Oprah recently visited India in order to try to understand the depth and vastness of India culture. In one visit?
Well, to me a lifetime or many lifetimes would not be enough. India has such a deep cultural and traditional heritage, that at times we Indians ourselves don’t seem to have enough knowledge to justify the traditions.
During her first big Indian vegetarian meal with a upper class Indian family, sitting across the tastefully laid dinner table, she said:
“I have seen that some people in India still use their hands to eat meals”.
The male of the house responded by saying ” We all do the same”.
Surprised by the answer, she responded, ” I do not know how to do it, can you show me.” to which the male broke the bread using one hand (right hand) and she tried the same and immediately said “Delish”.
The female of the house added, “People in India prefer using hands irrespective of the economical variations, age, culture etc.”.
I would like to shed a bit more light in this respect. Not only do we as Indians use our hands for eating food; we also sit cross-legged on floor (traditionally) while having meals. Why?
The concepts of Panch Karma Indriya (five organs of action) and Panch Gyana Indriya (five organs of sense) and Panch Vaayu (five vital air currents) are behind these traditions.
The five sensory organs (eyes, ears, skin, tongue and nose) are the ones which, when engaged completely in the act of nourishing our body through food, (although absorbing sunlight, drinking water, gaining knowledge, sharing and receiving love are other ways of nourishing the self) lead of a healthy digestion process.
The five senses are engaged totally in the act of having meals:
Skin (use of hands): touch of food and sense all consistencies (bread, rice, soup, salad etc.), feel the temperature
Eyes: sight of all colorful food items
Nose: the smell of the food when it is the right temperature; the experience becomes even more active when the sense of touch and vision are combined together
Tongue: taste of food
Ears: the sound chewing
Traditionally six tastes (sweet, salty, pungent, astringent, sour and bitter) and varied food items are served all together in one platter (called Thali) which immediately pacify the sense of vision, smell, taste and touch.
Silence is observed, in order for the sense of hearing to be stimulated as little as possible and take the stimulus from the sub-vocalization of the sound of chewing. All of this helps in the activation of salivary glands and thus salivary amylase (enzyme responsible for aiding in the catabolic action on the food). All the five sensory organs when engaged in the activity of eating food in the above said traditional method have minimal outgoing tendencies and the senses go in to the anabolic or energy conservation mode so that this energy is utilized for digestion.
There are five organs of action: hands, feet, organs of reproduction, organs of elimination and vocal chords. The five organs of action have the tendency to respond according to the information collected by the five sensory organs and are generally catabolic in nature.
In order for the body to maintain the optimum state of metabolism the outgoing tendencies of these organs should me minimized which is done my crossing the legs (minimalizing the locomotion). Crossing the legs also redirects the pranic energy away from the organs of reproduction and elimination which do not have a role yet to play during intake of food. The hands are engaged in eating food and vocal chords are relaxed by observing silence.
Now you may ask that why the use of cutlery is avoided traditionally and rather hands are used. There are a couple of factors regarding the posture and using hands to eat meals. As we sit cross-legged, the spine attains its natural curve, which allows the abdominal organs to relax and receive maximum blood supply. When we use hands to eat food we tend to bring the fingers and the thumb close to each other, which forms Samana Mudra. Samana Mudra is a therapeutic hand gesture, which activates the Samana Vaayu. Samana Vaayu is one of the panch vaayus (five vital air currents) which actually helps in digestion process.
Who would think that the use of hands for eating is not just a tradition or lack of resources but actually a way to keep the body healthy and satisfied? The food intake is not merely a way to satisfy the hunger but to sublimate the senses and infuse satisfaction. It is a way to nourish the inner self and not merely a physiological activity.
Prana: forward and inward moving impulse which allows for the incoming of the nourishment
Apana: downward and outward moving impulse or air current which throws the undigested food items and toxins out of the body through defecation, urination, menstruation and sweating.
Samana: the clockwise inward moving impulse in the region of the navel which allows for the separation of the actual nourishment and toxins from the ingested food.
