Nourish Your Soul

Healthy Habit Number 6

Soul food for a healthy, successful and rewarding life

Young woman praying
You learned as a child to nourish your soul through prayer. As adults we discover additional avenues for spiritual growth.

Prayer is just one way to nourish your soul

As a young child, you learned to pray.

You prayed for moral guidance, for the well-being of the people you loved, and for the welfare of people you didn't even know - the needy in the wider world.

The spiritual discipline of prayer makes a wonderful start to development of the child.

As she fumbles to connect with her inner world, she will feel her first inner stirrings of ethical consciousness and compassion.

Only half-sensed in the beginning, these early encounters with introspection and intuitive discovery awaken by degrees a rudimentary awareness of life's big questions - who am I? How did I come to be? what am I here for?


All this, in a child.

We cannot overestimate its importance.

Through prayer, as a child, you first learned to nourish your soul.

And this communion with the soul is a crucial source of comfort and courage for a young person struggling to find her place and purpose in life.

Young man praying
The prayer habits of childhood come under pressure as you grow; as an adult you must learn new ways to nourish your soul.

Losing it

As we grow, things change. We soon leave our childhood, and then our youth, behind us.

In the process we learn, and grow, and develop. We adapt to new realities. We begin to take on the shape that will become our adult lives.

Slowly at first, play gives way to the pressures and responsibilities of being an adult.

In the pleasures and pursuits of increasingly busy lives, we find distraction from the daily discipline of prayer.

We gradually lose contact with our inner world.

The innocent spirituality of childhood gives way to more pressing needs, as we begin the important matters of creating our mature lives and planting the seeds of our physical future. In pursuing what we think means most to us, we lose touch with our true inner needs.

From time to time this loss asserts itself. Typically we experience this as a vague sense of unease; something is not quite right in our lives, but we can't put our finger on just what. We seem to have everything we should expect in life, yet we are somehow not happy, never satisfied. There is an emptiness.

But having lost touch with our inner selves, we fail to recognise this is our soul seeking our attention, prompting us to remedy our spiritual neglect.

Yet that very neglect has brought us to this impasse - we can't see what's required, because we can't recognise and interpret these warnings from within.

In a material world, it seems like the answer to every problem is more stuff: more friends, more money, more thrills, more recognition, more success. More luck. Yet we can never have enough. As soon as we get what we badly wanted, its attraction wanes, our attention wanders and we desire something else, something new.

Satisfying the senses can't bring lasting happiness, for the seat of our problem is a seeping spiritual malaise. We don't see it coming because we can't. We've lost connection with it's source. Our inner signals are overwhelmed by static from the gratifications we seek in the sensual world of stuff.

Yet spiritual health is crucial to your overall well-being. You must nourish your soul to be healthy in mind, body and spirit; and to grow. All aspects of your being are interconnected; that's why the 6 healthy habits addresses them equally.

Studies repeatedly emphasise the importance of spirit. Spiritual growth is one of the 12 key dimensions of authentic personal growth. Mental disorders like depression, anxiety, stress and learned helplessness are rooted in spiritual malnourishment.

You won't get permanent results either, from your strivings for healthy weight loss while you're mired in spiritual malaise, too weak to resist your body's cravings for comfort food.

And studies show too, that people who've lost their sense of meaning and purpose, or who's outlook on life tends towards hoplessness, despair and pessimism, are more prone to illness, both mental and physical. It seems our immune system is less able to do its job when we lack positive spiritual power. Perhaps it, too, 'gives up the ghost' when survival seems pointless.

Spiritual sickness also robs your digestive system of its efficiency, making it less able to absorb and assimilate nutrients from your food. This runs down your energy and impedes the repair and maintenance of your cells.

And spiritual health is essential to ensure you age well, avoiding the common diseases of aging, and maintaining your physical and mental powers and spiritual well-being throughout a long, healthy and active life.

Four Kinds of Soul Food
Prayer alone will not nourish your soul.
Spiritual growth requires a balanced mix
of 'nutrients' for the soul.

Learning anew to nourish your soul

Not everyone appears to have a 'spiritual life.' However the urge to grow spiritually is very real.

It's a basic human need, like the need for food, and love, and recognition.

But while the desire for spiritual growth is universal, its intensity varies between individuals and at different times in our lives.

In some people, the drive for inner growth seems absent entirely.

But it's there. Like a dry seed in the desert sand, it may bloom at any time, when suddenly a storm brings a surge of nourishment.

Fortunately, you needn't wait for the storms of life to nourish your soul.

You can choose at any time to resume the inner life that nurtured you so as a child. Only now, as a mature adult, you'll gain much more from your spiritual growth than merely the comfort, guidance and reassurance you sought as a child.

And you needn't spend all day on your knees.

For prayer alone will not nourish your soul.

To grow spiritually you need a wide variety of 'spiritual nutrients.'

You need a balanced diet of soul food to nourish your soul.

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Soul food

The Four Food Groups for the Soul

A healthy diet for the soul requires a balanced intake of 'spiritual nutrients'

You need a balanced mixture of stillness and action to nourish your soul.

This is the same as it is with your body and your mind. You need periods of sleep, rest and relaxation to 'recharge' your physical strength and your mental faculties. If you don't allow for recuperation time, you get 'worn out,' physically and mentally.

On the other hand, you need periods of activity - the more vigorous and intensive the better - to build, strengthen and maintain your physical and mental capabilities. As they say, 'use it or lose it.'

So it is with your soul. Spiritual practices include periods of stillness. These may be periods of inner silence, and of sensory stimulation from the external world.

Stillness includes moments of silence and quiet reflection during which, for example, we 'go inside,' practicing prayer or meditation.

Through these practices you become more 'intuitive,' learning to listen to the inner voice that comes from your soul, and through it from the universal wisdom you may call God, or perhaps some term such as universal consciousness, depending on your beliefs.

