Each of us has the power to create a healthier way of life. The choices we make today impact our physical, mental, and spiritual health tomorrow, whether months or years from now. Our choices also impact our family. What we choose today regarding the care of our body, mind, and spirit will determine what our future health will be. If we would realize that everything we do is building a foundation for our own life and those of our family and children, we might think and act differently.
The physical body and mind comprise the house for our soul. If we want to build a healthier body, mind, and spirit for ourselves and our family, we can make choices that contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Medical research is pointing to two ways we can be proactive for increasing our wellness. One is meditation and the other is a vegetarian diet.
Meditation can increase our health and well-being physically, mentally, and spiritually. It keeps our body and mind calm and reduces our chances of contracting stress-related illnesses.
When I came to the United States in 1968 after graduating with a B.Tech degree from Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, and began my Master’s of Science degree at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, meditation and a vegetarian diet, two aspects of a healthy life style, were not considered mainstream.
Yet, today, in observing the recent annual Veggie Fests, sponsored by Science of Spirituality, attendance reached over 45,000 people and was declared the largest vegetarian festival in North America. This demonstrates how leading a healthy lifestyle through meditation and a vegetarian diet has over time become more mainstream.
Research by medical practitioners and doctors is proving that meditation benefits the body and mind. It has been humorously said that we can counter the effects of ill, pill, and bill by being still. We can reduce the risks of getting ill, needing pills, and paying medical bills by being still. Being still refers to sitting in meditation. This increased interest and popularity of meditation has grown as scientific studies verify what has been known in the East for centuries: Through meditation, we still the body and mind and increase our well-being. It keeps us healthy, minimizes the risk of getting disease, and speeds up our recovery if we do get ill.
Here are simple steps to staying healthy:
Be still. We know that our parents had the solution for us when we were children. When we were rambunctious and naughty, they had 5 words for us: “Sit down and be still.” These words are a precursor for a healthy lifestyle. Being still is another word for meditation.
When we meditate, we slow our heart rate and breathing to a point where we are calm. When we are agitated and upset, the body produces fight or flight hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which may be useful when in danger to help us defend ourselves or run, but not useful when the simple problems of life upset us. We do not need cortisol and adrenaline to kick in when our spouse or children leave the toothpaste cap off or someone cuts us off on the highway. We have been so conditioned to become upset about things that are not life-threatening that we produce stress hormones that react on our body in a way that can break down our organs and bodily systems.
Meditation helps us sit in a calm, relaxed state so that we can ward off the effects of daily life challenges. When we remain calm, our body is not producing hormones that can lead to stress-related ailments such as heart attack, stroke, hypertension, headaches, digestive and skin problems. When we meditate we also keep our mind calm. We not only suffer physical illness from stress, but we create emotional and mental difficulties when we are not calm. This can lead to emotional and relationship problems or other stress-related mental disorders. Through meditation we can keep a calm and peaceful mind to help us lead happier lives.
Meditation also helps us develop concentration, which we need for school or our jobs. When we are stressed out our performance level is not as high as we need it to be. When we concentrate we can get better grades, which reduces our stress as students. Our stress as employees or professionals is reduced because we can perform better at work.
How can we prove the spiritual benefits of being still and meditating? This is one area where meditation fits the scientific model. It is based on experimentation leading to proof. Those who have tried the experiment have discovered that meditation leads to wellness not only of the body and mind, but of the soul.
Think of the benefits we get if we are able to experience inner Light and celestial Music within and enter regions of Light which engulfs us with love, bliss, and happiness.
In meditation, we close our eyes, gaze within, and still our mind of thoughts. When the reflecting pool of our mind is still, we see what lies within us. We see Light within, hear celestial Music, and can soar to regions of Light. Through meditation, we thus achieve physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.
Another key to a healthy lifestyle is living on a vegetarian diet. Doctors have proven that a plant-based diet reduces the risk of many diseases such as stroke, heart attack, diabetes, digestive disorders, and even some cancers, among other illnesses. By cutting out meat, and even fish, fowl, and eggs we can reduce the risk of many ailments. This can cut down on our getting ill, needing a pill, and paying high medical bills.
Vegetarianism also has benefits to our state of mind and our spiritual well-being. Think of the state of the animals when slaughtered. Hormones of fear and stress run through them at the time of their captivity and slaughter. It has been said that we are what we eat. All that was a part of the animal becomes part of us when we eat it. This means we are ingesting their fear and panic hormones, which can contribute to our own state of fear and anxiety when it becomes a part of our body.
We also are taking into our body anything the animal ate. For example, antibiotics fed to the animal become part of us, and if we have too much it can cause bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant. If animals are fed hormones to make them grow faster, they too become a part of us which can lead to problems because now those hormones are in our body. We also are taking into our body any diseases that the animal may have contracted.
There are moral benefits to a vegetarian diet. Most cultures believe in the law that “thou shalt not kill.” There is a recognition in many cultures that even animals have a soul in them. Thus, when we take the life of a creature, we are taking the life of a being who has a soul in it. Those who ascribe to a spiritual way of life and meditate have even witnessed that the same Light of the Divine in us also shines in all other human beings and all creatures. Thus, a thread of divine connection knits all life together. All are created by one creative power, and as such we are all one family. When we recognize this, we begin to love all and treat all as one family. Just as we would not want to harm our family members, similarly, we would not want to take the life of any creature as we recognize they are our younger brothers and sisters in the one Creator.
Today, there are numerous delicious and nutritious vegetarian, plant-based foods we can eat. Besides a growing number of vegetarian restaurants, most restaurants now offer a wider variety of vegetarian dishes. Mainstream supermarkets have many vegetarian options for customers. Even places where it was hard to get vegetarian foods, such as school cafeterias, hospitals, cruise ships, conferences, and venues for professional gatherings, offer vegetarian choices.
A growing number of companies now produce foods that look and have the texture of meat-type products but are made of plant-based foods for those who still want the look and feel of food with which they used to eat before becoming vegetarian. There are vegetarian options that appeal to people of all ages to encourage them to eat healthier while still enjoying the delicious taste of food.
It is now easier than ever to be vegetarian and the benefits are enormous. One can try the experiment of incorporating meditation and a vegetarian diet into one’s life. Then, you can see for yourself the benefits you will experience. If you can track the changes these two choices make and find that you are healthier, physically, mentally, and spiritually, you will have proven for yourself the benefits of meditation and a vegetarian diet. May each of you make choices to experience the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for your body, mind, and soul.
Excerpted and reprinted from “The Vegetarian Diet: Seven Spiritual Reasons for Vegetarianism” by Sant Rajinder Singh Ji (Radiance Publishers 2011).
If you’re interested in learning more about spiritual health and well-being, watch this thought-provoking interview with Renee Mehrra who dialogues with world-renowned spiritual master, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, on the importance of integrating spiritual health into our lives. Your Health Matters with Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj . Your Health Matters is an innovative health series where experts provide deep insights into critical issues of public health.