Ayurvedic Spiritual Nutrition


My interest in live food started after receiving Shaktipat from Sw. Muktananda in 1975. It awakened the Kundalini and took me into the bliss of the Nothing. On the way down out of the nothing, a voice whispered, “You should learn to eat and live in a way that supports the Kundalini.” Over a period of the next 7 years of living on and off in India, and applying my expertise as a holistic physician to help thousands of yogis, it became clear that a proper use of live foods, guided by the principles of Ayurveda, was the most powerful way to support the unfolding of the Kundalini. Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini discusses the applications of these two food disciplines in detail.

The Spiritual Nutrition live-food diet is qualitatively different from the present practice of Ayurveda, which aims primarily at balancing the doshas to prevent or heal disease. The focus of Spiritual Nutrition is to support yogis in their liberation process. Although classical Ayurveda does not usually recommend a 100% live-food diet, we can, like some of the ancient Rishis who did practice a live-food diet, employ its principles to create an optimal individualized diet that enhances our opening up to the awakening of Liberation. This is a diet that is between 80% and 100% live foods.

There are many perspectives that we can use to help guide our choice of diet. The science of Ayurveda is particularly useful in helping us maintain our awareness of nutrition as the interaction between the forces of food, our own dynamic forces, the seasons, our life cycle, and spiritual life. According to Ayurveda, the five-basic elements of creation—air, water, fire, earth, and ether—manifest in the human psycho-somatic complex as three dosha essences: vata (air and ether), kapha (water and earth), and pitta (fire). We are all born as the constitutional combination of the three, and they govern all our biological, psychological, and spiritual aspects. When they are in balance, they maintain the body in a healthy physiological state. If the doshas become unbalanced, the result can create disharmony in the body-mind complex. Although we don’t have the details of how the ancient rishis used live foods, we are now able to get some insights of how we can use the very deep principles of Ayurveda to enhance our merging with the One.

One of the important things to understand is that there is no single diet for everyone, nor a constant diet throughout the year for an individual. The diet includes being aware of the interfaces of the seasons, our own personal dosha, the time in our life cycle, and the time of the day. All these levels of awareness help us maintain the highest amount of energetic balance. It requires creating a harmony between our inner needs, the external play of nature, and our life cycle.

The author, over the last thirty years of using this approach, has seen significant success rate in people who are even pure vatas, although the traditional, culturally mediated Ayurvedic approach would say that live foods are contra-indicated for vatas. For the sake of clarity, live food as it is defined in Ayurveda may really be (more or less) vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and sprouts, which it themselves can be unbalancing for a vata, rather than the full spectrum of live foods that can indeed balance it. Once we begin to understand these principles of Ayurveda and apply them appropriately to the wide range foods that are available today (as compared to what is available or thought of as live foods in India) we may avail ourselves to a high-powered, high-energy delicious spectrum of live food. One may go way beyond the classical Ayurvedic understanding from India of live food to eat an incredible array of smoothies, spirulina drinks, seed and nut milks, soaked nuts and seeds, seed sauces and salad dressings, blended food, sea vegetables, and bee pollen, which create a powerful vata-balancing live-food diet.

The insights from Ayurveda, however, go far deeper than this. This requires looking at the subtle levels of the three doshas. For each dosha, kapha, pitta, and vata, there is a vital essence. For vata, the vital essence is called prana, the life-force energy. For pitta, it is tejas, which is the inner radiance or inner fire, also deeply associated with the fire of Kundalini, which is a very important of the spiritual unfolding. For kapha, the essence is ojas. Ojas is defined as the subtle energy of water of and earth. It is the stored-up energetic life force of the body, or primal vigor. It involves the integrity and stored energy of protein, fat, and reproductive fluids, as well as the healthy gross tissue mass. The amount of ojas a person has correlates with the amount of physical, sexual, mental, and spiritual endurance that a person has. The teachings of Ayurveda help us understand a basic principle of nutrition, and even more so of live foods: the prana, tejas, and ojas need to be completely balanced to be able to hold the greater energy that is generated by a spiritual life and by a live-food diet.

