“Food to a large extent is what holds a society together, and eating is closely linked to deep spiritual experiences.” ~Consuming Passions: The Anthropology of Eating, by Peter Farb and George Armelagos
Nutrition is the science and practice of meeting the body’s nutrient needs, the process of providing it with the nourishment required to build its tissues and capacities, and fuel its regeneration and growth. We all have bodies, so we all require physical nourishment. Period.
So how could something so lofty as spirituality have anything to do with what we put on our plates? We're not just talking about mindful and intuitive eating here. Although food seems mundane from our daily repetitions of eating meals and snacks, it literally becomes our bodies.
HOLD ON. DID YOU CATCH THAT?
Our food becomes the stuff that allows us to walk, talk, think, feel, love, hurt, breathe, dream, have hopes and fears, and aspire to “be all we can be”. In other words, there is no break in the chain of events in which our bodies transform everything we eat from the “outside” world into our “inside” world of cells and tissues.
Now THAT is amazing!
Not only is food-constantly-transforming-into-our-bodies a continuous process, but it also is affected by factors like QUALITY and QUANTITY of nutrients available to us. If food is poor in nutrients (like fast food or highly refined processed food), or if we can’t digest it (i.e. due to low stomach acid or chronic stress), the result will be poor quality tissues in our bodies. And poor quality tissues that fatigue and break down easily do not readily support a sustained spiritual journey. Rather, they reinforce a tendency to feel small, exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed.
Nowhere is there a line between nutrition and our spiritual aspirations or experiences. The two are one. Spirituality arises through the body, as an expression of its natural connectedness with the universe, which it yearns to know intimately. This reaching out of spirit is itself an expansion of the body’s intrinsic intelligence that drives every aspect of its homeostasis—the “coming-back-home” balancing work that it does every moment of every day to keep us alive.
So, yes, yoga and meditation are great supports for the body-mind system, but they lose their long-term effectiveness when the body’s physiological needs (proper nutrition) are overlooked in their favor. No amount of Oms, downward dogs, breathing technique, praying, chanting, or sitting in still silence can replace the body’s need for a quality meal rich in essential that is well digested, and life-giving nutrients. But such an alchemical meal can support and sustain a deeper dive into every aspect of the spiritual journey.
We have personally felt and witnessed many times the uncomfortable experiences of neglecting the body while pushing through mental or spiritual practices.
We run into this dilemma when we forget that our physical bodies are inseparable from our spiritual ideals and aspirations.
Many traditions have recognized the link between body and spirit. An early book of Jewish teachings states, “It is not possible to understand and become wise in Torah and mitzvot when you are hungry or sickly or when one of your limbs hurts” (A Book of Life: Embracing Judaism As a Spiritual Practice, by Michael Strassfeld (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006), page 74).
As another example, imagine being at a retreat and trying, but failing miserably, to focus on a Dharma talk or sit still during a meditation practice after a meal that didn’t quite agree with you, as the undigested foods are starting to ferment in your stomach, causing you to have bloating, gas, upper GI pressure, gurgling, and an urge to belch.
In this example, despite your efforts to connect body-mind-spirit, you are still confronted with a basic, unavoidable level of bodily discomfort called “indigestion”. This may be a crude example of someone trying to “leap over” their bodily signs and symptoms and into the realm of “pure awareness” or spirit. But if you don’t realize that you are also this physical being who needs to attend to the basic requirements of this body, living spiritually can simply become an escape route to nowhere, or just a lofty “idea”.
The mind arises through the body, as does our sense of self, and everything else we can perceive about our world. Awareness is not simply dis-embodied spirit. It is also a welcoming of the smallest particles that join in the great mystery of our entirely connected being—and at the basic (but no less profound!) level, this means digesting your food appropriately.
In Zenshin Method we offer tools that can help you make the appropriate call as to what needs attention in yourself, so you can continue to experience this profound connection between nutrition and spirituality. Sometimes the call comes from the realm of unblocked energy flow—chakras, nadis, and meridians. Sometimes the answer comes in taking more rest, or having a skilled Rolfer work on your tightened myofascia. And sometimes you don’t have to look any further than what’s on your plate to realize that you are also spirit having a physical experience.
To learn more about connecting Nutrition and Spirituality, you can reach out to us in a couple different ways:
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