The Definition of Macrobiotics
Macrobiotics, noun, (used with a singular verb) is a holistic, plant-based way of life, based on dynamic and flexible choices of nutrition, activity, and lifestyle, aimed for better physical, emotional, mental, social, and environmental health.
– macrobiotic, adj., such as macrobiotic philosophy or macrobiotic diet.
Origin: from Ancient Greek: Makros (large or long) and Bios (life or way of living). First used by German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836) in his book title translated in English as: Macrobiotics or the Art of Prolonging Human Life.
As mentioned, this macrobiotic definition took a year of discussion that started between a couple of interested parties and eventually spread across the macrobiotics community to include all major players. The definition was finally agreed upon at the 2017 Annual International Macrobiotic Conference, which was attended by nearly 50 macrobiotic experts and many more associations dedicated to the furthering of macrobiotic practice to create a healthy world around us.
SHI and Carl Ferre of GOMF are began endeavoring to create a comprehensive definition of macrobiotic that experienced practitioners can agree on. It was our hope that a definition of macrobiotic would be broad enough to encompass all of the practice while still allowing everyone to expound on the definition with their particular expression, interpretation, and focus. The definition of macrobiotics was long overdue from the leading counselors and associations, but has been completed and was eventually widely agreed upon by a group that includes all of the major players in the macrobiotic community.
Our goal was for anyone searching the internet to find the same fundamental definition. This, we hope, shall be a major step towards a broader understanding and acceptance of macrobiotic practice. The result is now we have a working definition that is widely accepted, and can still potentially evolve over time. (Learn about the difference between vegan, vegetarian, and macrobiotic.)
Macrobiotic Principles and Values
The following principles and values are based on the writings of the early twentieth-century philosopher George Ohsawa. His and our intention is to cultivate individual and world health, social and environmental consciousness, and a fulfilling life. Here they are written concisely in modern language. Books, websites, and social media have material for further study.
Way of Life
Gratitude – Developing a love of life, making the most of every moment, and being grateful for whatever happens whether it seems positive or negative, is an opportunity to grow.
One grain, ten thousand grains – In nature, one seed becomes a plant that produces many seeds, thus giving back and increasing. This is a metaphor to continuously act with generosity towards others in all aspects of life, thus giving back more than you receive.
Values – Learning to accept people as they are and appreciate each person’s life journey. Seek to make honest and positive relationships that fulfill the highest ethics and values in life.
Everything changes – By embracing change, humans develop. Macrobiotic living is a way to create beneficial change in life, evolving through experience and as the world changes.
Seven conditions of health – 1.Vitality. 2. Good appetite for natural food and life. 3.Deep refreshing sleep. 4. Good memory. 5.Cheerful pleasant outlook. 5.Clear thought and action. 7.Honesty and appreciation.
Self-reflection – Developing the ability to view life from the biggest perspective from a more objective and non-judgemental place. Living with self-awareness can guide each person toward health.
Intuition – An integral part of health, based on an inner knowing, that comes from a direct connection with nature and beyond.
Self-empowerment – The ability to influence your own life and health is one of the first steps to empowering yourself, leading to a creative, constructive approach to life.
Ecology and Food
Body and nature are not separate – What we do to the environment greatly affects us. Food and breathing are our direct connection to nature. Through daily meals, regular rising and sleeping times, and daily exercise, we realign with the seasonal cycles of nature every day.
Food – Consistent mealtimes and eating together promote health. A macrobiotic diet is based on combining healthy traditional food, including fresh vegetables, whole grains or their products, beans, fruit, nuts, seeds, pickles, fermented foods, herbs, seasonings, sea vegetables, and teas. Each person is unique and discovers the best food for health based on macrobiotic principles. Many thrive being vegan and some choose to include a little animal food. Macrobiotics is an open, flexible, and adaptable approach to eating that can include a wide variety of foods for social events and special occasions.