Stillness includes too, moments of mindful connection with the sensory inputs we receive from the external world. Sensory inspiration can create contemplative, spiritual moods that freshen our sense of the sacred. Think of the awe and wonderment evoked by a beautiful natural landscape, or the exalted, blissful state of inner stillness inspired by meditative music.

You also need periods of 'spiritual action' to nourish your soul. These may be acts of self expression, or works of service to others.

Self expression 'exercises the muscles' of our inner creative energy, the source of which is your soul. Art and innovation comes from within. All of us are capable of creating creativity, through our work, or through activities like writing, performing music, drawing, painting, decorating, gardening or other passtimes or hobbies. Life is filled with opportunities to express the creative power of your soul, strengthening your connection with your source.

Your soul is also your source of love, compassion, generosity and forgiveness. When you place yourself in the service of others, you nourish your soul by reinforcing your connection with these aspects of your soul, strengthening these positive force and weakening the grip of negative 'conditioned' forces like fear, anger and greed.

Four Kinds of Soul Food

There are then, four 'food groups' for the soul:

  1. silence
  2. sensory stimulation
  3. self expression
  4. service

Following is a list of example activities under each of these 'food groups,' that you may find useful in developing your own approach to nourish your soul.

The list isn't intended to be comprehensive. Use these examples to start thinking about building your own path tospiritual growth. Take time out to find what works for you, what inspires you.

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1.  Silence

Silence is Golden. You should treasure it

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Schedule regular time alone. And spend it in silence

Stillness

Silence can be practiced in community with others, as for example in a meditation retreat.

In practice though, the most regular opportunities for silence are those you can schedule into your day and carry out alone, in solitude.

Our busy lives are largely spent attending to the daily demands and expectations that we (and others) place on ourselves. In the cut and thrust of life, it's all too easy to neglect taking time out for yourself. That's unfortunate because you need time in solitude and silence to nourish your soul.

Being alone provides momentary respite from the pressures of daily life, a chance to refresh your mind and recharge your batteries.

It also provides an opportunity for withdrawal and introspection, allowing you to connect with your soul, your inner world.

Prayer  Prayer is common to the major religious traditions. People pray to give worship and thanks, and to seek guidance or favour, such as healing, for themselves or others.

Meditation  Our minds wander about restlessly, aimlessly, always on the move. Our passing thoughts jump continuously from past memories to present problems to future fantasies, never sitting still. We worry, we plan, we go over our regrets, we relive our victories, we cringe again at our embarrasments and replay the highlights and lowlights of our day. We live in fast forward and rewind, rarely in play, and never, it would seem, in pause.

Meditation makes you calmer and happier, and offers significant health benefits. Neuroscientists have shown that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex. Brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex.

Meditation also improves your mental performance by helping you learn to quieten your mind, focus, concentrate and contemplate. This calm, focused state encourages and facilitates connection with your inner self. That's why meditation, aside from its health and performance benefits, can be a powerful tool with which to nourish your soul.

Moving meditation  Practices like yoga, tai chi and Qigong. In these cases the physical changes in the body cause the relaxation. The release of endorphins makes you feel good and reduces stress levels.

Retreats  Meditation daily is a powerful routine for working on your health, performance and spiritual growth. An occasional meditation retreat - a longer period of intensive silence is especially powerful. it's a sort of 'detox for the mind.' You step out of the world for a while and meditate continuously in silence.

One such retreat is the Vipassana Meditation course. Held throughout the world, these 10 day courses are free (donations accepted). I attended their course in the mountains outside Sydney. It was a wonderful, profound experience. For 10 days you are led through a process of meditating in sessions from when you awaken early each morning till you go to bed at night. There are other students, but you vow silence, and until the last day you do not recognise the presence of anyone, except the teacher. Delicious healthy vegetarian meals are supplied. Vipassana is a Buddhist organisation, and for your 10 days of practices you are pretty much immersed in what feels very much a Buddhist experience, but there is no religious teaching, the meditation technique they teach (based on following the breath and becoming aware of the body) is entirely non denominational.

Inspirational Reading  Reading for spiritual inspiration can help you ponder the Mystery of life and reach into your soul, your own source of spiritual truth. There are countless books around containing guidance on spiritual growth. These include inspirational stories, quotes and poems, sacred texts and holy scriptures from the religious traditions, and untold numbers of works by 'new age' writers. Which ones are worthwhile?

As a follower of the 6 healthy habits you'll develop the intuitive capacity to draw to yourself the books that will 'speak to you.' You need books that resonate for you in terms of your personal tradition and beliefs, or if you are still searching for certainty, works that match your present stage of spiritual growth, and can carry you to your next level. Seek, and you will find what you need right now to nurture your spirit and nourish your soul.

2.  Sensory stimulation

Stimulation of your senses affects your mood

Your emotions and your mood are affected by the state of your brain chemistry. Understanding this, you can choose to influence it

Traditionally, we're said to have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Through these senses we perceive and experience the physical world around us.

In fact, we have a multitude of senses. In addition to the traditional five senses, others include our sense of temperature, kinesthetic sense (knowing where your body parts are), pain, balance and acceleration.

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There are others too, but scientists don't completely agree on what constitutes a sense, because they don't yet have an agreed definition of 'sense.' But that needn't concern us here; I'll discuss sensory stimulation as it applies to the five traditional senses.

The important point is simple, but crucial: sensory stimulation alters your brain chemistry and therefore your mood.

Spiritual practices like prayer and meditation work best when you're in a calm, tranquil mood. Conversely it's practically impossible to perform inner work when you're worried, agitated or stressed.

So it's important to know how you can use external sensory stimulation to your advantage, to create and maintain positive moods when you need them for spiritual practice, to nourish your soul.

Mindfulness

Before looking at examples of using the five senses to create moods receptive to spiritual practice, it's useful to consider briefly the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focussing your attention fully on what you are doing. It's about being completely attentive to the present moment - living in the now.

Mostly, we act on 'automatic pilot,' by unconscious habit, letting our mind wander wherever it desires.

