Diet control (mitāhāra) is the sixth yama

Post By: Published on: December 8, 2016 Reading time: 6 minutes

What is mitāhāra (controlled diet), the sixth yama?

Traditional belief is that we are what we eat. Food is a major source of nutrition. Nutrients that nourish the body can only come from diet. Therefore, it is important that we not only eat the right foods but also adopt correct eating habits. Poor food habits lead to ill-heath and contribute to stress.

What is the impact of diet on the process of digestion?

  • Food is broken down into manageable pieces in the mouth and mixed with enzymes for digestion. This is why chewing of the food and mixing it with saliva is so important. The food is then swallowed and goes into the stomach. As the food enters the stomach, signals are sent so that more enzymes are released into the stomach.
  • Additional blood is sent to the stomach muscles to enable it to churn and mix the food and enzymes completely. So, the stomach should not be overloaded with food. There should be adequate space for gas to come out. Also, there should be sufficient water in the stomach to ensure elastic movement of the stomach muscles to squeeze, churn and break up the food.
  • The half-digested food then moves into the intestines where the nutrients are absorbed while food breaks up and churn continues. Food with adequate roughage ensures that food does not stick to the walls of the intestines but moves forward for absorption and evacuation.
  • Expulsion of waste is a very important element of digestion and often determines the health of the person. We should ensure that choice of food which we eat,  keep this requirement in view.

A benediction…

Most religions prescribe a benediction before a meal is started. In what is now called Hinduism, the meal is started by a benediction which translates to “let food be consumed for ingestion (prāṇa), let food be consumed for excretion (apāna), let food be consumed for the circulatory system (vyāna), let food be consumed for awareness (udāna), let food be consumed for assimilation (samāna) and let food be consumed for alignment with the source (Brahman)”. Very pragmatic benediction!

Share your opinion and experiences on diet.

  • What are your favourite foods?
  • Do you dislike any food?
  • Are you allergic to any food?
  • When eating at public places, does anything turn you off?
  • How important is manners in a shared meal?
  • What is your view on wasting food? Do you eat everything on your plate even if you don’t like all of it?

Some guidelines for healthy diet control (mitāhāra).

  • Eat in a pleasant atmosphere – For correct absorption, the enzymes need to be thoroughly mixed with the food. In a stress situation, there is an acids and enzyme imbalance resulting in poorer absorption.
  • Eat at regular intervals – The body needs nourishment at regular intervals so that the digestion process is even. When we starve or eat without control, we upset the process of digestion and absorption.
  • Always sit down and eat – blood is redirected from other parts of the body to the stomach to help digestion. When one moves around, then the body is forced to supply blood to other muscles, reducing blood supply around the stomach resulting in poor digestion.
  • Eating right – Eat should be according to one’s energy requirements. People doing heavy physical labour should eat food that gives them the energy and strength to do the job. People with sedentary jobs should eat mildly. Finally, young people and students should ensure nutrition that helps them succeed in their goals.


  • Chew the food – Chewing reduces food into manageable portions and ensures proper mixing of saliva, a key element in digestion Swallowing without chewing makes it harder for the stomach to break down the food for nutrients. So, chew your food.
  • Never eat to a full stomach – The stomach is designed to pulsate to move the food and achieve breaking and mixing action. The muscle has some stretching capability but if fully loaded, the mixing action is restricted. Also, there is always some gas in the stomach that needs to be vented. Space in the stomach ensures room for the movement and exhaustion of gas.
  • Never eat between meals – The stomach is most comfortable handling a single batch of food. Once food enters the stomach, enzymes act on it to begin the digestion process. Partly digested food is then moved into the intestines to complete the process. When food is ingested between meals, the stomach, unable to differentiate between old and new food either adds enzymes or moves food out, defeating the purpose of eating… to provide nutrition. Leave at least 3 hours between meals.

The water balance

Approximately 70% of the human body constitutes water. Imbalance of this critical constituent will lead to illness as water is the base for blood, enzymes, hormones etc. Water imbalance can cause many illnesses.

    • Drink at least 2-4 litres of water every day.
    • Sip warm water. It massages the stomach muscles and warm water is closer to body temperature. This helps digestion.
    • Uṣā-pānaṃ (dawn-drinking): Drink water on an empty stomach. As soon as we awaken, we should drink at least 2 glasses of water, slowly. This will flush the entire alimentary canal and keep it clean.

In conclusion, set time apart for eating, eat in a pleasant location and eat silently or in the company of people one is comfortable with. Chew your food and eat to about 75% capacity of the stomach.

Points to ponder on diet control (mitāhāra).

Mitāhāra (diet-control) and yama – Controlled diet increases situational awareness or prajñā, this awareness allows diet control. Consequently, we are able to confront the most elementary of our fears – fear of hunger. As a result, our awareness of our Self or jñāna increases.

Internal Tags: Karma, Dharma (conditioning)Stress and Situational AwarenessStress and pranaAwareness measures, Bhakti Yoga fundamentals, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga.

External Tags: Consciousness, Nutrition

Share your opinion and experiences on diet control (mitāhāra).

  • What is your eating practice?
  • How much water do you drink?
  • Do you eat junk food?
  • Do you eat prefer alone or with others? How does it affect your eating?

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