Food for health, food as medicine: Feed the body, nourish the soul
How we eat and what we eat is an expression of spiritual life. The process of eating itself is a teacher, pregnant with enlightening possibilities. Eating a balanced meal is more than adding up chemicals and micronutrients. Breaking down every component of your meal into carbs, protein or fibre, judging a food's value by whether it's low of high calorie, avoiding high-fat foods even though they are rich in nutrients are amongst the errors brought about by conventional nutritional science, and is the fastest route to disease in your body.
Food, quite simply, should be delicious. The combination of smells and taste, together with the visual picture should be irrestibly tempting. The universe encodes herself in the six taste groups. These are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent. If your meal lacks one or more of these tastes, it will ultimately be unsatisfying and you will crave the missing taste/s. Organic foods that have not been subjected to chemical contamination and cooked (rather than raw) are easier to digest.
The principle of food as medicine is not based simply on the nutritional qualities of certain foods. You must consider the whole food, not just particular constituents of it as having beneficial or harmful effects on each individual. Our modern nutritional sciences advise us what to eat and what not to eat to maintain health and help cure our illnesses. But this approach is similar to studying the individual threads in a beautiful tapestry, in lieu of viewing the whole picture. Analysing food for its vitamin, mineral or fat content is comparable to assessing whether the tapestry is made from wool or silk. Such information can be important, but what is missing is our subjective appreciation of the art itself. In addition, the advice changes and is often confusing.
When we only emphasise the physically sustaining components of food we lose touch with food's spirituality. Food not only sustains us by providing bodily fuel, it helps to sanctiy our lives. The association of food with spirituality is a centuries old, universally accepted concept that is expressed in food-centred ceremonies, rituals, prayers and holidays that are designed to make us feel holy. Prana is the vital force of the universe, the cosmic force…and it enters into you and me with food.
We eat on the run, and speed has taken precedence over the loving preparation of food, convenience is winning over consciously caring about what's in our food, and a sense of urgency is keeping us from savouring the flavour of our food. More and more we are treating food as merely fuel to keep us going, like petrol in our cars. Not only are we not paying attention to how our meals are prepared, nor to our state of mind as we eat, we don't even believe that these two factors have anything to do with our health and well-being.
There are serious consequences for being disconnected from what we eat, for being so distracted from the connection between ourselves and what and how we eat. Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and overeating emergie with the link between food and spirit is severed. It would make a big difference to 'the starving spirit' if we approached eating with a more integrated perspective that includes not only biologial but psychological and sacred awareness, an attitude of appreciation, regard and reverence. Yet, there are lasting basic beliefs about food that have been sustained for millennia.
Cooking is a ritual that connects us with the deeper significance of food. Dietary laws are designed to honour the sanctity of life, to honour its divine essence, and to commune with food's life giving qualities. Preparing your food should feel tranquil and unhurried for it to have maximum benefit. Sharing a simple or sumptuous, elaborate meal with others can serve to enhance joyous, sacred friendship. When you cook with love, you transfer the love into the food and it is metabolised. Loving awareness of the food you cultivate, prepare and eat is transmuted into food and you injest this vital force when you eat. How we think or feel can actually alter food. Our emotions affect our digestion. Aim to eat in a comfortable, quiet environment and put off eating if you are angry or upset, as feelings such as these can play a part in souring the food in your stomach. More significant than what you eat, is what's eating you. Our awareness of the sacred, as well as what and how we eat affects our health.
The search for an optimal way of eating and the foods that will keep our bodies as healthy as possible reveals that a plant-based diet that is whole-food based (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes i.e. beans and peas, nuts, seeds and dairy, when combined with lifestyle approaches, primarily group support and managing stress (yoga and meditation) are key factors in lowering cholesterol and insulin levels, enhancing weight loss, decreasing depression and anxiety, and even reversing blockages in coronary arteries. Along the way you will journey through the grandeur of your sacred relationship to food, and discover your own spiritual way to nourish yourself.
Bringing Mindfulness to Meals
1. Extensive labour has brought us this food, and we can reflect upon how it comes to us.
2. As we partake of our meal, we can consider whether our virtue and practice deserves it.
3. Because we choose to cultivate the natural order of our mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed.
4. To support our life we take this food.
5. To attain enlightenment we take this food.
6. This food is for our three treasures: wisdom, purpose and spiritual community.
7. It is for our teachers, parents, family, friends, and all sentient beings.
8. It is for all beings in the six worlds.
9. Thus we eat this food with everyone.
10. We eat to stop all evil, to practice good, to save all sentient beings and to accomplish our yogic way.
Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.
Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography
Travel with Shanti & Peter Gowans this November for a trip of a lifetime.