Mindfulness connects you with your environment and creates awareness of youself in it, and your engagement with it. It's a deep level of attentiviness that opens you to experience the real essence of things. You can truly enjoy the colors and scents of nature, the feel of rain falling on your nose and the breeze blowing on your face, savour the lingering taste of food. Mindfulness revitalizes, invigorates and energizes you by connecting you fully with what you are doing now.

When you learn to put yourself into a mindful state, you amplify your ability to use sensory inspiration to connect with your spiritual source and nourish your soul.

Following are examples of using sensory inspiration to draw on your spiritual energy, using the five senses.

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Sight

Art  Art galleries are very special places. When I visit any city, I love to explore the major galleries, wandering lazily through their labrynths of enchanted rooms, filled with magical works by the great masters and discovering marvellous and inspiring works by lesser-known artists. If you are not used to the uplifting experience of drifting through a gallery I thoroughly recommend you try it. Losing yourself in great art works is a wonderful way to nourish the soul. Do a little research first; galleries these days have a web presence, and you can research their most treasured works before your visit to heighten your pleasure from seeing them first-hand. Sometimes galleries put on exhibits that include borrowed works from around the world - featuring great masters or particular themes - and these can be very special experiences indeed.

The performing arts are another great source of spiritual nourishment. First, music. If you have never experienced a classical music concert before, or an opera or ballet, I urge you to try it at least once, to see what the fuss is about. Once you love great music you can't sit through, for example Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (any of them really) without being deeply moved. The lump you feel in your throat is your sould trying to get closer to the music. Don't be intimidated by music. There's nothing you need to 'understand.' It will move you from some place deep inside, if you just surrender to it. Once you connect you will never be the same again.

Incidentally, there's nothing snobbish or exclusive about loving classical music. I love many forms of both popular and classical music, and both can induce deep emotional and spiritual experiences. I grew up with the Beatles, and love them and the pop music of their era. I was a pop musician in the 1960s during my youth, though later preferred to play jazz. I've had incredible experiences at live pop and jazz concerts. Yes, I saw the Beatles live (Sydney, 1964). I've also seen Miles Davis in performance, and Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and many other jazz and pop greats.

One of the most moving experiences I recall was seeing in performance my hero Ray Brown, one of the greatest jazz bass players of all time (I, too, play bass), and chatting with him after the show. And I had 'Beethoven' that lump in my throat at an Eagles concert not that long ago. Any music that reaches way down inside you and moves you to a deep emotional experience is able to nourish your soul.

Nature landscapes  Connection with nature is a powerful way to nourish the soul. Human beings are a part of nature not seperate from it. We are made from the same biological stuff, and we resonate deeply with it.

Modern stress is largely a disease of disconnection from the rest of nature. We've forgotten who we are, as we desperately and restlessly pursue superficial satisfaction in our cities constructed of synthetic substances. Even the plants and animals that surround us are man-made, the products of powerful chemical and agricultural industries more concerned with profit than with controlling pollution. It's no wonder our souls cry out to retreat into the countryside and breathe.

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Solitude in the natural landscape calms and rejuvenates. Just walking through the man-made rural landscape can refresh, especially when it conjures up the rustic 'familiar feel' of an imagined farmscape of bygone times, when our forebears farmed closer to nature.

Even more powerful are those all-too-rare sacred moments when you come into contact with nature herself. This can happen unexpectedly for example when you are struck by a sublime sunset, a beautiful beach unblemished by developers, or a night sky studded with countless stars. far from polluting city lights. Soaring mountains, deep canyons and great rivers, dense forests and lush jungles, teeming grasslands and empty deserts that stretch beyond infinite horizons - all have the power to quite suddenly uplift your spirit and nourish your soul. You soar with mountains or merge with meadows. You connect.

Inspiring photos and films of nature  For when you can't get out there, there's actually a limited but nonethless useful alternative. One of the great benefits of our modern technology is the availability of stunning and inspiring photgraphs and films of the natural world. Viewing these in the right setting can produce wonderful moments of uplift. Although an immensely inferior substitute for the real thing, they has the advantage of being readily acceessible.

Even before the technology, we had the works of the marvellous masters of traditional landscape painting. Ordinary people could not always get to see them in the past, but today many of these inspiring works are accessible to us all in the great galleries of the world. Technology has added to this treasure and provides us with a veritable feast.

Moving nature documentaries. Who is not moved by pictures of the earth taken from spaces. Wonderful pictures of other planets and galaxies.

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hearing

Sounds can soothe or sedate; they can energise or uplift.

We respond differently to different sounds. At a basic survival level, certain sounds, such as the roar of a wild animal, cause instant fear and activate our fight or flight response. Other sounds, such as gentle rainfall, relax us.

Peaceful sounds increase the production of serotonin and dopamine, and the levels of these chemicals in your brain. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters which create a sense of upliftment and happiness.

Some music relaxes you; other music inspires you, makes you feel happy, energized or perhaps more optimistic or hopeful

Nature sounds have similar effects. Waves gently washing on the beach or the music of bird calls can enhance your mood and fill you with positive thoughts.

Sound Therapy aims to optimize brain performance as a first step in any personal improvement program. You will find your other efforts magnified when you first achieve your optimum brain processing potential.Sound therapy aims at improving personal performance, communication, thinking, memory, creativity and learning ability all depend on the functioning of our brain and nervous system. If we cannot process information efficiently, or focus our thoughts as we wish, we have an uphill battle.

Music  Music can relax, inspire, uplift and still the mind. Music can aid creativity and problem solving, and reduce stress; sacred music is conducive to to prayer or meditation; .

In music therapy a trained music therapist uses music to help clients improve or maintain their health, using music experiences (for example singing, songwriting, listening to and discussing music and physically moving to music) to achieve goals such as improvements in cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional and social skills, and lifestyle behaviors.

Music has a powerful effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being.It is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal to nourish your soul.

