You eat what you are.

Via Ben Ralston
on Sep 27, 2010
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There’s more to us than meets the eye…

This was inspired by the recent debate on garlic. If you missed that, and would like to catch up, you can follow the links at the foot of this piece.

To cut a long story short: R. Bjonnes said that garlic is bad for meditation (he went so far as to call it a “brain toxin”). A lot of people were pretty upset about it; William Harryman wrote an article refuting Mr Bjonnes’ claims, and extolling the health benefits of garlic; Mr Bjonnes wrote a refutation to the refutation, and so on.

Here’s what I think:

Garlic is toxic, but not to the brain—to our higher, subtle awareness. That awareness is not brain-centered, although most people think it is.

In this article:

  1. I want to explain how both parties in the recent debate about garlic are right!
  2. I also want to share some very useful information with you about the nature of your being, and
  3. I’ll share with you some practical tips, including a free, instant remedy for Jet Lag…

When I first saw the original article…I thought nothing of it, except that I was mildly pleased to see the subject broached on a popular forum.

I have not eaten garlic or onion for 10 years. However, I’m not obsessive about it; if I’m in a restaurant or at a friends’ home I’ll eat it without a thought.

I stopped eating garlic and onion when I trained as a yoga teacher in India in 2001. I learned many, many fascinating things on that course. For example: the ideal consistency of the feces of a healthy person is that of a ripe banana. Useful huh?! I thought so too…

Well, I learned a lot of useful information on that course. I recall thinking at the time that these things should be taught in schools – why, for example, did I have to wait 27 years, and travel to a distant continent in order to find out what my stools should look like? Why, after an expensive public school education in England, did I know the date of the battle of Hastings (1066) and various other utterly, utterly useless bits of information, but not these simple things that affect my everyday life?

During the month that I spent immersed in that course, from early morning to late at night, I felt as if my real education had just begun…

One of the things that I learnt is that according to the ancient yogic teachings, a human being consists of not just one, but three bodies: a physical body (which we’re all very aware of), an astral body (which sounds to many people like pure hokum, I know, but bear with me!), and a causal body.

Now, the 3 bodies have 5 ‘sheaths’ (if you thought the astral body stuff was hokum, you’ll love this!). The physical body is composed of the Food Sheath (when you die: food for the worms!); the astral body contains the Vital Sheath (think: energy), the Mental Sheath (senses, thoughts, doubts, and emotions, also the sub-conscious), and the Intellectual Sheath (analytical process, discrimination, decision making, and ego).

Finally, the causal body is composed of the Blissful Sheath (bliss, joy, calmness and peace).




Vital (energy)

Mental (senses, thoughts, emotions)

Intellectual (analysis, discrimination, ego)


Blissful (bliss)

The point of all this is: we are complex beings, ironically not unlike onions! We consist of many different aspects. Peel back one ‘layer’, and there is another underneath.

Now, the whole garlic-eating debate seemed to hinge on a basic misunderstanding that many people have (because it’s one of those things that they don’t deem important enough to teach us at school).

Our physical body is the densest, most material, gross manifestation of who we are. There is a subtler layer beneath it (or around it, or pervading it) known as the astral body, and an even subtler layer called the causal body.

Our society is focused (like tunnel vision and to the exclusion of all else) on the material. Awareness of the subtle aspects of our being is limited to small groups of people.

That’s my understanding of what Einstein meant when he said:

“The rational mind is a faithful servant. The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. We have created a society that honors the servant, and has forgotten the gift.”

The rational mind is concerned with, and grounded in the material world – our body, and it’s physical environment.

The intuitive mind is more concerned with, and grounded in the higher awareness – energy (prana, chi), emotion, intellect, bliss.

However, the tunnel vision of our society has not always been so. Thousands of years ago in India, the sages who developed Yoga had intimate knowledge of many things that our modern sciences are only now discovering.

