Prana means life itself or consciousness. The cause of consciousness is the soul in the body but the factor that holds the body and the soul together and is responsible for continuous vivacity is Prana. Through breathing or intake of the cosmic energy, which we call Prana, our link with the dynamic cosmos is maintained. When Prana stops, the body and the soul separate and death occurs. Breathing is not just a mechanical phenomenon that gives fuel in the form of oxygen for making the body machine work, as is thought by those who compare the living body with a machine. I have explained in one of my previous book, Patanjali and Ayurvedic Yoga, that the air we inhale does not constitute only the element air but all the five constituent elements of this universe.
Our food comes next to breathing for the continuity of our existence. The five fundamental elements, which are constantly supplied to our body through food, constitute the three principal energies (vata, pitta, and kapha), which perform all the physical and mental functions of the body. From the holistic point of view, nutrition does not merely fulfil the energy needs of the body, as I have pointed out above in the context of breathing. Our food contains prana energy in the form of rasas, colours, flavour, forms etc. We not only consume food in terms of its value in calories, but we also consume a subtle energy in it in the form of the ‘living element’ or prana. It is important that we relate to this living aspect of our food in the sense of its past and present and we consume foods which still have prana in them. The past of our food is that it was living before it was cut, chopped and prepared for our consumption. When it was living, it had an independent system of its own. In its entire form of plant or animal, it had a distinct character, form, appearance, colour, flavour etc. There are a variety of seeds we consume as food. All these are capable of giving rise to living plants. However, if they are too old, this potential of propagation is terminated in them.
The seed which is consumed by most of us in large quantities, is wheat. Before you have a piece of bread on your table, it was in the form of flour. Before that there were grains and even before that, these grains were hanging on the little golden plants of wheat. Imagine all that effort which goes on to sow the seeds, care for them until the crop is ready and obtain grains. Each piece of fresh bread we consume, not only provides us energy in the form of calories to perform our bodily functions but also brings the living element or prana to us. The prana shakti or the living power in the grain depends upon the conditions and circumstances under which it is grown. If there is vitiation of Prana in that atmosphere, obviously, the food grown in the area will also be vitiated or will lack Prana. Pollution may prevent the sunrays to reach the growing plants; earth may not be appropriate in its quality or may be polluted with chemical waste and so on. Vitiation is not only caused with man-created pollution, it may be caused with natural disasters like too much or too little rain, wind or sun, and abnormal heat or cold.
In the tradition in which Ayurveda was developed, it is believed that the manner in which the food is grown or the animals are kept has a direct effect on the physical and mental state of the person who consumes this food. Similarly, the mental state and the feelings of the person who prepares food have an effect on the taste of the food as well as on the mental state of those who consume it. It is recommended that the food should be prepared with a peaceful mental state and with love and care.
Thus, we see that there are some subtle aspects of Ayurvedic food culture, which are extremely relevant for the actual preparation of the food. Without this understanding, you will not be able to see the holistic aspects of Ayurvedic food culture, but merely look at the Ayurvedic cosmic principles in a very narrow and mechanistic way.
This information if provided from my book: Ayurvedic Food Culture and Recipes (First published in 2001 by Penguin India). Here is the latest revised edition available at amazon and also in kindle version-
Food sustains life but these days the humanity tends to eat killer foods.