Food, Mood and Digestion: The Mind-Body Connection
Vaidya Manohar Palakurthi is a highly respected ayurvedic expert in the western world and India. He has been practicing ayurveda for 33 years.
Here, he talks about the relationship between food, mood, and digestion.
Q: How does food affect our moods?
Vaidya Manohar: The food we eat has a significant influence on our minds and hearts. You could even say that the nature of our mind and feelings depends on the food we have eaten.
And conversely, the state of our mind, emotions, intellect and senses — and our overall state of contentment — all these, in turn, affect the digestion, absorption and elimination of the food we have eaten.
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, the digestive enzymes and metabolic processes are likened to a fire, called kaya agni in Sanskrit. How well we digest the food depends on the strength of our agni. And because kaya agni also influences the agni (metabolism) in the tissues and cells of the body, any disruption in digestion affects our entire physiology.
We can say that the entire health and happiness of each individual depends on the strength and functioning of our kaya agni, our digestion. In fact, one of the major limbs of ayurveda is called kaya chikitsa, which is concerned with balancing kaya agni to bring health and happiness to the entire mind-body system.
So both food and our moods have an effect on our digestion, and conversely the strength of our digestion has an effect on our moods.
Q: What is the connection between food, mood and the brain?
Vaidya Manohar: The brain is one of the three maha marmas — three major junction points between consciousness and physiology. These three major junction points are located in the head (shiras marma), the heart (hridaya marma) and the bladder (basti marma).
And the three maha marma points, in turn, each have their own agni, or process of metabolism, which have their own functions. For instance, the agni for the head is called medo agni and governs the intellect.
The agni for the heart marma is smriti agni and governs memory. This is not the kind of memory involved in recalling your shopping list. This is the memory of your essential nature — as absolute, pure consciousness. This agni is located in the heart, because the heart is considered the seat of consciousness.
The agni in the lower pelvic area, which includes the bladder and reproductive organs, is concerned with regeneration and is called prajanana agni.
When our food goes through a balanced process of digestion and transformation, then kaya agni nourishes the whole physiology — including these three maha marmas and their agnis, creating balance in the mind and intellect, the heart and emotions, and the regenerative functions of the body. Also, when these three agnis are in balance, they nourish the process of digestion.
When these three agnis are out of balance, they influence the digestion by creating imbalance. If the mind is not in a state of happiness, digestion can be disturbed by the medo agni, and the prajanana agni can also cause disturbances. But the main cause of digestive imbalance is when the heart (smriti agni) is unhappy or disturbed.
Another way to say it: Agni, in its state of balance, has a great influence on these three maha marmas of the brain, heart and regenerative systems. And these three maha marmas have a great influence on agni. In their balanced state, our body and mind are integrated in such a manner that we experience happiness, clear thinking, refined awareness and even emotions.
Q: What foods do you recommend to improve digestion, happiness and well-being?
Vaidya Manohar: Being — experiencing our deep inner silence during meditation — is the source of happiness. Foods that enliven the state of Being bring the physiology to the source of bliss, which is pure consciousness. By opening every cell of the physiology, every molecule of the physiology, every pathway of that cell to the source of bliss, then the consciousness value can enter the cell.
Here are some ways to enjoy bliss from the food you eat:
- Eat foods that are organically grown. This is very important, that the food you eat is free of pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified ingredients.
- Eat food that is prepared by a person who enjoys purity of mind and is served by someone who is experiencing a state of compassion.
- Eat with a settled mind. Take a few moments of silence to bless the food you are eating.
- Take time each day to dissolve the burden of stress, for instance by practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique.
- Plan meals that include all six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent and pungent.
- Plan balanced meals that are rich in nutrients and include adequate protein, fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Practice timely eating — eat at the same time every day. When you’re on a regular schedule, your digestive system can prepare for the meal. Ideally, your largest meal should be at noon, when the sun is highest in the sky. Eat lighter at breakfast and dinner.
Q: Any other advice for creating happiness through food?
Vaidya Manohar: Probably the most important principle for eating is to enjoy sama yoga, the balanced use of the food, which naturally brings contentment. This is very important. The food that brings a feeling of contentment after you eat is a source of bliss.
This is a very simple way of testing the purity of the food. If after completing your meal, you feel only bliss in your heart, then it is the right food. If in your heart you are still entertaining the thought of more food, different food, then the food you have eaten is not satisfying. A completed meal should bring satisfaction, not the desire to eat more food. The purpose of food is to create a state of contentment._____
Vaidya Manohar Palakurthi, consultant and product architect for MAPI since 1987, is one of the most highly respected Ayurvedic experts in the western world and India today.
After completing his degree in Ayurvedic medicine at Nagarjuna University, Guntur, in 1983, he trained extensively in Maharishi Ayurveda with leading experts in panchakarma (gentle purification therapies), pulse diagnosis, herbology, eye care, and the general treatment of chronic health disorders using the Maharishi Ayurveda Multi-Modality health care system. Vaidya Manohar trained extensively with Dr. Balaraj Maharishi, considered a master of his time in the knowledge and use of plants, completing in-depth clinical training in herbology and the formulation of Ayurvedic compounds. In fact, Vaidya Manohar is the only vaidya trained by the three most highly esteemed Maharishi Ayurveda physicians (Dr. V.M. Dwivedi, Dr. B.D. Triguna, and Dr. Balaraj Maharishi). These three vaidyas, masters in Ayurveda, were by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s side when he brought the knowledge of Ayurveda to the western world. During their lives, they each received the highest recognition by their society and government for their accomplishments and knowledge of Ayurveda.
Vaidya Manohar has served as a Maharishi Ayurveda consultant in diet, digestion, and nutrition for thousands of people on numerous tours in the U.S., South Korea, Europe, Canada, and most recently, Japan, where he has trained functional medicine physicians in the practice of Maharishi Ayurveda.
Linda Egenes is the author of over 500 articles and six books on the benefits of Maharishi Ayurveda, including two books co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.: Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda and The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive.
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.