Why Is Garlic Bad For The Yogi Brain?

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Sep 15, 2010
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Why is garlic  not good for the budding Buddha brain? Because it is a “brain toxin.” Garlic is in particular not good medicine for your brain on meditation.

Sorry to deliver such bad news for all you aspiring Enlightenment seekers and garlic eaters out there. This somber news item comes from the ancient yogis of India. Those sages of the past who have practiced what they have preached for thousands of years.

According to both yogis and Ayurvedic doctors, garlic agitates and dulls the mind and the lower chakras (yes, what a crazy mind-body combination!) and is therefore not conducive to a contemplative lifestyle.

In addition to being vegetarians, the yogis of old also ate a sattvik or yogic diet specially devised for a contemplative lifestyle. The yogi diet consists of foods that improve mental clarity and energy.

The yogis divide the energy of foods into these three categories:

  • Sattvik (pure, balanced) foods are great for both the body and the mind. Energetically they are pure, light, clear, calming, harmonizing and promote wakefulness. Such foods include most vegetables, grains, milk, ghee, beans, fruits, etc.
  • Rajasik (energetic) foods are OK or good for the body, but may or may not be good for the mind, depending on the time of the day and the quantity taken. Rajasik foods are energetically cloudy, turbulent, agitated, and disturbs the emotions.

Such foods include chocolate, coffee, black tea, and many hot spices, etc. Some yogis and ayurvedic doctors include garlic and onion is this category, but this does not seem to be the best way to classify these plants, because most rajasik foods are OK to take in moderation.

  • Tamasik (dull) foods are generally not good for the body (or neutral) and not at all for the mind. Tamasik foods are dulling and create lethargy and heaviness. Meat, fish and eggs are classified as tamasik foods, and also garlic and onion. Overeating, even sattvik foods, would also be considered tamasik.

Satvik foods are healthy for both the body and the mind. Most hot spices, including garlic and onions are not conducive to meditation as they tend to overstimulate the mind and then crash it into low gear, making it dull and lethargic—giving us a kind of garlic rock and roll, then a garlic blues.

I have not personally eaten garlic or onions for over 35 years, so what do I know? In other words, I may not be the best judge anymore, but when I tested this many years ago, I found that these rules were true: my meditation did suffer from an overstimulated and strangely foggy brain.

We all know that coffee and chocolate are stimulating (rajasik), and therefore I try not to ingest these items at night. Otherwise I turn into a yogi on speed, which is not very conducive for meditation or sleep.

According to Ayurveda certain herbs are used to improve memory, concentration and meditation. One of the best such herbs is called brahmi and can be ordered in bulk from www.banyanbotanicals.com or purchased at many health food stores.

Is there any western scientific evidence that garlic is bad for your brain on meditation?

In the book Meditation: Searching for the Real You by Dada Jyotirupananda

www.o-books.com we find the following quote:

“Researcher Dr. Robert Beck notes that garlic is a [brain] poison. He has written in the March 1996 issue of Nexus magazine:

If you have any patients who have low-grade headaches or attention deficit disorder, they can’t quite focus on the computer in the afternoon, just do an experiment…. Take these people off garlic and see how much better they get, very very shortly.”

Dr. Beck also explains how garlic has a “poisonous effect” on the brain, which thus seem to indicate that science backs up the ancient yogic wisdom.

So, if meditation is part of your daily lifestyle and you eat garlic regularly, try a few weeks without ingesting these smelly and watery cloves, and see if your meditation improves. I know at least your breath will! And you can always use that garlic pizza as a Frisbee!


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


66 Responses to “Why Is Garlic Bad For The Yogi Brain?”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Do you meditate daily?

  2. Ramesh says:

    Yes, Ben, we are certainly in the minority in the Western yoga community, which again is part of the fact that yoga in the West is still mainly hatha yoga oriented, but as you know, a garlic free diet is common in India, just ask the many million Jains and Hindu Brahmins, Yogis, Sadhus, etc.
    Growing up in Norway and not Italy, I was never used to eating it in the first place, and I also do not like it, so it's not been a big sacrifice as it would be for the many garlic lovers out there.