For example, on my yoga teacher training 10 years ago there was a lecture by Amit Goswami, a now well-known professor of theoretical physics. (If you’ve seen the movie ‘What the bleep do we know?’ then you’ll have seen him). What he said blew my mind. In a nutshell, he explained that much of the knowledge of quantum physics that has emerged very recently in the scientific community was already known thousands of years ago!

Now, the misunderstanding that I referred to (as the cause for confusion in the ‘garlic-gate’ episode) is quite simply due to the lack of awareness that most people have about the more subtle aspects of themselves! (It’s understandable because we’re not taught about it – we learn about what happened when, and algebra, and oxbow lakes, and ‘stranger danger’, and grammar, and how to dissect frogs… but not about what our stools should look like, or what we actually are)!

Garlic of course has many wonderful health benefits (as the rebuttal to the original articles clearly showed) – including for the brain. However the ancient yogis never said (as far as I am aware) that garlic is bad for you physically; they said that it interferes with the higher, subtler aspects of the consciousness. They were not concerned with the physical health benefits of garlic, because they didn’t need them!

They almost certainly had optimal health (check the link for an very relevant article about what health really is), a highly robust immune system, and extremely strong, healthy bodies. They didn’t sit all day in cars and at desks; they didn’t have to worry about pollution, genetically modified vegetables, or genetically engineered (Franken) fish. They developed the practice of asana and pranayama and lived in harmony with their environment.

So, I’m confident in my assertion that they were healthy.

I’ve been practicing yoga (in all it’s aspects) for many years, and I find that I also don’t need garlic to stay healthy. If ever I need antibiotics, sure, I’ll get them from natural sources where possible: and garlic is one of those sources.

Yoga is personal development: in fact, one of the oldest methods of personal development; one that has stood the test of time; and upon which many modern systems are built – Pilates, auto suggestive relaxation techniques, various techniques for concentation and meditation, and so on…

Personal development means development of the person. And Yoga, as we’ve seen, takes the view that our person is much, much more than a body. So it means developing the physical, energetic, and causal bodies, so that we become truly coherent and integrated as a whole person.

When the physical body is healthy and you want to focus on developing your higher faculties through regular meditation; when you want to experience the world around you not only through your physical body but also through the astral and causal bodies; perhaps even, ultimately, to experience true, lasting bliss; then, it may be that garlic interferes with that purpose.

Certainly that’s what the ancient yogis thought, and who am I to disagree with the only teachers I ever had that taught me what my poo should look like?

Another very useful thing that they taught me, which I hope will demonstrate to you very clearly why I hold what they say in such high regard – bear in mind that they didn’t have jets 5000 years ago when yoga was developed – is a cure for jet lag

…You can read the end of this article (including the cure for jet lag) on my personal blog Grounded Spirituality, here.

These are the original articles that inspired the above:

Why Garlic is bad for the Yogi brain‘ by Ramesh Bjonnes

Garlic can heal the brain, and it has other health benefits‘ by William Harryman

Garlic, good for the body, but not for the mind?‘ by Ramesh Bjonnes

Yoga wisdom: your mind is more than your brain‘ by Ramesh Bjonnes


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


18 Responses to “You eat what you are.”

  1. Ramesh says:

    Ben, nice article. Especially the yogi poop wisdom, which I also learned in India. One friend, though, spent time in an ashram where they ate so many bananas that it became difficult to distinguish between the poop and the real thing. Very subtle science, indeed!
    But seriously: I did clearly emphasize the physical health benefits of garlic in my articles above. Indeed, we should increase our research in these health benefits and isolate their compounds from those not so good for the mind. For now, I use turmeric, especially liquid, as an antibiotic, as I think it is as effective as garlic. Good for the astral body and the poop, too.

  2. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Ramesh,
    I know you emphasized the health benefits… and i fully support your articles, as I think you know… I do think it was a slight error to state that garlic is a brain toxin though… but on the other hand it got a lot of peoples attention, and in this case I think that was good. So…
    Peace 🙂

  3. Ben_Ralston says:

    Natalie, sounds as if you are working hard, and working hard to balance your hard work with good health!
    So, if I have any advice for you it would be keep up the good work!
    Love, Ben 🙂
    ps – thanks for the support, it's gratefully received!

