Energetics of Food and Eating
This essay is partially a translation from Pollozek/Behringer’s excellent book “The Timeless Ayurvedic Kitchen – Healing Power of Our Food,” (in German) combined with my own experience of ayurvedic cooking and yogic lifestyle. After I left my parents house and lived in communes during the time of the 70’s counterculture, I had become aware of macrobiotics, brown rice and growing your own food and even during my rock’n roll years in New York I shopped mostly at farmer’s markets, yet only when I began my studies of yoga and ayurveda with Myra Lewin, have I learned about the deep healing powers of our food and how we handle and eat it. Ayurveda is the oldest medicine system that we know of, comparable to the better known Traditional Chinese Medicine in its completeness. It is not an abstract concept but is applied differently to each person taking in account their unique combination of the elements of air, water, earth, fire and ether in a particular time and space called the doshas.
Ayurveda defines health as:
The three energetic doshas Vata, Pitta and Kapha are in balance.
The metabolism/digestion functions well.
The tissues are healthy and well developed and the waste is adequately moved out.
The sense and touch organs work properly.
The soul and spirit are in a state of permanent happiness.
Sushruta Samahita, 15.38, 1 Century BC
- How much should we eat? Honor the burb.
Only when our stomach is empty, when our previous meal is digested and we have a natural feeling of hunger should we eat. The stomach should only be filled half with food, one quarter with liquids from the juices of the food or some water (at least room temperature), the last quarter should remain empty. If you don’t eat too fast and pay attention you will notice a small burb forming in your stomach. This is a sign that anything you eat after this signal is not digestable, turns into toxins and eventually disease. After a while you will feel this even before the burb forms. Later you will intuitively put just the right amount of food on your plate. You feel satisfied, neither hungry nor tired.
The signs of adequate amounts of food are:
No pressure, pain in your stomach, sides or heart area;
No feelings of hunger or thirst;
No feeling of heaviness or tiredness;
The senses and the spirit are relaxed, strengthened and satisfied;
A light and pleasant feeling. The German word is “Sättigungsgefühl”. There is no direct translation that I could find. It is a feeling of satisfaction specific to eating.
- What foods are inadequate?
Avoid foods that have little or no energy (Prana, Mana, Chi)
De-naturalised foods, reheated leftovers (It is best to take leftovers out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature naturally. 24 hrs is the experation date. Frozen, microwaved, canned, fast food or foods with added chemicals, refined foods like sugar ionized salts, too much animal proteins, refined sweets, white flower, zero fat products, too much caffeine or alcohol.
Healthy foods are oily, warm, fresh and easily digested. Raw food is very popular today, but is very difficult or impossible to digest for most people. There is much literature on the ayurvedic perspective on raw food.
It is preferable to eat organic produce that is grown in the region you live. Especially grains, milk and everything that grows in the earth should be organic. Support small farms and cooperatives or grow some of your own food, which is especially satisfying. Every time food is cooled or reheated it loses energy that the body needs in order to digest it.
The food should fit your specific constitution (your dosha), your digestive fire and your preferences. Each person has a different metabolism, the ability to digest varies depending on appetite, time of year, mood, intuition and age.
- Where? The right place.
Eat in a place that has a calm and clean atmosphere without too much distraction. Avoid TV, electronics, driving or too much talk. A golden rule is: everything you do with consciousness and joy is good; everything you do with resistance and unconsciousness will create problems. When we eat with consciousness our taste receptors send out specific enzymes fitting what we eat. The meal becomes satisfying. Unconscious eating leads to a loss in digestive activity. As a result we develop cravings, excessive eating and ama, waste products in our digestive tracts, which eventually leads to disease.
Eat with people who are sympathetic to you. The food should be prepared with love. Restaurants are especially difficult. Have you ever worked in a restaurant? I have for many years and now chose carefully. A meal that is prepared with love and attention will satisfy your body and soul.
4. What is important before you eat?
Wash your hands and ideally face and feet. Only eat when you are hungry.
