The Yoga of Cooking and Eating
Hinduism in the kitchen
For the first 27 years of my life, I didn't step into the kitchen until the food was on the dining table. Mom took care of all the cooking. The kitchen was a complete and total mystery for me. The only thing I felt comfortable doing in the kitchen was making toast, putting my cereal together and boiling water. My first cooking experiences took place when, at the age of 27, I moved into a monastery and was put on a weekly cooking rotation. It was on-the-job training ... learn as you go. It's quite ironic then, that for the last 10 years one of my main activities has been teaching vegetarian cooking classes.
I had always thought that cooking was something you did to feed yourself and your family. However, monastic life has continued to teach me that cooking, if done with the right consciousness, can be a kind of yoga practice. I'm not referring to the yoga practice where you try to turn yourself into a pretzel. I am sticking to the original meaning of the term, which arises from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to harness or bind back. Yoga means you are trying to reconnect with the divine.
Whether or not that reconnect actually takes place depends on one's consciousness. During my vegetarian cooking demonstrations at Columbia University, I tell my students that our consciousness during our cooking should be that we are "cooking for the pleasure of God and that we want to share our food with others."
Knowing that we're cooking for someone else can help remove some of the selfishness we harbor in our hearts and can increase the quality of selflessness. Since the process of yoga is meant to purify the heart and mind of negative tendencies, cooking with the right consciousness can be transformed into a yoga practice.
This entails that the cook isn't allowed to taste the food while the cooking is taking place. As soon as one hears this, the immediate response is that of complete surprise. How is it possible to cook without tasting what we are doing? It takes practice and a recipe should be followed. Since the food is being cooked for the pleasure of God, God should be the first individual to taste it. It gets even more difficult, as the cook isn't even supposed to be thinking of eating or enjoying the food while cooking.