“I am a foodie!” How often we say and hear that.
Food is our necessity and indulgence, it is central to our conversations, bonding, celebrations, moods
and importantly health. In the yoga system our physical body is called annamaya kosha – the food sheath. Our body is created from food, and is the food manifested. Food kindles our senses – the sight of our favourite food is mouth-watering; the smell of food pulls us to it and food gives us a complete sensory experience.
The ancient Indian texts classify food among four basic drives in all living beings. Food, sleep, procreation and self-preservation are common urges in all living beings. They are necessary for survival yet when overdone can become cause for poor health and misery.
In Ayurveda, food is regarded as healer and medicine. The food we consume is as important as how we consume it, and that can have immense effect on how the food works and reacts once it is in the body.
Here is a guide to holistic eating habits that will nourish your whole being:
# 1: Positive Environment
Eating in positive mood, with light-hearted, pleasant conversations adds to the energy in the food. Wearing clean clothes, feeling fresh, serving others before yourself, chanting mantras, expressing gratitude for food adds to sattvic quality of the food. Avoid eating when you are feeling emotional, angry, agitated or worried as this disturbs the agni, the digestive fire. Occasionally, eat in silence or try eating first five morsels in silence.
# 2: Eat Slowly
In the process of eating, hormones present in our stomach send signals to the hypothalamus gland in the brain signalling satiation as the stomach become full. When we eat too fast this natural process is disabled and the signals to brain cannot catch up. Paradoxically, when we eat slowly, we feel fuller with smaller quantity of food, the digestive juices are secreted and mixed with food aiding the overall digestive process. The taste of food is richer and the taste buds are satisfied.
# 3: Avoid Overeating
Food eaten in hurry, without awareness leads to overeating. Overloaded with food, body becomes sluggish and mind becomes dull; results in constipation and build-up of toxins in the body. This sets in a whole physical-mental system block. Swami Rama recommended to fill your stomach ½ with food, ¼ with water and ¼ with air. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the most significant texts on yoga calls overeating among one of six obstacles to success in yoga.
# 4: Stoke the Fire
As the raw food needs fire to be cooked and made palatable, our body has digestive fire called jatharagni in Ayurveda. Jatharagni is the fire in the belly that is significant factor in the digestive process; if kept burning adequately, our food is digested properly, tissues and waste materials form properly and there is good mental-physical energy. Keeping 3-4 hours gap between meals, avoiding cold foods and drinks – especially with or after meals like ice-creams and colas, adding spices to food helps in igniting the digestive fire and inhibits build-up of undigested food waste in the body.
# 5: Move After Meals
We spend significant number of waking hours sitting, working on computers, driving or browsing through our cell phones. Charaka, the great Ayurveda scholar said, ‘from physical exercise we get lightness, a capacity for work, tolerance of difficulties, elimination of impurities, and stimulation of digestion.” Movement brings us alive, makes us alert and clearheaded. Soon as you finish eating, move, walk for at least 20 minutes. Simple walking at moderate pace will help to stimulate your agni and allow the flow of healthy biomolecules.
In many ashrams in India we find this shloka from the Bhagavad Gita is chanted before meals:
Brahmārpañam Brahma Havir
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam
Brahman [is] the offering
Brahman [is] the oblation
By Brahman poured into the fire of Brahman,
Brahman is attained by one alone whose meditation is focused on action in Brahman*
The food we eat makes the body and the mind. Freshly cooked food consumed in pleasant sattvic atmosphere is a primary step to healthy eating habits. You may begin with one of the mentioned tips as required and gradually work with others.
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*as translated in ashram handbook of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh.