Cooking for Your Spirit

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.

Eating Bliss

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. 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, packaged breads and food fried in rancid oils, served at a fast-food restaurant! The result might be dullness and depression — and even disease if you eat that way every day.

Ayurveda gives a name to 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; 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 light, easy-to-digest, sattvic foods is recommended for almost anyone, especially 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.

Foods that should be avoided are tamasic foods, which create dullness, disease and even aggressive behavior in the people who make a steady diet of them. Tamasic foods include leftovers; packaged, frozen, canned and processed foods; vinegar; red meat; alcohol; and any old, spoiled or rancid foods.

Tamasic foods are anti-ojas. They result in dull thinking, depressed emotions, and physical imbalances.

Cook 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 vibration of the cook's feelings affects the quality of the food.

This is why it's ideal to serve home-cooked meals whenever possible, because food cooked in a restaurant by strangers will never have the positive energy of a meal cooked by someone who loves you. It's especially important to cook often for your children. There is nothing to replace a mother's (or father's) love — a key ingredient in your child's food.

And when you're cooking, focus on the food and make it a settled, conscious event rather than something you're throwing 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 will make the meal a true feast.

Eat in a Sattvic Environment

Finally, it's important to eat your food in a settled, happy, and sattvic environment. Make your food and table arrangements attractive to the eye, and make sure your dining area is clean, pleasant, sunny and well-ventilated.

It's ideal to eat with your family or good friends, and enjoy light, quiet conversation. You don't want to get involved in intense discussions or arguments at the table, as this will certainly make it impossible to digest your food.

You can also eat in silence if you are alone, as focusing on the flavors of the food will help in digesting it. Resist the impulse to switch on the TV or radio. You'll feel better and more settled if you create a more sacred, calm atmosphere around the act of eating.

Taking a few minutes to give thanks for your food before eating is a traditional practice all around the world. 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 grace 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.

Finally, after you're done, don't rush off right away. Linger a few minutes at the table to help your digestion begin properly. And give yourself a chance to savor the satisfaction of sharing a delicious meal with those you love.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.