For over 30 years in Japan, Chuya and his wife Chiaki have been conducting Half Fasting retreats at their centre every month. Chiaki, in her simple English, described the experience as “getting close to God”.
The great spiritual giant of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, has a saying many of us are familiar with – “Chew your drink, and drink your food”. Through his experiments with chewing and fasting he was able to deepen his spiritual realisations, as he states in this lesser known quote from his autobiography:
“I know it is argued that the soul has nothing to do with what one eats and drinks. That it is not what you put inside from without, but what you express outwardly from within that matters. There is no doubt some force in this. But rather than examine this reasoning, I shall content myself with merely declaring my firm conviction that, for the seeker who would live in fear of God, and who would see him face to face, restraint in diet as to both quantity and quality is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.”
Fear in this sense means awe or reverence. Macrobiotic principles have always emphasized simple, wholesome, plant-based meals, and thorough chewing to consume the necessary minimum – thus satisfying both Gandhi’s criteria.
“Chewing is one of the fundamental ways of expressing our freedom. Everyone can chew according to their own desire. The more you chew, the greater the possibility that you will develop your consciousness, as well as improve your day to day life. – Michio Kushi
Several years ago I witnessed the most intriguing explanation of chewing’s mental and spiritual benefits at the wonderful French Meadows Macrobiotic Summer Camp, 6000 feet up in the clear, clean atmosphere of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. In this beautiful untouched setting protected by the majestic Ponderosa pine trees, senior macrobiotic teacher Bob Carr gave a lecture entitled “Forgotten Spiritual Practices that Lead to Peace”. What follows is an abbreviation of his eye-opening talk.
Cosmic energy is constantly streaming towards the earth from innumerable stars and galaxies. This yang, downward and inward streaming energy, which can be called ‘heaven’s force’, enters the human body through the crown chakra at the top of the head, and flows through the spiritual channel running vertically through our body. Conversely, energy generated from the spin of the earth enters our body at the base chakra and flows upward and outward through the same spiritual channel. This yin energy is referred to as ‘earth’s force’. These two vertical streams of electromagnetic energy collide and spiral at points on this channel known as chakras (from the Sanskrit word “wheel”). From here they flow out through our meridians and ultimately charge and vitalize all the organs, tissues and cells of the body. (See diagram.)
Importantly, there is a point on this spiritual channel that is crucial to our development as spiritual beings. In olden China, the mouth cavity was referred to as the ‘spiritual activating chamber’. Here’s why: the more we chew, the more positive ions from heaven’s force gather at the uvula at the rear of the mouth, while negative ions from earth’s force gather at the tongue. Electrical energy builds until finally small impulses are released, highly charging the food being chewed which has been mixed with mineral-rich saliva. The minerals in the saliva act as a conductor for this electric charge. If we are not eating sugar and other mineral depleting foods the charge will be stronger. Our physical and electro-magnetic energy body thus becomes activated and energized as a result, bringing healing and a sense of well-being. This scenario is similar to what occurs in a thunder storm when energy builds and lightning is released.
Furthermore, the more we chew, the more blood gathers at the hinge of the jaw near the ear. This area becomes warmer because more blood is circulating there. The haemoglobin in red blood cells contains particles of iron which have electromagnetic properties. As we chew, these particles of iron become highly charged, resulting in fields of energy forming around our head – more chewing results in stronger fields of energy.
In the centre of the head, where these two powerful streams of energy meet, one vertical, the other horizontal, is the master gland of the endocrine system – the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is then stimulated to release beneficial hormones, which further stimulates other glands in the endocrine system. This network of glands and their secretions are an important part of the body’s natural immune function and help protect against disease. This explanation of the energetics behind chewing may also account of the profound sense of peace that can be experienced after committed chewing.
The perfect food for chewing is unpolished whole grains. Accompanied by vegetables and legumes they make an ideal meal for chewing. The food should not be too moist, otherwise it soon becomes too watery in the mouth, making it difficult not to swallow early. Some bread can help in this regard to prolong the chew of each mouthful. It is advisable to include greens with each meal as the fibre in hard leafy greens (like kale), requires good chewing. A small bowl of soup can accompany the meal if desired.
I have found it easier to sometimes swallow a small amount of liquid that accumulates in the mouth after a number of chews, and continue to chew the mouthful longer as sometimes there is an overwhelming urge to swallow before complete chewing.
Two other practices can be helpful as well. Closing the eyes helps to concentrate our mind and energy. Lino says this practice internalized his energy: “By not looking outward, my energy went inward, strengthening me even more”. As well, we should put down our eating utensils after taking a mouthful and place our hands in our lap in the prayer position. Interlace all the fingers, then point the index fingers straight out, touching at the tips. Thumbs remain overlapped. This relaxes us and focuses our mind. Chewing becomes easier and more powerful by doing these simple things.
For proper chewing we should eat alone, or if others are present we should talk between mouthfuls or preferably eat in silence. The hands can be placed in the lap or upright at heart level. Eating in silence is not very social, but this is a training, the aim of which is to improve ourselves and our experience of living. There’s plenty of time to socialize away from the dinner table. And our connection with others may well be deeper. Chewing from 100 to 200 times per mouthful, or more, is optimal. A half to one hour is usually all that is needed. As Michio Kushi points out – by taking more time to chew, we become more efficient, therefore requiring less time to do other things. As has been said, theory without its practical application is virtually useless. Better to be inspired into action, or interested enough to try.
While there may be differing definitions of macrobiotics, my understanding from over 25 years of involvement is that it is a harmonious way of living, respecting and understanding our place as human beings in nature – as was embraced by traditional cultures and societies that lived naturally – and abiding by these rules of nature. Through this we can fully comprehend the humbling realisation that we are a small integral pulse within this vast wondrous Universe. A key aspect of this is a natural diet – with whole grains, vegetables and legumes being the main components. It is a system of balanced living and eating that has cured many. And it has helped many re-establish their lives. It is a very deep practical philosophy that was advanced last century by George Ohsawa.
Ohsawa, who cured himself of a potentially fatal disease, led an amazing life, totally in the spirit of “one grain ten thousand grains”. That is, he fully and perpetually gave of himself to help others to greater health and better understanding of life, just as nature produces and gives of its abundance. With deep thanks and respect for the great life teaching he has left us, the last word fittingly should be left to George:
Chewing is most important in macrobiotics. You have no teeth in your stomach or intestines. So you must chew in your mouth, 50 times per mouthful at least. The more you chew, the quicker you will master this philosophy of longevity and rejuvenation …. In reality, good chewing of well-balanced food is the greatest ceremony of creating life.
If you are interested in reading Dean’s full article, it can be downloaded from the following link:
CHEWING – A GIFT FROM GOD FOR A HEALTHY BODY, CLEAR MIND, AND FREE SPIRIT [A compilation of wisdom from some leading lights in macrobiotic education] by Dean Cooling
Thanks to Dean from allowing me to post his article here. I hope you enjoyed it and would love to hear any comments you may have.