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Ayurveda with Anushree

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The word “Ayurveda” may conjure up several different images in your minds. Ayurveda to some of you may mean bottles of bitter tasting decoctions and strong smelling powders. Ayurveda to some of you may mean a collective bunch of herbs that need a lot of time to “work” and help solve a health issue at best, or maybe even a bunch of “questionable” herbs and decoctions with who-knows-what in them and with questionable health benefits – I mean FDA is there for good reason, no ? Yes, herbs and formulations are an integral part of Ayurveda as a system of medicine, but there is so much more to it.

Ayurveda is living as close to nature as is possible i.e. eating fresh, organic, natural foods, adapting one’s diet and lifestyle to the changing seasons and climates, following a sleep rhythm that is in sync with nature – early to rise, early to bed, and taking care of the body and mind by following the laws of nature! Ayurveda is knowing your intrinsic mind-body energy/constitution and following a diet and lifestyle that keeps it in balance. 

Ayurveda to me, is my daughter telling me that she would rather use ghee and turmeric for her bruise on her lip than chap stick because she has seen that it helps her heal faster! Ayurveda to me, is increased self-awareness at a physical, mental and emotional level, heightened consciousness of what I am putting into my body – be it thoughts or food, more accountability for my own health and happiness – be it by changing some long standing, self-defeating habits that I know are not helping me or by taking charge of my emotional and spiritual well-being, in addition to my physical health.

I would like to give you a glimpse of this wonderful ancient system of health and medicine by way of this column, so that you can help yourselves and your families on the path to better health.

In the previous column, we talked about some core Ayurveda basics like the 5 elements (Pancha Maha Bhutas), the 3 mind-body energies (Doshas), and also briefly touched upon how Ayurveda focuses equally on prevention of disease as it does on treatment of disease. Also, addressing not just the symptoms of the disease, but also the root cause of it, is at the core of Ayurveda as a system of medicine. Here is a link to the first part of the introduction to Ayurveda from my previous article here on BKhush: http://www.bkhush.com/dev/content/ayurveda-anushree

Today, we’ll talk about a few more basic concepts.

Qualities/Properties/Attributes (Tattvas)

In Ayurveda, everything in our physical and mental worlds (foods, thoughts, seasons, body etc.) is experienced as a combination of 20 qualities. There are 10 pairs of opposing qualities. They are:

1. Cold/Hot

2. Dry/Moist or Oily

3. Static/Mobile

4. Rough/Smooth

5. Dense or Solid/Liquid

6. Heavy/Light

7. Hard/Soft

8. Dull/Sharp

9. Gross/Subtle

10. Cloudy/Clear

 

Each of the doshas has particular attributes:

Vata: Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, and clear.

Pitta: Oily, sharp, hot, light, liquid, and mobile.

Kapha: Heavy, static, cold, oily, smooth, dense, soft, cloudy, and gross.

 

Since our individual constitutions (find what your constitution/prakriti is- here) are nothing but a combination of doshas, it follows that our bodies are a unique combination of attributes also. To maintain good health, we need to maintain a balance of these attributes within us. As far as attributes go, like increases like. As an example, if you add more heat to an already heated system, it becomes more heated. So, to maintain balance, we need to use opposite attributes. For a fiery pitta constitution, during a hot summer, cooling attributes (from food, lifestyle, thoughts etc.) like eating cucumbers, taking a cool shower, cool and calming thoughts etc. will have a favorable effect of cooling the person down, rather than heating attributes like eating pickles, going to the sauna, getting angry etc.

 

Mental Qualities (Gunas)

These are attributes of the mind and can be gauged by how one is feeling. These qualities show the capacity of the mind to perceive truth and act accordingly. One can say that these qualities reflect the level of development of the soul.