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New Age music has been with us since the 1980s. It is music composed specifically to create in the listener states of spiritual or artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism.

New Age music is used in connection with practices like yoga, tai chi, chi kung, massage, meditation, journal writing and sacred reading. It is also used to help manage stress or simply to create a peaceful and healing atmosphere in the home or some other environment.

New Age melodies are often simple and repetitive, to create a hypnotic or trance-like feeling. Sometimes recordings of nature sounds are used as an introduction to a track or throughout the piece. Spacious pieces lasting up to thirty minutes are common, enabling a state of deep relaxation to be achieved during the piece.

New Age music includes both electronic and acoustic forms, the latter using instruments such as flutes, piano, acoustic guitar and various non-western acoustic instruments.

There are also vocal arrangements featuring for example native American, sanskrit or Tibetan influenced chants, or lyrics based on mythology such as Celtic or Faerie legends.

The classical music repertoire is another source of superb options for calming and relaxing, or spiritually uplifting music.

Sacred music in this category is of course from the Christian tradition, but is so beautiful and inspiring it utterly transcends faith boundaries.

Start with the truly mystical medieval music called Gregorian Chant. This pentatonic (5 tone scale) music was chanted by monks in the great cathedrals of the middle ages, and is of unparalleld beauty and inspirational quality.

Next, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and the many other wonderful Baroque composers brought us many uplifting masses and cantatas, and there are yet more gems among the later sacred works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and others.

Aside from sacred works, many pieces in the classical repertoire are wonderfully calming. Some years ago there began a fashion for creating compilations of the Adagio (slow) movements of various symphonies, concertos etc. My guess is the purists don't like this sort of thing, but some of these Adagio mixes are truly a treasure trove of tranquility. Use them, and once you get the idea, make up your own mixes. There is so much music to choose from.

There's no need to stick with new age and classical music. They're other people's labels. There are many outstanding recordings from the various popular and jazz music idioms that will calm and relax, or uplift and inspire. Only you know what works for you; follow your own instincts and make your own mood mixes for tranquility, creativity, inspiration, meditation, whatever. Music works.

Nourish your soul with music: Many fine music recordings are available as CDs or MP3 downloads; Use them to calm your mind and uplift your spirit.

Tibetan singing bowls  Tibetan singing bowls, or simply singing bowls, are bell-like musical instruments used to induce states of deep relaxation. Many people find them helpful as an aid to meditation, or simply for creating a calm, tranquil state of mind. Perfect after a stressful day.

Singing bowls have been used throughout Asia for perhaps 3,000 years. They're now used worldwide, both within and outside of spiritual traditions, for meditation, music, relaxation, personal well-being and religious practice.

Bhuddists use them as a signal to begin and end meditation, and in some cases to accompany rituals. You'll find them throughout the world on private Buddhist altars and in temples, monasteries and meditation halls.

Tibetan singing bowls are sometimes used in yoga, music therapy, sound healing and religious services. Some spiritual healers, massage therapists, psychotherapists and recovery, stress and meditation specialists use singing bowls to enhance their treatment methods.

Because of their beautiful, enchanting sound, singing bowls are also enjoyed in performance or for personal pleasure.

Tibetan singing bowls are actually a type of standing bell, that is, rather than hanging inverted or attached to a handle, they sit on their bottom surface.

They are played by rubbing a wooden, plastic, or leather wrapped mallet around the rim of the bowl. Friction vibrates the sides and rim of the bowls, producing overtones and a continuous 'singing' sound. Sometimes the bowl is struck with a soft mallet to produce a warm bell tone.

High quality singing bowls produce a complex chord of harmonic overtones. They are unique because they are multiphonic instruments, producing multiple harmonic overtones at the same time.

Tibetan singing bowls are sometimes known simply as as singing bowls or as rin gongs, medicine bowls, Tibetan bowls or, in Japan, suzu gongs.

Nourish your soul with Tibetan singing bowls: You can obtain antique or new singing bowls; the antique ones are said to produce a superior sound because some details of the craft have been lost with time. That may be so, but very good ones are still made today in Nepal, India, Japan, China and Korea. The best known types come from the Himalayan region and are sometimes called Himalayan singing bowls.

An alternative to buying a bowl is to purchase a CD featuring the bowls. Some fine recordings are available, and if you have a good speaker system or good headphones, they will give you a very satisfactory result.

Recordings of nature sounds  Many fine recordings of nature sounds are available today and they have become very popular as background tracks to help you chill out. The best of them are excellent. While you relax in your own lounge room, they will create the illusion you are at the seaside, by a babbling brook or enjoying a shower of gentle afternoon rain.

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The best ones are field recordings made with high quality stereo microphones and the other professional gear that documentary makers use. To hear them at their best, you need a good music system or good headphones.

Tracks typically last for between 30 and 60 minutes, long enough to immerse you in the experience.

Use them while your read, meditate, write in your journal, practice your yoga or polish the furniture.

You can listen to ocean waves lapping up onto the beach, gently running streams, roaring waterfalls, soothing rain, distant thunder, bird calls, dolphin chatting - whatever you fancy to relax to.

Recorded nature sounds act as white noise that helps to mask out unwanted background sounds like traffic, neighbors, office noise, workmen and so on. As an ambient noise nature sounds are very relaxing.

Smell

The scents of nature  In addition to the beneficial effects of nature landscapes, natural aromas and fragrances have a great power to calm you down and contribute to your sense of well-being.

Examples of scents in nature that induce in us positive states of mind include the fragrance of flowers, the seaside smell of salt spray, the heady aroma of rain after a light spring shower, or the scents of rich soil freshly dug, and lawn grass newly mown.

We savour these smells of nature because they connect us to the energy of earth, from which we spring. The plants and animals we eat grow in, and graze on, the ground on which we walk; literally, the earth supports us in every way, and we need to be connected with it.

Incense and oils  Incense is made from aromatic plant materials that release fragrant smoke when burned. Its use dates back to very ancient times; while its origin is unknown, it may have been first used in Ancient Egypt, where the gum resins and oleo gum resins of aromatic trees were imported from the Arabian and Somali coasts for use in religious ceremonies.

