Macrobiotics is the art of balancing yin and yang in our daily life so that we can successfully adapt to our ever-changing environment. One of the most basic principles of macrobiotic living is to eat an ecological, environmentally-based diet. That means to rely primarily on foods native to the climate and environment in which we live. Until the modern age, people were more or less dependent on the products of their regional agriculture. Foods that grew in their area formed the basis of their daily diet. It was not until modern technology that it became possible for people to base their diets on foods from regions with far different climates.
Today, it is common for people to consume bananas from South America, sugar from the Caribbean, pineapples from the South Pacific, or kiwi from New Zealand. These foods are the product of a tropical climate. Yang, hot climates cause plants and animals to have a yin or expanded form. Yin, cold climates produce yang or contracted plant and animal life. Food from the tropics is yin; food from temperate or cold climates is yang. Our health depends on our ability to adapt to our immediate environment. When we eat foods from a climate that is different from ours, we lose that adaptability. Tropical fruits, sugar and chocolate make people too yin to adapt successfully to a cold northern climate.
As society moved away from its traditional, ecologically-based diet, there has been a corresponding rise in chronic illness. Therefore, for optimal health, we need to return to a way of eating based on foods produced in our own bioregion, or at least on foods grown in a bioregion with a climate similar to ours.
Foods with yang, or contracted energy remain viable longer and can come from a greater distance than foods with yin, or expansive energy. Sea salt and sea vegetables are examples. They are rich in contracted minerals and can come from the oceans around the world, provided these waters are within your hemisphere. Grains, especially with the outer husk attached, remain intact for a long time, even thousands of years, and can come from anywhere in your continent. Beans also travel well and can come from a similarly wide area. However, vegetables and fruits are yin or expansive; they decompose rapidly, and unless they are naturally dried or pickled, are best taken from your immediate area.
Cooking enabled humanity to live practically anywhere on earth. Through cooking, we are able to balance our climate. Cooking also enables us to make balance with the changing seasons. High temperatures and bright sunshine produce a stronger charge of yin upward energy in the environment. Water evaporates more rapidly and plants become lush and expanded. During spring and summer, energy starts to change, moving downward and inward. In colder and darker conditions, such as those in northern climates, or during autumn and winter, yang downward or contracting energy is stronger.
How do we adapt to these conditions? During the spring and summer, we make our diet lighter and fresher, meaning that we use less fire in cooking. We do not need as much in our cooking because fire is already there in the form of strong sunshine. When it is hot, we do not need warmth from our food. As we move into autumn and winter, with cooler temperatures and stronger downward energy, we make our food hearty and warming by using more fire in cooking. Similarly, lighter cooking and more fresh food is appropriate in a hot climate, while stronger cooking helps us make balance with a cold climate.
Day to day, atmospheric energy alternates between yin and yang. Yin upward energy is stronger in the morning, while yang downward energy is stronger in the afternoon and evening. In order to move together with this cycle, it is better to eat a light breakfast. A breakfast of eggs and bacon is extremely yang (dense and heavy), and opposes the upward energy of the morning. Breakfast grains can be cooked with more water, so that they become lighter and more easily digested. Dinner can include a greater number of dishes, and we normally eat more in the evening, since at that time, atmospheric energy is more condensed and inward-moving. Lunch can also be quick and light, since at noon, atmospheric energy is very active and expansive. Quick light cooking, such as that in which we reheat leftovers, can be done at that time.
Another important principle is to eat according to our needs as a species. Our teeth reveal the ideal balance of yin and yang in the human diet. We have thirty-two adult teeth. There are twenty molars and premolars. The word molar is a Latin word for millstone, or the stones used to crush wheat and other grains into flour. These teeth are not suited for animal food, but for crushing and grinding grains, beans, seeds, and other tough fibrous foods; two parts vegetables, and one part animal food.
The ideal ratio between plant food (yin) and animal food (yang) is seven to one. The modern diet does not reflect this pattern. Rather than whole grains, meat or other types of animal food are the primary foods. Vegetables are used as garnish to the main course of animal food. Cereal grains are eaten almost as an afterthought, and are eaten in the form of white bread, white rolls, and other highly refined products. Refined bread or rolls are used simply as a vehicle to carry a hot dog, hamburger, or some other type of animal food. Grains are an incidental part of the modern diet.
Today, people are eating the opposite of what they should be eating. That is why so many health problems exist today in the modern world. One of the clearest messages I received from the books of George Ohsawa (the father of macrobiotics) was that grain-based diets are superior to animal-based diets. When Ohsawa presented that idea many years ago, Western doctors and nutritionists laughed. They believed that animal protein was superior to plant protein, and the cultures in which animal protein formed the basis of the diet were more advanced than the cultures that relied on grains and other plant foods.
However, that view is changing. The vanguard of modern nutrition now agrees that whole grains and other plant foods are better for our health than are animal foods. If we compare the health patterns of people who are eating plant-based diets with those who are eating animal food, the grain and vegetable eaters have far lower rates of chronic disease.
There is an exception to this of course. If you would like to eat animal foods, it would be better for you to move to the Arctic Circle, an extremely yin environment. Then you can eat plenty of (yang) animal food to make balance. But if you live in Houston, where there is a hot climate (yang) then it is out of order to eat plenty of yang barbecued beef. It does not fulfill our biological needs nor does it make our condition harmonious with our environment.
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, macrobiotic 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 life itself) that cannot be measured scientifically. We perceive that invisible quality directly through our intuition.
In macrobiotics, we employ yin and yang to understand the fundamental energy of food. 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 not only affects 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 a steak, which is very yang or contracted, we are naturally attracted to foods with the opposite quality of energy (opposites attract.) So we eat steak with potatoes, alcohol, or a sugary desert such as ice cream. All 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 yin expansive and yang contractive energies on the planet as a whole. 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 also teaches that we respect the endless diversity or individual needs. Although people have certain things in common, each person is different. 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 can base your diet on plant foods. Or if you have a health problem caused by your past way of eating, you can emphasize foods with the opposite energies in order to offset that.
What are the benefits of balancing yin and yang in our daily diet and way of life? Macrobiotic living can help us achieve health and 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 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 will result? Children become hyperactive or cry alot, 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, grain-eaters
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. Macrobiotic living can also help us gain spiritual understanding as well. 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 it 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.
All great spiritual traditions included some form of dietary discipline. In the Orient, the cooking in Buddhist and Taoist monasteries was called "cooking for spiritual development." These traditions were based on the understanding that food influences our spiritual development. 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. As George Ohaswa said, "Let us change yin into yang. Let us change yang into yin."
So 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 health and vitality. In other words, you embrace your antagonist and turn it into your friend. Ultimately there are no restrictions and no enemies. The realization of total freedom., or the freedom to play endlessly in this infinite universe, is the ultimate benefit of macrobiotic living.
Linda King has been teaching and counseling macrobiotic students for over 15 years and healed herself of terminal female cancer. She can be reached at 503-286-3642 or www.spiritone.com~ loveking.