  3. Christy says:

    I stopped cooking with garlic and onions 4 years ago when I realized the negative effects on my energy and state of mind. I talk about this in my upcoming cookbook, which is vegan, very little optional garlic/onion. As a vegan it's like taking antibiotics when you don't need them, because of their strong medicinal properties. I smell better now too 😉

  4. kimberly says:

    I fall in the garlic lover camp. I add it fresh to most of what I cook for the flavor as well as the scientifically proven antioxidant effects.
    As with pretty much everything in the Ayurvedic tradition, if you believe that garlic will dull your brain and bring you harm or distraction in meditation… then it WILL! What you think is what you feel people. Just because we're yogis, doesn't mean we should ignore science.

  5. Ramesh says:

    Christy, thanks for that personal feedback, which totally resonate with the yogic insights. Your mentioning of writing a cookbook reminds me to mention (for those who are not vegan cookbook authors) that ginger is a great substitute for garlic as it has most of the good health benefits (great for the heart, metabolism, blood, etc) and none of side effects, while Hing or asofoetida is a great substitute for the garlic taste.

  6. Blake says:

    Between garlic and enlightenment, I choose garlic.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Kimberly, sounds to me like you are saying that coffee and chocolate keeps we awake when I drive long distance just because I believe it. It's not that simple. Foods have energetic effects on us, such as caffeine, and both yoga and science are in agreement here. And if Dr. Beck is right, then yoga and science are in agreement regarding garlic also. Besides, there are many of us that think that the good ol' yogis were pretty darn scientific.

  8. fivefootwo says:

    I think I'm going to cry…. I thought garlic was kicking my butt because I was getting old, and smearing pesto on everything I could find this summer. I don't even want to hear what you have to say about red wine. Thanks anyway.

  9. […] Why Is Garlic Bad For The Yogi Brain? | elephant journal. […]

  10. Ramesh says:

    Fivefootwo, Sorry to make you cry…. but I don't think you need to. There are so many fruits, herbs, spices, nuts etc full of all the good qualities of garlic and none of the bad ones. Spices, herbs, essential oils and cocoa are rich in antioxidants. Typical spices high in antioxidants are clove, cinnamon, oregano (this is especially great), turmeric (and this one), cumin, parsley, basil, curry powder, mustard seed, ginger, pepper, chili powder, paprika, coriander, and cardamom. Typical herbs are sage, thyme, marjoram, tarragon, peppermint, oregano, savory, basil and dill weed.

    Blue berries, goji berries, currents, etc. Dried fruits are a good source of antioxidants by weight/serving size as the water has been removed making the ratio of antioxidants higher. Typical dried fruits are pears, apples, plums, peaches, raisins, figs and dates. Dried raisins are high in polyphenol count.

  11. liz says:

    hear hear!

  12. Blake says:

    Besides, garlic bread is the closest thing to "enlightenment" I've ever come.

  13. fivefootwo says:

    That was very lovely. Thanks for the hand holding. I'm trying to liberate myself from flavor enslavement! It rules a lot of what I choose to do……

  14. AnneMai says:

    I just dont quite understand this,,, ?? garlic lowerd your bloodpressure so how can it make you feel edgy ?? I have noticed that if I eat too much of it I get tired the next day , Have only heard good things about garlic until now

  15. Eat it says:

    This article is loony garbage. Quit justifying your dislike of garlic and combining it as a reason not to become enlightened. I reak and sweat loads of garlic and am more enlightened than you ever will be. Are you trying to say you are a vampire too?

  16. mamabear234 says:

    I don't drink alcohol, smoke, eat sugar,watch TV etc. I have a very strong and regular asana practice. I have very deep meditations. And I eat garlic. Lots of it. I would say having children was the biggest obstacle to come between myself and sattvic meditation. But I would never tell anyone not to have children, in fact having children has deepened my level of surrender and selflessness, but meditation with small children? Wasn't happening…. We all make our choices.

  17. yellowpeartomato says:

    🙂 and chocolate, and coffee, and tomatoes, all in moderation – no i am not doubting that garlic (i can't lump garlic and onions together, i worked on a farm that grew 30 different varieties of garlic, try one of them!) can have ill effects for alot of people, but i also think that creating a healthy diet/lifestyle for oneself is/can be a very individual matter (and i do eat less garlic now that i'm older than i used to)…i also think there's some truth to the genetics of what works for people in terms of diet….just as many Native American groups cannot tolerate certain foods well due to thousands of years of living on much different diet, i'm sure folks in India can tolerate or not tolerate certain foods based to some extent on historical eating habits, or Italians or Greeks, etc…..i started using olive oil exclusively when i was 15 after i spent a summer in Greece, and i hope it helps me over the long run – it's already been 25 years, even though i'm not technically 'of mediterranean' descent…(my cholesterol and blood pressure have Always been low, maybe due to olive oil?) Whatever works, people…..trust your bodies, they'll tell you what works and doesn't….