Principles for food selection – Prioritize food that has grown and adapted to your climatic region over many centuries or at least comes from a similar climatic zone. Prefer local and seasonal perishable foods from as close to home as possible and organic/natural foods with as little chemical additives as possible. Our food choices impact society and the environment.
Natural preparation – Use natural preparation, cooking techniques, and preservation methods to enhance the taste and quality of ingredients and to make nutrients more available. Cooking is a skill that can bring greater sensory and emotional satisfaction to each meal.
Order of the universe – Describes the way things comes into being in a logical progression through seven stages. This process forms the philosophical basis of macrobiotics.
Unifying principle of yin-yang– Illustrates the unity and diversity of all phenomena, connections and the relative direction of all things. Yin or yang cannot exist or be defined without the other. They are relative terms where things are more yin or more yang relative to something else. Opposites, such as day and night, complete and change into each other.
Five transformations – Phases of change based on times of day and seasons. They combine with yin and yang for further insight and refinement in making daily food, cooking, health, decisions, and lifestyle choices.
Living with curiosity – Learning to think for yourself. Macrobiotic education includes asking questions and developing curiosity to help explore life more deeply. Live with a beginner’s mind that is open to new and fresh ideas. Be ready to experiment and verify them for yourself. Study traditional cultures that have achieved health, longevity, and harmony with their environment.
Seven aspects of consciousness – Helpful guides for self-reflection as we grow and develop. These innate human qualities are physical, sensorial, emotional, intellectual, social, philosophical, and universal love that can turn antagonism into its complement.
Authors: Simon Brown, Carl Ferre, Anna Mackenzie, Isabel Moreno, Denny Waxman.
The authors would like to thank and acknowledge the many people who sent thoughtful contributions, including Mike Chen, Flora Laurent, Kristiane Ravn Frost, Micheal Rossoff, Lino and Jane Stanchich, Bill Tara, Nigel Walker, and Melanie Waxman.
Principles and Values agreed upon by the International Macrobiotic Conference 2018 in Lisbon by 50 teachers, representing many schools, institutes, and organizations.
Original Strengthening Health Institute Macrobiotic Definition
Macrobiotics is a philosophy of life that guides one’s choices in diet, activity, and lifestyle. The principles and practices are used to nourish body, mind, and spirit. Literally, macrobiotics translates to Great Life or Life According to the Largest View.
The following is a demonstration of how the definition can be applied to a particular interpretation of macrobiotic practice.
SHI Interpretation of Tenets, Principles, and Shared Commonalities:
Macrobiotic practice demonstrates that the daily events and choices of one’s life deeply affect people, society, and the planet. The application of macrobiotic principles can create a strong physical, mental, and spiritual vitality and adaptability. It leads to self-discovery and increases an ability to independently guide one’s life in a creative, productive, adventurous, and meaningful way.
An unfounded macrobiotic definition often refers to the practice as a fad diet, but in reality, it is probably the only way of eating that is based on the eating pattern of all of the world’s long-standing civilizations. Although the foods and preparations are different in many traditional cuisines around the world, they all reflect a culture’s adaptation to the environment and their unique relationships with nature. Additionally, they are all variations on the same common food categories. These include a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fruits, while including minimal amounts of animal and dairy foods. These diets have also historically included soups, mild beverages, and various pickled and fermented foods.
The dietary aspect of macrobiotic practice is part of an overall approach to life. Additionally, basing the approach on adding naturally becomes very open and inclusive. New foods, preparations, and styles of cuisines from Asia, India, the Middle East, Northern and Southern Europe, and Africa are for discovery. Food is the daily, direct connection to nature, other people, and all aspects of life. From this understanding, macrobiotic practice is an expression of respect and a celebration of life itself.
