Why An Empty Stomach is Essential for Hatha Yoga Practice
Sadhguru answers a question on why Hatha Yoga should be practiced on an empty stomach, and explores the nature of the body and how Hatha Yoga influences it.
Questioner: Why should we do Hatha Yoga on an empty stomach?
Sadhguru: You should not only be on an empty stomach – your bowels should be empty too. If you do Hatha Yoga, you must ensure to leave at least 10 or better 12 hours between your last meal and your practice. That way, you give enough time for digestion so that when you get up in the morning, the body will naturally purge. If you eat late at night and get up early, the digestion will not be complete.
In traditional Indian medicine, whether it is Ayurveda or Siddha, whatever health problem you have, first they will purge your colon. If you want to be healthy, it is essential that your colon is clean. The colon cannot be clean for people who eat certain types of foods, and who have the habit of eating in between too much. Especially dairy products and non-vegetarian food remain in the colon for long periods of time.
Anything that is not an actual part of your body should be out if you want to move your energies upward. Yogic practices are not exercises – they are methods to restructure your system. In a way, you are trying to recreate yourself by remolding your system the way you want it to be. For this to be done, there should be nothing but your body. The only thing that is okay to have is water.
Practicing yoga means beginning a partnership with the Creator. You cannot do it all yourself, but you can create the necessary atmosphere for the Creator to do the job. You want that which is the source of creation to become your willing partner. The first time you were made, it was not your choice - it was your parents and forefathers who decided how your body should be shaped, and how it should function. It happened from genetic memory. This is why in this culture, we refer to enlightened ones as dwijas or twice-born. Once born out of your mother's womb - the way you were born was not your choice. But now you are reinventing and recreating yourself, step-by-step, the way you want yourself to be.
Your life will not change if you have a nose job done or if you get an implant in some part of your body. Your experience of life will change only if the very way your body functions energy-wise, the way it thinks, the way it feels, the way it responds to the universe around, can be altered. If you change your nose or you do some other kind of cosmetic procedure, how someone else looks at you may change. It may change the experience for the beholder, not for you. Your experience will only change depending on the extent to which your body is in line with the source of creation.
If you really look at creation, you will see everything smacks of phenomenal intelligence. If you pay enough attention to a simple leaf, you will know what kind of intelligence has gone into making this, and how many functions it has. In a way, a leaf is a plant's energy source. The dream of today's scientists is to create a leaf as a renewable energy source that could power your house, and even provide food and water for you. Scientists have been working on this cutting-edge technology for years. They are struggling so much to produce one leaf, because it is incredible how many things a leaf can do at the same time. Even in a single atom, phenomenal intelligence is involved - we are not able to really figure it out.
The nature of the Creator is intelligence. You may think you need love, money, wealth, or whatever else – no, you need a little more sense – no matter what your IQ is. How many times have you looked at people around you and thought, “I only wish they had a little more sense.” If not just your intellect but your intelligence doubled today, you would grasp everything so much more easily. What you would otherwise learn in fifty years, you could learn in five years.
Being partner with the source of creation means getting a huge infusion of intelligence, a kind of intelligence that you would not believe possible. For this to happen, obstacles need to be removed. This body is the work of the source of creation. The food that you have put into it is not yet part of the body, and the stool that you have produced is not part of it either. Therefore, your stomach and bowels should be empty. But if you are doing yoga for four, five hours continuously, it is all right to lace the water that you drink with a small spoon of honey. We want the water to be tepid because if you drink cold water, the body has to warm it up, which results in a loss of energy. If the water you drink is within three degrees above or below body temperature, the body treats it as part of itself.
Tepid water and honey are the only two substances that are allowed in your stomach, and nothing else. There must be only body – no other obstacle. Otherwise, the Creator will not have anything to do with you. The source of creation, the intelligence which functions within you, treats anything else as an external substance, which will not participate in your asana. The Creator or the source of creation must function and participate in your asana – only then does an asana become a yogasana. Otherwise, it is just a posture.
Editor’s Note: Isha Hatha Yoga programs are an extensive exploration of classical hatha yoga, which revive various dimensions of this ancient science that are largely absent in the world today. These programs offer an unparalleled opportunity to explore Upa-yoga, Angamardana, Surya Kriya, Surya Shakti, Yogasanas and Bhuta Shuddhi, among other potent yogic practices.