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A brief introduction to Macrobiotics

Origin of Macrobiotics

In 1910 in Japan, in the midst of his own family being wiped out by tuberculosis, the young  Nyoti Sakurasawa was cured from this deadly  illness by a doctor remarkably  alert to life's natural processes. Without prescribing any allopathic drugs, he prescribed purification of the blood through a simple diet which follows the ratio of  one volume of sodium (Na) to five volumes of  potassium (K).  His body's own self healing mechanisms were thus restored.

Then only eighteen, and shaken by the death of his family, Nyoti Sakurasawa was deeply affected by the manner in which he had been cured so rapidly. He began to see in the balance of  sodium and  potassium life's play of  yin and yang and decided to devote his life to the study of this traditional  eastern  yin/yang dialectic and how it applied to all areas of human life. His aspiration was to establish the basis of a mutual understanding between East and West  and a practice which might ultimately further world peace, his most cherished dream. What we now know as Macrobiotics in the West is the result of Sakurasawa's life work and can be regarded as a practical philosophy (or a philosophical practice), which is accessible to all.

Until his death in 1966, he pursued his dream of world peace, writing and teaching under the  pseudonym of Georges Ohsawa (GO). For decades, he demonstrated the possibilities of  a healing diet in Asia, Africa, Europe and America by healing all sorts of physical and mental diseases including some which are largely untreatable through allopathic medicine.

Yin and yang ?

The 2 poles, yin (expansion) and yang (contraction), are complementary and antagonistic. Yin and yin repulse one another, as do yang and yang, but yin and yang attract one another. One can get an actual  picture of these relations by playing with two magnets. Macrobiotic is a  cosmogony in which these forces structure and animate the world. The study of macrobiotics consists therefore in identifying these forces and their interaction. In human life, yin and yang can be identified on a multitude of levels, but mostly, as far as we are concerned, in the nervous system division between  parasympathetic nervous system – yang- and sympathetic nervous system – yin. The balance between the two is paramount to the maintenance of good health.

Diet

We are a product of our environment with which we interact constantly, consciously or not, on a variety of levels, from gross to subtle. Diet is one of the grossest and most obvious way that environment directly affects us. We are made of what we eat. The symptoms of disease are signals of an imbalance between yin and  yang, while health is a state of a harmonious balance between these two forces. We can use our diet to correct mistakes from the past and to be in harmony with our environment. Macrobiotics does not only look at the biological quality of our food, but also distinguishes  its yin and yang qualities and thus allows us to balance our own personal yin and yang constituents according to what we eat.

Cooking ceases to be a necessary evil. It becomes an art from which stems happiness and health. Through the choice of different kinds of food, their combination and their cooking method, one fine tunes and corrects the yin/yang balance. Since we must also get pleasure from our food, a macrobiotic diet must also taste delicious, and not just be 'therapeutic'..

A standard macrobiotic meal is 50% whole grains, 20 % beans and pulses, with the rest made up of vegetables, seaweed and pickles. A vegetarian diet is recommended as a cleansing diet at first, but later on, it is up to the individual to decide whether to continue a meatless diet according to one's own beliefs.

Some recommendations

When evaluating the factors of  yin or yang that affect us on a daily basis, we must take in account all our activities: patterns of sleep, daily activities, stress levels, etc are all an  important part of this assessment. For example, the practice of ashtanga yoga is generally very physical, and therefore very yang and will have a tendency to attract us to very strong yin, with a risk of toxicity (ie, a craving for sugar, sugar being one of the most yin foods). Yogis beware! The classical yogic texts advocating sweet foods and which are still often used by modern gurus were written long before refined sugar became available. Fruit, in moderate quantities, is far better, especially in India.

Drugs of all kinds and alcohol are very  yin, and therefore difficult to balance. More insidious, because of its ubiquitousness in industrially produced food, is refined sugar, which is responsible for a long list of afflictions, from the most benign to the most dramatic. It should be replaced by unrefined sweeteners from grain such as rice or wheat syrup.

We are made of 70 to 80 % water and therefore must drink large quantities of water. In macrobiotic, the combination of salt (very yang) and water (yin) is of particular interest.  Coffee and tea are stimulating drinks and should be avoided and replaced with Bancha tea, or herbal teas.

Yogis, joggers and anyone who sweats a lot because of a high level of physical activity, lose a lot of minerals with the sweat, and should therefore make sure that their daily food contains suitable quantities of  salt, and should  use some fermented salty products such as miso, tamari or umeboshi plums.

Milk and dairy products can replaced with non-animal sources of calcium, such as seaweeds.

Centuries of  perfecting the art of  preparing a wide range of food has resulted in some dishes with very specific therapeutic properties. They are used for specific conditions, for example, lotus root for diseases of the lungs and salted umeboshi plums, for digestive complaints. Other foods of therapeutic value include miso, tamari, tofu and tempeh, prepared from soya beans. Because Macrobiotics uses diets for therapeutic purposes, the properties of a variety of foods and dishes are well known and used routinely.

Is arrogance a disease?

In the macrobiotic view of health and disease, not just physical symptoms are assessed, as doing so would be to ignore the interconnectiveness between the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels.

Some of us might ask what perception of  life and what prospects are there for those who are no longer in harmony with their natural environment and who ignore the cosmic forces which constitute it. George Ohsawa chooses to ask the question differently : should one see human arrogance as a positive thing, a sort of  noble ambition, or as the symptom of a disease that affects the whole of humankind and that should be eradicated?

Miso soup as a universal remedy !

2 table spoons of miso, 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 turnip, 1 leek, 3 pints of water, 3 kombu seaweed, a pinch of  dried wakame seaweed, salt, sunflower oil.

  • Prepare a kombu stock by boiling the water with the kombu and simmering for one hour. Wash the vegetables and dice them finely.

  • Sauté the onion in a little sunflower oil, with salt, then add the carrot, the turnip and the leek.

  • Remove the  kombu from the stock. Add the sautéed vegetables and simmer for a few minutes. Add the wakame.

  • Just before serving,  mix the miso with a little stock and pour in the soup.

  • Serve with finely chopped leek green.

If you are in a hurry, you can use water instead of kombu stock.

Further reading

This text is only an introduction. If you want to learn more about Macrobiotics, the following books will be useful. And of course, this is only the theory, do not forget to put it in practice !

Zen Macrobiotics, Ohsawa, G.O.M.F. 

Philosophy Of Oriental Medicine, Ohsawa, G.O.M.F. 

Macrobiotic Guidebook For Living, Ohsawa, G.O.M.F. 

Essential Ohsawa, Ohsawa, G.O.M.F. 

The Book of Macrobiotics, Kushi, Japan Publications Inc. 

The Macrobiotic Way, Kushi, Avery Publications 

Macrobiotic Home Remedies, Kushi, Japan Publications Inc. 

Your Face Never Lies, Kushi 

Links

www.kushiinstitute.org

http://www.macrobiotics.org/

The Yoga Online article about Yogic diet

Pierre Baronian
Pierre and his partner Jenny are dedicated practionners of ashtanga yoga, which they have studied in Mysore with Sri K. Patthabi Jois. They run Macrobiotics and Ashtanga workshops in Southern France

Translated into English by Christophe Mouze