Our physical and subtle physical foundations and balance depend on the strength of ojas. Tejas is the heat and light energy of ojas—it is the fire and electricity. The foods that are highest in tejas are, of course, live foods because they maintain and have the highest amount of bio-electron energy and actually electron energy. Prana is the energy that radiates from ojas after it has been set on fire by tejas. Tejas can be understood as the fire of the Divine, or as the Kundalini. The subtle nervous system, in the Ayurvedic system or in Yogic understanding, is known as the nadis. There are 72,000 nadis, and three main nadis: ida, pingali, and shushumna, through which the Kundalini flows. The nadis interpenetrate all the layers of the system, and take the spiritual energy deeper into the koshas, which we call the layers of the mind. The nadis are lined by the ojas. They are the conduit for tejas and prana—tejas being fire and prana being air. When they are put together, they move through the nadis. The ojas is the lining the keeps the nadis from being burned out.

The burning of the ojas by tejas activates and amplifies the energy of prana. This is the key to the proper application of live foods. The secret the rishis knew was live foods are highest in prana, tejas, and ojas. However, if the forces are not aligned, live foods can indeed create imbalance. If we do not have enough ojas, the fire of Kundalini can, metaphorically and actually, burn up the nadis. When we are walking the path of spiritual nutrition, if we don’t have enough ojas, which is similar metaphorically to logs in a fire, and we just simply increase the prana with purifying live foods, asana, and pranayama, we create a fire that is so strong that it rapidly burns up the logs of the ojas. The result is a potential harm to the subtle nervous system, or nadis, which had been previously protected by the lining of ojas in the nadis.

From the point of view of spiritual nutrition, and the proper application of the principles of Ayurveda, it is important to emphasize live foods that sustain and build ojas. The task is for spiritual aspirants to increase all three forces—prana, tejas, and ojas—in a balanced way, so that we can have maximal energy that helps us go to our highest spiritual potential. The key to success on a live-food diet is to eat pure, live foods that build ojas. That includes nut and seed milks, nuts and seeds, juicy and oily vegetables such as avocado, low-glycemic fruits, especially berries such as goji berries, and other foods with a slight sweetness in taste, like apples, carrots, coconuts, and sprouted grain. Goji berries and bee pollen are not only high in anti-oxidants, but they are tremendously rejuvenating. More oily, creamy, soupy types of food, such as smoothies, are also good for building ojas.

Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids builds ojas. Purslane, a common herb that grows everywhere, is very high in the long chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA. Research has also shown that in AFA (Alfonizon Flos Aquae), a blue green algae from Klamath Lake, is a very high level of omega-3, at least in a brand called E3 Live that is harvested in particular way. E3 Live is high in EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are very good for nervous system protection and development. The blue-green algae is very high, not only in omega-3’s but also in what’s known as the ormus elements, which seem to also expand consciousness. Flax seed and hempseed provide most of the short chain omega-3 fatty acids. Coconut oil is one of the great oils, and we use it at the Tree of Life in the live-food panchakarma program, instead of ghee. Coconut oil is great for building ojas, as are hemp seeds and macadamia nuts. Coconut oil increases the conversion rate of short chain omega-3’s to long chain by up to 10%.

Certain tonic herbs, in general and in particular ashwaganda, shatavari, ginseng, and licorice are good for building ojas. These are widely known as soma-producing herbs. Spirulina and chlorella, which are high in protein, and fatty acids like GLA, sulfonyl lipids, minerals, vitamins, and elements are both tri-doshic and excellent as ojas-builders. Bee pollen, as the semen of the plant world, is an incredible live food for building ojas. Once we, again, apply these principles, we are able to get the advantages of a high prana, tejas, and ojas diet, which is what we get with live foods, in a way that will support our spiritual lives. When we have high prana, tejas, and ojas, we naturally expand consciousness, which is why the ancient rishis chose this as their primary diet.

The most important thing in considering a live-food diet is to understand that although we cannot eat our way to God, an Ayurvedically balanced live-food diet is the “Olympic” yogi’s diet for expanding consciousness and supporting the goddess Kundalini so that we can become a superconductor for the Divine.

Gabriel Cousens, MD, MD(H), Diplomate in Ayurveda, a 33-year yoga practitioner, has taught workshops at Jivamukti Yoga and Integral Yoga in New York, Yoga West in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Yoga Society, and is invited to teach at the Yoga for Health Congress and the Fall Session of the International Yoga College. He is director of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center, and the author of Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini. For more information, please visit www.drcousens.com

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