The Marriage of Macrobiotics, Ayurveda and Vipassana Meditation

The reality of how severely a disease can impact your life, only hits you when someone near you suffers with something terminal; in my case it was my father who was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. The day I got to know the cancer activity in his body had reached a crescendo, was the day I picked up the phone and called Mona Schwartz who had cured herself of cancer using the principles of the Macrobiotic diet. ‘Macro’ means large and ‘bio’ means life – it’s a larger-than-life view to eating well, longevity and being happy – the art of creating a ‘big’ life-a rich, full, and an exciting life. 

I was lucky that I had been already entrenched in the Vipassana meditation system to have experienced how we are all just a reflection of the Universal consciousness. By the time I picked up and called Mona, I understood what most quantum physicists talked about we being a reflection of Universal consciousness – that we are just matter, or pure energy. 

Hence, understanding what Macrobiotics truly is: a system that went beyond just protein, carbohydrates and fat; and as a science permeates through to foods, cooking styles, constitution, condition, lifestyle, activity was very much in-line with my understanding on ‘the ‘order of the universe.’I knew sitting at Mona’s Schwartz’s place 23 years ago, that my ‘calling’ in life was just that ‘my true calling.’ All the energetic blocks fell into place and I was still to encounter ‘Ayurveda’ India’s oldest tradition of healing. 

I always say the 3 disciplines: Macrobiotics, Ayurveda and Vipassana were meant to come together for me like they have for two reasons 1. To better my relationship with myself – as it is by aligning yourself with the universe that one can have true peace and happiness 2. To be of service to others and help them understand how much potential they had to heal themselves – as in the end all we can do is ‘give back’ of ourselves and all that we know. 

So, what is so special about this practice and makes it a unique way to approach disease and healing? When it comes to priorities in healing disease, using foods or nutritional aspects to help assumes an important role; the right type of food, when digested benefits the biochemistry of our bodies and especially that of our brain function. Positive nutrition will eventually enhance the well-being of the mind, and impact how we think and feel. If the mind is clear, it will help us choose better quality foods that nourish us. 

We keep repeating the mantra ‘You are what you eat’ and the next thing we hear is data about carbohydrates grams, protein grams, antioxidants, calories and other nutritional markers. You are what you eat really means just what it is “You are what you eat.” Sumant came to me quite proudly saying he ate eggs, meat and toast every single day of his life for the last 30 years. His liver looked congested to me, and so did his body. His breakfast actually nourished his irritability and anger, and he had no idea; yet most would say his breakfast is a balanced meal. Rohit has been spearheading my search engine optimization team for 7 years; his palms are sweaty, his handshake weak, and he is not very motivated and has been late all the years to every meeting we have had. He loves diet sodas, cheese and fruit juices, he has sugar in his coffee every day. His diagnosis tells me he has pushed adrenal glands, and lots of water in his gut. Most people continue their lives like this, not knowing what really makes them who they truly are. 

Both the Macrobiotic and Ayurvedic philosophy focus on the ‘qi’ ‘chi’ or ‘prana’ in foods which means the ‘life force.’ We all know eating broccoli is good for us, but compare a head of organically grown broccoli, freshly picked by your local farmer, to the chemically sprayed broccoli picked a week ago (or more) shopped across the country in a refrigerated truck. The difference is quality. Quality means more than how “good” or “healthy” a food is. It also refers to a particular foods character and personality. What Macrobiotics is doing is getting you to know the living personality and character of each food you eat, much the same way like getting to know a new friend. As Steve Gagne says neither nutrition nor modern medicine have any tools for understanding the following statement – yet it is a statement of truth – “Food is incapable of affecting only your body and not your soul.” Questioning the energetics of food offers opens doors to possibilities of using foods to actually heal people. E.g., lotus root is used to heal bronchial conditions as it grows deep in a murky pond, when you cut it open it resembles your lungs, and it does the same when you eat it or drink lotus root tea; go deep into the lungs and cleanse the mucus out of the lungs. The ability of the food used to heal you is dependent on where it grows, how it grows (fast/slow), climate it grows in, pattern of growth, structure. 

