HJ: Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of holistic mind/body/spirit medicine, has many simple but powerful guidelines for conscious eating which systematically produce radiant health. The ancient Rishis, Yogis and Seers of India spent thousands of years developing and refining the science of Ayurveda into a comprehensive philosophy of how to live in alignment with the natural rhythms and tendencies of the body, nature/planet and the cosmos. When one embraces this knowledge and integrates it into their lives, health is quickly achieved as the body is brought into overall harmony and balance.
Without the benefit of modern technology, Ayurveda developed very sound ideas, theories and practices thousands of years ago that are now being validated by scientific research, proving that there was truly profound wisdom and knowledge operating at deep levels within the foundation of this ancient healing system. The Rishis, Yogis and Seers simply used intuition and observation to determine what was positively and negatively affecting the body, mind and spirit in the millions of patients that sought healing with them over the millenia. By noticing how various foods, mindsets, personalities and lifestyles affected health in the short and long term, they were able to develop complex and sophisticated systems of medicine and healing that have stood the test of time and scrutiny of science.
The conscious eating practices presented in this series of articles are not simply ‘tips’, but rather foundational knowledge of how to live in full alignment with the natural processes of the body and nature. Therefore learning, embracing and integrating them into your daily routine will set you up for a lifetime of health and wellbeing.
Food For Consciousness: The Subtle Ayurvedic Techniques of Preparing a Meal
We’ve all heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” To most people this means simply that the vitamins, carbs, and proteins in food build the cells, blood and bones of your body.
But in Maharishi Ayurveda, “You are what you eat” means something far more subtle and powerful. Food is known to directly influence your consciousness and feelings. It can create bliss or anger, contentment or restlessness, thoughts of the sacred or the profane. The quality of the food you eat literally creates your state of mind, emotions and consciousness.
Prepare Food for Happiness
Foods that are whole and unadulterated contain more of the intelligence of nature, and thus create more vitality, alertness and happiness when you eat them.
Just think of this example: if you eat an ayurvedic meal composed of fresh, organic vegetables, whole grains and dhal (lentils) lovingly cooked in delicious spices and garnished with panir (fresh cheese) and fresh-fruit chutney, how will you feel afterwards? Contented and satisfied. Now consider how you’d feel after eating a meal consisting of canned vegetables, processed foods, or food fried in unhealthy oils—or food served at a fast-food restaurant. The result might be dullness or a feeling of lack of wellness.
Ayurveda gives a name—tamasic—to such foods that create dullness, disease and even aggressive behavior in the people who make a steady diet of them. Tamasic foods may include leftovers; packaged, frozen, canned and processed foods; vinegar; red meat; alcohol; and any old, spoiled or rancid foods. Tamasic foods are anti-ojas (ojas is the finest and most refined product of digestion). They result in dull thinking, depressed emotions, and physical imbalances.
The foods you want to favor are the foods that have and create positive, spiritual qualities—they are called sattvic foods. Sattvic foods are wholesome, create bliss, heighten alertness, and are easy to digest. Sattvic foods include oranges; almonds; unheated honey; amalaki; rice and whole grains; milk; fresh, organic vegetables; and organic, sweet, juicy fruits such as mango, papaya and pear.
A diet consisting of easy-to-digest, sattvic foods is recommended for almost anyone desiring good health and is especially recommended for people who have chosen a spiritual path in life. These foods convert rapidly into ojas, the product of perfect digestion that in turn creates a glow in the skin, sparkle in the eye, and mental, emotional and physical balance.
Eat Food Cooked with Love
When you cook for your friends or family, it’s important to be in a happy frame of mind. Since ancient times, the ayurvedic texts have pointed out that the emotional state of the cook affects the quality of the food. This is why it’s ideal, in the ayurvedic view, to serve home-cooked meals whenever possible, because food cooked in a restaurant by strangers is unlikely to match the positive energy of a meal cooked by someone who loves you. It’s especially important to cook often for children. There is nothing to replace a mother’s (or father’s) love—a key ingredient in a child’s food.
When cooking, to the extent you are able to easily control your environment, focus on the food and make it a settled, conscious event rather than something thrown together under pressure. Turn off the TV, shoo the kids and pets out of the kitchen, and give yourself time to enjoy the simple act of smelling the spices, feeling the textures of the foods, playing with the colors, and having fun. Or, if your kids, friends or spouse like to help, get them involved, too. However it works for you, make meal preparation a happy time. Your positive thoughts and feelings make a meal a life supporting, sattvic act.
Eat in a Settled Environment
Finally, it’s important to eat your food in a settled, happy, and sattvic environment. This is actually a technique of ayurveda—creatively managing your environment. Make food and table arrangements attractive to the eye, and make sure the dining area is clean, pleasant and sunny, and the air is fresh. These things influence digestion.
Eating with family or good friends is ideal, while enjoying light, quiet conversation. Avoid intense discussions or arguments at the table, as this can interfere with proper digestion. Eating in silence if you are alone allows one to focus on the flavors of the food and the blessing and nourishment that it offers. The natural result will be better digestion. Resist the impulse to switch on the TV or radio. You will feel better and more settled when you create a more sacred, calm atmosphere around the act of eating.