The word incense comes from the Latin incendere, meaning to burn, and refers to the substance itself, rather than to the odor that it produces. Traditionally, incense has been used for religious ceremonies, ritual purification, aromatherapy, meditation, for creating a meditative mood, and for masking bad odours.

Many people find the aroma of incense to have a calming effect, quieting the mind and helping create a contemplative state conducive to introspection.

Unlike incense, fragrance oils, also called aroma oils, aromatic oils, and flavor oils, not always made from natural substances; they may be synthetic. They are made from either blended synthetic aroma compounds or from natural essential oils, that are then diluted with a carrier like propylene glycol, vegetable oil, or mineral oil. Some people regard synthetic fragrance oils as being less desirable than plant-derived 'essential' oils.

Fragrance oils are used in perfumery, cosmetics, flavoring of food, and in aromatherapy. Serious practitioners of aromatherapy use only natural substances.

Aromatherapy  Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine involving the use of natural 'essential' oils that are extracted from plants - from their flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts. The aroma from these oils is believed to enhance psychological and physical well-being and to stimulate brain function.

Essential oils can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. They are said to travel through the bloodstream and have the ability to promote whole-body healing. Aromatherapy has become popular for a variety of applications, including pain relief, mood enhancement and increased cognitive function.

Application to the skin is usually done through massage, or by adding drops of oil to your bath water, to lotions, creams or salves applied to your skin, or to warm water to be used for a compress applied to a part of your body for reducing pain or cramp.

Aromatherapy is based on a belief that natural fragrances, or essential oils, from certain plants or flowers can affect our moods, and consequently affect how we think or feel at any given time. Practitioners believe that essential oils, or aromatherapy oils, have medicinal benefits, including stress relief and antidepressant and antibacterial properties among many others. Different blends of oils are prescribed for different purposes.

Whatever the case, many people find fragrances helpful for entering into calm, contemplative and inwardly open states of mind. If that's the case for you, aromatherapy may help prepare your mind for prayer, meditation or other contemplative practices you adopt to nourish your soul.

Herbs and spices  Our natural love of the fabulous aromas of fresh herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables has been badly blunted by the activities of big corporations. Their food chemists scurry about, frantically creating new artificial fragrances intended to cause our addiction to their false foods and overwhelm our attraction to real food.

But your body has great wisdom and a powerful survival instinct. Given it a chance, and it will repair its instinct for the rich nourishment of real food. Natural food. If you wish to successfully nourish your soul, you must first learn to nourish your physical body, and your mind with real food. See these principles of healthy nutrition.

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Taste

Your sense of taste can powerfully affect your mood.

Your mood is different from your emotional state. Emotional feelings, for example fear and surprise, may be fleeting, lasting perhaps just moments, and rarely for more than a few minutes at a time. For example you experience delight when asked out on a date, then seconds later deep disappointment to find you're already commited that night. Your emotional high was followed in barely an instant by an emotional low.

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Compared with emotions however, mood lasts a relatively long time; perhaps hours or days. And moods are generally less intense and less specific than emotions.

Moods are often vague, simply more or less positive or negative. You're just in a good mood or a bad mood, perhaps with no idea why.

Moods don't have to be triggered by any particular event or stimulus. We often don't know where our moods come from; you can just 'fall' into a mood. You can wake up in a mood and be stuck there all day.

Of course it might be a positive mood, which is great - we much prefer to be in a positive mood. But a negative mood can be very hard to shift out of.

One strategy we often adopt is using food to improve our mood. In particular, comfort foods, like chocolate, chips and coffee, have a reputation as mood enhancers.

That's where your sense of taste comes in.

It's good to be in a positive mood. Everything seems so much more . . . well, positive. From a performance viewpoint, creativity, cognition (thought, judgement, memory) and communication work better when your mood is positive.

And a positive mood that's calm, tranquil and relaxed, helps you connect with your inner self. Your intuition and insight are heightened; contemplation, introspection and meditation are more accessible.

That's why it's no surprise that research shows a link between positive moods and spiritual well-being. Inner work comes more naturally when your mood is tranquil. A positive mood helps you nourish your soul.

Mood matters. But is food really a mood enhancer?

Certainly we feel good when we sit down to a delicious meal. Add a glass of fine wine, great company and perhaps a glimpse of romance, and your grumpy mood will likely soon be gone.

Your uplift though, may not last long. Great nights are quickly forgotten amid the flurry of tomorrow's turbulence.

Too many people display a tendency towards negative moods. Or at least they fall into them all too readily. Why?

A primary cause of negative moods is chemical imbalance in your brain due to a poor diet. Imbalances can make you 'moody,' which is bad enough; when they become chronic (long term), they can lead to persistent 'mood disorders' and to anxiety and depression.

The nutrients in healthy foods and herbs help you to create and maintain a positive mood by keeping the chemistry of your brain healthy. Healthy nutrition will help build up your resistance against bad moods. That's in addition to the many other benefits of a healthy diet, such as healthy weight loss and the promotion of a healthy old age.

From the beggining, humans saw the connection between the food they ate and their state ofphysical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.

Over countless generations from the earliest of times, people studied the impacts of eating various foods. Using their intuition, trial and error and a sense of taste they continually refined with generations of experience, people found that certain plants had healing qualities and other specific useful properties. Among these properties was the power to alter mood. As this knowledge became deeper, richer and more structured, ancient civilisations developed skills using mood enhancing foods and herbs to create and sustain positive moods.

Some of this knowledge survives in ancient traditions handed down to the present day. Much has been lost though. In the affluent world we've lost touch with it almost entirely. This is unfortunate; with the stresses of modern life and the polluted, chemically saturated environment in which we live, this traditional wisdom is perhaps more needed than ever before.