 

1. Sattva

Sattva is clarity. It brings about internalization of the mind, movement of the consciousness inward and unification of the head and heart. The mind that is still, calm, pure, focused but not feverish and harmonious is sattvic. Sattvic people tend to be harmonious and adaptable in nature. They are considerate of others, take care of themselves and their bodies, strive towards balance and enjoy a general peace of mind that keeps them healthy and happy. They tend to see the good in everything and look at life as a learning experience. Sattva can be improved by spiritual cultivation, yoga, meditation, chanting, mantra, sattvic diet and lifestyle, spending time in nature and living life in harmony with one’s constitution.

 

 

 

2. Rajas 

Rajas is distraction or turbulence of the mind. It causes us to look outward and lose ourselves in the external world. Desire, disturbed thoughts, anger, ego, greed, envy are all rajas. The mind that is seeking stimulation is rajasic in nature. Rajasic people have good (sometimes excessive) energy and have a tendency to burn themselves out with excessive activity. They are often impatient and inconsistent in their general approach to life and tend to blame others for their problems.

 

 

 

3. Tamas

Tamas is heaviness, lethargy, dullness. It causes the mind to be clouded by fear and ignorance and results in an inability to perceive. The mind that is unfocused, inattentive, and dull and dominated by subconscious forces is tamasic in nature. Tamasic people tend to have blocked or stagnant energy and emotions. They are often caught in bad habits, addictions and attachments that they are unable to question.

 

 

 

Ayurvedic Nutrition:

 

Ayurvedic nutrition and conventional nutrition are different in many ways.

• Conventionally speaking, we eat according to personal preference, habit, body image and emotions. In Ayurveda, the sole purpose of eating and nourishing ourselves with food is to take in life force (prana) in order to live.

• “You are what you eat” according to conventional beliefs. But Ayurveda tells us that “You are what you digest”! It does not matter how amazing a food is nutritionally if your system is not able to digest it well. 

• Conventional wisdom divides foods into groups like protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, fats, dairy, extras etc. Furthermore, there are guidelines that specify quantity/servings from each food group that individuals are supposed to consume within a given day. Ayurvedically speaking, foods are classified based on their taste or rasa (in Sanskrit). There are 6 tastes – sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent – and the recommendation is to include all 6 tastes during a given meal. A meal or particular food that is balanced in all tastes is said to be optimal for consumption since it balances/pacifies all the doshas (tridoshic) in the body. There is more to Ayurvedic nutrition than just taste, but taste is an important consideration.

• In Ayurveda, instead of looking at calorific content of a food, the focus is on the elemental composition of the food i.e. which of the 5 universal elements (panchamahabhutas – ether, air, fire, water, earth) is the food composed of. Also, foods are described in terms of their qualities i.e. cooling/heating, drying/moist, heavy/light etc. Each individual has to maintain a unique balance of these qualities during the changing times of the day or the changing seasons or during the ever-changing gamut of physical and mental upheavals. Since opposite qualities balance and like increases like qualities, emphasis on the qualities of the food should also be considered e.g. on a hot day, choose a cooling food like coconut water, on a cold, sluggish winter day, choose a warm, light soup to perk you up.

• In these modern times, we are used to balancing foods according to their ingredients. In Ayurvedic nutrition, the diet is always tailored according to the constitution (prakriti) of a person.

• Conventionally, the focus is mostly on how food nourishes the body. In Ayurveda, food nourishes not just the body, but also the mind and soul. It energizes the mind and has a particular mental quality (guna) associated with it. Food can either bring about clarity (sattva), activity (rajas) or lethargy (tamas).

A good digestive fire (agni) is very important to maintain good health – it should neither be too strong (teekshnam) nor too weak (mandam). Eating balanced food is essential to maintaining balanced digestion (sama agni). Inappropriate food choices can easily become the cause of several diseases. 

So, let food be thy medicine.

 

Tastes (Rasas):

The following table describes the 6 tastes (rasas) with regard to their element composition and effect on each of the doshas.