Spiritual Meaning Behind Macrobiotic Diets
Spiritual health is an important aspect of macrobiotic practice because the cultivation, experience, and expression of endless appreciation for all life is a central principle. The expression of spiritual health is to live life to its fullest capacity and longevity. The image of spiritual health is “One Grain, Ten-Thousand Grains” which is based on Nature’s model of providing and giving back endlessly. Spiritual health naturally leads to mental and emotional health, which in turn leads to physical health.
George Ohsawa was the founder of of modern day macrobiotics. The practice evolved and developed further through Shizuko Yamamoto, Herman & Cornellia Aihara, Michio & Aveline Kushi.
5 Guiding Macrobiotic Principles to Practice
1. Shindo Fuji, which can be interpreted as: We are one with, a reflection of, and inseparable from Nature, the environment, and each other. The more kind and loving to oneself through dietary and lifestyle choices, thoughts and actions, the more benefit becomes of society and the environment. Conversely, the more disrespect and pollution to the environment, other people, and animals, the more the whole suffers as a consequence.
2. The Unifying Principle (a.k.a. “The Unique Principle”) is a set of seven principles and twelve laws of change that guide all life. These principles and laws provide an endless ability to create balance, harmony and change in all domains of life, such as the ability to change sickness into health, unhappiness to happiness or unifying apparent opposites. The Unifying Principle is the essence, guiding light, and life-blood of macrobiotic practice. The Unifying Principle distinguishes macrobiotic practitioners from vegetarian and vegan eaters.
3. The small controls the large. Small steps or positive changes are cumulative and have great benefits over time. Many people making small, incremental changes create great power of change on a larger scale.
4. Macrobiotic practice has respect for tradition and all that has come before. History is a guide. The Unifying Principle helps to understand, reinterpret and adapt the past for now and the future.
5. Macrobiotic practice is a peaceful, biological revolution. Healthy people create healthy families, healthy communities and a healthy society. The common shared dream is to have a healthy, happy, peaceful and prosperous world for all. Michio Kushi defined his dream of macrobiotic practice as “One peaceful world,” and saw the transformation of humanity into peaceful human beings that would eventually lead to spiritual human beings.
Ohsawa, George. Cancer and the Philosophy of the Far East. Chico, California: George Ohsawa 1 Macrobiotic Foundation, 1981, page 121.
Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. Chico, California: George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, 2 page 40.
Ohsawa, George. Practical Guide to Far Eastern Macrobiotic Medicine. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic 3
Foundation, 1976, page 99.
Ohsawa, George. Order of the Universe. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1986, page 42. 4
Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 35-41. 5
6 Ohsawa, George. Macrobiotic Guidebook for Living. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1985,
7 Ohsawa, George. Unique Principle. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1976, page 20.
8 Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 30-31.
Ohsawa, George. Unique Principle. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1976, page 265. 9
Ohsawa, George, edited and appended by Herman Aihara. Macrobiotics: An Invitation to Health and 10
Happiness. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1971, pages 24-27.
Ohsawa, George, edited and appended by Herman Aihara. Macrobiotics: An Invitation to Health and 11
Happiness. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1971, page 26.
12 Ohsawa, George, edited and appended by Herman Aihara. Macrobiotics: An Invitation to Health and
Happiness. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1971, pages 48-54.
13 Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 131-144.
14 Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 105-130.
15 Ohsawa, George. Acupuncture and the Philosophy of the Far East. Boston, MA: Tao Books and
Publications, Inc., 1973, pages 15-26.
16 Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 87-88.
Ohsawa, George. Essential Ohsawa. George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, 1994, pages 73-76.
If you are looking for macrobiotic foods that will help with a specific illness, we encourage you to reach out and schedule a macrobiotic consultation with Denny directly. Also, if you want macrobiotic recipe ideas, you can take macrobiotic courses at the SHI Macrobiotics, which is a non-profit macrobiotic school that Denny founded.
For more interesting articles about nutrition, macrobiotics, and living a healthy lifestyle, please visit Denny’s macrobiotic blog.