Let’s begin by being clear about what we mean when we say “spiritual practice”. We are not referring to any particular religion or tradition when we say “spiritual practice. Rather, we are referring to the universal human experience of altered states of consciousness, which result from a variety of different practices.
All who have experienced higher states of consciousness agree that the experience is intensely pleasurable, enlightening, and often profoundly life-changing. Many people devote thousands of hours over many years to doing practices such as meditation, yoga, shamanic rituals, prayer, dancing, singing, and lucid dreaming, with the intention of producing these higher states of consciousness.
Few people, however, realise that all their hard work may be completely undermined by their eating habits.
Some simple experiments will show you how eating affects your body and mind, and give you some ideas as to where to make simple changes with big effects.
Many people in Western cultures keep their digestive systems busy 24 hours per day, seven days a week. They literally never experience life without digestion going on.
They wake up, eat breakfast, snack at work, eat lunch, come home, eat dinner, and then go to bed with their dinner still in their stomach.
The problems with this lifestyle are many and varied.
To begin with, digestion requires a lot of energy. You may notice yourself that you are physically and mentally sluggish for an hour or two after lunch. The body is focusing on digestion, and there is less energy available for physical or mental effort.
If you have ever been emotionally upset just before a meal, you may have noticed that the upset seems to go away when you eat. This is one reason behind the urge for emotional eating.
Of course, the emotion hasn’t actually gone away – it is just that the energy required to digest food is so large that your self-awareness, your ability to feel what is happening in your body, is very much reduced. The emotion is now happening below the level of your conscious awareness – not the best situation for processing and releasing it.
Try this experiment – when your stomach is empty, sit quietly and feel inside your abdomen. Feel the muscles, the movement as you breathe, and any emotions or feelings that are there. Now eat a solid meal, then sit in exactly the same way and try to feel those same sensations again. What differences do you notice?
Recovery and Maintenance
A major contributor to the digestive process is your liver. Whenever there is food in your stomach, the liver is busily producing digestive juices to break that food down once it is released into the intestines.
The liver is an amazing organ, which removes a lot of unpleasant substances from our blood as well as helping to digest our food. It is capable of regrowing itself from quite extensive damage, but it doesn’t do that repair and maintenance work when digestive juices are required.
Your liver needs a period of at least 12 hours to reset itself, to stop producing digestive juices and start repairing itself.
How often do you give yourself more than 12 hours between two meals?
And, before you go there, skipping breakfast is NOT the solution! We will look into that disaster in another article. For now, just take that option off the table. You need to eat breakfast within an hour of getting up, unless you are doing an activity that needs an empty stomach, like yoga, in which case you need to eat within an hour of finishing that activity.
The answer to giving your liver time to repair itself can be found at the other end of the day – in the evening. Make sure you finish your evening meal at least 12 hours before you plan to have breakfast.
Try this experiment – for one week, eat your evening meal very early, so that you have at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Make journal notes about how you feel each morning. After one week, switch to eating dinner later in the evening, and again make journal notes about how you feel each morning.
If you do a spiritual practice in the morning, pay particular attention to any differences in how that practice feels.
You may find yourself moved to make some changes to your lifestyle!