As a cardiologist, I am constantly being asked for guidance on choosing healthy foods for the heart while avoiding unhealthy dietary habits. We pay close attention to the foods used to nourish and sustain our bodies. Equally important are the thoughts and feelings we use to nourish and energize our mind, spirit and soul. Just as we recognize that choosing fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts is preferable to choosing hamburgers, fried foods, and donuts, if we want a healthy heart, we need to recognize healthy and unhealthy foods for the soul's nourishment.
I like to visualize the soul this way. Picture a beautiful garden oasis, a tranquil, silvery-blue pool surrounded by lush greenery and vivid flowers, a calming, spicy scent and whispers of birdsong in the air. A place where you can sit in the quiet tranquility and feel better, no matter what might be going on in your life. That is the ideal peaceful soul within. It is a beautiful place where soul and spirit can go to find renewal and rejuvenation. The garden is securely protected by a portal or gateway created by the mind. The strength of that gateway keeps peace and tranquility safe within, protected from harmful breaches that could disturb or destroy it. Maintaining the health of our gateway and the soul beyond requires careful nurturing. If we do not strengthen and protect the gateway, and instead inject unhealthy foods into our soul, it can no longer serve as a peaceful refuge within us. We become susceptible to the turmoil of anger, unhappiness, stress, and dissatisfaction with our lives.
How, then, do we strengthen the mind's portal and keep our soul healthy and nurtured? Let's explore some of the healthy and unhealthy foods for the soul.
Healthy Foods for the Soul:
Gratitude is an expression of thankful appreciation for the benefits that one has received or will receive. Wallace Wattles, in The Science of Getting Rich, wrote "The Grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best; therefore it tends to become the best; it takes the form or character of the best, and will receive the best. Faith is born of gratitude. The grateful mind continually expects good things and expectation becomes faith." Nourish yourself with gratitude by stating five things you are grateful for each day before getting out of bed.
Love is an intense emotional feeling, a core human need that takes many forms. Self-love is equally important as love of others. It is human nature to take good care of the things we love. We treasure them as valued possessions. To truly love others, however, we must love ourselves first. Nourish yourself by doing something every day to show love to yourself. Then find ways to say "I love you" to others in your life -- whether through words or action.
Appreciation recognizes the quality, value, and significance of all things, no matter how small. Notice the gentle breeze, a faint smile, the fragrant scent, sharp pungent tastes, or the quiet silence. Recognize the full value of each moment of life and all life has to offer. Nourish yourself with appreciation by being mindful and present in the moment, appreciating every one of your senses and allowing nature and your surrounding to fill your very being.
Laughter relaxes muscles and releases tension. It causes physiological changes that have been compared to a mild workout. It increases blood flow and improves sleep, making it easier for your physical body to restore itself. Nourish yourself by finding reasons for laughter in even the most insignificant occasion. Watch a funny show or read a humorous cartoon. Don't be afraid to get silly or share a lame joke. It's good for your soul.
Joy means finding something worth celebrating in everything you do. It is goal-oriented and positive. You may have prepared a particularly satisfying and delicious meal for your family, your child may have shared a lovely, poignant drawing, or you may have simply looked out the window and been inspired by a beautiful sunset. Nourish yourself by finding something joyful to celebrate each day before you go to bed..
While these foods nourish and replenish the soul, offering peace and strength, there are unhealthy foods that diminish and damage the soul, wearing down the protective mind portal and leaving your soul agitated and in distress. These foods are powerful, and you must take care to safeguard against them.
Unhealthy Foods that Diminish and Damage the Soul:
1. Self-doubt is the inner voice that says, "I can't; I'm not good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough. I don't know how!" Self-doubt is insidious in its nature. It destroys hope, imagination, and dreams. Feelings of inadequacy have often been instilled into the very fabric of our being long before we began to develop strong, cohesive thoughts of our own. Nourish yourself against self-doubt by acting without worrying about the whys or the hows. Trust in the absence of evidence and stay present without allowing the past to taint or infect the moment. Talk back to the negative inner voice and counter it with proof -- you are good enough!
2. Judgement: Carl Jung said, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." We may judge others, but we often turn a more harsh judgement on ourselves. Constant judgement and criticism will wear your soul down. Accept that you are human. We all make mistakes. Be compassionate and forgiving toward yourself and learn to move on. You cannot change the past.
3. Stress. This can be a difficult one, because stress is so often outside of your control. You may not always be able to control stress itself, but you can choose how you deal with it. Stress tears away bits of your soul. It causes the release of cortisol, which provides short-term, immediate energy to cope with the situation, but compromises your immune system in the long term. When you are under stress, pay particular attention to the need to nourish your soul with good foods. Try to look beyond the situation. You may be beaten down, but you are never defeated unless you give up. Do not feed stress. Take a deep breath. Feed a calm spirit of acceptance.
4. Fear and insecurity. We live in a fearful world. People feel the need to protect themselves and often let fear eclipse common sense. Fear is an irrational part of a negative belief system, an expectation that the worst will happen. Focus on things that build confidence and security, rather than those that make you fearful. Fill your life and mind with hopeful thoughts. In every negative event, something can be found that offers hope. Challenge your fears and insecurities. Find something that makes you feel strong and make it your touchstone.
5. Anger and hatred. Anger builds up and fuels hatred. The Buddha said, "Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else -- you are the one who gets burned." Anger will consume your soul and destroy any nourishment you have provided. It increases anxiety, raises blood pressure, causes headaches, and can impede healthy circulation. It can cause the release of stomach acid and can affect breathing. Anger can kill you. When angry and hateful feelings start to fill you up, breathe slowly and focus. Access your quiet, peaceful inner soul and push the anger back. Ask yourself why you are feeling anger. Will this still matter tomorrow, next week, next year? Practice compassion and forgiveness.
Nurture your soul with healthy foods that inspire you and build you up. Avoid those that create ugly feelings inside. By doing this, you will be able to keep your inner garden oasis beautiful and flourishing. It will remain an exquisite and restful place where you can find refuge from the storms of daily life, a place of rejuvenation for soul and spirit where you can attain inner peace. Feed your soul from each of the healthy food categories and observe the amazing transformation of your heart and your health. Stay tuned for an expanded discussion on each of these soulful foods.
For more by Dr. Cynthia Thaik, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.
Follow Dr. Cynthia Thaik on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrCynthiaMD