4 Ayurvedic Practices That Make Mealtime Sacred
According to Ayurveda, the ancient science of health and healing from India, food affects our body with reverence when it is consumed with reverence. In other words, meals can be considered sacred rituals. The food being eaten, the fire (heat source) on which it was cooked, the fire inside our belly that will digest it further, and the soul that experiences the joy of partaking in the delicious food are all considered divine.
Born into a spiritual family in India who has been imparting this wisdom over several generations, I, too, embrace a reverential attitude toward my meals.
Over the years, I have noticed many benefits of eating this way: Making meals sacred can help prevent mindless consumption of food, excessive dieting, and even food waste. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you, too, can make mealtimes sacred using the following Ayurvedic food rules:
Plan your meals in advance and invest in real foods.
Many of us have a habit of zipping, zapping, whisking, hurrying, and dashing through our food shopping and preparation. If you choose to plan your meals in advance, your daily calendar will begin manifesting large empty slots reserved for self-care and self-love. You will begin viewing food and its cooking as an act of reverence. Meal planning will save you time and brainpower, lessen stress, and lower your grocery bill over time.
Be mindful about where you obtain your produce. Search online for nearby natural food stores, farmers markets, and CSA farms where you can fill your own box with organically grown, local produce. Treating yourself well is an act of reverence. If you have the extra money and time to spend, spending it on high-quality food for yourself and your family is well worth it.
Choose "living" foods over "lifeless" foods.
Evaluate your recent food choices. Were the majority fresh, organic, complex, freshly cooked, and inspired? Or were the majority simple, canned, boxed, packaged, frozen, and leftovers?
Foods that are fresh are alive foods. They are bursting with nutrition and vitality, called prana, or life force, in Ayurveda. Although a box of cereal, can of tuna, or protein bar may boast of nutritive value, the very fact that it has been sitting on a shelf inside a box or wrapper for months means, in terms of prana, these are dead foods.
According to the ancient system, overly refined, processed, and shelf-stable properties of these foods will make you dull, sleepy, and even sick. We feel alive, more connected, and prana-blessed when we eat freshly caught tuna, for example, versus opening a can of tuna.
Choose calming foods over dulling and irritating foods.
There are three classifications of foods in Ayurveda. You want to avoid what are called tamasic foods. These are heavy foods that make you feel sleepy or dull after eating, stale foods, and half-cooked foods. This list also includes intoxicants and narcotics.
Also, be careful with rajasic foods. These are stimulants like coffee or tea, alcohol, burning hot and spicy food, or foods that cause a burning sensation during digestion.
Instead, try to eat more sattvic foods: These foods are light and easy to digest; increase strength, life span, health, and immunity; and are pleasing to the senses. Foods that come in this category are organic cow and goat milk; butter and ghee; unprocessed, uncooked, aged honey; fresh seasonal fruits; green or yellow mung lentils; and wheat, rice, and barley. Fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, beans, unprocessed grains, pasture-raised meats and eggs, wild-caught fish, and purified water also belong on this list.
Our relationship with food is very layered, yet the Ayurvedic way of practicing self-reverence by eating sattvic meals isn't all that complicated. You can instantly know what food is dulling you (fast foods or reheated frozen meals) or making you irritated and restless (hot Cheetos and endless cups of coffee) and what is calming you (a cup of milk or sweet peach cobbler) based on the way your body reacts to it. The next time you eat a meal, really tune in to how your body feels after it's finished, and let that information guide your food choices moving forward.
Say a self-reverence mantra.
Finally, saying this to yourself many times a day can help you remember that food is so much more than food:
May everything I put into my mouth to eat be an act of self-reference.
May everything I put in my mouth be in service of my health and healing.
May everything I put in my mouth be an act of self-love and self-care.
My Ayurveda students have responded beautifully to this invitation to revere their own self with every bite they consume. I taught the same self-caring attitudes to my son when he was growing up. Now that he lives on his own, it gives me immense satisfaction to watch him spend money on his food, take the time it takes to cook for himself, and enjoy every bite, unapologetically.
Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga.
She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind body soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in winter 2020, Sovereign Self.
Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Tune into her podcast, Shadow to Self, and her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month.