The Ayurvedic Science of Cooking and the Consciousness of Living Food
(2200 word essay)
Over the past year I’ve grown fond of cooking and have enjoyed the experience of “slow food.” I’ve enjoyed chopping vegetables and cooking grains, experimenting with spices, sauces and pesto’s, and discovering new stir-fry creations in the spontaneity of the present moment. This all culminated in the joyful result of a meal made with love served to my Mother and Grandmother. But what wasn’t I serving them? In my ignorance I could have been feeding my sweet, heavy grandmother an unctuous kapha-aggravating meal in the wet cold of winter. If only I knew how to cook in such a way that was not only tasty and satisfying but balancing too! I was serving them slow food with love, but I wasn’t serving them balance.
Equipped with the knowledge of Ayurveda and the doshas, I could serve up the power of slow food with balance! That seems great, but what else wasn’t I serving them? Depending on what was cooked and how I cooked it they could have been missing out on the power of living food! Raw, living foods are the most abundant in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, which are some of the most important tools our bodies need to function! Cooking, from the perspective of living foods, almost always reduces the living vibration of the energy we eat (Cousens, Spiritual 305). Because of this, a balanced diet based on raw, living foods is the most effective way to feed the body, mind, and spirit the foods they need to realize their highest expressions. So why don’t I just serve up raw, living food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? In order to approach this question responsibly we must first understand it from the perspective of Ayurveda.
From the perspective of Ayurveda, a diet high in raw foods generally increases the air and ether elements in the body-mind, and may increase digestive disturbances and decrease digestive fire. Depending on the qualities and elements that are predominant in the individual body-mind, too much raw food could cause a person to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally imbalanced. Ayurveda seeks to understand a person’s imbalance through the biological humors, which make up one’s unique constitutional type. The humors, called doshas, are threefold and arise from the forces of energy, light, and matter. Vata dosha corresponds with energy and contains qualities of air. It is the principle of movement in the body and the energy that governs biological movement; pitta corresponds with light and contains qualities of fire. It is the force that governs metabolism and digestion; kapha corresponds with matter and contains qualities of water. Kapha is responsible for biological strength, stability, and gives energy to the heart and lungs. Kapha is the healing and rejuvenative energy of the body. The three doshas mix together to make up the substance of the physical, mental and emotional functions. Each human contains a unique mixture, and the predominant dosha(s) determines that person’s unique constitutional mind-body type. (Cousens, Spiritual 356-361) (Frawley, 37-39).
When it comes to eating for balancing the doshas Ayurveda considers many factors, such as the quantity of food, time of day, geographic location and time of year, age and gender, appetite and digestive fire, elements and temperature of food, spices and herbs, food combinations and the 6 tastes, ama (toxic byproduct due to improper digestion), and the sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic qualities of the food. Ayurveda emphasizes cooked foods “based mainly on cooked whole grains, beans, root vegetables, seeds and nuts, with only secondary amounts of raw food items” (Frawley 169). A diet based on raw, living foods is usually only recommended to aid in short term detoxification; a long term diet based on raw, living foods generally aggravates vata dosha causing an imbalance in vata-types, and thus has not been recommended by Ayurvedic practitioners.
With an understanding of Ayurvedic principles and the modern day possibilities of food choices, a new perspective on the raw food diet has gained credibility. In pre-industrial era India, “live foods meant primarily leafy greens, fruits, and raw nuts and seeds, and not the incredible array of smoothies, spirulina drinks, seed and nut milks, soaked nuts and seeds, and seed sauces as salad dressings, blended foods, sea vegetables, and bee pollen, which create a powerful vata balancing live-food diet” (Cousens, Spiritual 360). Warming food (without cooking) is also now an option for most in the developed world, which can eliminate the cooling effect of raw foods. Also, digestive fire can be supported with the use of spices such as ginger, cayenne, cinnamon and basil, or the Ayurvedic formulas trikatu and agnitundi. Herbs are best for vata-types when taken with warm milk or raw honey. Sesame oil is particularly warming, and regular body massage with sesame oil can help the flow of prana through the nadis. Vata-types can also benefit from tonic herbs for improving energy and nervine tonics for calming stress in the mind and nervous system. (Frawley 193).
“In general, people with a vata constitution need to eat warm (not cooked), blended, soupy, slightly sweet, salty, and sour-tasting foods, and eat according to their constitutional need for a high- or low-protein diet.” (Cousens, 384) Also oily
“Many of these high ojas- and vata-calming foods include: bee pollen; live foods high in oil content such as avacados or soaked nuts and seeds; sprouted or soaked grains; slightly warm blended greens; raw soups; and blended vegetables. All should be at least room temperature” (Cousens, 358). “Foods that aggrivate vata include: cold foods, carbonated drinks, ice water, an excess of dehydrated foods, salads with light salad dressings, but vata may have the full range of vegetables and salad, particularly if they are combined with high-oil-content food such as avacados, soaked nuts and seeds, or seed and nut salad dressings.
One major factor in succeeding with a raw, living food diet is to simply eat less. “Vatas have less vata imbalance from gastric stress if they eat simple meals because the dryness and the instability of the vata digestive system prevent it from handling a lot of different food types at once. Blended foods and soups help with this. Food-combining practices and mono meals have the most relevance for vatas” (Cousens, Conscious 134). Uncooked living food provides the body with significantly more nutrients, particularly phytonutrients, so less food is required for the body to get what it needs (Cousens, Spiritual 383).
