I was raised in communist Russia—on a bland diet of buckwheat and beet soup—but I always dreamed of a better life elsewhere. When I was 18, my family emigrated to the U.S., and I left behind most of my relatives, friends, and my country—everything I’d ever known. It was a huge shock, and I went through a long dark night of the soul. But I soon discovered the world of slickly marketed, highly processed Western fast foods. These foods symbolized a freedom and pleasure I’d fantasized about growing up. The worse I felt, the more I ate, and the more I ate, the worse I felt. It was a downward spiral. I didn’t know that food was either good medicine or poison—and I was eating poison. A few years later, I was a hundred pounds heavier and deeply depressed. I was getting poorer and poorer in health and spirit. All that fantasy food didn’t deliver real freedom or pleasure. It was an empty, toxic promise.

When I was 23, my survival impulse kicked in. I joined a yoga class. The first day, my yoga teacher said something that woke my spirit. She said, “Every molecule in our bodies was created in the explosion of a supernova. In our deepest nature, we are stars—the crown jewels of creation.” This shifted my perspective. My body was a sacred temple, and I began to honor and care for it. Recognizing the importance of food, I began to eat the way I valued myself. I replaced unhealthy, processed foods I’d been eating with healthy, natural foods. As I nourished my body with yoga and healthy food, my moods, thoughts, and sense of self changed. Getting healthy and fit—and losing weight—healed my spirit and transformed my self-image.

I became intensely interested in food, health, and spirituality. I studied Ayurvedic medicine and enrolled in and graduated from New York’s Gourmet Institute of Health and Culinary Arts. I helped my father start an internationally successful vitamin company. I continued practicing yoga and meditation. I discovered Tantra and learned how pleasure and sensuality relate to every part of life—especially food! I learned so much about food, health, spirit, pleasure, and life. I touched upon the concept that love and joy is our true nature, our birthright, our innermost connection to the Divine. I now know that our relationship to food mirrors our relationship to ourselves. Food is medicine that either heals or harms us. What we eat and how we care for our bodies affects our consciousness, our spirit, and the earth itself. I know that how we eat is as important as what we eat. Preparing food with love and gratitude and a heartfelt prayer before a meal imbues food with healing power. We’re nourished by the love and attention we put into our food in these ways. I know eating is a most basic sensual pleasure; it calls on taste, touch, smell, sight, even hearing. Healthy food, natural ingredients, loving preparation, and grateful savoring enhance the pleasure of eating. I know when I put something into my mouth that I take into my body and my consciousness everything in that food—all that has been done to that food from its inception through its harvesting, processing, and preparation. Processed foods, artificial ingredients, chemical additives, toxic pesticides and preservatives, negative thoughts and emotions during preparation and consumption—all these things diminish the quality and taste of food and diminish my health and vitality. I know eating healthy foods with conscious, grateful participation is a creative, life-affirming act, a cause that produces many good effects including increased vitality, improved health, and longevity.

The Tantra of food is a conscious, loving, and sensual relationship that we can cultivate on a daily basis. Three times a day we have an opportunity to turn something so seemingly mundane as a meal into something sacred. For me, the Tantra of food is a most simple and profound practice. Tantra is about learning to live consciously in joy and connection, taking pleasure in life in all its aspects. By learning to slow down and reflect on what we eat, how we feel, think, and act, we can live longer, healthier, more fulfilling, and transformed lives. I hope you’ll join me on this journey to greater awareness, health, and vitality. I’m here to help you and those you love.

I’m Anya El-Wattar—and here’s to a happier, healthier us!

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