Once, a student asked her teacher what asana she should do to lose weight. The teacher listened as the student went down the list of advice that other instructors had given her: do triangle pose to help her lengthen the side body, 5 sets of navasana each day to help her strengthen the core, practice in a hot room to sweat more etc. She had tried them all and still was carrying extra weight. The student was clearly agitated and needed guidance. The teacher smiled, looked at the woman with a kind glow in her eye and said,”Eat less”. Then, she walked away.
This interaction stays with me because it was a blunt, pretty funny and truthful way to give a teaching that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. If we want to lose weight, have more energy and feel better in our bodies, then we simply need to eat less.
In yogic practice, this is seen as less of a restriction and more of an opportunity to fill ourselves with sensations and experiences that nourish us as much as a big plate of food. Often, we stuff ourselves full of food because we are stuffing down emotions, loneliness, worry and other unresolved karmas. When we eat we should be 50% full of food, 25% full of liquid, and 25% needs to be left open for conciousness to flow.
A yogi eats to live, rather than living to eat. This doesn’t mean your food has to be boring and bland, or that you can’t enjoy eating. Just the opposite! Eating is one of the greatest pleasures, and that pleasure gets amplified when it’s done with awareness and love.
I love to cook. It feels so great to nourish myself and my family with healthy, fresh, organic food. I will be posting some of my favorite recipes here weekly. These recipes are perfect for you if you want to advance your practice as these foods will help you maintain the light and energized feeling you get from practicing yoga.
So what do yogis eat? A vegetarian yoga diet, of course, consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and grains, nuts and seeds, and a moderate amount of organic dairy products. You can prepare countless dishes using various combinations of these nutritious foods.
Here is one of my favorite dhal recipes. Dhal is a light and flavorful lentil soup. Pair this with some steamed basmati rice and sauteed greens like kale or broccoli rabe and you have yourself a fantastic, balanced and delicious meal!
1 1/2 cup red lentils
Directions: How to Cook Bengali Red Lentil Dal
Key spice: Panch Phanon Mix, also known as Five Spice (do not substitute Chinese Five Spice!) Equal proportions of whole cumin, fenugreek, anise, mustard, “Indian black onion” seeds (kalunji). You may need to go to an Indian store for these spices – At Kalustyans in Manhattan they sell this Panch Phanon mix already prepared.
There are three basic steps to this recipe: cooking the lentils in water, making a tomato/onion/ginger mush, and making a spiced oil.
1. Rinse lentils well, add water, serrano chilies, turmeric and salt. Bring carefully to boil and cook over low to medium heat, partially covered, for 25 minutes. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Adjust salt.
2. While lentils are cooking, cook onions in a frying pan in the oil until they are golden brown (approximately 10 minutes), stirring constantly. Add tomatoes and ginger and continue cooking until the tomatoes decompose into a delicious and fragrant mush (approximately 8 minutes.) Stir constantly so that tomato mixture doesn’t stick. Turn heat to low if necessary.
3. Scrape out this mush into the lentils and stir it in. Let lentils sit while you make the spiced oil.
4. Do a quick rinse of the frying pan, without soap, and dry thoroughly. Add the remaining 2T oil and heat over medium high heat. When oil is hot add panch phanon mix and heat until the seeds begin to pop, about 15 seconds. Add red chilies and fry for another 15 seconds, until they turn a little darker. Turn off heat and add the crushed garlic and let sizzle for about 30 seconds. Stir this mixture into the lentil/tomato mixture and serve with rice. Adjust salt.
NOTE: Using ghee changes the taste compared with oil. I prefer it for step 4. It tastes good either way though.
Let me know how your Dhal preparation goes!