Understanding and Attaining the Right Attitude Toward Food for the Yogic Practitioner

Shifting the awareness away from the ego-consciousness to the divine standpoint takes place as a ‘tuning’ process which Sri Aurobindo designates as ‘aspiration’. This represents a focus of the attention of the being on the higher consciousness and away from the normal fixation on the outer life of the normal human consciousness. Food is one area that occupies an enormous role and significance in the human sphere, whether it is obtaining food, preparing food, enjoying food or talking or thinking about food. We have a fixation that involves, on the one hand, a ‘greed’ for food, and on the other, a desire to control our weight and appearance, which leads to a constant stream of diets that claim to have the solution to weight control. For many people in the world, who live in a status of starvation or near starvation, the seeking for food is one of primal survival. For those who live the lifestyle of the West, there is generally an over-abundance of food, and an ongoing campaign of marketing by food companies to generate desire and support for their specific forms of food. There is also a lot of research done by various companies to enhance the “addictive” effect of the foods they sell, which adds a biochemical component to the normal drive or craving. This shifts food from its ordinary status of being a basic need of the body to one that reflects all types of vital desires and artificially created demands that we try to satisfy through food.

For the practitioner of yoga, then, it is essential to disassociate oneself from the artificial constructs that cause greed for food, or which turn food into a substitute for cravings of the desire-soul.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It is the attachment to food, the greed and eagerness for it, making it an unduly important thing in the life, that is contrary to the spirit of yoga. To be aware that something is pleasant to the palate is not wrong; only one must have no desire nor hankering for it, no exultation in getting it, no displeasure or regret at not getting it. One must be calm and equal, not getting upset or dissatisfied when the food is not tasty or not in abundance — eating the fixed amount that is necessary, not less or more. There should be neither eagerness nor repugnance. To be always thinking about food and troubling the mind is quite the wrong way of getting rid of the food-desire. Put the food element in the right place in the life, in a small corner, and don’t concentrate on it but on other things.”

“Greed for food has to be overcome, but it has not to be given too much thought. The proper attitude to food is a certain equality. Food is for the maintenance of the body and one should take enough for that — what the body needs; if one gives less the body feels the need and hankers; if you give more, then that is indulging the vital. As for particular foods the palate likes, the attitude of the mind and vital should be, ‘If I get, I take; if I don’t get, I shall not mind.’ One should not think too much of food either to indulge or unduly to repress — that is the best.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 10, Difficulties in Transforming the Nature, Food, pp 314-317