Namaste! Most commonly heard in yoga class here in the US, Namaste, Namaskar or Vanakkam are common greetings in India, like good morning or good evening. These words add an extra dimension, though, because they mean, “I bow to you” or “Salutations to you.“ They acknowledge the divine essence in us all—a way of saying, good day, fellow divine being!
I just spent 2 months in India for study and fun and was fortunate to be able to listen to many learned teachers of everything from Ayurveda to Yoga Philosophy. During my trip, I started to think about how we might acknowledge the divine in our food as well as in ourselves—how we might greet the food in our meals with a heartfelt, “Namaste!”.
This reflection started in a yoga philosophy class, where the teacher was talking about Brahma (God) and that everything is Brahma (the divine). The subject of wasting food was raised—a topic in which my Ayurvedic mentor and beloved teacher, Vaidya Yashashree Mannur is very passionate about. Until then, I had assumed that her passion for this had the same roots as my mother’s—my mom grew up during the depression and came out of that experience with the conviction that nothing should be wasted. Her desire to not waste food, or anything else, came from a sense of scarcity. And, indeed, I still think that there is some of that in Vaidya Yash’s desire to not waste food.
But the yoga philosophy teacher made the point that if everything is God, then food is God too and shouldn’t be disrespected or wasted—and then, I understood the main reason my teacher didn’t want to waste food.
I started thinking about how this was manifesting during my time in India—where instead of throwing left-overs away or letting them sit in the refrigerator to get stale, my Indian roommates would take whatever food was left over from our meals across the street to a group of laborers who always seemed glad to get it. In this way, we respected the food and its power to nourish by making sure to not throw it away and to share what we had in excess with people who didn’t have much at all.
In another variation on this theme, an older gentleman told me that it is best to give the first chappati off the grill, which is always a little imperfect, to one of the many dogs that live in the streets of India, instead of just tossing it into the garbage so that the food is not wasted or disrespected.
In Ayurveda, this recognition of the divine in food is implicit in the recommendations given for consuming a meal:
- We are encouraged to sit quietly for a few moments and say a blessing for ourselves and the food before eating
- We are encouraged to concentrate on eating and really be present with our food: mindfully tasting and enjoying it
- We are encouraged to take food that is Satmya (soul food); food that is pleasing to our souls
- We are encouraged to take just the right amount of food, not too little or too much—just so that we are nourished and satisfied but not overly full or still hungry so that our agni (digestive fire) is able to function in proper order
- We are encouraged to consume food in season and as freshly prepared as possible so that it is alive with prana and brings the qualities that are the result of natural ebb and flow of seasonal character
In Ayurveda, as well as much of Vedic thought, everything in the universe is also a part of us. So, when we eat, all those qualities of the universe are brought into our bodies and exert effects—such as nourishing or lightening, heating or cooling, moistening or drying. When we pay sensitive attention to what is happening—in our bodies and the world around us— we can best choose foods that enhance our body’s harmony.
In the spirit of treating our meals with respect and love, here is an idea for some thoughts we might direct at our food before we start to enjoy it:
Namaste (I bow to…) the nourishment you bring to me and am so grateful for it
Namaste to the pleasure of the taste of you and so grateful I can experience it.
Namaste to the traditions and wisdom you represent and am so grateful they have been passed down to me.
Namaste to the healing that you bring and open myself to receive it.