Connecting ancient yogic wisdom with our deepest intuitive selves—and our plates
As the seasons shift, Mother Nature cleverly provides us with the most nourishing of foods for that particular time of year. And what better thing to do with this natural bounty than embrace it cyclical nature — create, cook, bake…and of course eat?
Amidst the haze and craze of current wellness trends, it can often feel confusing and intimidating to start or maintain a healthy diet — or identify what that even means for you personally.
It’s easy to get lost within the chaos of it all. Enter: koshas in the kitchen.
Although one would probably not advise practicing asana surrounded by sharp, heavy, and breakable objects, yogic principles from the koshas can enhance our cooking experience by being mindful in the same way we pay attention to our bodies and breath on the mat.
The koshas, also referred to as sheaths, are layers of our physical, energetic, intellectual and subtle bodies that make up who we are, with our purest most joyful self at the core. Yoga International explains, “Only the densest [sheath] is made of matter as we know it; the other four are energy states invisible to the physical eye, though we can easily sense their presence inside us when we pay close attention.”
Here are a few simple kosha-inspired philosophical foods for thought to consider when venturing into the world of la cuisine:
Maya means “made of” and anna means “physical matter,” which could even be translated as “food.” It is the physical body we know and [hopefully] love. When it comes to preparing food, we must not only be aware of what our physical body is doing (i.e. focus whilst chopping vegetables with a sharp knife), but also how we are choosing to consume (i.e. wolfing down takeout food while standing up versus cooking a simple meal to be eaten calmly at the table).
This can be attributed to the act of mindfulness – what we are doing in the moment – and also what or how we choose to eat. When possible, consuming local, organic, and sustainable foods are not only more nourishing for the body, but are also better for the planet’s annamaya kosha via the elimination of toxic pesticides, fossil fuels used in transporting or packaging goods, and so on.
Our energetic sheath is made up of our organs, all of which are working 24/7 to keep our brains and bodies functioning optimally. We probably know how icky it feels to not feel 100% intact, whether physically or mentally or both, which can often be remedied by what we consume.
When we first step into the kitchen, we have a choice of how to best nourish our bodies, and the simple act of cooking at home can be just that, especially if we eat the foods that will support the function of our energetic body.
Yoga International says, “Yoga texts explain that the sun is the ultimate source of prana, and it is said that some advanced yogis go for years without eating; instead they simply absorb the prana radiated by the sun.” Although I would not suggest going years without eating, it does make sense that the sun gives energy to seeds in order to grow into food that gives us energy to sustain our physical bodies. So why not choose more plant-based foods — rich in the sun’s invaluable nectar — to fuel our pranamaya furnace?
Our intellectual body can often feel conflicted between the knowledge of what we intuitively know to be true for us and what we learn from the media. The health of this sheath can be nourished through the simple act of paying attention or — even deeper — the practice of meditation, which can soothe and balance this inner body.
When we practice meditation, it helps to anchor our awareness to the moment, which can soften the dis-ease we might feel when we find ourselves caught up in the complex conversation of what and how to eat.
Yoga International writes that a “harmonious environment, interesting professional challenges, and fun and supportive relationships offer an ideal diet for the mind.” As such, practicing mindful awareness in the the environment of our kitchen does not have to result in perfect meals, but it does make for a more easeful and fun experience.
Detaching ourselves from the future outcome of a dish will create a less stressful space for us to pay attention as we learn and grow, and will help us to appreciate our meals, regardless of whether or not they taste or look exactly like they do on a food blog or Pinterest board. Putting a new skill into action can be built upon every time we come back to the kitchen, so long as we are mindful as we practice, regardless of what we think we are “supposed” to know or eat.
The higher, conscious mind that discerns “right” from “wrong” is what distinguishes human beings from animals. Only humans have the ability to direct their own lives, free from the promptings of instinct, and to make moral choices. The endless balance between opposites of intellect versus instinct supports both our steadfastness and spontaneity; strength and softness; motivation and playfulness; sharp intelligence and calm sensitivity.
I encourage us all to try a new recipe that might make us a little nervous, taking smooth breaths throughout the process, and commit to whatever choice we make of how to best care for our body. Nourishment one day might be ordering dinner from a favorite spot and enjoying it by candlelight at home, or getting messy in the kitchen with a random experiment.
We can explore other options like newfound seasonal vegetables we have yet to try with equal parts uncertainty and excitement, whether we follow a precise recipe or intuitively throw some ingredients into a pot. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in cooking — it is our kitchen, not Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.
Our most subtle body is also referred to as complete spiritual bliss. It is the final and thinnest veil standing between our ordinary awareness and our higher self. The act of unconditional love — especially surrounding food — might just feel even more difficult to embrace than the act of cooking a five-course meal. We might find ourselves in a pattern of eating fast food or making mostly boxed meals; although we are fortunate enough to have food in the first place, it might also result in a slippery slope, like a rut of judging our choices or bodies.
The more we own up to our deliberate physical and mental choices, and accept ourselves and our bodies as we are in this moment, the less stress our physical and mental bodies will endure, and the closer we might come to this state of peace.
Obviously practices like consuming more whole foods and drinking lots of water helps clear both body and mind, but the mindset around it must come from a place of love and gratitude in lieu of criticism.
The next time we find ourselves wracking our brain for a new recipe idea, feeling totally lost on what to cook next, or becoming frustrated with using the oven for cooking instead of storage — we can do our best to pay attention, breathe, choose mostly whole, nourishing plant-based foods, let go of judgments or expectations, and find a sense of contentedness exactly where we are.
Thank all the sheaths of your body for everything they have done for you up until now, ask them what your body might benefit from to feel clear, listen, and act accordingly.
Remember: the most important thing we can feed ourselves is gratitude for having food in the first place — whatever that food might be — and for all our body does for us.
Where can you insert the koshas into your kitchen?