Vaidya Raman Das Mahatagyi, who runs Yatan Holistic Ayurvedic Centre in Sydney’s north-shore suburb of Gordon, has practised Ayurveda since he was a child, learning first from his grandfather then studying it in the holy city of Varanasi.
Photo courtesy Yatan Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is India’s traditional system of medicine, and one of the world’s oldest. It is also yoga’s “sister” practice – two interrelated branches of the same tree. In his book, Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, David Frawley, an authority on yoga and Ayurveda, says Ayurveda is the science of healing for body and mind, and yoga is the science of self-realisation that depends on a well-functioning body and mind.
Ayurveda is very much focused on personal balance – each person is unique. Ayurveda describes three fundamental mind/body types, or doshas – vata, pitta and kapha – and every person is a combination of the three to varying degrees. To be healthy, you need to know which dosha you are, and how to balance it. When you become ill, it is because one or more doshas are out of balance. For more information on doshas, visit, Raman Das’s website.
I wanted to find out how Raman Das felt about diet and yoga, and he generously took some time to talk to me.
I’m interested in your take on the effect of a person’s diet and whether it’s necessary to become vegetarian to pursue a “serious” yoga practice.
Raman Das: It depends on which perspective – from an Ayurvedic or a yoga perspective.
Let’s start with the yoga perspective.
From a yoga perspective, always they recommend pure vegetarian.
I was hoping you wouldn’t say that…
As you move deeper into yoga practice your system becomes delicate and your energy – all your energy channels are more open. You need softer food and then body can do more work with softer food. Because [your system] is more active just like your car – when your car is brand new, it takes less fuel but when your car becomes older, then it starts to take you more and more fuel.
Same is happening when you do yoga practice – you need less food, body is highly processing everything.
So the more yoga you do, the less dense your food needs to be?
You need lighter food – meat produces more toxins – ama. Ama accumulates so it is not good for body; it’s very clogging. When you do yoga the body opens up so any food which is lighter then yoga practice will be better, and health will be better.
Yoga practice from a physical point of view?
The yoga point of view is not only physical, it’s also spiritual, mental, deeper – the chakras, kundalini [kundalini is said to be the energy that is coiled at the base of the spine – releasing the kundalini results in spiritual awakening].
But if you are just concerned with the physical aspect of yoga, then it doesn’t matter, then you treat just like exercise.
But as Western people, if you like good health, if you like feeling robust, then this rule [the vegetarian rule] does not apply. Suppose you are a builder and you do yoga and [you are] vegetarian, you cannot lift many things, so you need some energy.
If you like physical exercise then you need very strong food. But in Ayurveda and from the yoga perspective also we have very strong food that is more powerful than meat – like chick peas and moong dahl. Food that is high protein, highly absorbable and less toxic for the body.
So a vegetarian diet makes your body and your mind more refined?
More refined, more subtle. And you absorb things very quick and fast – like universal connection – you channel [universal connection] and then any information – you don’t know what someone asks you and then immediately you will reply even if you haven’t read it or heard it before. So as you go deeper, this type of ability starts to happen.
I like the sound of this!
In yoga this is called samadhipadha, the stage of perfection. It gives you all this knowledge without knowing, without studying, because you are channeling universal connections. In the universe, everything is available.
Do you think that if you are leading a normal life and you have to go to work every day and you are trying to do your yoga practice and trying to achieve that state – I mean it’s more difficult because you have to go to work every day and all those pressures of work and family and modern life…
It is possible to do it, but you have to know that right lifestyle.
You need to be very disciplined, not my strong point.
Yeah, the discipline. [There is also] yoga without the discipline, this is tantra. [There is] no discipline but also you can achieve.
Tell me more about this idea of no discipline! Doesn’t tantra say you can achieve all those things…*
Yeah without discipline.
Yes, through your body, using your body – your body and mind – and all in this world.
You don’t have to go and live like a monk. You can do the household life – doing office work, wife, husband children, friends, society, but you have to understand how to do it.
In tantra they teach that there is a method for anything. In the Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, they have divided the mind’s desire into 112 paths, so if your mind is like this, then this is what you should do.
If your personality is drawn in certain directions, it gives you instructions on what path you should follow?
Suppose you like drinking, and you like to do some [yoga] practice also. So how can you drink and also do practice? There is a method [but it doesn’t] involve more drinking, it gets you out and then if you are satisfied. So even if it’s there, you don’t want it.
So even though that is your path, it refines you away from that path?
That’s right. So if you like to drink, and someone tells you don’t drink – you think, oh god, I am missing something in my life, then tantra tells you no, you do not have to suppress your desires. But you do in such a way that your desire automatically reduces – I don’t want these things.
Using these methods you will feel no loss. Time will come – you will enjoy, but you will feel – I’m full. But not like suppressing your desire. How great it is!
And then you are not chasing after things, whatever it is – alcohol, sex, food.
With sex, if you are celibate, then you feel more desire. If you are suppressing it, tantra says no, go through it, then after some time, I don’t need it [anymore].
Tell me more about diet from an Ayurvedic perspective.
The Ayurvedic perspective describes what the properties of meat are for example, what the meat can give you, and what the vegetarian diet can do you for. But they prefer you to be vegetarian, they say your life will be longer.
But many vegetarians get sick because they have no idea what to eat, when to eat and how to rejuvenate themselves. Then it’s not good. Ayurveda describes every food – for example, in India people don’t eat beef, but Ayurveda describes the properties of beef.
Ayurveda tells you how to enjoy life – it gives instructions on how to do it. They say vegetarian food is highly absorbable and you live longer and can enjoy good health.
Do you think a little bit of meat is fine? If you balance it?
Ayurveda says, so I want meat, whatever you say, but I want meat… so Ayurveda tells you how to take meat. Because not many people here are vegetarian, I have done research. If you take meat 40% and 60% vegetables then it’s highly absorbable and highly digestible.
What do you think about veganism?
That is also excessive. A time will come when vegans will feel starved – not satisfied, not contented. And then they run off and start another life! People go from one extreme to another extreme. In the west, we are always going to extremes – one end to the other end. People that I study always fluctuate – they say – I was vegan before, I am gluten free… but all these people have problems because your body needs many types of things. If you are vegan, a time will come when you feel like you are in jail, you are forcing yourself.
And all the processed food – another example of people going to extremes.
With processed food – the tummy is full but the mind is not. Your body is not satisfied or nourished. It’s like working eight hours and you only get $10!
Ayurveda says how your food can be balanced. Even as a pure vegetarian. You need lentils and pulses – they are a good source of protein.
So come on, tell me – do you do anything naughty?
*NOTE: I’m not advocating tantra, nor am I discouraging it. When many Western people think of tantra, they think (wrongly) that it’s all about sex. It’s not – it is a very complicated practice and beyond, firstly, my understanding, and secondly, the scope of this blog. It is traditionally considered a secret practice, one only undertaken with the guidance of a recognised guru.
In addition, many so-called gurus have, under the guise of “tantra” and the promise of spiritual attainment and enlightenment, taken advantage of people and used their knowledge for their own physical and financial gratification. Chogyam Trungpa and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later called Osho) are examples of this – you can read more about this in this book summary on Elephant Journal.