I know what you are thinking, how did she know Sumant’s breakfast fuels his anger and irritability and that his liver is congested. That’s another uniqueness of the Macrobiotic approach, I don’t want to adopt a ‘puritanical’ viewpoint. I’d much rather come from Traditional Chinese Medicine system in which Macrobiotics is rooted; which views emotions as well as an integral and inseparable part of the sphere of action of the internal organs and also the direct cause of disease. Every organ has its own corresponding positive and negative emotion. E.g., if the liver is deficient (from dietary factors like in the case of Sumant), and has some imbalance, it will cause a person to be angry. The hearts anxiety will injure the mind, the spleens worry will injure the intellect and do on and so forth. 

The face is the reflection of the internal organs, and various parts of the face correspond to various organs, and the training imparted to us is to diagnose a person through this lens first. The art of observation in Chinese medicine is based on two broad areas: observation of constitutional traits and observation of actual signs of imbalance. For e.g., I am a pitta-type in Ayurveda and have fire-type tendencies in Chinese medicine, I have a reddish complexion, but if I was pale-greenish with brittle nails and dry hair it would indicate a liver deficiency. This goes deeper into the eyes, ears, nose, lips, teeth/gums, throat, limbs, nails, tongue, toes, fingers. My liver is seen between my eyebrows, and imbalances in the liver appear here. 

In the Macrobiotic system the 2 most important qualities for food-as- medicine are heat and cold(which have 8 combinations). Also called the temperament of the food. Heat cold are fundamental; properties in the environment, in people and everything else. For e.g., when we eat foods that are cooling the energy and fluids of the body are directed inwards and lower, so that the exterior and upper portions of the body cool first. Conversely, warming foods push the energy and blood up and out to the surfaces of the body. An example is when people use raw foods all the time, not understanding what their constitution demands, environment or climate demands and raw foods are cooling, so would you use them in a cold, damp condition like a bronchial infection? No, however many people still eat a salad all-year-round. 

The brilliance of the system of Macrobiotics also lies in the application of ‘One Universal’ energy, splitting into 2 polarities ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ and this guides us on how to eat in balance. If you look at this chart, you see foods classified into yin and yang. All day long we swing between these 2 extremes. Yin seeks yang to make balance and yang seeks yin, we end up eating foods from the 2 extremes, rather than in the idle, where the balance is. Your body seeks balance and has a natural urge for it. Foods on the extremes create cravings, and you eat from the other extreme, to balance you. A steady diet will lead to imbalanced emotions and subsequently affect the organs. E.g., too much sugar, chocolate, alcohol, fruit juices, etc. can make you feel elated and energized briefly but then will make you spacey, melodramatic, confused, worried, sad, hyperactive, helpless. Macrobiotics emphasizes balance. That’s the first step. Extreme foods cause extreme symptoms also classified as yin and yang symptoms. If you ate cheese, salt, eggs for 6 months in a row; you would be tensed, constipated, and perhaps have aches and pains in your bones. This is what I mean by questioning energetics and looking at foods not just for what they function, but for their energy quotient. 

There is also beauty in our flavours and therapeutic uses to each of them, we apply in the approach: the sour flavour works with the liver and gall bladder, the butter with the heart and small intestine; the sweet flavour enters the spleen-pancreas and stomach; the pungent flavour enters the lungs and large intestine; and the salty flavour enters the kidney and bladder. A diet of a health person needs to be a balancing act of all flavours.

The whole system of a Macrobiotic approach when used backed by its system of diagnosis and the uniqueness of foods, steps beyond a regular framework to use foods and heal disease. As each disease happens in the enddue to the abuse of many foods; and focusing only on unidimensional aspects of what they can do for you is not enough. A multidimensional approach is needed of where you can take these foods to fully use their potential to impact your health condition which is much needed in a healing system today.

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