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The problem started long ago, as early civilisations developed. The growth of cities and the emergence of agriculture and labour specialisation gradually cut off our connection with our ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle. We no longer used, on a daily basis, the wide range of plant foods which when consumed in balanced combination had promoted good health since time immemorial

Our human species had evolved over a million years on this hunter-gatherer diet, and our bodies were finely tuned to it.

They still are. We've been hunter-gatherers for 99% of our time on earth. Evolution moves at glacial speeds, that is, with imperceptibe slowness. Our present bodies are those of hunter-gatherers in blue jeans and business suits.

But we have lost our 'natural' sense of taste. We no longer intuitively seek nourishment; we crave the gratification of taste. But, like our beliefs and habits, our tastes are conditioned.

Today our sense of taste is manipulated by the food industry. Marketers mess with our minds, emotions and psychology, while food chemists frantically create artificial chemicals that seduce our taste buds and promote our addiction to their fabricated food products.

Rather than induce a sense of calm, the chemicals in these false foods make us hyperactive. Research suggests that artificial coloring and preservatives in foods increases hyperactivity in kids. But what we're not told is it's not just kids that suffer.

Hyperactivity disorder affects people of all ages. It hinders people's performance in school, at work and in social situations by making it difficult to concentrate or focus. You become impulsive, irritable, fidgety and constantly distracted. You can't sit still for long - you have ants in your pants. Hyperactivity disorder is usually treated with drugs. But research suggests that mostly, diet is to blame. The average diet in affluent countries consists largely of high fat, high sugar, high salt, highly processed foods with low nutritional value.

When these interact with your brain chemistry, you crave even more of the same fake food. You 'hyper-eat,' adding to your waistline and to the profits of the food corporations. Fat, salt, sugar and additives hold remarkable sway over our behavior.

They do NOT help us achieve the stable, tranquil mood states which we need for contemplation and spiritual well-being.

It's hard to nourish your soul when your brain chemistry is out of kilter and can't stop fidgeting.

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Touch

Touching and being touched is a basic human need. It's astonishingly important to our well-being. But most people are unaware of this.

Our need for touch is as primary and basic as our need for food and shelter. Animals demonstrate an almost universal need for touch, suggesting we developed our tactile needs very early in our evolutionary history.

Your sense of touch is stimulated from the moment you are born. You're pushed out, picked up, slapped on your bottom, then placed at your mother's breast. Your first bonding experience begins with touch.

Throughout our lives we feel the need for bonding, for close physical contact with another human being.

Touch is crucial for survival. Babies deprived of touch are less likely to survive infancy. Children who grow up denied of loving touch, have been known to wither and die. Elderly adults deprived of touch are likely to die sooner.

Touch is good for your health. A gentle, appropriate touch, for example a small hug, a soft kiss, an arm lightly squeezed or a kind hand placed on your shoulder, changes your body chemistry by releasing life-giving hormones and chemicals. These chemicals assist the body's immune system, reduce stress and help overcome depression.

Touch has the power to roll you about with laughter, soothe you to sleep or invigorate and rejuvenate your mood. Touch has a healing quality. It's a miracle drug with no side effects.

Touch nurtures. People who receive regular nurturing maintain a more positive and optimistic outlook on life. Hugging and physical contact positively influence your frame of mind; and a positive attitude is important for health, growth and success. You need touch to nourish your soul and maintain your spiritual well-being.

Touching can reassure us, relax us, comfort us or arouse us, like nothing else can. Think of a moment when all you needed to reduce your fear, anxiety, or loneliness was the touch of a hand on our shoulder or a reassuring hug. Touch tells us we’re safe, cared for and valued. When you're sure of a warm embrace when it's needed, you feel more secure, more energised, more understood and more open to communication.

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Touch strengthens relationships. Relationships are healthier, happier, and more fulfilling when we feel loved, appreciated, cherished and valued. Touch communicates, shares and expresses these feelings more powerfully and convincingly than words or gifts.

Touch is indespensible to sexual intimacy. A soft loving touch is a powerful and tender way to ignite feelings of love and desire. In terms of sexual arousal, words can't compare with ten seconds of the right touch.

Yet the importance of touch is so basic that we tend to take it for granted.

We have different levels of need for touch. Some people repress their need for warmth, affection and touch, while others go to great lengths to get it. A lot depends on the way we were nurtured during infancy and childhood.

Children are naturally curious. They want to touch everything they see, to learn about their world. But often, just as a child reaches out a hand to explore, her parent will say, "don't touch." Gradually the child learns that touching can be dangerous, disrespectful, rude, shameful, or even sinful. Touching becomes something to be suspicious of, and to be avoided. This ingrained negative attitude toward touching often shows up as social and sexual dysfunction in adult life.

It can be extremely hard to overcome the cotraints of our conditioning. This is unfortunate, as these false boundaries inhibit us from satisfying our basic need for natural physical contact with each other.

Because of these negative associations, we can incline to flee from intimacy at the slightest provocation.

Accidental touching, especially in public, can embarrass us. And an innocent handshake, just a little too prolonged, can feel awkward and uncomfortable. We can even misconstrue it as an inappropriate sexual advance.

While it generally feels good to have another human being's skin come into contact with our own, our freedom of touch is heavily circumscribed by social taboos and political correctness.

In most modern societies, women are somewhat more free than men are to hug each other and hold hands. But the behaviour of a woman who is naturally tactile with men can be easily misunderstood. Traditionally, women are taught not to display affection that could be interpreted as sexual, except of course with their partner.

Skin hunger is an unsatisfied yearning for touch. People who are lonely, for whatever reason, are vulnerable to it.

We don't easily recognize the symptoms of skin hunger, which may be both emotional and physical. Skin hunger can cause anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability or boredom. Victims can suffer physical pain, hallucinations and many other symptoms or states of mind. We can mistakenly assume their condition has some other cause.