  4. Ramesh says:

    Ben, point well taken, and I do appreciate and have understood your support! I used the words brain toxin mainly to draw attention (mind toxin does not sound as powerful, does it?) But more importantly, this issue is complex, more studies needs to be conducted on both the benefits and harmful effects of garlic. Moreover the brain and the mind are intimately linked and I am not at all convinced it is all great for the brain neither. I have received many personal emails from people after these articles were posted of them reporting "brain fog." And yesterday I talked to a long time meditator who ate garlic by mistake and was "knocked out" with the same spacey fogy experience, which are similar to those reported by Dr. Beck. Anyway: mind and brain, the yin and yang of consciousness are an interactive pair, indeed.

  5. Ramesh says:

    Natalie, I would try turmeric instead of garlic. I recently went to the dentist and was prescribed antibiotics but took turmeric instead and my dentist is happy with the progress. There are so many natural remedies that can substitute for garlic: turmeric and ginger (both great against colds) are some of the best. and lots of greens and berries.

  6. Ramesh says:

    and ginger is great or the Vata digestion…

  7. Diane Marie says:

    Here's what I (and Lewis Blackj) think: Everyone is different. We're like f''ing SNOWFLAKES. There is NO one recipe for longevity success. We are ALL DIFFERENT. Want to test the theory? Start interviewing old people. My Mama is 92–she lives alone, gardens all day long, and needs little outside help to take care of her house, yard, and gardens. She eats a little of mostly everything. She doesn't NOT EAT anything, and she has no grand design for what she DOES eat. She eats what she wants, when she wants to. Doctors have tried to tell her "you can't eat this". Well, good luck with that. She does what she wants, and it WORKS. Back in the day, when she thought she should LISTEN to Doctors, she had cancer twice, a heart attack, and a very minor stroke. She survived them all, and now–SHE calls the shots, for the most part. She says she doesn't get "worked up" about odd pains in her chest or head, or whatever. She says she's ready to die, but she thinks she's going to live to be 108. I think she's got a good shot at it. I'm following HER lead. Whatever will be, will BE.

  8. Thanks friends. I keep reading about the wonders of tumeric. I am currently practicing my own homemade chai for this winter and it has LOTS of ginger. Diane, your mom sounds AWESOME. I constantly envisoin myself as an old lady gardening, chasing kids out of my yard and naysaying doctors…hope I make it! My Polish grandparents lived way beyond 100, even after surviving wars, camps, more wars and they all lived off sausage and coffee.

  9. Ramesh says:

    Diane Marie, you're so lucky to have your Mama at 92… and you are right, there may not be one recipe for longevity, and who says we are supposed to live that long anyway. many great saints died rather young, but they lived for hundreds if not thousands of us in one short life (Vivekananda was 39). Genes, or in ayurvedic terms, our prakruti (constitution) makes up for most of it, how long we'll live etc. Our genes may be set for 80, and if we live very healthy lives, we 'll live until 100, but if we drink and smoke, we'll die younger. Most very old people have one common characteristic, though, they do not do anything extreme, they are gentle to themselves and generally lead happy, satisfied life. A good mind is the key to health. Good diet is the frosting on an already good and wholesome cake.
    In other words, yoga and ayurvedic health tips are about regaining and maintaining balance, and very old people generally lead more or less balanced lives, but no need to be a health freak to live to be very old. My great grandpa lived until 99 and basically dropped dead one day after chopping wood. He was into herbs and lived healthy, in a common sense kind of way.
    How we feel on the inside is the most important thing, our diet can certainly help us feel and live better, but it cannot buy us happiness; that comes from a deeper place.

    Your chai sounds awesome Natalie and you seem to have good Polish genes! Good combo!

  10. Ben Ralston says:

    “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…”
    I’d swap one moment of true, unbridled happiness for a long lifetime of mediocrity – not to say to Diane, or anyone else, that you or your parents lives are mediocre! But I live for true joy and happiness in myself and others, and consider long life to be unimportant in the greater scheme of things.
    Ultimately, whether you live for 20 years or 120 years, it’s a blink of the eye to Mother Earth. It’s what we do with our time that counts; and how we feel as we do what we do.

