The practice of macrobiotics is based on the understanding of food as energy. Electrons and protons are not solid particles, but condensed packets of energy. Everything is actually energy, everything is composed of vibration. There is no unchanging or fixed substance in the universe. Therefore, our understanding of food incorporates, but is not limited to, theories of modern nutrition. In modern nutrition, food is viewed as matter. In reality, there is an invisible quality to food (and to life itself) that cannot be measured scientifically. We must perceive that invisible quality directly through our intuition.
In macrobiotics, we employ a very simple tool for understanding the movement of energy. We understand food in terms of yin (expansion) and yang (contraction). All foods are made up of varying degrees of these two basic forces. We use this understanding to see how food affects us in a very dynamic and practical way. By understanding food as energy, we see that it affects not only our physical condition, but our mind, emotions, and even our spirituality. These invisible aspects of life are a function of the quality of energy we manifest.
If we eat a food such as steak, which is very yang or contracted, we are naturally attracted to foods with the opposite quality of energy. So we eat the steak with potatoes, alcohol, or a sugary dessert such as ice cream. All of these foods are extremely yin. In order to balance extremes, we have to add many things that we don’t need. We wind up taking in excess fat, excess protein, excess carbohydrate, and excess water. Our body is constantly being challenged.
However, what happens when our main food is more balanced? If you look at a nutritional analysis of whole grains–brown rice, barley, millet, whole wheat–you discover that their ratio of minerals to protein and protein to carbohydrate approximates one to seven. Short grain brown rice comes closest to the one to seven ratio, that, nutritionally speaking, represents the balancing point between expansive and contractive energies on the planet. If you eat whole grains every day, your main foods are balanced in themselves. It is much easier to balance yin and yang in your diet as a whole. Eating whole grains as your primary food makes it much easier to maintain optimal nutritional and energetic balance.
Macrobiotics recommends that our foods be as natural as possible. Today, however, people are using poor quality table salt, treated city water, animal protein instead of plant protein, saturated animal fat instead of vegetable oil, chemically processed rather than organic foods, and plenty of simple sugars instead of complex carbohydrates. It is no wonder that modern people’s health is suffering, because the quality of each of these nutritional factors is poor.
The understanding of food as energy can guide us not only in creating an optimal diet, but in the use of simple home remedies for the relief of illness. For example, suppose someone has a kidney stone. What type of energy does that represent, more expansive, yin energy or more condensed, yang energy? A kidney stone is condensed, something like hard, frozen energy. In order to offset that, we need to apply something with the opposite, activating energy. Should we apply heat or cold? We should apply heat. Heat will activate this frozen energy and make it melt and break down. A hot ginger compress can be applied for that purpose.
Fever represents the opposite type of energy. Fever is an example of hot, overactive energy. What would balance that? Something with cool, inert energy. Ice is too cold for this purpose. Ice is so cold that it makes the body contract, so that the excess that is trying to come out through the fever will, instead, be held inside. Something a little milder is needed. Also, our body is part of the animal world, so something from the plant kingdom helps to make balance. A simple macrobiotic remedy for fever is to apply a cabbage leaf or another leafy green directly to the forehead. Another remedy is to take raw tofu, which is cool and inert, mash it, and apply it to the forehead. This application, known as a tofu plaster, draws heat out of the body. It can lower a fever in a matter of minutes. The principle of energy balance can help you manage a variety of minor conditions at home without aspirin or other medications.
Macrobiotics also teaches that we respect biodiversity, or the tremendous proliferation of life on earth. Many people are concerned with preserving the wealth of species on our planet because biodiversity is now being threatened by civilization. Many species, including those in tropical rain forests, are disappearing. Others are in danger.
Scientists have discovered that amphibians such as frogs and salamanders are diminishing, perhaps because of ozone depletion or acid rain. The tiger, the symbol of power and beauty, is vanishing from the wild. However, in nature, biodiversity is the rule, not the exception. To reflect this in our eating, we need to practice what I call dietary diversity. There is a wide proliferation of life on earth, a wide range of species, and to translate that into our day to day eating, we need plenty of variety in our selection of foods, and also in our cooking methods. Macrobiotic eating is not narrow or strict. Through macrobiotics, we discover a wide range of healthful new foods.