Udana: upward moving impulse which distributes the refined, filtered energy to the head and throat region for higher functions
Vyana: the diffusing air current which distributes the filtered energy to all cells of the body.
I hope my effort in explaining the use of hands while eating meals helps in explain in a bit more details than merely giving the name “tradition” to everything.
Yes is the tradition of health and nourishment and not merely the absence of ethics or resources:
> “Praanaaya swaahaa,apaanaaya swaahaa,vyaanaaya swaahaa,udaanaaya swaahaa,samaanaaya swaahaa,brahmane swaahaa” is chanted with first six morsels of food to invoke all these air currents.
> The use of the hands allows one to feel the texture and temperature of the food, which further stimulates the salivary glands using the sense of touch, smell and sight. It also prevents one from eating very hot or very cold food as these extreme temperatures are not pleasing to the human body and neither is good for the digestive fire.
> The centre of the palms is the seat of digestive organs as per acupressure. When we use hands for eating food, we naturally trigger these pressure points, which help in the release of digestive juices from the liver and gall bladder.
> The center of the palm is also one of the most therapeutic Marma point which activates the release of pranic energy in the entire body which is triggered by the use of hands.
> The use of cutlery blocks the senses to directly communicate with the body, mind and breath.
> The general habit of using dining table for having meals may lead to over eating as when we sit cross legged on the floor to eat food, every time we bend forward and down to break a morsel it puts pressure on the stomach and once the stomach is 3/4th full it leads to burping. Burping while eating is a natural sign of the stomach being happily full and anything more shall be over eating. While stilling completely straight we suppress this naturally urge/ sign from the body’s innate intelligence. As per Ayurvedic principles the stomach should be only 3/4th fill with food and the rest1/4th space should be allowed for the free movement of gases and allow for the process of digestion to happen.
Mantra used before the meals:
Poornamadah Poornamidam (This is full.)
Poornaath Poornam Udachyathe (That is full.)
Poornasya Poornamaadaaya (This came out of that.)
Poornameva Vasishyathe. (This is coming out of that, that remains full. As ever.)
This refers to the soul (jeevaatmaa). That is the Universal Soul (paramaatmaa). Full means self-contained, self-conscious, eternal and immutable. This and that are one and inseparable. Otaprota (a combined SamskRuta word), meaning all pervasive and all permeating. Within and without, inside and outside, just like warp and woof of a woven cloth.
Dr. Indu Arora is a true Yogini by Karma. She is highly accomplished international speaker, Master Yoga Teacher & Yoga Therapist, a successful Ayurveda Consular, Healer and Author, with more than 35,000 hours/ 13 years of teaching experience. She is a Registered Ayurvedic Clinician 4500 Hours through AAPNA and an Academic Board member of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of Northern America (AAPNA), Board member of the World Movement of Yoga and International Advisor to World Yoga Council.
She has a Doctorate in Alternate Medicine (MD) and Awarded with Yoga Shiromani and Yoga Bhaskar. She has a Grand Parenting E-500 T-500 from Yoga Alliance and is registered Yoga Therapist. Dr. Arora is pursuing her PhD. in Metaphysical Sciences from University of Metaphysical Sciences, CA.
She writes regularly for many national and international magazines. She is awarded with the titles: “Rishi Award~ Sage” for Excellence in Teaching Meditation”, “Hind-Ratna~Gem of India”, “Ray of Hope”, “Yoga Ratna~ Jewel of Yoga” for Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda. She travels globally for International Yoga Therapy Teacher Training programs, Yoga and Ayurveda Retreats, Conferences etc. Dr Arora started the 200 Hour Ayurveda Parichaya (Ayurveda for Self-health Care) Training on the models of Government of India (AYUSH), approved by AAPNA in 2012 and 200 Hour Level Yoga Therapy program approved by Yoga Alliance.”
Her philosophy is “Nothing has the greatest Power to heal, But SELF”. Visit her at Yog Sadhna.
~ Edited by Jill Barth.