  18. yellowpeartomato says:

    i just want to emphasize again – there are dozens of varieties of garlic out there – that supermarket white elephant garlic shite probably will make you cloudy – go to your local farmers market and try out, each with their own flavor, some milder, some with a bigger kick, some with that silky purple stripy thing going on- varieties from China, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Iran, etc…..

  19. guest says:

    So, if meditation is part of your daily lifestyle and you eat garlic regularly, try a few weeks without ingesting these smelly and watery cloves, and see if your meditation improves.

  20. Ramesh says:

    AnneMai, the human body and mind interactions are very complex…. Chocolate also lowers blood pressure, but it also makes you feel on edge if you eat too much. Garlic is similar. It has many great qualities including lowering blood pressure but its effects on the mind, just like chocolate, are different….hence the yogic insight of dividing food according to their energetic mind qualities, not just their physical food values or physical health values.

  21. Ramesh says:

    Mamabear, consider that your meditations might be even deeper if you are off garlic….

  22. Ben_Ralston says:

    Good. You could do an experiment – give up Garlic and onion for one month. See how it affects the meditation…
    Nothing to lose… deeper meditation to gain. Works for me!
    If you do, come back here and let us all know!!
    Love, Ben

  23. Ben_Ralston says:

    Ha, love it. Seems you've really touched a nerve here Ramesh 🙂

  24. Ramesh says:

    Ben: A raw, garlic nerve, that is!

  25. Ramesh says:

    There is scientific evidence supporting the yogic science as well. Ayurveda is not a belief system, it is an ancient medical science, just like accupuncture is. Different paradigm than Western science, but a paradigm that works because it is empirical.

  26. Ramesh says:

    yoga, especially in the Tantric tradition, which is my practice, embrace all aspects of our being, including the sensual, the body, as sacred. There is nothing negative in having sensual pleasures, we have them all day long. They are part of the human condition. In Tantra, there are mantras used as part of all actions, including eating, walking, having sex, etc so that all our actions are experienced as part of the totality of being, as part of our spiritual experience. However, Tantric yoga, and all yogic paths for that matter, is also about balance. Too much food or sex or watching TV or talking, etc, in other words, too much sensual stimulation, creates imbalances as it draws our attention away from the inner contemplative life. Simply said, we do not listen to rock music when engaging in certain meditation practices, nor do we practice sex. We sit in silence and transmute the sensual experience to go inward in silence. it is during those practices, which are part of Asthanga Yoga, or Raja Yoga, or Tantra Yoga (whatever name you choose), that having too much sensual stimulation would be counterproductive to your practice. Thus when these practices (pratyahara, pranayama, dharana, dhyan, the 4th-7th limbs of asthanga yoga) are performed we do not want to be stimulated by coffee, black tea, garlic, alchohol, meat, etc. as these energies would divert the mind from going into deeper states of meditation.
    But when we do eat and have sex, we can also make those activities into spiritual experiences, as every act has the potential for being sacred. So, in that regard I agree with you, it depends on our mind. But yoga is about finding ways to aid us in becoming more spiritual, more centered, more peaceful, and garlic, alcohol, tea, coffee etc have been found to interfere with those deeper states of spirituality during certain types of meditation practice.