  11. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    just replied in wrong spot.

  12. Ben Ralston says:

    Wowzers. That's an interesting dream… 5 cloves of roasted garlic huh?!

    Yes, it's amazing how much what we put in to our *body* affects our mental state. It bugs me that no one told me that when I was a kid. Instead I was given McDonalds as a 'treat'… rewarded with junk!

    Of course, when you look at the world through fresh eyes, and realize how everything is SO connected, it makes perfect sense. The trick of course is to always have those fresh eyes… but I know, sometimes those little roasted cloves look so GOOD!

    Thanks Lynn 🙂

    ps – by the way, I'm dreaming OVERTIME at the moment. Every night I have incredible dreams, and that's really something unusual for me.

  13. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Fantastic article, Ben. Of course I read it after eating about 5 cloves of roasted garlic that I had tossed in with our potatoes (I swiped as many as I could see). My sleep was disturbed and I had a dream that a kid knocked my son's head off and it turned into a pumpkin. Not a good time. I'm still learning how what I put into my body impacts my mental state. ~Cheers, Lynn

  14. Ben_Ralston says:

    Wowzers. That's an interesting dream… 5 cloves of roasted garlic huh?!
    Yes, it's amazing how much what we put in to our *body* affects our mental state. It bugs me that no one told me that when I was a kid. Instead I was given McDonalds as a 'treat'… rewarded with junk!
    Of course, when you look at the world through fresh eyes, and realize how everything is SO connected, it makes perfect sense. The trick of course is to always have those fresh eyes… but I know, sometimes those little roasted cloves look so GOOD!
    Thanks Lynn 🙂

    ps – by the way, I'm dreaming OVERTIME at the moment. Every night I have incredible dreams, and that's really something unusual for me.

  15. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Quite disturbing. I couldn't bring myself to look at the pumpkin/head. I LOVE GARLIC. My dreams are usually quite vivid and have been since an early age. Elevators + stairs have been the recent theme. I ate CRAP as a kid. Lucky for me, my metabolism was very fast. Even ate candy bars for lunch in high school along with multiple cans of soda. No wonder I felt anxious! Cheers 🙂

  16. helene_rose says:

    Hi Ben,
    You bring up an excellent point about education. I feel that there are so many relevant life topics that if communicated during middle school / high school, people & society would be so much happier & healthier. Let's make education relevant for these young children and come from a place of compassion, understanding, love and nurture the entire being rather than the simply the mind. From my experience as a student and and as a teacher in a public school system, children spend way too much time outside of themselves instead of delving into their inner wisdom and self. Slightly off topic, I know, but I feel strongly that public schools can do a better job of determining what is important for children to learn and make adjustments for students to have a more satisfying, worthwhile experience. Interestingly, public school teachers and counselors and taught in their training a conformist view of education ~ let's not make wakes, lets make administrators look good, lets not ask questions and in the long run, its our children who are given a great disservice. It makes me so sad.


  17. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Helene,
    Makes me sad too. Really sad.
    I worked in schools too, and with youngsters (15 – 25) who had been totally failed by the education system (and parents)… and were consequently labelled 'failures' themselves by said system. So, so sad.
    More and more people are aware of how destructive and corrupt our society is – more and more people are waking up to the impact it has on the environment, on our health, on our unsustainable economies… but it seems that very very few people are willing yet to give the education system a complete overhaul – which to my mind is what's needed in order to address our long term problems.
    The trouble is, change frightens people. So as soon as a politician comes out and says "let's overhaul (anything)" he gets attacked.
    I voted for Tony Blair simply because his slogan was: "education, education, education".
    But i didn't see any real change, even after his 8 years in power. (perhaps because he forgot his promises and replaced education for war? – would be funny if it wasn't so frustrating huh?)
    My kids will have a very different education than I did, that's for sure! Perhaps at home…
    All the best, Ben

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