ideal digestion

the influence of food on our mind & body

5th March 2012


I just arrived back from India from our yearly retreat with our teacher. The teaching was a continuation from last year on ‘Ayurveda and Yogic Ideal Living’ – focused on the way we eat, what we eat, when we eat and how this impacts our mind, body and emotions for our yogic journey.

Food, because we take it directly into our bodies on such a consistent basis, is one of the most powerful ways to make a change in our physical and mental state. A suitable approach to food will bring optimal energy to the body to support our work, our leisure activities, our meditation and will influence other´s to bring much-needed love, service and peace through our own sense of calmness, joy and self-contentment. If we aim to live a balanced way of life, we will begin to understand food and it’s influence on our body and to help us bring a better intuitive understanding of what foods are supporting and which are not.

We all have minor symptoms of ‘disease’.  Aches and pains, tension, upset stomach, skin rashes, mood swings, occasional cold and flu. Some of us have a constant stream of these, others just have them every now and then. All these things just don’t happen to us; we have an active hand in creating them by the choices we make in our daily lives. How we exercise, how we cope with stress, what we eat – especially how we eat, when we eat!  Snacking, for example, causes a lot of disturbance to our digestion by adding undigested food to partially digested food. Due to this, food which enters into our bloodstream is the main source of our mind disturbances and body diseases.

We should also understand our own unique constitution. In Ayurveda, there are three basic energies, that make up the constitution of each person. These energies are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each person is usually a combination of two of these energies, with one having dominance. When we understand these principles and understand which constitution we are, we are then able to select the right foods, the right profession, and correct activities and so on to suit our own particular constitution. Leading to a healthier more balanced body and mind.

Ayurveda recommends we eat only enough solid food to fill half the stomach; we drink enough liquid food (water or soup) to fill one-fourth; the remaining fourth we leave for air to ensure proper digestion. Most importantly we should only eat when we feel hungry and drink when we feel thirsty.

Experiment and go a whole day of being conscious of eating only when you feel hungry and reflect on how you feel and how little food you actually need and notice how eating usually comes from a place of boredom and/or emotional needs! It is a difficult one, I know! Usually our body needs 3 – 4 hours to digest the previous food, however, we seem to be constantly putting in food, regardless of whether the previous food has been digested or not.

I find taking the time to prepare meals in a relaxed and calm environment and to consume these meals seated in a calm and quiet atmosphere, based on grains, legumes, seasonal vegetables and fruits, helps in making that step towards a healthier body and mind for my yogic practice. It also keeps me satisfied long after eating and I am less inclined to snack.

Food can be either a tremendous support or a major hindrance to our yogic practice.  The Bhagavad-Gita offers the advice “For one who eats right food, yoga eliminates all types of misery.” In another stanza, it warns, ” One who eats too much cannot attain Yoga.”

~ The Sacred Tradition of Yoga by Dr Shankaranarayana Jois

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