 

Dietary Recommendations for the Doshas:

Vatas should favor sweet, sour and salty tastes. They should avoid bitter, pungent and astringent.Pittas should favor sweet, astringent and bitter tastes. They should avoid pungent, sour and salty tastes.Kaphas should favor pungent, astringent and bitter tastes. They should avoid sweet, sour and salty tastes.

 

Food Examples for the six tastes:

Sweet: Complex carbohydrates, sweet fruit, grains, root vegetables, honey, milk, cheese, oil, meat.

Sour: Yogurt, lime and sour fruit, alcohol, vinegar, cheese, pickles.

Salty: All salts like black salt, sea salt, gypsum salt, rock salt.

Pungent: Chilies, jalapenos, pepper, ginger, cloves, garlic, wasabi.

Astringent: Cranberries, pomegranate peel, turmeric, unripe persimmon.

Bitter: Fenugreek, bitter gourd, leafy greens, neem, aloe, bitter melon.

 

General Guidelines for eating:

• Consider age, constitution/body type, season, balance/imbalance of doshas, exercise level while choosing quality and quantity of food to be consumed.

• Eat food to 1/2 your capacity. Drink water to 1/4 your capacity. Leave room for 1/4 your capacity, for the food to move in the stomach for digestion. At the end of a meal, you should feel satisfied, not heavy and be able to breathe, talk and walk easily. Your senses should be sharpened and not made dull by food.

• Always eat fruit as a snack and don’t combine it with your meal. 

 

Food in the Modern Age:

Modern living brings with it some “innovations” in food preparation and consumption. Although these interventions save time and offer some convenience in our fast-paced lives, they bring some negatives that compromise the quality of our food and ultimately affect our health. Processed and preservative-laden foods, foods grown using artificial fertilizers, hormones and pesticides, frozen foods, excessive consumption of raw foods and fermented foods, refined foods, excessive consumption of deep-fried foods, carbonated beverages, GMO foods and microwaved foods – the list is long – are detrimental to the body and mind and to health in general.

There are some guidelines for drinking water too. We need to drink water to replenish water loss. Different people have different water needs. Drinking water before a meal weakens the digestive fire. Sipping warm or room temperature water during a meal is said to enhance digestion and absorption and is highly recommended. Drinking water immediately after a meal weakens digestion and is not recommended. Drinking a glass of water right after waking up on an empty stomach and just before going to bed both have health benefits.

I know, that was a whole lot of information to read through at one go! Now that we have seen some basic Ayurvedic concepts, we will move on to recipes, Ayurvedic regimens and tips and such in the next posts. Stay tuned for more in the next article, in which I’ll bring to you a recipe with Ayurvedic analysis accompanying it.

Until then, choose wisely and live well!

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 About the Column : In this column,"Ayurveda with Anushree"  I'll post recipes with Ayurvedic analyses, home remedies for common ailments and sometimes blogs for my take on several Ayurvedic principles like how to do a quick Ayurvedic home facial or how to detox safely etc.

 

About the Author : Until a few months ago, I was in a high-tech job as a software engineer at EMC, California. I left the job 9 months ago, to pursue my passion, and now don several different hats. I actively run a website, http://TheAyurvedicLife.com, which is my effort to share with others the learnings of Ayurveda that have positively changed my life. The website gives Ayurvedic analyses of food recipes, home remedies for general maladies and also contains a blog for Ayurvedic concepts and my thoughts in general, on topics like Detox, Facials etc. I have used the better part of the last year to become a certified Ayurveda Wellness Counselor. As women of the 21st century, in mostly nuclear homes on foreign or home lands, juggling a professional and family life, with little or no help, we have some unique challenges that were likely unknown to our mothers' and grandmothers' generations. However, despite societal norms and other pressures, we need to rise above it all and see that our (and our family's) mental and physical health is a primary pillar, which when cared for will bring about amazing positivity and harmony in the rest of our lives! This is, in a nutshell my life’s purpose – to help people bring about this harmony in their lives through good diet and lifestyle routines!

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