I love to read the latest and greatest material from the nutritional research community. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy the excitement I feel cultivating inside of me when I read a scientific article about how some scientist somewhere discovered that eating meat gives you cancer. No, I don’t enjoy reading these things because I’m a crazy vegan and I’m thrilled that meat gives you cancer. I’m simply intrigued by these findings because clearly we’re beginning to see advancements in nutritional research. Perhaps were beginning to consider the whole being, and no longer basing health claims on pointless reductionist studies. Wholistic studies give people hope, and the chance to believe that research will eventually yield enough data to help create methods of illness prevention. In this sense, science is awesome.
However, as I sit here in my living room, I begin to ponder about what defines health, and if data from a group of participants in a ten year study, or numbers on a graph can disclose the means necessary to live a long, happy and healthy life. Yes, thanks to science there are now activities such as eating a lot of red meat or smoking that are known to cause insalubrious health. Nevertheless, I want to look beyond the generalities for a moment and consider the needs of the individual. After all, people are different, and may consequently require different things in order to live healthy lives.
Is there more to the health recipe than the chef wrote? Is there a secret ingredient; a large factor contributing to our health that many of us often overlook? Perhaps there is something that may aid in answering the dire question of what optimal health actually is, and how to attain it. I realize that the answer to that question may be so far beyond our reach that only individuals decades from now will be able to answer it. Then again, maybe our ancestors were on the right track with ancient practices that time and technology have seemed to neglect. While we may never be able to find a direct answer, I believe that we must consider the teachings of the ancient practice of yoga.
I am a certified yoga instructor, and while I was undergoing my teacher training, I learned about the different aspects of self according to Hinduism. One of those aspects is known as Satya, which is simply non-falsehood. This is different from truthfulness. It is simple to be truthful. For example if I ask you what the weather is like outside you can say that it is sunny. When I think that it is sunny outside, I automatically think of a warm summer day, but what if it’s cold out? You did not lie by telling me that it was sunny outside, but you neglected to tell me that it was also cold out. If you tell me that it is cold and sunny outside that would be considered Satya because you are telling me the whole truth about the situation.
Now how does this relate to food and your body? Well, if you haven’t already figured this out, the purpose of consuming food is to provide your body with energy. If you ever consume something that makes you tired, or causes you to take a nap (and you’re beyond infancy), chances are your body does not need it. Food is supposed to feel clean, it should not cause stomach pain or indigestion. Food is not meant to make you obese (take a look in the mirror). Most importantly, plant based foods such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits are composed of a non soluble fiber known as cellulose. Due to the human body’s inability to break down cellulose and use it for energy, it is excreted. Animal based foods are not so easily excreted because your body can break down the components of these foods and store them as energy (fat). Essentially what I’m getting at here is ask yourself: Do you poop enough? Do you poop too much? This may indicate that you may be allergic to something you regularly consume. Do you ever feel guilty after eating something that’s considered to be bad for you? So why did you do it? Because you’re not tuned in enough with your own body when you reach for that pack of Oreos to tell yourself (and actually believe) that you don’t need them.
All of these things contribute to overall health and well being. By implementing a simple yoga practice at least twice a week, meditating, or simply taking a few conscious breaths throughout the day you can become more aware of your internal needs. When we become more aware of our internal needs we can become honest with ourselves, and practice satya to help make better decisions throughout our day. Now this concept doesn’t only relate to food, it can relate to anything you experience in your life. Begin to take conscious breaths at home, at the workplace, around friends, while you’re shopping, or anywhere where you need to make a decision about something that will either enhance your life or degrade it.
My logic may not be a straight forward answer to what health is, nor is it a concept or practice that will make you super skinny in three days (if you presume that getting skinny = healthy), but I think it is worth a shot. If we can understand our needs, then we can be honest with ourselves, and only bring factors into our lives that enhance them. If we fail to be conscious, we wander around like zombies stuck in a rut unable to fulfill the needs of their bodies. Correct me if I’m wrong, but living an unconscious life doesn’t exactly sound like the epitome of health to me.