Food and the Mind; the Ayurveda perspective
Whilst food along with sleep and creative energy are considered the three pillars of life to sustain mind and body, there are a number of other factors pertaining to the mind are somewhat ignored. I have seen people who eat the best food in the world, from organic, to vegetarian or vegan and much more yet they are often unhealthy. In Ayurveda and yoga, the first layer of the body is dependent on food and this is called the annamayakosha. We also know that ‘you are what you eat’. So why is it that people who are eating the ‘best’ foods of the world get sick or are not in their optimum state of wellness. I have seen terminally ill cancer patients and others with chronic diseases become sick though they have consumed the best of the best. I have also seen the reverse; that people who eat ‘junk’ are lively, energetic and well. I am not by any means suggesting that we eat ‘junk’ but I beg to ask the question why so many health foodists are convinced that food is the only way for remaining well. A healthy mind can even turn ‘junk’ into nectar and an unhealthy mind can turn ‘nectar’ into junk. This statement might sound a bit over-fetched but what I am really trying to say in simple terms is that we eat with a negative state of mind we will not digest and assimilate well. I know we are not Lord Shiva but did He not turn poison into a harmless substance in the legend of Neelkanth Mahadev.
I would say that the primary part of wellness comes from the mind and if you believe in karma then you can add that to the equation too. It is stated in Ayurveda in the first verse of a 3000-year-old text ‘Ashtanga Hrdayam’ that many diseases come from the mind ‘(ragadi rogan); and believe it or not this is the first verse of this classical text. Why would that be? Because so much emphasis is placed on the connection of mind and wellness.
Wellness is defined by the WHO as:
“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” – WHO Constitution
a state of physical, psychological, emotional, social and environmental health (check exact words). It therefore follows that although food no doubt contributes to some of these health indicators, it is not the be all and end of all of health. Have we not heard of illnesses caused by e.g.:
- Unwholesome thinking
- Emotional vulnerability
- Lack of social support and loneliness
- Living in a concrete jungle with air and sound pollution
There is no doubt that good food, provided it is digestible by the individual will raise immunity to protect against the adverse impact of some of the above factors. However, we must bear in mind the following to protect our health and well-being.
- Avoid negative thinking patterns as this weakens digestion and assimilation
- Use our higher intelligence or buddhi to counter unhelpful emotions
- Create a healthy and positive support circle
- Live in as natural an environment as possible; even if u live in a high rise, you can maintain nature with plants and flowers
- Protect yourself from sound pollution by listening to healing music and possibly wearing ear plugs at night
These are some very basic points and perhaps obvious but I do strongly suggest that we see our mind body organism as a whole and keep the focus there rather than on just food. Furthermore ‘organic health food’ is not available everywhere and is not affordable by the majority. There is also a lot of politics around the organic food industry with false certifications etc so what may appear organic may not be. Of course, the best thing would be to grow your own food if time and space permits. Where all this cannot be done, we could focus on the following when it comes to food:
- cook in a calm serene environment
- cook in a mood of love and gratitude
- eat with gratitude
- say prayers or thanks for the food we consume
- consume fresh foods rather than processed
- enjoy your food and chew it well
- present your food beautifully
There are many other guidelines in Ayurveda regarding food but I have come up with the some of the most important to be getting on with it.
To conclude, eat as healthily as you can but do keep in mind the other pointers mentioned above as we are all interconnected organisms at the level of body-mind and spirit.