Yoga is a term from India’s Vedic literatures in the Sanskrit language. It literally means “to link,” “to connect,” or “to yoke,” as one would yoke a horse to a chariot. Simply put, yoga signifies the harmonious linking or cohesion of the individual mind, body and spirit (or soul) with each other—and with their Cosmic Source. Genuine yoga utilizes practices that assist this linking process, but at the same time, it steers the student away from certain counter-productive influences or habits which disrupt peace, vitality and harmony of mind, body and spirit. Technically, these are called yama and niyama, recommended activities to be embraced and the avoidance of counterproductive activities. Unfortunately some yoga teachers do not warn their students to avoid impediments, perhaps for fear of losing students who are reluctant to even consider positive changes in their lifestyle. However, for yoga to have maximum effect it should be properly practiced; and students should learn what aspects of lifestyle are progressive and which are regressive.
The Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures discuss those foods that are most conducive for success in yoga, and those that are detrimental. First, even before discussing the type of food one should eat, the Gita discusses the amount of food conducive to yoga. “There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or too little…” (Bhagavad-Gita, 6.16). Too much food makes the consciousness dull or sleepy, and the body bloated or obese. Moderation and balance are vital to successful yoga practice. Yoga and activities like meditation are most successful when the mind and body are clear and alert; thus too much food works against this. At the same time one should avoid the other extreme: too little nutritious food in the diet, excessive or improper fasting, or too much reliance on “junk food” (which is not really food in the real sense) weaken the body and mind and should also be avoided.
While work, recreation and rest are necessary for health and sustenance, the Gita also warns that a yogi should be moderate even in these. It mentions there is no possibility of becoming successful in yoga if one “sleeps too little or sleeps too much,” and that, “He who is regulated in the habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” (Bg., 6.17)
It is well known that smoking increases the chances of lung cancer and other diseases. In yoga, Prana, or life energy taken in through breathing is extolled. Because smoking clogs the lungs it directly interferes with the flow of Prana. Drinking of different types of liquor is considered in the mode of ignorance because alcohol is a product of the fermentation process. Fermented, alcoholic juice increases inertia, while fresh juice is conducive to yoga because it enlivens the nervous system rather than sedates it.