Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: "A Clear and Definite Path: Enlightenment and Health with Yoga and Holistic Living"

Health sections of bookstores are crowded with books championing the health benefits of a raw food diet. By now, these health benefits have been fairly well established. But could a raw food diet have a positive impact on yoga, spirituality and enlightenment? This is the premise of Fred Busch’s matter of fact book on raw foods and yoga, "A Clear and Definite Path: Enlightenment and Health with Yoga and Holistic Living."

Fred Busch is an influential yoga teacher and raw foods proponent in Miami, Florida.  He teaches at the Miami Yoga Shala, which he started in 2001 as an Ashtanga Vinyasa school. Since then the yoga taught has evolved to a style more tailored to the individual,  offering more modifications and a greater variety of sequences. Fred has branded this style “Fred Busch Power Yoga."

Fred’s interest in raw food began when a roommate introduced him to the work of Douglas Graham, creator of the 80/10/10 diet.  He began to experiment with his own diet, and experienced phenomenal improvements in energy and focus. He writes, “My entire disposition changed. Meanwhile, my Yoga practice exploded. I was doing the poses that seemed impossible just weeks ago.” 

Fred's book provides a brief overview of yoga and the purpose behind the exercises. Critics of yoga claim that the benefits reaped by twisting oneself into pretzel-like knots rival the benefits of  a mere daily walk. Fred points out that yoga serves an additional purpose beyond the circus acts. “Yoga is different from other physical exercises because enlightenment is the goal. Asanas were created as a tool to make all the muscles and joints of the body healthy and strong so that the body is comfortable to sit still in a Meditation posture” (51). Yoga's unique focus on both flexibility and strength also differentiates the practice from other exercises, which focus on only strength. To sit comfortably unsupported for long periods of time requires adequate strength of the abdominals and the back, as well as adequate flexibility in the hips, knees, and back.

Fred further expounds on the link between the health of the body and the ability to meditate (and thereby achieve enlightenment) by turning the subject matter to diet. Diet has been clearly shown to effect the triumvirate of physical, mental and emotional states. Fred illustrates this connection with humor.  "You are literally made out of the food you eat […] Think about it. Do you want to be an apple? Or do you want to be a glazed doughnut?" (64). The contrast between an unprocessed food and a food universally recognized as unhealthy is of particular significance. For Fred goes beyond labeling foods as "bad" or "unhealthy"; he refuses to acknowledge the glazed doughnut as a food at all.

One of Douglas Graham’s arguments that Fred seems to have fully adopted is the idea that all animals are designed to eat a species specific diet comprising raw, unprocessed foods.  "As Homo Sapiens, we humans have the same digestive structures as the other big brained fruit eating primates" (64), he says. We are therefore designed to consume a diet similar to what one would expect to feed a chimpanzee in a zoo. Fred observes drily, "We do not feed the Chimps deep-dish pizza" (62). To Fred, items that we currently call "junk food" should not even be labeled with the word food.  He acknowledges that many objects, some fairly improbable or surprising, can be swallowed and passed through the body.  However, not all of these objects can be considered healthy for the human body, and should therefore not be classified as food.

However, once food has been redefined to include only uncooked fruits, vegetables and nuts, Fred becomes extremely lenient toward dietary guidelines. He does not condone any particular focus on calories, either restrictive or excessive, nor does he suggest one avoid certain macronutrients like fats or carbohydrates. He suggests that one should simply eat intuitively until one feels full and satisfied. “Once food has been defined, there is no need to be on a diet. You can eat as much food as you want. There is no need to count calories or earn “food points”” no need to get involved with the latest theories about eating all protein or all carbohydrates. […] You can eat as many bananas as you want, you can eat as many apples as you want, you can eat as much raw almond butter as you want” (62). Essentially, as long as the diet comprises only raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts, you can eat anything you want.
Fred finds avocados to be especially useful in the raw diet
Written in layman’s terms, Fred lays out his ideas in a simple manner that is easy to understand. At times redundant and over-simplified, the book seems lacking in specific examples of benefits to yoga practice above and beyond general health improvement.  While the author hints at the connection between raw foods and improved spiritual or mental clarity, the connection is never fully verbalized.

The most useful part of the book is the excellent explication of popular poses and their health benefits and the two asana sequence charts, suggesting both a 20 minute and a 40 minute series for beginners and intermediate yogis practicing on their own. The book also provides a recipe index and a week-long example menu.

While the style may be somewhat lacking, Fred offers several gems of advice to raw foodies. He says, “Try not to get caught answering the “Are you ever going to eat cooked food again?” question. If you are asked, the best answer is to smile and say, ‘I don’t generally talk about the distant future - only what is likely to take place for the next meal’” (87). By narrowing the focus to one day at a time, Fred simplifies what could be seen as an overwhelming lifestyle overhaul into a decision that takes place three times a day.

Fred encourages people to take the transition to raw foods slowly, over months or even years. He recommends to begin by not even worrying about food, but by taking up a daily yoga practice of 20 minutes to begin the process of detoxification.  He beseeches raw foodies to be completely forgiving and gentle with themselves when slip-ups occur (as they inevitably will). "We can achieve change through awareness, compassion and non-judgment toward ourselves" (65), he writes.  Forgiveness and positive thinking is so crucial to success that he dedicates a chapter to letting go of guilt and negative thinking patterns. 

“A Clear and Definite Path” is a good introduction to raw foods, especially if your loved one (who you are trying to convert) is interested in yoga. Logical and based on general knowledge, “A Clear and Definite Path” makes eating raw food seem like the most obvious decision.

Stay tuned for an interview with Fred Busch later this week.

You can purchase Fred's book here.

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