Further, increasing agni through the proper use of asana and pranayama are internal practices to increase the digestive fire to be able to digest more raw foods; these lifestyle regimens have been utilized by yogis throughout the ages who have lived on wild food rich in prana. “[In] traditional yogic texts we do find an emphasis on raw food” (Frawley, 169). Many human beings who have earned the titles of Yogi and Sage have made the transition to a diet high in live foods. This is indicative of the great energetic value of raw, living foods; “raw food increases prana in the body and mind, and cleanses the nadis or channels” (Frawley 171). Yogis have traditionally been medicine men and masters of Ayurveda; they understood that the Ayurvedic concept of the body’s energy includes not only vata, pitta, and kapha, but also the subtle or higher forms of the doshas called the three vital essences: prana, tejas, and ojas (Cousens, Spiritual 372). These energies are the purified forms of the doshas and they are forces of the physical, subtle, and causal bodies. The powerful energetic nature of these essences provide support for the “inner limbs” of yoga practice: Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Thus, the yogi seeks to increase these three forces through the development of right lifestyle and a pranic-sattvic diet. (Frawley, 87-95).
There is no doubt that that as modern human beings in an industrialized society our connection to the life force of food has been diminished. Our general lack of awareness of the subtle energy of food makes it harder for us to understand the great spiritual potential of a pranic-sattvic diet high in raw, living foods. In our modern era Kirlian photography has been able to capture the pranic field of raw food as a bioluminescent aura around the food (Cousens, Spiritual 382). The aura significantly diminishes after the given food item is cooked. Eating a sattvic-pranic diet high in live-food is the most abundant in terms of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. In essence, “minerals are frequencies of light, information, consciousness, and potential” (Cousens, Spiritual 474); they are essential for plant and human life. Enzymes are the cogs that make the wheels turn in the human body. “Enzymes are living proteins that direct the life force into our basic biochemical and metabolic process…. The quantity of enzymes we have in our system is the equivalent to what we call life energy or vitality” (Cousens, Spiritual 290). Unfortunately, cooking food usually results in the destruction of all active enzymes and 70-85% of vitamins are destroyed, including coagulation of proteins making them almost 50% less assimilable in our bodies. (Barrans Jr., 2003) (Cousens, Spiritual 305).
As we begin to understand the value of the live-food diet and the possibility of maintaining Ayurvedic balance, it is important to recognize the many factors associated with this profound shift in diet. Beyond the basic Ayurvedic components, one must consider “whether we are fast or slow oxidizers, parasympathetic or sympathetic, what is our life work, worldly responsibilities, and the level of detoxification that we need to be going through at a particular time” (Cousens, Spiritual 384). Moving toward a diet high in living foods is a holistic process; it involves forming an intimate relationship with one’s body, mind and emotions. One must learn how to listen to the body as an energy being, sending and receiving messages of cellular coherence or incoherence through symptoms of body, mind, and emotion.
As challenging as this shift can be, the live-food diet can be greatly informed by several principles of Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence:
Purification leads to progress
Sattva and Prana are qualities that are connected with both mind and body. As qualities of food, sattva and prana are critical ingredients in our diet; this is not simply a matter of taste. “a modern sattvic diet emphasizes foods grown in harmony with nature by organic farmers, on goods soils, ripened naturally, and prepared with an attitude of Love” (Cousens, Spiritual 237). A sattvic diet is one the promotes balance and purification on the outer, inner, and inner-most levels. As a quality of mind, sattva and prana are best developed through right meditation and lifestyle. Meditation develops sattvic qualities in the mind which build coherence in the individual and help guide decision-making to the best possible choices for spiritual growth. This purification of the mind is critical for development of good habits, healthy relationships, and a loving, coherent attitude.
Every action has a reaction
To cook or not to cook? If so, how much and in what way? These are questions we begin to seriously ask ourselves when we realize that every action has a reaction, particularly when it comes to cooking. The more one learns about the effects of cooking food, the more obvious it becomes that the how we cook our food directly affects its energetic and nutritional value for humans. This principle is also seen in the use of oils and spices, where the way in which they are heated can drastically change their effect in the body.
Knowledge is structured in consciousness
Enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and pranic fields of energy are just several invaluable structures in our food. When a seed is planted its consciousness potential is embedded in its cellular codes. Its knowledge is formed in the structure that unfolds when it is grown and ripened. The more one can eat foods closest to their natural ripened state, the more “knowledge” she will gain. This consciousness knowledge is the deep value of live-food nutrition.
Conclusion: Whole is contained in every part
We are what we eat. Food is not just physical; food is energy. “The cosmic force, or prana, in various levels of density, is the basic nutrient for our bodies, and in this context all levels of energy available to use are considered nutrients. This includes sunlight, prana through breath, food, sexual energy, electromagnetic energy from the earth, and direct cosmic energy through the crown chakra” (Cousens, Spiritual 230). From where one draws their energy and how it assimilates into the body are two of the most important factors in our level of health and vitality throughout our lives. If one truly understands that the whole is contained in every part, it will be easier for one to understand the consciousness potential that exists in living foods. But whether we cook our food or eat it raw, love is ultimately the most important ingredient. Because when one realizes the whole is contained in every part, her consciousness expands to embrace everything compassionately as if it were herself.
Barrans, Jr., Richard. (2003, March 3). Enzymes and food preparation. Retrieved from http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/gen01/gen01179.htm
Cousens, Gabriel. Conscious Eating. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2000. Print.
Cousens, Gabriel. Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2005. Print.
Frawley, David. Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 1999. Print.