home arrow diet and lifestyle arrow WHAT IS MACROBIOTICS? - by Chris Clark
WHAT IS MACROBIOTICS? - by Chris Clark - www.misohungry.org

Macrobiotics is the practice of balance. For most people, our careers, our relationships, our sexuality, our emotions, our spirituality, and our physical health are constantly in flux. We are up and down, back and forth, and here and there. Does this sporadic ride ever end? Can it? For thousands of years, Eastern philosophies have advocated taking the middle road, seeking balance. Macrobiotics is a practical, relevant outgrowth of these traditions. Its primary concern is the connection between diet and health, and the larger connection between health and happiness. If you nurture your health, thus creating balance within your body, you will experience balance in every aspect of life. However, if you continually neglect your health, sooner or later you will start to notice instability all around you. This is because physical health is the foundation for emotional, mental and spiritual well being. If you can accept this basic premise, then you can appreciate that food is your most basic and most fundamental medicine. With proper food you can be vibrant, happy and full of energy, but with improper food you can be sick and miserable. Most importantly, this is your choice.

But don’t get the wrong impression, because macrobiotics is not a diet. Diets are rigid because they tell you what you can and cannot eat. Macrobiotics is very flexible. There are no rules here. Instead, macrobiotics is about understanding the multitude of differing effects and energies of food. When you become aware of and sensitive to this understanding, you can make your own decisions about what to eat while taking full responsibility for your own health. There can be no standard macrobiotic diet because every person is completely different. Compare yourself to any friend and you’ll realize that you each have completely different dietary histories and genetic backgrounds, and perhaps also different life goals and ambitions. So the best foods for you might differ considerably from the ideal foods for your friends. Furthermore, your body is perpetually changing. So what is best for you now might be different from your ideal diet 10 years from now. You can learn some general dietary guidelines from macrobiotic books and teachers, but you must adjust these guidelines for your own condition. Nobody can give you health. You must decide to create it.

The wisest and most recognized teacher in macrobiotic history, George Ohsawa, often told his students never to believe a single word he had ever spoken. By saying this, he wanted to inspire people to experiment with foods so as to find out what works best for them. He also wanted people to take full responsibility for their own health. Ohsawa was known to say that when you are sick or diseased, it is entirely your own fault. He believed that regardless of one’s genetic background, health and happiness are the absolute birthrights of every human being. But to realize these birthrights, you are completely responsible. Taking responsibility for your health implies learning the energetic properties of food and discovering how certain foods create balance and certain foods disrupt balance within your body. To better grasp this understanding, macrobiotic teachings utilize the concepts of yin and yang, and acid and alkaline.
Yin and Yang

Yin and yang are the two most basic energies, present not just in food, but everywhere in the universe. These two forces are opposite and antagonistic yet they are also complementary. Yin is the expanding, outward force and yang is the contracting inward force. The energy of yin is cool and passive whereas yang is hot and active. The sun, daytime and summer are all yang while the moon, nighttime and winter are all yin. Since these forces are both opposite and complementary, yang creates yin and yin creates yang. For example hot yang, tropical climates yield expanded, yin fruits like bananas, mangoes and pineapples. Less yang, temperate climates yield less yin fruits like berries, apples and pears.

Our bodies are constantly balancing yin and yang energy from the food we consume. If too much yang is taken in, the body craves yin. Likewise, if we consume too much yin, then we will naturally gravitate towards yang. To understand these energies with relation to food, it is useful too think in terms of expansive and contractive energy. For example, if you were to drink a bottle of wine, how would you feel? Alcohol is extremely yin. Having very expansive energy, it creates a feeling of lightness. Conversely, if you were to eat a thick, juicy steak, how would you feel? Meat is very condensed, contracted, yang energy. It therefore creates a feeling of heaviness and sluggishness. The body will always seek to establish and maintain balance no matter what foods you eat. When you eat extreme yin, you feel drawn towards extreme yang. This is why wine and cheese or wine and meat are often served together. Given this understanding, many people often wonder, “If my body will naturally seek balance, then why not just eat anything?” Of course there is no problem with this approach to eating, if that is your choice, but when we eat from the extreme ends of the food spectrum, it becomes very difficult to establish balance.

Imagine trying to balance a long piece of construction wood upon a large, round rock. You would start by positioning the wood, somewhere near its midpoint, on top of the rock. Then you would adjust slightly the position of the wood until it became perfectly balanced. Having established this balance, you could then place small stones at various places along the wood and notice the effects. If you were to place one stone near the midpoint, the wood would totter slightly, but it would not fall off the rock. You could then place a second stone near the midpoint, but on the opposite side as the first, and see that balance is easily reestablished. But the further away from the midpoint that you place the first stone, the more difficult it becomes to find the precise placement of the opposite stone, and the more difficult it becomes to reestablish balance. And at some point, when a stone is placed too far from the midpoint, its weight causes the wood to drop down to the floor. Such is also the case with the foods we eat. Some foods have extreme yin or yang energies, while others have small yin or yang. When we eat from the extremes, it becomes very difficult for the body to maintain balance. And when we continually eat from the extremes, eventually the wood drops to the floor. We can understand this as the onset of disease. But when we favor the foods that are already close to being balanced, small yin or yang, we can create and maintain balance much easier, thus enjoying our natural healthy state.

The idea of macrobiotics is to eat foods that are already near balance. Grains, for example, are slightly yin. Cooking them, however, makes them more yang. Adding a small amount of salt yangizes them as well. Most whole foods that originate from the plant kingdom are properly balanced in and of themselves. And with various preparation methods, you can further balance them for your own personal needs and condition.

When you eat balanced foods, your body runs very efficiently, your mind becomes clear and your emotions balanced. When you eat extreme foods, however, your body must work very hard to create some semblance of balance. The biophysical process of creating balance is more difficult for bodies fueled from extreme foods. For example, to digest meat the body must produce plenty of acid. To digest dairy products, the body produces large amounts of mucous. Over time, the byproducts of extreme food digestion accumulate within the body leading to overworked organs, and eventually to disease. In the process, many waste products are produced, the blood becomes very acidic and you become very vulnerable to disease. Furthermore, the mind often become very cluttered and the emotions unstable.
Acid and Alkaline

Acid and alkaline are the western dietary concepts most similar to yin and yang. Acid and alkaline refers to the pH level of the blood. A 14-point scale is used with 14 being absolute base, or alkaline, and 0 being absolute acid. The normal pH level of human blood is slightly alkaline, about 7.2 on the scale. When you eat foods like refined sugar that are extremely acidic, you must balance these foods with mineral rich, alkaline foods, like most vegetables, or else the body will deplete stored supplies of minerals like calcium and sodium from the bones and teeth. This is why eating sugar destroys the teeth, not because you failed to brush well enough. Most "modern" foods consumed in western nations are extremely acidic. All refined, processed and chemical-laden foods are acidic. So are diary products, meat and alcohol. This is another reason why extreme yin like alcohol does not really balance extreme yang like meat, because both are acidic. To really foster balance, you must tend towards alkaline foods that also balance yin and yang energies.

The concept of a single macrobiotic diet is misleading because the most ideal diet is different for every person. It depends on many factors including the climate/environment you lives in, your health and dietary history, your individual current condition, the season of the year, and also your personal needs and goals. Nevertheless, most people can create balance with a diet consisting of whole cereal grain, and seasonal vegetables and legumes, supplemented by sea vegetables, various pickled or fermented foods, and sometimes by small quantities of meat or fish.
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