BY LINDA EGENES
But according to 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. In Ayurvedic diet, 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.
(I originally wrote this blog for the Maharishi Ayurveda Blog [MAPI], August 21,2012. Reprinted with permission.)