  27. Ramesh says:

    Jessica, in yoga, and this is especially emphasized in the Tantric tradition of yoga, all acts are sacred, including all sensual activities. We engage our senses all day long and there is nothing negative in that. You are right that there is an element of seeing sensuality as negative in certain yogic schools, but those are in a minority. Yoga is life-affirming and all-embracing. All acts, including sex are sacred if we let them be spiritualized by our inner state of mind. Thus, in Tantra, there are mantras used to make all acts, including sensual acts, sacred. But the human condition is multifaceted, and not all our acts are sensual, some go beyond the sensual, when we are in deep meditation. During those type of meditation experiences, it is not conducive to use alcohol, drink too much coffee, or eat garlic, or listen to rock and roll. The senses are withdrawn during deep meditation practice, as you know, this is called pratyahara and is part of Patanjali's eight limbs of Asthanga Yoga. So, when the yogi engage the higher lessons of Asthanga Yoga (pranayama, dharana, dhyan, by using pratyahara (sense withdrawal) we have found it not to be very practical to ingest certain types of foods and drinks. It's really that simple. Nothing negative about it. Simply part of the empirical experience of yoga–you use what is practical in the moment, you do not use what is not. Nothing negative about it. It's just being practical. So, while you my certainly benefit and have good meditation when you eat garlic, the yogi experience is that these meditations would be even better and deeper without garlic. So, it's really up to you.

  28. Kaoverii says:

    Wow Ramesh, you're rocking right along here. Glad so many people are reading your blogs!

  29. swati jr* says:

    thank you for being the bearer of this news. many of us have quit eating garlic, onions and nightshades for health, well-being and spiritual reasons. as if we weren't unusual enough, these restrictions often insight rajasik reactions in others (as some of the above comments suggest.) to each his/her own, but yogis take note….and ask your Self, what is your practice really for? evolution and enlightenment? or?

  30. Ramesh says:

    Swati, very well said!
    My favorite rajasik reaction is by far this one by Ed Fladung on Facebook: "They'll get my garlic press when they pry it from my dead cold fingers!
    Yesterday at 6:26am
    To which I responded: "When the Yoga Administration comes to power there will be no Garlic Police. Take heart, my friend, you may keep your garlic press!!"

  31. Ramesh says:

    Thanks so much, Kaoverii. I never knew this blog would hit such a raw garlic nerve nor that so many responded so positively! The latter is truly gratifying as I've often felt like an odd man out when going out! But no more, now that I'm out of the garlic closet!

  32. integralhack says:

    I enjoyed reading this as well as William Harryman's reply. I think much could be gained if Western medicine would take serious note of Ayurvedic and "Eat Right for Your Type" ideas regarding specific foods and the effect they might have on particular types of individuals. Persons with allergies and particular medical conditions also have food sensitivities that pertain strictly to the individual. As such, I think we need to be careful about making any generalized claims about food for all people or even "types" of people.

  33. Ramesh says:

    I largely agree with you, Matt, but I also think we can make certain generalizations about certain types of foods such as the effects of caffeine, for example. There are people who react more negatively to the effect of caffeine than others, but for the most part we know how coffee effects most people. So, I would say that the food categories according to ayurveda, for example, while being quite general, apply to most people and their body types, but there are also exceptions. Moreover, ayurveda itself is not always an accurate science when practiced, however, nor is western medical science. So, in that light, the effect of garlic is abroad generalization that will depend on the person, some will be more sensitive to its effects than others, and some may have no noticeable reaction to it while meditating. But it would be unwise to simply dismiss the yogic and ayurvedic insights as "crackpot science" just because it has not been verified by Western science. Moreover, the science presented by William is regarding the physical effects of garlic, not the mental effects, which is where the yogic science comes in.

  34. integralhack says:

    Agreed, Ramesh. I just wanted to caution against typing claims as "universally correct." As you point out, a similar caution can be made against the claims of scientific studies (many of which are funded and guided by corporations in the food and pharmaceutical realm).

  35. integralhack says:

    Garlic aside, can anyone tell me if kombucha is good for me?

  36. Kathy says:

    I also haven't eaten garlic for almost 40 years, primarily because I am a serious practitioner of meditation. However, it happened that after a year or two of not eating either garlic or onions, I inadvertently had some and immediately got a blinding headache that lasted for three days. After that, I tested both very carefully and found that both onions and garlic triggered headaches, even in small quantities, so I don't eat them even if there is nothing else available. I hadn't connected the absence of headaches with the fact that I had stopped eating onions and garlic.

    I've never missed the taste. In fact, when I stopped eating them, I found that there were so many wonderful tastes I'd been missing because they overpower just about everything else. Now I can only wonder why so many people feel that everything has to taste like onion and garlic.

    An additional reason that neither garlic nor onions are good for meditation is that they are sexual stimulants. Celibacy, whether you like the idea or not, is extremely helpful, if not absolutely essential, on the path to enlightenment.