We also need to respect the endless diversity of individual needs. Although we share certain fundamental things in common, each of us is different. If we are active, we should eat a certain way for physical activity. If we are sitting behind a desk, our diet should be somewhat different. Men and women also need to eat differently. Between men and women, who can eat more animal food? Men. Who can eat more raw salad and sweets? Women. Children and adults also need to eat differently. Babies are already yang–small and contracted–so their diets need to be more yin–soft and sweet-tasting, with little or no salt. If you have eaten plenty of animal food in the past, in order to restore balance, you need to base your diet on plant foods. Or if you have a health problem caused by your past way of eating, you can emphasize certain foods in order to offset that.
Benefits of Macrobiotics
Now, what are the benefits of macrobiotic living? Eating this way can help us maintain optimal health and achieve longevity. People such as the Hunza in Kashmir, known for their good health and longevity, eat grains and vegetables as their main food. They were eating more or less a macrobiotic diet adapted to their mountainous terrain and climate. The first benefit of macrobiotic eating is physical health and longevity.
A second benefit is peace of mind. That peace of mind comes from the awareness that we are living and eating in harmony with the universe. We are living in harmony with the movement of energy. That is the source of inner peace. Our mind and emotions are very much conditioned by what we eat. If you feed your child plenty of sugar, what kind of mind or emotions result? Children become hyperactive or cry a lot, and become overly emotional. If we eat plenty of meat, what kind of mind and emotions are produced? We become aggressive or in the extreme, even violent. What happens when we eat plenty of nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes? We become depressed. Incidentally, these vegetables have recently been found to contain nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance, and that may explain why many people find it difficult to stop eating these vegetables.
As your mind and emotions become more stable and peaceful, you naturally develop a sense of family and community. Modern values–such as competition, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, etc.–have all arisen from a carnivorous diet. Grain-eating people develop a completely opposite view. Instead of seeing scarcity on the earth, we realize that we live in a universe of abundance. Rather than fighting over resources, the issue becomes how to share the tremendous natural wealth on our planet. Meat-eating tends to produce isolation, something like the lone hunter or lone wolf, rather than a sense of community. Hunters such as lions and hyenas are constantly fighting with each other. Grain-eaters develop a completely opposite way of thinking based on cooperation.
Meat-eating also leads to a more nomadic lifestyle, following the herd, and we tend to become unsettled, rather than stable or settled down. Grain-eating agricultural life is more stable, more settled. Which way of life encourages more stable family life? When the men are off hunting all season, or if the entire village has to constantly be on the move, it is difficult to maintain stability. Macrobiotic living strengthens our community and family life. People naturally desire to help and support each other. Through macrobiotics, you become friends with everyone. As we continue to eat this way, our concept of family expands to include all of humanity. We reconnect with our human family on planet earth.
Macrobiotic living can also help us gain spiritual understanding. Do you think it is easy to meditate if we eat hamburgers, or if our mind is very angry or upset, or if we are always stressed out? Or if we are eating sugar or drinking Coke all the time, so that our mind is often hyperactive and scattered, can we really stabilize and center our energy? These conditions make if very difficult to enter into deep, tranquil, and peaceful meditation. In order to allow spiritual energy to smoothly channel through us, and to use that energy, macrobiotic eating –grains and vegetables– is ideal.
We should not forget that all great spiritual traditions included some form of dietary discipline. In the Orient, the cooking in Buddhist and Taoist monasteries was called shojin ryiori, or “cooking for spiritual development.” These traditions were based on the understanding that food accelerates our spiritual consciousness. By selecting the proper food, we develop our spiritual quality. In these traditions, do you think animal food was a part of their diets? No. They were completely vegetarian. However, in traditional times, vegetarian eating, especially in cooler climates, meant eating cooked brown rice, daikon and other vegetables, tofu and bean products, etc., rather than a lot of raw fruit or salad.
Finally, as we achieve good health, peace of mind, a sense of family and community, and spiritual understanding, we gain the ability to play and have a big dream or adventure in this life. Macrobiotics is based on change or transmutation. In other words, we try to gain the ability to change things into their opposite according to our free will. So if we are experiencing difficulty, using macrobiotic understanding, we try to change that into pleasure or enjoyment. Or if we are experiencing sickness, we self-transform that into health. Or if the world is in danger of war, as our adventure, as our play, as our challenge, we transform that into peace. You can even gain the ability to transmute or transform any type of food into your health and vitality. In other words, you embrace your antagonist and turn it into your friend. As George Ohsawa said, ultimately there are no restrictions. The realization of total freedom, or the freedom to play endlessly in this infinite universe, is the ultimate benefit of macrobiotic living.
Source: Basics and Benefits of Macrobiotics, Copyright 1995 by Edward Esko, all rights reserved.