Food is alchemy, transmutation, the seemingly magical process of transformation, creating life from life. It is a true uniting of forces, an integration, a Yoga. Ancient sacred practices abound with mantra during meal preparations. The intention and energy with which the food is prepared is considered to have a direct influence on the availability and utilization of the energy in the food itself. A prayer before eating is an acknowledgment of gratitude for the provision of food, from the source, God. This is far less common in today’s society, where we are not as likely to pray or participate in religion and where food is so readily available at the local Whole Foods or Natural Grocer.
We’ve all experienced a meal prepared by a loved one, it just tastes better. The opposite can be said of food prepared without thought, without attention, or care. This is the making of fast food, junk, and mindless consumption. As a society, we are guilty of this. The amount of money individuals spend on food in the US, is the lowest in the entire World’s population. Is there a correlation to the poor health in the US? Yes! That says something about what we value.
In the beautifully written text, the Taittiriya Upanishads, “food is what all bodies are made from." “Food is the most important of all things, it is medicine for all the body’s ailments, it is a gift from the Lord.” Here, the physical body is called the “food sheath” or the annamaya kosha.
We’ve heard the saying, “you are what you eat," but are we? If this was entirely true, growing up in the United States in the 70’s and 80’s as a latchkey kid, I would be Captain Crunch, Cheetos, burgers, and Coke. I just ate what was available and what I thought I liked, without any thought about what food was doing for me. This was the environment I grew up in. Yet, I didn’t feel good, I didn’t look well, and I certainly did not have good health. Then came a short period in the fourth grade when my grandmother took me to Weight Watchers for some proven fat burners! It ignited something in me, that wasn’t just weight loss. The value of the foods, including vegetables, were of importance, and I started questioning why we ate what we did. A food explorer emerged in me.
My father’s family were cattle ranchers, and I would be asked to work on the ranch, doing very painful things to the cattle. By today’s standards, this was all very humane and the cattle were well treated, but they cried. A lot. I hated it, and this prompted my first attempt at vegetarianism. It didn’t go well, but I tried. Yet, vegetarianism hasn’t always been for me, as much as I have tried. As a Yoga practitioner and a Yoga teacher, it comes with an expectation that I should be vegan, for ethical reasons. The belief in the West, is generally drawn from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 2.30, the ethical guidelines, where as the additions of the Bhagavad Gita and Vedas for traditionally schooled Yogi’s, are also usually referenced.
One of Patanjali’s precepts, ahimsa, asks us to look closer at all levels of harmful actions and thoughts. The killing of sentient beings, would be difficult for most modern people, if they were pressed to raise a pig for food, then kill it and prepare it. Yet, many people are very disconnected from where their food comes from, let alone the conditions in which it passes through on it’s journey. It’s too easy to leave ethical eating just about meat or no meat, for the sake of the animal. We may also limit our water usage, drive a fuel efficient vehicle, and ride our bikes more. These are all good things, but drought and deforestation are caused by animal agriculture, and no one is talking about this. Once knowledge of this settles into consciousness, alternatives become more feasible. Not just for the animal, but the wide reaching destruction it causes our environment. As awareness broadens and a more expansive view can emerge, simple changes such as a meatless Monday might stretch into meatless Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday too.
If we choose veganism, is that organic apple shipped from Argentina, out of your local season, for your personal pleasure? Yeah, those apples on my counter are from South America, I admit it. Yes, I’m judging—you, me, and everything through my questioning. A bird’s eye view on many levels raises questions of what non-harming means on a global level, and that of one individual animal. What about GMO foods, and the use of insecticides and pesticides on unborn children, the water supply, animals, and generations to come?
My childhood experiences have help formed an ongoing inquiry into food, and all the reasons we choose what we eat. It started from seeing things from a perspective of what I didn’t like. I didn’t like cows crying, and now that I know more, I really don’t like the truth of our global environmental problems being white washed. Give me the truth, give me the facts, and I can then make an informed decision.
But what about our personal relationships with this all? We choose foods for simple pleasure, availability, survival, health benefits, addictions, traditions, and even heightened conscious thinking. These all have an influence or a death grip on our choices. It is common to associate foods with emotional baggage such as: good, bad, deserving, or punishment. Even for the healthiest eater. If you’ve been good you get to have a desert, or if you’ve been bad, you have to have a salad. Not to mention the judgement and scorn that can be laid upon a Yogi for not being vegan.
These type of ideas and emotions as the root cause for food choices, will never end in real enjoyment, pleasure, union of divine, or alchemy, if that is truly possible. Or, in creating something long lasting and with life producing vibrations. Unless of course, we come to a place of changing the relationship with our food, for the betterment of not only our health and well being, but that of our animal kingdom, and the health of our global environment. Yes, that’s a tall order.
If we are what we eat, then many people are made of corn, burgers, coffee, or those yummy gluten free English muffins that are really just tapioca starch and other low quality processed food like items. Many of us are either checked out in ignorance (the first klesha or obstacle in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras), have addiction issues with food, are carrying on eating habits just as we were taught growing up, or influenced by the best advertiser du jour. Or, we might be attempting to learn about healthy eating, but are overwhelmed by the conflicting information out there.
Our relationship with food, is as important as what we eat. What if you are eating a very nutritious organic salad, all the while thinking about how much you hate vegetables, and how you’d rather be eating something good? We know from a behavioral perspective, you will be less likely to integrate vegetables into your lifestyle with this type of inner dialogue. If we associate positive emotions with the behavior, we are well on our way to it becoming a habit. But what do those thoughts and emotions actually do to the food itself and how our body responds? The placebo effect is solidly documented, so belief alone can maximize the effect.
Yoga has many health benefits, but from a more traditional perspective, Yoga is union with divine, and/or self realization. It is understanding that we are not simply a body with a thinking mind, but an eternal being. But tangibly, if we can begin to be more calm, more centered, we are able to think more clearly, and make better choices in life. This is profound. As we move away from limited thinking and being driven by biology, habit, or emotions, we can then begin to awaken to what and why we eat, and transcend ideas of food as being good or bad and relating it to our worthiness.
If our physical body is the food sheath and the foundation of all of our other non-physical and energetic attributes, wouldn’t we want to take greater care of it? Eating well to support our vitality and our health is key, but also while taking into consideration the animals, our environment, and the implications of all these choices. Can we do all that, and enjoy the simple pleasures of good food? I’m working on it, one meal at a time, with honest food that tastes really good.
For more information or personalized wellness, nutrition, & vitality coaching, please contact me here. This article was first published at www.ShareYoga.com.