I've decided to start with this topic partly because it's so relevant on a daily basis, and more importantly because it has such a bearing on our quality of life and how we experience ourselves.
The material I present here brings together the wisdom of yoga, Ayurveda, and mindfulness along with some techniques I learned in a Fourth Way School. These combine to give a very holistic way to eat that supports physical/mental health and a spiritual practice. I use these techniques and have tested them extensively – and hopefully applied some common sense to their application. Of course, they represent a guide. Each person has to find what works best for them. Nonetheless, there are many things worthy of consideration that may add to or complement your existing practice.
For those people who don’t know their Ayurvedic type it may be useful to add this to your lines of enquiry. I have found this helpful in developing a balanced diet, but the guidelines below go well beyond the scope of this one point of reference.
A fundamental pillar of spiritual practice is taking responsibility for your life. And this applies just as much to food and eating. Experiment with these suggestions, but more importantly listen to what works best for your body.
The practices that I've found helpful are as follows:
- Offer thanks to whatever form of higher power you recognise: the Divine, Divine Feminine, Mother Nature, God, or a specific deity. If the idea of 'higher powers' doesn't work for you, then thank a relevant person. Gratitude is one of those noble emotions that opens us to receive positive energy. Giving thanks need not be an overt ritual or display. Better a simple, silent offering to recognise our connection to the world around us and need for help. Giving thanks paves the way for the process of digestion, assimilation and deriving pleasure from meals.
- Don’t drink lots of water (or other beverages) with your meal/food – only the minimum necessary as you eat. It’s much better to hydrate before and after meals. This way you will not dilute the acids in your stomach that are fundamental to digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
- I have found very helpful the Ayurvedic guideline of a maximum of three meals a day and not eating/snacking in-between these times. This makes it easy to leave at least three hours between each meal to allow for complete digestion. And the cardinal rule is only eat when you’re hungry.
- I aim to have eaten my last meal of the day before 8.00pm (and ideally by 7.00pm or earlier). This allows the digestive system time to finish its work before you go to bed, and it leaves a healthy gap before you eat again. I try to have a 12-14 hour gap between my evening meal and breakfast – break-the-fast – the next day. You can enhance this fasting period further by yoga practice before breakfast i.e. asana, pranayama and meditation.
- Prepare the food yourself or have it prepared by someone who loves you. This will imbue the food with the best energy. If you or they bless the food during preparation then better still.
- Use fresh, whole, natural, organic ingredients wherever possible – these have not been de-natured and contain the maximum prana (vital life force).
- Cook your food; do not use a microwave – it destroys any prana present in what you’re eating. Generally speaking Ayurveda recommends cooked rather than raw. That does not mean no salads or no raw food – just listen to your body and avoid extremes.
- Use spices like cumin, coriander, fennel and saffron (and many others) in the cooking process. Turmeric warrants a whole blog unto itself; it is an amazing anti-inflammatory, and has many health benefits/properties. As well as using it liberally in preparation of meals, and adding it afterwards to cooked food like brown/black rice, I drink one turmeric-milk a day. My simple recipe is one heaped teaspoon of organic turmeric powder, some white or black pepper to aid assimilation, and oat milk (Oatly is my favourite). I put this in a container that can be shaken vigorously. It goes into my back pack and this is what I drink after yoga practice to break-the-fast initially. Later I will have porridge or something similarly nutritious.
- If possible don’t read or watch TV while eating. Focus on the enjoyment of the food and reflect on your connection to the world around you. Give thanks for this miraculous process.
- Chew you food thoroughly – very thoroughly – ensuring that it is completely masticated before swallowing. This will improve digestion and assimilation. I mentioned stomach acids in point 2. It’s easy to overlook the fact that once we swallow the only tool we have for digestion is the acid in our stomach. You can do yourself a big favour by chewing and minimising the workload.
- Don’t talk while you’re chewing. If there is conversation at the table – chew properly first and then answer. This is also more beautiful for those around you. There’s nothing edifying about seeing food in another person’s mouth (if this sounds like your mother talking, then just take a deep breath and accept). Sometimes the advice we received as children was sound.
- Put your cutlery down in between each mouthful. This will prevent you from being in a hurry and eating too quickly. It will also make it easier to be present to the process/joy of eating.
- Mitahara – or moderate diet – is a fundamental yogic principle. Put simply – don’t overeat. I struggle with this sometimes, but it’s important to bear in mind.
- Clean up after the meal. Do the dishes and then go for a walk – even 5-10 minutes will have a positive effect on your digestion (Ayurveda recommends a minimum of 100 steps after a meal).
- If you enjoy listening to music during your meal then try to make it soothing rather than raucous i.e. avoid something that’s going to activate adrenal energy. Yoga purists would eat in complete silence (no talking, music etc). That’s beyond my current practice and it’s not always practical or desirable. Meals can be a wonderful way of sharing time with the people we love. So as with all these guidelines, please apply common sense.
You’re welcome to share, post comments, give feedback and/or ask questions. I'll do my best to answer them.
Best wishes and Namaste,
P.S. I should also point out that there are three types of 'food' – physical food (like the delicious selection in the picture), air and impressions. In this article I'm just dealing with the first kind – I may develop the other two in later blogs.