    From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, garlic and onions should only be eaten if they are grown in very pure soil, which they rarely are. The reason for this is that they readily soak up all the impurities.

  37. Ramesh says:

    Kombucha is loved by the health food crowd but questioned by the medical community. Personally I do not have much of an opinion or experience with it. It's been part of Chinese folk medicine for a looong time, though.

  38. Ramesh says:

    Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your powerful personal experience, which confirms in part what my article is about. It is not uncommon among long time meditators to have had similar experiences. I know this as I associate with hundreds of long time meditators and have heard similar stories.

  39. Ramesh says:

    Thank you, Kathy, for your interesting and compelling comment.

  40. Ramesh says:

    "Garlic: Immunity Booster and Heart Helper". This book is extolling the virtues of garlic, but still some of the information gives us insights into how and why garlic effect our meditation.
    Note that this book lists side effects to garlic as reported by those who meditate regularly: headache, insomnia, rapid pulse…
    Yes, garlic has many positive effects, I never disputed this fact, but let us not overlook it's effects on the mind!!

    Here are some quotes:

    …garlic is no medicinal newcomer – the herb boasts a long, distinguished history as an anthelmintic, antibiotic, antiviral, astringent, and immune system stimulant. Cuneiform tablets from 3000 BC have shown that Sumerians and Assyrians used garlic to strengthen the body and treat infectious fevers, diarrhea, swollen joints, and sprains. Sanskrit records dating from the same period show that India people were using garlic four coughs, skin problems, hemorrhoids, worms and leprosy. The Egyptian Ebers Codes, circa 1550 BC, gives 22 uses for garlic including animal and insect bites, heart conditions and worms….

    … Garlic contains a volatile oil comprised of sulfur-containing compounds: ajoene, alliin (which converts into allicin when garlic is crushed or injured in any way), diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, and others.

    Garlic is a much-touted blood thinner that is used to dilute cholesterol-thickened blood and lower high blood pressure. The herb also offers protection against cancer, inflammations, and high blood sugar levels, and acts as a carminative, digestive, diuretic and expectorant.

    Side effects of garlic include:

    * Diarrhea
    * Flatulence
    * Flushed Face
    * Gastric Irritation
    * Headache
    * Heartburn
    * Insomnia
    * Nausea
    * Rapid Pulse
    * Skin Irritation (with external applications)
    * Vomiting

  41. Colleen says:

    I wonder also if the effect of the garlic is altered if it is cooked. I've always heard that its OK to eat raw just not to cook it. Similarly to honey. If it is heated above boiling then it becomes toxic but raw its wonderful. Even putting it in boiling water can trigger the toxic release so wait a couple minutes for the tea to cool before adding the honey. Any thoughts about garlic.

  42. Ramesh says:

    Collen, great question: You are right in that most raw foods are much more potent than cooked food. The answer from a yogic point of view, though, is that garlic has negative effects on the mind whether raw or cooked. That has been mine and other people's experience and that is also how garlic is presented in yogic and ayurvedic literature.. You are also right that honey is better raw, according to ayurveda, than cooked. So, whatever chemical compound effect our minds, or at least prolonged meditator's minds, does not seem to be removed during cooking.

  43. Ramesh says:

    Here is an interesting link to an article by someone who experimented not using garlic for three weeks, then started taking it again. His reaction? Started to feel "foggy" and decided not to eat garlic again! Go to link below and check out the articles by John Horak.

  44. Ramesh says:

    Tagi, Thank you so much for posting this story as told by Ramana Maharishi, the gentlest and most sagely of Indian saints.

  45. […] Elephant readers and writers recently argued with my alleged lack of rationality for proposing that garlic is bad for the yogi brain. What’s good for the body and the brain must also be good for the mind, they proclaimed, in […]

  46. Ramesh says:

    Kathy, I had not heard that part about the soil before….

  47. […] ‘Why Garlic is bad for the Yogi brain‘ by Ramesh Bjonnes […]

  48. Ramesh says:

    How can we get a copy of your cook book, Christy?

  49. Ramesh says:

    Good advice, Ben. Some poeple are obviously more sensitive to garlic than others, just like coffee. One person wrote and said she tried garlic after not eating it for a long time and immediately got a headache.