Those most vulnerable to skin hunger include people who have recently lost loved ones or undergone some other personal trauma, especially if they have few family or friends. Particularly at risk are older people who are ill or who have poor vision, reduced hearing, or dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, or who, because of disability and changed circumstances are too discouraged or simply unable to reach out for human contact. In old age, touching and being touched can be especially important. When you no longer can see or hear as well as you used to, touch holds greater comfort by helping us stay connected with our environment and those around us. Long-term residents of aged care facilities can be very lonely and at high risk.

Most of us are relatively healthy and independent, and have little trouble giving and asking for affection. We are unlikely to experience skin hunger.

Unfortunately this means we may not recognize the signs of it in others, especially the vulnerable: the very young, the very old and the lonely.

This is a pity as if we knew, we could help. Skin hunger is a craving for human contact, an aching need to be touched by a compassionate human being. It can be simply soothed by a hug, warm hand on an arm, or gentle back massage.

Touch is free and benefits both the giver and the receiver. As you nourish your soul with the warmth of human connection, you nourish hers also. One of life's little bargains, really.

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3.  Self Expression

Health is not just about how you feel

Your health determines how well you're able to express your being; and healthy self expression is essential to nourish your soul

Focussing on how you feel is a passive and imperfect way of looking at your health.

We're not here just to 'feel.' We're to make a difference: through love and legacy, to make the world a better place for ourselves and our loved ones, and for those who will follow.

Great health is a state in which you are able to fully express your human potential at all levels: body, mind and spirit. Physically, your body's cells, tissues, organs, and systems are fully functioning; mentally your cognitive, emotional and social functions are healthy; and you are growing spiritually, assured of your personal worth, trusting in your well-being, and with a sense of meaning and purpose underpinning your life.

You and all living things have an innate intelligence. Your life is an expression of this intelligence through your body, mind and spirit. The quality, and ultimately the worth, of your life depends on your ability to express this intelligence to your fullest potential.

It is generally well known that to bottle up emotions in unhealthy. For example, prolonged inability to release anger or frustration can lead to physical illness. And not just minor conditions like headache, nausea or skin rash and so on. Chronic failure to express your emotions can lead to much more serious, even life-threatening illness.

Releasing toxic emotional blockages is as important as cleansing chemical toxins from your body.

Toxic spiritual blockages are of even greater concern. Feelings that drain your spirit include loss of self-esteem, a feeling that life is meaningless and a belief that your situation is hopeless and you are worthless and there's no point in carrying on.

Such feelings lie at the root of depression, dispair and spiritual malaise.

People facing hopelessness or despair may lose their 'will to live,' succumbing to illness, and even death. Studies into learned helplessness, for example, show that resignation causes harmful biological effects like suppressing or shutting down the immune system. Serious illness and even death can result.

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The purpose of learning to nourish your soul is to minimise the risk that you will succumb to spiritual sickness.

One of the key strategies you can adopt is to find ways in which you can express yourself, and work with them.

Strategies of this sort are actually spiritual practices, although they may not seem to be. They are aimed essentially at reaching deep within your self, beyond emotions, mood and self image, and expressing and developing the creativity and intuition that lies therein. Effectively such practices aim at connecting with your spirit; through them you nourish your soul.

Four such practices involve expressing yourself through writing, through your work, through 'passtimes' and through art.

Writing  Expressing our deepest feelings in a journal of your inner life has been shown to help us connect better with our inner selves. Confiding in a secret journal is not unlike confessing to an understanding friend (or therapist). And research shows the result, too, is much the same.

When you unburden yourself of your innermost fears, guilts, regrets, fantasies etc., you 'let go' of them, releasing emotional and spiritual blockages at the same time. When you write down your aspirations and dreams for the future, you sharpen your vision and goals, and set your unconscious to work attracting to yourself the energies you need to live your dreams.

Another excellent writing discipline is to keep a gratitude journal. Research suggests this practice will increase your overall happiness level, boost your health, improve your lifestyle habits and increase your optimism - all essential foundations for spiritual growth.

Each day, just record in your journal at least three things you're grateful for today. Keep thinking up new things. It will keep your mind focussed on the positives in your life, producing the benefits mentioned above. You can be grateful for your positive health check, for your relationship with your sister, for your child's first steps, for getting your housework done by five o'clock, for the beautiful new spring blossoms in your garden - there's no end to this list. A gratitude attitude is a powerful way to nourish your soul and feed your well-being.

You may think of other ideas for writing projects that may be just right you at this point in time. For example you may like to research and write your family history, write your own life story (or your mother's), create poetry or produce a novel.

The work of understanding and expressing your innermost knowledge, beliefs and feelings about a subject is what will help you get used to connecting with your inner self. This is how you develop your intuition and nourish your soul.

Your work  You spend a great deal of your time at work; it's a big chunk of your life. At some stages of life you may spend more time working than engaged in any other activity.

You will be more successful in life, and happier and healthier, if you love your work. This is true no matter what your trade, business or profession. What matters most is being able see meaning and significance in your work, so that it feels more like a calling, or a life mission, than merely a 'job.'

If instead, your working life brings you frustration rather than fulfillment, you may be suffering from work stress, one of the 7 biggest causes of stress.

Consider changing your job and doing something you love. If that is truly not an option for you at the present time, reach deep inside and see if you can find a new attitude to your work, a new approach that will invest it with greater meaning. In fact, many jobs offer greater scope for service, contribution and making a difference, than we allow ourselves to realise.

'Passtimes'  It's common to watch the 'idiot box' when the day's work is done. Or perhaps play computer games, aimlessly surf the net (or 'trashy' print magazines) for celebrity gossip or become a social media junkie.

But too much of this 'mindless' type of passive relaxation numbs the mind. It also saps your spirit, starving it of stimulus.

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An alternative is to use your spare time in more energising, worthwhile and in fact, more enjoyable ways. Spend it in passtimes that nourish your soul - activities that nurture rather than negate your spiritual life. And make you feel good about yourself in the process.

You can, for example, express yourself through a hobby.

