What does the spiritual process have to do with food? Food is about the body. But it is the body that is the basis of your existence here. Unfortunately, a lot of people are trying to belittle the body and fast in cruel ways, where they just torture themselves. People tend to handle everything in fanatical ways and make every device that has been created for them into an impediment.

Every stepping stone can also be an impediment if you are tripping on the steps. This is the problem. Some people want to torture the body. Some people want to pamper the body and celebrate it too much.

You need to understand that everything has to fall into its right place and only then the whole system works for you. It becomes difficult both ways, if you overdo it or you underdo it. You need to keep the body in such a way that it is not an issue.

When the body is an issue, it will not allow you to look at anything else. Right now, if your bladder feels like it is going to burst, would you be interested if I spoke about enlightenment?

No. So, a full bladder has this much power. When you are in an urgency, is it a laughing matter? Someone else might laugh because he does not understand what is happening to you. But when it is happening to you, it is a serious thing.

One day, Akbar asked his court, “What do you think gives most pleasure to a man?” Someone said, “Oh, my Lord, serving you is the greatest pleasure in my life.” Someone else said, “Just looking at your face is the highest pleasure I have.”

Like this, people went on saying all kinds of nice things. Birbal was just sitting there, bored. So, Akbar asked, “Birbal, you are not saying anything. What gives you maximum pleasure?” Birbal said, “Shitting.”

Akbar got really mad and said, “For uttering such an obscenity in the court, you better prove it. If you can’t prove it, your life is in danger.” Birbal said, “Give me a fortnight. I’ll prove it to you.” Akbar replied, “Fine.”

The next weekend, Birbal organised a hunting trip in the forest for Akbar, and he made sure that all the women in the palace also came along with them. He set up a camp in such a way that Akbar’s tent was in the centre surrounded by the tents of women and children.

Birbal told the catering department to produce the best food and that evening Akbar ate well. The next morning, when Akbar got up and came out of his tent, there was no toilet tent.

Akbar went back into his tent and walked up and down. He tried to go into the forest but Birbal had made sure that the womenfolk were all over the place. Akbar was not able to find a place to answer nature’s call anywhere.

The pressure was building up by the minute and before long Akbar could not bear it anymore; he was about to burst. Finally, just when Akbar felt he could not hold it anymore, the toilet tent was put up.

Akbar went inside and uttered a sigh of relief. Then Birbal came, stood outside the tent, and asked, “Do you agree with me now?” Akbar said, “Yes. It’s the greatest pleasure.”  

Relief from something that you cannot hold within you is always the greatest pleasure, whatever that may be. So the body can become such a big issue. If you regularly practice surya namaskar and asanas in the morning, you can sit here and the body will not be an issue.

If I ask you to meditate, you will be just fine. If you don’t do that and you try to sit, you will be adjusting and readjusting. Only endless adjustments of the body will happen and nothing else. Life will be over by the time you have adjusted the body.

So, what you eat is important if you want to keep the body in a certain way. After all, the kind of food you put into the body determines the quality of the body and how comfortable it is. Food is not everything but it is important. There is a whole science behind when to eat, what to eat, and how to eat.

Yoga pays so much attention to food because the body is constructed from the food that you have eaten. What food to eat depends on what you are preparing the body for. Are you preparing this body so you can run like a dog or a cheetah, or are you preparing this body to walk around carrying 100 kg?

Are you preparing this body because you want to go through some endurance test or are you preparing this body so that it becomes conducive for higher possibilities? You can prepare the body for many things. You need to have the right kind of food for whatever your intention is.

If you are preparing your body to become conducive for higher possibilities, you have to eat in a particular way. If you consume a lot of intoxicants and stimulants and then try to meditate, it won’t work. Even if you do manage to meditate and be happy with it, you will not be able to steadily move up.

You can make this body a ladder to the divine or you can make it a chute that goes straight down. So, how you prepare the body is important. In that context, not eating when you feel like it is one part of the sadhana, so that you take away the compulsiveness for food—or for anything for that matter. Food is a very fundamental thing. Based on this, many other aspects of life become compulsive.

At the Isha Yoga Center, before people eat, they close their eyes for two minutes and say an invocation. You may think, “To hell with them. I’m hungry!”

However, that is the idea that you are hungry and you wait for two more minutes. Try to do this with everything that you are compulsive about. Simply wait for two minutes. This will not kill you, however, it will make you strong.

Gautama the Buddha went to the extent of saying, “When you are very hungry and you are badly in need of food, if you give away your food to someone else, you will become stronger.” I am not going that far. I am asking to wait for two minutes. It will definitely leave you stronger.

Taking away that compulsiveness in the body is crucial. Your body and mind are a composition of all kinds of past imprints that have formed tendencies and compulsions. If you go by that, it means that you have decided not to evolve. You have decided that you do not mind living in a fixed pattern. You do not want to break the pattern and explore new possibilities.

Food is something very basic and simple but how you handle this aspect makes a lot of difference.

Every morning, my mother would take a handful of food and feed the ants before she had her breakfast. This means understanding that every creature on this planet has the same right to live as you have, that is, you do not place yourself above any other creature. The problem lies in thinking that you are too big. 

The moment a person thinks they are too big, they become small in the way they conduct their life. This planet belongs to the ant as much as it belongs to you. Just that understanding creates a conducive atmosphere for consciousness to grow.

If you are compulsive about food, it is good to miss one meal consciously. “I’m very hungry and my favourite dishes are being cooked, but today is the day I decided to skip my meal.”

This is not to torture yourself. This is to become free from the torture chamber that your body and mind can turn into easily. You do not have to go to hell because this mind and body can do it all to you, in such a way that hell will look like a holiday in comparison. Bringing a conscious pattern to what kind of food you eat, how much you eat, and how you eat, is the essence of fasting.

Isha New Zealand conducts free monthly Isha Kriya meditation practice and Upa yoga sessions for public second Saturday of the month. For more information, contact 021545923/02102763956.

Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic and visionary, and a prominent spiritual leader. An author, poet, and internationally-renowned speaker, Sadhguru is the founder of Isha Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to human well-being. isha.sadhguru.org