Eating food with hands is a part of tradition, culture, ritual and health based on the concept of Pancha Karma Indriya (five organs of action) and Pancha Jnana Indirya (five organs of senses) of Yoga and Ayurveda in India.
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.
Traditionally, the six tastes (sweet, salty, pungent, astringent, sour and bitter) and varied food items are served all together on one platter (called Thali) which immediately pacifies the sense of vision, smell, taste and touch.
Silence is observed, in order for the sense of hearing to be as less stimulated 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 salivary amylase (enzyme responsible for aiding in the catabolic action on he food). The five sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) when engaged in the activity of eating food in the above said traditional method, have minimal outgoing tendencies and the senses go into the anabolic or energy conservation mode so that this energy is utilized for digestion.
The five organs of action – hands, feet, organs of reproduction, organs of elimination and vocal cords have the tendency to respond according to the information collected by the five sensory organs and are generally catabolic in nature.
- The use of 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
- As we use hands to eat food, we tend to bring the fingers and thumb close to each other, which forms Samana Mudra. The center of the palm 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 points that activate the release of pranic energy in the entire body, which is triggered in the use of hands.
- The general habit of using dining table for having meals may lead to overeating. When we sit cross-legged on the floor to eat food, every time we bend forward 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 would be over eating. While sitting completely upright we suppress this natural urge/ sign from the body’s innate intelligence. As per Ayurvedic principles, the stomach should be only 3/4th filled with food and the rest 1/4th space should be allowed for the free movement of gases and for the process of digestion
Vedic ritual of eating food
Pancha Pranopasana Mudras can easily be practiced by one and all before meals. They invoke a feeling of gratitude and connection with the process of eating (Anna Grahan). In addition, they help in balancing the main vital current known as Mukhya Pranas.
Practice this short exercise for revising this set of Mudras before your lunch/ dinner. This ritual is known as parishinchami (encircling with water), and the eating of small helpings of rice is known as pranahoothi (offering to the vital breaths). It is performed twice a day before meals. All other meals are considered “extra” or secondary (upabhojanam). Parisecana mantra is sort of a “protection” for the food we are about to eat.
- Parisecana: Take a comfortable seated posture, preferably cross-legged position (sukhasana) on the floor. Chant the mantra: Satyam tvartena parishinchami (O Food! You are true. I encircle you with divine righteousness.) And circumambulate the food with a sprinkling of water. This sprinkling of water is known as “parisecana.” At night, this mantra is: Rtam tva satyena parishinchami
- Pranahoothi: Perform the following Pranaahoothi. Use only the thumb, index finger and middle finger of the right hand and take a very little amount food and swallow it without touching the teeth. The idea is that by first making an offering to the Pranas we pay homage to their life-giving power by virtue of their performing the bodily activities that are crucial to our survival. In this way, this ritual recognizes that not only is food important to survival, but the very bodily functions that we take for granted are essential, and we owe all of this to the Supreme, who sits as the superintending power behind all bodily activity, no matter how mundane
- Om Pranaye Svaha (Hold Prana Mudra in left hand) and meditate upon the mouth region
- Om Apanaya Svaha (Hold Apana Mudr in left hand) and meditate upon the lower body below the navel
- Om Vyanaya Svaha (Hold Vyana Mudra in left hand) and meditate upon the limbs (arms, hands, legs and feet) and heart
- Om Udanaya Svaha (Hold Udana Mudra in left hand) and meditate upon the throat and chest region
- Om Samanaya Svaha (Hold Samana Mudra in left hand) and meditate upon the navel region
- Om brahmani ma atma -amrtatvaya. This means, “May my self be united in the Supreme, so that I may attain immortality ”