Make up a list of things you have an interest in or are passionate about. Your list may include activities like gardening, landscaping, DIY projects and interior decorating. You may prefer to take up an activity such as dancing, a sport such as walking, swimming, aerobics, yoga or tai-chi. There are endless possibilities, for example various forms of art.

Activities pursued mindfully and creatively offer many benefits, both 'internal' (psychological-emotional-spiritual), and of course external - the tangible outcomes of your creativity and your improves fitness, physical, mental and spiritual.

Art  When it comes to artistic pursuits, talent is overrated. Time spent with passion and devotion is the magic ingredient. The bonus is that while you build your skill, you're doing something you love, and having fun.

You needn't be a Rembrandt or a Michaleangelo to be your best. We all have some level of natural ability to express ourselves artistically. Doing something with it is what matters, not winning art prizes or impressing people.

Working at art is a wonderful way to nourish your soul. There are many possibilities, something, as they say, for everybody.

For example you can draw, with pencils, inks or crayons; or you can paint, with watercolors, acrylics or oils. You can carve, sculpt or cross-stitch. You may like to take up knitting or sewing, creating your personal 'fashions,' or producing gifts for family, friends or charity. You can lose yourself in leadlighting, or if you love music, learn to play an instrument.

Music  Take up guitar, piano or any other instrument. Or join a choir and sing. People become passionate about the endless pleasure they get from playing music. You can take lessons or teach yourself. It doesn't matter how good you are, that's beside the point. Please yourself, with your determination and progress. Learning to express yourself through music is a wonderful way to nourish your soul.

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4.  Service

It is better to give than to receive

Studies confirm what religious traditions have long taught us: generosity and altruism are a part of human nature

We have a natural desire to help others.

As humans evolved, survival depended more on cooperation than on competition. In the face of danger and hardship, those who protected their families and other members of the tribe were more likely to maintain their support network and be helped in return. They had a greater chance of passing on their genes.

But there's more to it than that. Our feelings of altruism go beyond reciprocal support within family and tribe.

We feel concern and compassion for complete strangers, not just family. True, family comes first. But the plight of the poor, the suffering of the sick and the desperation of the downtrodden tug at our heartstrings, even when those in need are not personally known to us. Charity may begin at home, but it certainly doesn't end there.

Any time you show kindness to a total stranger or give your time freely in the service of an ideal, you're responding to something deeper than a need to survive.

What can we make of people sacrificing their lives to save the life of another, or in pursuit of a cause greater than themselves? And what of philanthropists who give away entire fortunes to alleviate the struggles of complete strangers. Such actions clearly aren't conducted for personal survival.

Giving, as it turns out, really does make us feel good. Research has confirmed that people who are kind and generous to others, and who serve meaningful causes that transcend their self interest, are in fact happer and healthier, and lead more fulfilling and satisfying lives.

To give, as they say, is better than to recieve. Generosity empowers us, builds our self esteem, strengthens our sense of meaning and purpose and helps us feel that our lives have value.

The picture is more complicated of course. If giving is such great pleasure, why aren't we climbing over each other in our effort not to be outdone in generosity? Why haven't poverty, ignorance, unfairness and abuse of power long since left the earth?

Why do war and crime, rape and rage, persist?

The problem is, the drive to help others must compete with conflicting forces within us, like selfishness, greed, fear, anger and suspicion. These negative forces can easily suffocate our concern for others. They can be immensely powerful, overwhelming our 'better natures.'

Each of us is unique in the way that these competing forces balance each other out. Some people appear more kind, others more cruel; some more giving, some more grasping.

Our genes have played a part in making each of us the way we are, and so has our conditioning, the life learnings and experiences that shape us as individuals. We each have unique attitudes toward life, and our own very personal approach to living it.

Your conditioning largely determines your ideas about the world - your beliefs, attitudes and opinions - and the behaviors and habits that flow from them.

These ideas we each develop about the world - our map of reality as we perceive it - don't reflect our original self, our 'true nature.' Rather, they express our conditioned self. It is this conditioned self that has learned to be fearful, defensive and aggressive.

And that's the part of you that's afraid to give.

Your true nature at its deepest level is your soul. Your soul is your source of love, compassion, creativity and connection with God/universal consciousness. Your true nature wants to radiate love. To give of yourself in the service of others is a basic spiritual need.

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Deepak Chopra emphasises what he calls 'The Law of Giving' in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. The universe is dynamic, not static; giving and receiving are aspects of the circular flow of life energy. Life, and relationships, are matters of give and take, and the more you give, the more you will receive.

But due to your conditioning, fear and other negative forces undermine your ability to give.

When you live consciously, becoming aware of how these conflicts affect you, you will find ways to renew connectivity with your soul, and strengthen the positive forces of love, compassion and generosity that your true self yearns to express. This is the path of spiritual growth, the way to nourish your soul.

As you strengthen these positive forces, your ability to give and receive will grow.

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More on The 6 Healthy Habits

Discover the 6 Healthy Habits that will bring you extraordinary physical, mental and spiritual health.

These habits are your keys to well-being, prosperity, inner peace, and purpose.

Start with this introduction.

For more on each of the 6 Healthy Habits, go to:

      Healthy Habit 1  live consciously
      Healthy Habit 2  act responsibly
      Healthy Habit 3  grow authentically
      Healthy Habit 4  Nourish Your Body
      Healthy Habit 5  Nourish Your mind
      Healthy Habit 6  Nourish Your Soul (this page)










Soar through life with the 6 Healthy Habits

  1. Live Consciously
  2. Act Responsibly
  3. Grow Authentically
  4. Nourish your Body
  5. Nourish your Mind
  6. Nourish your Soul

Achieve Lasting Change NOW.

  • outstanding physical, mental and spiritual health
  • well-being, prosperity, inner peace and life purpose.

"Take charge of your health."

"Take control of your life."

"Do it Now."




See Also

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Healthy Aging

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Get the nutrients you need for outstanding health.


Stress

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You can achieve genuine, lasting change NOW.