In part 1 of this article, we focused on why the yogis tell us that the source and quality of our food is so important. And although we are mostly dependent on the food that is commercially available and have little choice as to what type of food is sold, we do still have some choices: We can buy the freshest food available, and we can pay attention to how our food is prepared and how we eat it.
In India, where meditation has been a way of life for thousands of years, those who prepare the family food are dedicated to their art and valued for their skill. Here food and God, or Brahman, are recognized as one and the same. Preparing food thoughtlessly or ineptly is regarded as a form of sacrilege. Those who prepare food have the well-being of the household in their hands, for the sages say that if we prepare food while harboring angry, destructive thoughts, the food turns to poison.
“The more time we spend handling and preparing our food, the stronger our relationship with it.”
Food gives life and connects us to the source of life. When we eat food prepared by those who do not care for us, those who are cooking for profit, and those who would rather be doing something else, we end up with physical and mental indigestion; we are absorbing the energy of the cook along with the energy of the food. According to the Puranas (ancient scriptures of India) selling cooked food is one of the worst sins imaginable. Food is to be offered to the god of fire, Vaishvanara, not to be treated as merchandise. And the Puranas warn that whenever the practice of selling cooked food becomes widespread, it is an unmistakable sign that the Kali Yuga (Dark Age or Age of Vice) has arrived.
Rather than relying on food prepared by others, we should cook for ourselves and our loved ones, or allow them to cook for us. The more time we spend handling and preparing our food, the stronger our relationship with it. When we prepare food our feelings automatically go into it, changing it in subtle but significant ways. When we buy commercially prepared food and simply heat it up, the food goes into our body without being mediated by our consciousness.
The stronger our link with what we eat, the more it nourishes us. The yogic method of testing this hypothesis is to experiment with it. Start slowly. Make a commitment to spend more time in the kitchen, preparing whole, fresh food once or twice a week. See what happens as you build a relationship with your food. Do you feel better? How does the food you prepare yourself compare with the prepared food you purchase? Watch and see how this changes as you become more attuned to your cooking.
In many quarters the reaction to this suggestion will be, “I simply don’t have time to cook. I’m barely managing as it is.” But stop and think what we are really saying when we insist that we have to eat on the run, that we do not have time to do our own cooking. By saying we do not have time to prepare food—that which sustains life—aren’t we saying we have no time for nurturing ourselves and those we love? Are we too busy because we are earning a living? Maybe—but what good is that living if we do not eat properly? And if we do not have time to approach food properly, we have no time for life.
How We Eat
Even if our food is fresh, nourishing, and lovingly prepared, we will not get its full benefit if we eat hurriedly and unconsciously or when we are out of sorts. Just as cooking in an angry state of mind degrades the quality of the food being prepared, so does eating when we are angry or upset. Further, food eaten on the run, or when the mind is in turmoil, cannot be digested properly. If you have done this, you know it sits like a lump in the pit of the stomach.
So it is best to eat only when we are calm and totally present, focusing on each bite with full awareness that it is life itself that is nourishing us. This can be challenging. Most of us eat on the run and have formed the habit of popping food in our mouth without paying much attention to what we are doing. Sometimes we hardly even taste it. Eating this way leads to a feeling of emptiness, and this is why we often find ourselves looking for a snack even when we have recently eaten a full meal.
If we find ourselves feeling stressed or out of sorts when mealtime rolls around, a few minutes of deep breathing or a walk around the block may quiet the mind so it can focus on the activity at hand. It is also helpful to pause and acknowledge the source of the food before we begin eating. This is why many cultures observe certain rituals before eating. In some, a portion of the food is removed and offered to domesticated animals or reserved for the poor. In others, a small portion of each dish is removed and offered into the fire in recognition of the forces that nourish us. A ritual such as this serves as a reminder that by eating we are connecting ourselves with the forces of nature—both known and unknown. To eat consciously is to acknowledge our connection with the source of our existence—which is not matter but spirit. Offering a portion of our food, even if only mentally, is a way of connecting ourselves with consciousness, which is our intrinsic nature.
“Remember that food is the most basic link with the source of life. Be thankful for it, pray over it, honor it. We are not just filling our belly; we are nurturing our mind and spirit as well.”
That is why the yogis caution us to be mindful while we eat. Remember that food is the most basic link with the source of life. Be thankful for it, pray over it, honor it. We are not just filling our belly; we are nurturing our mind and spirit as well. Eating with full awareness puts us in harmony with nature—not only with the external world, but also our own inner nature. This creates better health, while strengthening our connection to our intuitive self. For when we are in tune with that wise part of ourselves, our thinking is clearer, we make decisions that better serve us, and we are drawn to what matters most in life.
In respecting this vehicle we have been given, and in honoring the food that nourishes it, we purify our body. In the East, ritual offerings are made into a fire, and the smoke from such a fire is believed to have the power to purify. If the offering is tainted, the smoke is impure and taints all that it touches. The same holds true of our digestive fire; if we offer it trash, the impurities it yields affect our whole being. So let us offer into our own inner fire wholesome gifts that burn clean and yield a pure mind and body. Abiding by the laws of nature truly nourishes us in all ways.
Source: Yoga International magazine