By Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa
My early childhood Minnesota winters were a succession of sniffles and flu punctuated by periodic bouts with bronchitis, pneumonia, and pleurisy. In early spring in Minneapolis, known as the ragweed capital of the world, a box of Kleenex became my constant companion as my allergies kicked in. Despite weekly allergy shots that made my arm swell up like a baseball bat, I suffered with hay fever until the day school let out in June. Then my mother put me on the train for pollen-free Duluth, 300 miles away.
Most of my symptoms disappeared when we moved to California in 1943, although I still caught colds frequently. Asthma didn’t rear its ugly head until the early ‘90s when I started hyperventilating visiting in a New Mexico trailer shared by a cat.
Nowadays, the allergist can test you for exactly what plants, animals, or foods you are allergic to and make up an individual formula for easy injections to gradually accustom your body to handling these allergens. Still, if you eat certain foods, or at least if I eat them, I suffer. I took a long time to figure this out; I learned the hard way.
I used to bake really scrumptious cookies. In the early ‘70s in Los Angles, every December 24th I spent all day baking—oatmeal raisin chocolate chip (or butterscotch chip) cookies with nuts—they were really tasty! Of course, I sampled them all day long, so by the end of the day, I had eaten at least a dozen. December 25th I woke up with the flu and was sick for a week! After this happened three years in a row, I began wondering, “Hmmm, could there be a connection between my cookie eating and my annual Christmas flu?” The next year, I decided to experiment. I baked, but I didn’t sample. I didn’t get sick. I haven’t baked cookies since. As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” Even though I had been using “healthy” ingredients—whole wheat flour and honey—for me, that combination was lethal.
Some illnesses and weaknesses are congenital, but they are exacerbated by food. My mother, God bless her soul, baked the best cookies, cakes, and cinnamon rolls you can imagine. The problem, as I learned many years later, is that I’m one of those people who cannot tolerate white sugar. And wheat expands the bronchi, making it even harder to breathe, so that if you’re prone to asthma, baked goods made with wheat are to be avoided.
Although you can usually get away with eating anything when you’re fairly young, as you age, the body is less resilient; it has less ability to bounce back fast from illness. According to yogic technology, the first 18 years of life a person can eat (and digest) almost anything. From 18 to 36 the body goes on reserve energy, so everything still seems OK, and you don’t notice what damage is being done. However, after age 36, all the abuses and misuses come home to roost. That’s when most people start to develop the aches and pains, the arthritis and bursitis that we often attribute to “aging” —but really, it’s not age, it’s the habits that we’ve established, the seeds for self-destruction that we’ve planted.
I became a vegetarian when I was in my 20s, but I didn’t know about Kundalini Yoga until I was almost 40. So, there was a lot of remedial work to be done. Of course, everyone is different, and each person has to find the right combination of foods to best nourish and sustain the body.
In general, a yogic diet consists of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and dairy products. Yes, dairy. (Since some of us don’t do well with cow products, we use substitutes, such as goat or soy.) As Kundalini Yoga practitioners, we do enough Breath of Fire to compensate for any mucus caused by dairy. Remember, these are general guidelines. Note the omission in the yogic diet of anything that had a mother—or that could run, jump, swim, or fly off your plate.
I believe that refined white sugar is everyone’s enemy. I know it is mine. By destroying part of the vitamin B in the body, it lowers my resistance so much that I almost immediately fall sick. Give children lots of sugar treats and see them bouncing off the walls—temporarily.
In my 30s, I was working two jobs and going to school two nights a week. I ate two and sometimes three candy bars a day to “keep up my energy.” Wrong! Sure, I’d get a temporary sugar rush, but then came the collapse leaving me depressed and irritable. My pancreas was on overload. It simply gave up and stopped doing a proper job of regulating my blood sugar level. I developed hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is the opposite end of the spectrum from diabetes.
The fortunate thing about hypoglycemia is that it can be brought under control through diet. It’s best to eat snacks (preferably protein, not carbohydrate) between meals, so that every two hours or so your body gets something to keep the blood sugar level constant. One of the best grains to include in your menu is millet.
As sugar is my enemy, millet is my friend. The carbohydrate in millet breaks down slowly in the bloodstream, which avoids stressing out your pancreas. Millet keeps you from feeling hungry for a longer period of time.
Perhaps you never get sick. As for me, and most people, there’s an occasional attempt by some microorganism to invade my territory. (We used to call them “germs.”) Perhaps you trip and fall (I did this once) down a flight of stairs. I broke two ribs. There’s a lot you can do to accelerate the body’s natural desire to heal itself. I’ve had positive results from acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic (not all at once), and yet sometimes I’ve had to take antibiotics. But whatever the external modality, I rely heavily on positive affirmation, mantra, and yogic techniques to manage various physical conditions.
Simply doing long deep breathing, inhaling and mentally taking in strength and health and exhaling, getting rid of pain and disease, creates a positive platform to launch your body’s inherent healing powers.
2 cups boiling water 1/2 cup millet
1/8 tsp turmeric 1/2 tsp ghee (optional)
1 T almond butter milk or milk substitute
handful of sunflower seeds
Rinse the millet in hot water and add to boiling water. Add turmeric and sunflower seeds. Cover and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Serve with almond butter and ghee stirred in. Pour milk over top. Of course, you may add sweetener (honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc.) if desired.Serves 2-3.
The Miracle of Healing Hands by Wahe Guru Singh Khalsa, D.C.
Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa
Sugar Blues by William Dufty
Hypoglycemia: A New Approach by Dr. Paavo Airola
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student in the United States. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power; Kundalini Postures and Poetry; and Marriage on the Spiritual Path: Mastering the Highest Yoga. She is a frequent movie-goer in the City of Angels.