HJ: Food absolutely affects your thoughts and the ability of the mind to focus and relax. Certain foods can make it easier to meditate, while others are disruptive or agitating and can make the task very difficult. Ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine which developed in ancient India, largely at the hands of master meditators, Rishis and Sages, has categorized foods by their tendency to promote various states in the body, which can either be harmonious or disruptive to varying degrees. This is a useful tool in helping the spiritually inclined individual idnetify foods that support whatever activity it is that they are choosing to engage in at the moment, be that meditation or more active, mentally stimulating pursuits.
What we can add to the message below, is that it is also very important to eat in a way that balances your unique constitution, known in the Ayurvedic system of medicine as your Dosha. While you may not be eating foods that are considered aggravating or mentally stimulating in a general sense, they may throw your specific body type out of balance and in that way, may be agitating and disruptive. We highly recommend figuring out your Dosha (personal body type/constitution) using the Ayurvedic Dosha Test available here through Nature’s Formulary: Nature’s Formulary Dosha Test.
Knowing and living in alignment with your body type will do much more than just improve your meditations — when practiced fully, it has the potential to radically improve and transform your life, and is a cornerstone of achieving lasting, radiant health.
Food and Meditation: The Sattvic Path
For as long as mankind had its spiritual practices, be it prayer, meditation, yoga and the likes, it has always accompanied them with dietary guidelines, aimed at supporting and allowing the best possible results of these practices. This goes back to the dietary code gives to the people of Israel as described in the bible, down to the Vinaya code of the Buddhist order, the dietary restrictions given to yoga practitioners in India and the special diets given by the Shamans in the Amazon among others It was known for millennia by the great sages of all traditions that what you eat will directly effect your state of mind and the depth of your spiritual practice.
In the Yoga tradition of India, for example, foods were categorized into 3 groups, according to the 3 Gunas, or tendencies that exist in the universe:
Tamas – The heavy, dulling foods, causing inertia and laziness in the mind and body, lack of energy and sleepiness. These include meat, old and rotten food and mushrooms among others.
Rajas – Fiery, stimulating foods that will cause agitation of the mind, many thoughts and restlessness in the body. These include hot spices such as chilli and black pepper, garlic, onions, coffee and the likes.
Sattva – The pure, pristine force acting as a balance between the two others and allowing peace of mind, tranquility and optimal conditions in the body and mind for deep, still and profound meditation practice. This food will be clean of any unwanted chemicals, cooked with care and love, not spiced, wholesome, sweet tasting and light on digestion. This is a Sanskrit term used in the context of Yoga practice, but I would like to apply it here in a much wider perspective in my view of a balanced and harmonious diet.
It is my personal experience, practicing meditation for several years and spending a lot of time in silent meditation retreats around the world, that the food I consumed during these days of deep practice directly effected the quality of the thoughts I encountered, the level of energy I had in my body to sustain alertness throughout the day and finally the depth of states that I managed to reach as a result of the practice.
Generally, meditation retreats worldwide cater to a vegetarian diet, considering the fact that most spiritual practitioners in the west avoid eating meat. But still this does not mean any vegetarian or vegan food will be conducive to our meditation practice. In order to maintain sufficient levels of energy throughout a long day of practice, at least two meals a day should include a whole grain, providing the brain with a sufficient amount of energy in the form of complex carbohydrate allowing a gradual breakdown of the sugars in the body and sustaining these levels of energy for many hours. This is the wiser alternative to serving white rice, bread, pasta or any other refined grain, causing the energy level to fluctuate rapidly, creating fatigue by the late afternoon, a time when many practitioners testify they have a hard time concentrating or keeping awake during meditations. The same applies to over-eating and eating large amounts of protein in the form of meat or legumes.
Fluctuation of the mind is also known to be one of the struggles in retreats. Obviously, we cannot control the mind’s activity as we try to cultivate a steady and calm witness, observing these thoughts as they arise and pass away in our field of consciousness. But we can give ourselves a proper support by avoiding spices in our food, garlic, onions and stimulants such as coffee and black tea, sugar and food which contains chemicals. These have a direct effect on the thought process and by keeping it simple we can create a big support to a calm mind and deeper meditation.
The chemical and molecular structure of the food we eat is not the only aspect of our food that will effect the quality of our mind’s activity. It is the subtle aspect of the energy of the food which also has a profound impact. Putting it in Macrobiotic terms, The more Yin foods we consume in the form of fruit, dairy, sweets, spices, etc., the more expansive, dull, lazy and fatigued our mind will become; the more Yang food in the form of salty food and animal food, the more our mind will become contracted, tight, rigid and aggressive, not allowing relaxation and surrender in meditation practice. Thus a balanced diet focusing on the middle of the spectrum of Yin and Yang, consisting of whole grains, vegetables and beans will provide us with sufficient, balanced and harmonious energy to connect to the subtle aspects of life and nature. Our meditation practice in fact is a form of connecting to life in a more direct and harmonious way, so beginning with this attitude on the physical level with a balanced and harmonious diet will simply give a proper base for this movement to unfold.
This correlates to the Yogic point of view regarding the energy channels running through our body. The main channel, Susumna Nadi runs along the spine and connecting our lower aspects of the physical and mental structure with the higher, more divine ones. This channel is accompanied by two secondary channels, Ida Nadi and Pingala Nadi representing the feminine, Yin energy and the Yang, masculine energy, respectively. Once a balance is achieved in these two Nadis via different Yoga techniques, meditation, breathing exercises etc., the energy in Susumna nadi will flow freely and allow us to reach higher states of consciousness. The flow of energy in the Nadis is affected also by the food we put in our bodies, and by maintaining a proper balance between these energies in applying the Yin-Yang principals to the food we eat we can greatly influence the level of our spiritual development. A clean, simple and wholesome diet has been practiced for centuries in this way all over the world, recognizing that the benefits do not amount to merely better health and weight loss, but that it goes much deeper…
Our physical body functions as a vehicle. A prefect vessel to be used in order to realize the divine consciousness that we are. It is by using the intricate functions of this vessel in a balanced and harmonious way, by giving it the proper nourishment on the physical level that it can be utilized for its higher functions on the mental and spiritual levels. This must begin with the mundane foodstuff as this is our most direct and immediate access point to influencing our entire being on all levels. Bringing our awareness into matter, transforming it into aspiration, harmony, peace and bringing forth spiritual evolution.