Pay attention to your right nostril. It shows how strong your agni, digestive fire, is. If it is blocked breathe deeply for a minute through your right nostril only. A great digestive help is a slice or small pyramid of chopped ginger with some salt and lime. It starts the digestive fire, agni.
If Kapha is out of balance or if you are overweight it is ok to drink something before and during a meal. It is best not to drink for 45 min to an hour after a meal in order not to weaken your agni.
Take a moment to slow down and go inward, bless the food, the farmers, the company or anything else you like. Loosen the relationship between your ego and the food as object that you own.
5. What is important after eating?
It is best not to sleep, study, have sex, a deep bath for two hours after eating, don’t engage in sports or heavy physical work for one hour. All these activities lead to undigested food, ama. A short silent acknowledgment of the meal is helpful. It is ok to eat a few fennel seeds or clean your mouth with your tongue or a toothpick but brushing your teeth immediately after a meal is not recommended. Urinating is good – to provoke elimination is not.
Vata and Pitta types can rest a little while Kapha types should walk “1 000” steps to help their more sluggish digestion.
6. How should we eat?
Keep the food hot for only three to four hours. That is better than reheating. It is ok to leave leftover that you cooked for lunch at room temperature and eat it for dinner. This does not apply to fish or meat.
Every meal should stimulate all senses. Eating with your hands involves the sense of taste and leads to slower and less eating.
A disturbed, tense or tired mind affects appetite and agni. Chew each bite with consciousness and as much as possible. It is ok to drink small sips of warm water. Ice water is not recommended.
7. Avoid certain combinations of food. They can be toxic.
This topic affords an entire chapter of its own, to follow.
8. When should we eat?
It is best to eat at regular times. Then your digestive system will work like clockwork. The appetite as well as the digestion will be right there for you. Too short or too long a time between meals are not good. 4-5 hours is ok, but 6 is too long. It leads to digestive disturbances and indigestion.
Breakfast is best between 7:00 and 8:30 AM
Regular intervals are important:
Vata: 3-4 hrs/depending on work/activity a small snack is ok.
Pitta: 4-5 hrs/depending on work/activity one small snack is ok.
Kapha: 5-6 hrs/ no snack
Lunch should be the main meal between 11:00 and 2:00
The strength of the sun matches the strength of the digestion. The body is ready to take in a larger amount of food and to metabolize it. Do not miss lunch. It will ruin your health in the long run. Raw food, fish, meat, eggs are best eaten at this time and not for dinner.
Dinner is best eaten before sunset 6:00 – 7:30 PM
Best foods are cooked vegetables, soups, stews, grains, legumes. These foods enhance digestion and longevity. To eat at night challenges the liver, blood and colon. Dinner should be eaten 2-3 hrs befor bed time.
Generally do not eat before the last meal is digested.
9. How should meals be prepared?
All six tastes steer our psyche. Enough oil stimulates the gallbladder. If all six tastes are present eating disorders and binging attacks are rare. The food should be natural and balanced, if it is not balanced spices are used to enhance, balance and add energy. Specific ways of cooking can make cool ingredients warmer, lighter foods heavier and vice versa. The doshas, age and time of year should be considered. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent.
10. Who eats how? The consciousness of eating.
The eater is more important than the food. Recognize and learn about your specific constitution. Then you know what is good for you and what not. Use your intuition, but be able to discriminate between intuition and craving. We often follow our cravings and ignore our intuition. Eat only what you like and what you can digest.
Never eat when you are too emotional or not hungry. In these states your body is in flight or fight mode and not able to eat or digest. Never eat when you are angry, depressed, sad, too excited, bored or to swallow stacked up emotions. Even the best food, eaten during emotional stress turns into ama.
Eat with respect and consciousness of what nature provides you with, then even a badly prepared meal can be good.
Alexander Pollozek & Dominik Behringer, Die Zeitlose Ayurvedische Küche – Heilkraft unserer Nahrung, 2012 Narayana Verlag, 3rd Edition 2013