Taking a few moments to give thanks for your food before eating is a universal practice. It’s a chance to remember that food is a living part of creation, and when you eat you are absorbing the infinite energy and intelligence of nature. Saying a prayer or giving thanks also gives you a chance to settle down after a busy day at the office, to give your digestion a chance to create ojas from your food. Ojas is the master ayurvedic biochemical that supports connectivity with nature and with others. Ultimately, eating is a sacred act—a privilege of that divine intelligence that sustains your every action. Preparing and eating food in this manner offers homage to that which is responsible for giving us life and sustaining our lives.
Finally, after the meal is finished, don’t rush off right away. Linger a few minutes at the table to help digestion begin properly and enjoy the opportunity to savor the satisfaction of sharing a delicious meal with those you love.
Food With Prana: 12 Principles of Ayurvedic Food
The path of meditation requires a moderate, regulated life,
avoiding too much or too little food, work,
and sleep, or use of the senses.
The attention must abide in the soul all the time.
For such a person, yoga destroys all sorrows. — Bhagavad Gita
Your body is a vehicle. Life has manifested itself through this vehicle. And to live your life to its fullest potential it’s vital that this vehicle is kept in its best condition through proper nourishment.
Your relation to food is an indicator of your relation to other aspects of your life. What you put in your body has a direct effect not only on your body but also on your mind and soul—on how you lead your life. If your food is full of Prana, life force, it will give you the ability to live your life to your fullest potential. Food that is pure, full of Prana and prepared with love, meditation and good healing vibrations gives you much more than just the feeling of satisfaction to the taste buds. It nourishes your body, mind, senses and soul while increasing physical energy, positive thinking, creativity, longevity and heightened awareness of life in all its beauty. It brings you closer to the Divine state.
The Twelve Principles of Vapika Meals
Sattvic food – Food that is primarily whole foods, plant based, lightly spiced, using no oil so that you feel refreshed and charged.
Six tastes of Ayurveda – Sweet, sour, salty, pungent, astringent and bitter. Meals that incorporate all these tastes are satiating and flavourful.
Three constitutions in Ayurveda – According to Ayurvedawe are either one or a combination of two or all three doshas (body constitutions): vata (air/ether), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth/water). When you eat according to your constitution you help maintain equilibrium in your body.
Well-balanced – A common cause for indigestion and lack of energy after a meal is more often an imbalance in the combinations and proportions of proteins, carbs and fat. A meal that is balanced in these gives you a boost of energy and vitality.
Right portion – The quantity of food we need varies a little every day based on our daily activity. Eat only as much as you are hungry and only when you are hungry. For optimum digestion it is recommended to eat a little less than you desire. Other helpful tips are eating in smaller servings rather than one big serving, eating out of a soup bowl inside of a big dinner plate.
Fresh, local and organic – Eating freshly picked organic produce from the local farmer’s market helps your local economy, helps create a community and ensures that you get the best and freshest food that tastes the best that it can and is full of all the nutrients.
Seasonal – Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables helps you keep in sync with the cycles of nature. Your body’s need for certain food changes according to the seasons of the year. For example, your desire to eat more fresh green, hydrating vegetables in the summer complements the optimum season for these vegetables just as your desire for dense warming vegetables like winter squash and beets coincides with its abundance in the colder climates. You get the most nutritive value out of a fruit or vegetable when it is eaten in its season.
Cooking tools – It’s important to take into consideration the utensils and equipment you cook with. They have to be as natural as possible. Plastic, aluminum, non-stick, anodized cooking utensils may leech toxins into the food so using stainless steel, wood, cast iron, ceramic or glass is the safest.
Avoiding tamasic (thought to promote pessimism, ignorance, laziness, criminal tendencies, and doubt), or toxic Ingredients – Avoid food prepared using plastic, aluminum, non-stick and anodized steel utensils; food that is microwaved, canned or pre-made; food containing processed and refined ingredients like oils, white flour, white sugar, salt and sugar substitutes, corn syrup, preservatives, artificial flavouring, artificial colouring, packaged or stored in plastic containers or aluminum.
Cooking method – Cook food only to the extent to make it digestible, while retaining most of its nutritive value. It’s important to follow certain processes to retain the nutrients, such as steaming vegetables, soaking and sprouting beans and lentils and rinsing grains well before cooking.
A special ingredient – Preparing a meal with a positive intention, love and healing vibrations, mantras and prayers makes it even more potent and rich with healing properties.
Darshana Thacker is a well-known Ayurvedic chef in the yoga/kirtan community of Los Angeles. Her recipes have been published in LA Yoga Magazine and the newly released Forks Over Knives—Companion Book, a New York Times bestseller. Specializing in vegan Ayurvedic cuisine she is acknowledged for her contemporary Ayurvedic interpretations while staying true to the original cooking she learned in her mother’s kitchen, growing up in India. She can be contacted in 310-809-0494 and Mumbai, India +91-98213-59669 or follow her on Twitter : @VapikaSpirit