For many of us, the term “spiritual nutrition” seems like a strange pairing, if not a contradiction. We tend to think of nutrition in terms of the body, which in turn we see as distinct from spirit. But we also know traditions around the world speak of the link between food choices and our connection with the divine. In this article, we’ll look at how diet can impact our spiritual growth and some simple, practical steps for bringing this into our daily lives.
Perhaps the most obvious connection between diet and spirit is how food impacts our mood and mindset. We all know certain choices can leave us tired or lethargic while others make us “spacey” or restless — all things that can conflict with our spiritual goals. We know compassion can be harder when our stomachs ache from over-eating or when we’re restless from too much coffee. The Yogic tradition, which offers considerable insight into the connection between spirit and diet, observes how certain spices and forms of preparation can impact our clarity, mood, and vitality. Spicy foods, for example, tend make us more agitated, while leftover or overcooked dishes tend to be draining. Simply being aware of this can be a big step toward achieving a mental state that allows us to put our spiritual values into practice.
A related issue, of course, is over-all fitness and energy. We all know certain foods serve better than others when it comes to providing energy and health. And we also know our spiritual values ultimately require us to have the energy to act. When we decide to eat things that aren’t ideal, we know on a certain level we are choosing to limit the energy we have to live our beliefs. Of course food is also a source of pleasure, and virtually all spiritual traditions would say it’s something we’re meant to enjoy. But this complex balance between “food as fuel” and “food as fun” gives us an opportunity to examine our self-awareness. Each time we eat, we have a chance to look at how much we wish to focus on our own pleasure and how much we want to think about serving those around us. By being more mindful, we can move toward a balance that runs closer to our beliefs, choosing foods that provide the right blend of pleasure and energy for service of others.
This brings us to another spiritual aspect of diet, namely the highly social nature of eating. From the pleasure of sharing with others to the act of sustaining and being sustained, food nurtures our social connections as surely as it does our bodies. On this level, every meal can be an opportunity to think of the joy of others and to deepen and expand our social bonds. Even when eating alone, we can take a moment to reflect on our connection with the many people who labored to bring that food to our tables. Even those who support our labor are present through the financial support they provided. By thinking of this, each meal can be a chance to nourish not only our bodies but also our sense of interconnection, of belonging, and of being supported. And these feelings, in turn, naturally lead us to want to sustain and support others….
Taking this interconnection to the next level, food also represents a direct connection to the world as a whole. Even in its most processed form, our food still holds a deep connection with nature, and, for many, with God or the Divine. Again, simply reflecting on this can turn each meal into a form of communion — clearly a large part of why Jesus chose bread and wine to represent him and his teachings. Whatever our faith, each meal can be a sacrament, a chance to witness our connection with something “bigger” — to celebrate it, to gain strength from it, and to reinforce our desire to honor it through our choices. Obviously, this is why every culture has a concept of saying “grace,” seeing each meal as an opportunity to appreciate our community, our connection with nature, and whatever we might sense beyond that….
Ultimately, the more we see food as a blessing and connection, the more we will want to honor it — to make the best choices we can in what we eat and how we think of it. For example, part of the Yogic view of spices comes from the fact they tend to mask the natural tastes of foods and stimulate the appetite, causing us to eat more than we need. Choosing to lessen our dependency on them not only makes it easier to find a healthy balance of “pleasure” and “fuel” but also allows us to enjoy foods as they are. And the more pleasure we derive from foods in their natural state, the more we feel directly cared for — again, by nature or the Divine.
So the next time you sit down for a meal, take a moment to reflect. And remember that the choices you make — both in what you eat and also in how you think about it — can be another significant step toward embodying the principles by which you wish to live….
About the Author: Michael Lloyd-Billington is a certified Integral Yoga Teacher (Levels I, II, and III), personal trainer & yoga counselor with over 25 years’ experience in the fields of health & fitness. He currently offers private guidance integrating yoga, strength training, conditioning & optimal nutrition. To learn more about classes or private sessions, please call (970) 412-4526 or visit his website at http://alternativepersonaltraining.bravehost.com/index.html