In recent years there has been a shift in how we care for ourselves, as statistics show many areas of the world experiencing higher rates of obesity and the chronic diseases that go along with it. In tandem with this is growing availability of drugs and medications to “treat” these chronic conditions – many of which seems to have side effects far worse than the disease you started with. Isn’t there another way to care for our bodies?
People are finally coming to realize there is a more holistic way to heal and care for the body, aside from drugs, medications and contrived substances. Enter the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda.
Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge
What is the Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is not a new diet, or weight loss program. If you’ve watched television lately you know there is an abundance of fad diets that are marketed to us each day to eat less, live off protein shakes, or take part in intense physical exercise that isn’t really realistic for every person and every body type.
Instead, we can look to a thousands year old tradition developed by the Ancient sages of India who knew of the unquestionable connection between the mind and body, and described a system of care to keep them clean, healthy, vibrant and active. This practice is Ayurveda. It involves understanding the energetic qualities of what exists in the world around us – the food we eat, the environment we are in, the experiences we allow ourselves. This energy is described in three ways:
“In the unmanifested Universe, energy has three qualities, known as Gunas, that exist together in equilibrium: Sattva (purity); Rajas (activity, passion, the process of change); and Tamas (darkness, inertia).”
We learn that all three energetic properties are always present, but the goal is to maximize the Sattvic energy, this can be done by practicing mindfulness with our thoughts, words and actions. There are three simple ways to incorporate Ayurveda into your daily life right now.
Eat the Right Foods
One of the first things that one can do to begin the process moving toward an Ayurvedic lifestyle is by understanding one’s Dosha, which are described in three ways – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – each having unique characteristics of the mind, body and spirit, when in and out of balance. BanyanBotanicals.com offers up a clear explanation of the three dosha’s.
Composed of air and space, vata is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle/pervasive, mobile, and clear. As such, vata regulates the principle of movement. Any bodily motion—chewing, swallowing, nerve impulses, breathing, muscle movements, thinking, peristalsis, bowel movements, urination, menstruation—requires balanced vata. When vata is out of balance, any number of these movements may be deleteriously affected.
Pitta brings forth the qualities of fire and water. It is sharp, penetrating, hot, light, liquid, mobile, and oily. Pitta’s domain is the principal of transformation. Just as fire transforms anything it touches, pitta is in play any time the body converts or processes something. So pitta oversees digestion, metabolism, temperature maintenance, sensory perception, and comprehension. Imbalanced pitta can lead to sharpness and inflammation in these areas in particular.
Kapha, composed of earth and water, is heavy, cold, dull, oily, smooth, dense, soft, static, liquid, cloudy, hard, and gross (in the sense of dense or thick). As kapha governs stability and structure, it forms the substance of the human body, from the skeleton to various organs to the fatty molecules (lipids) that support the body. An excess of kapha leads to an overabundance of density, heaviness, and excess in the body.
California based, Chopra Center, offers a free online quiz to help one discover their Dosha, access it here:
Once you discover your Dosha’s, this will give you clear insight into the way certain foods impact your body, and which foods are best for your “body” type, access the full document below for all the information. You are invited to visit the URL above to take the quiz and then access the spreadsheet below.
We can also allow those same principles of sattva, rajasic and tamasic influence our food choices.
“Food is a dynamic force which interacts with the human on the physical body level, the mind emotional level, and also the energetic and spiritual level. The study of nutrition is the study of the interaction with and assimilation of the dynamic forces of food by the dynamic forces of our total being.”
~ Gabriel Cousens, M.D., Spiritual Nutrition and The Rainbow Diet? The Living Centre
It is very easy to find sattvic food, the www.livingcentre.com offers the following list and suggestions:
Apples, Kiwi, Prunes, Apricots, Loquat, Tangerines, Bananas, Lychee, Pomegranate, Cantaloupe, Mango, Papaya, Cherries, Melons, Nectarines, Cranberry, Honeydew, Oranges, Grapefruits, Watermelon, Pineapples, Grapes, Peaches, Plums, Guava, Pears, Persimmon
Artichokes, Eggplant, Lettuce, Beets, Mustard, Greens, Asparagus, Daikon, Onions, Endive, Fennel, Maitake, Parsnips, Bok Choy, Peas, Broccoli, Green Beans, Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Radishes, Cabbage, Leeks, Lima Beans, Shallots, Carrots, Celery, Spinach, Cauliflower, Chard, Chanterelles, Sprouts, Corn, Squash, Shitake, Mushrooms, Watercress, Turnips, Yams
Sprouted Whole Grains
Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Bulgur, Millet, Quinoa, Rice:Basmati, Brown and Wild Rice.
Olive, Safflower, Sesame, Sunflower, Garbanzo, Lentils, Mung.
Asafoetida (hing), Coriander, Basil, Cumin, Nutmeg, Black Pepper, Fennel seed, Parsley, Cardamom, Fenugreek, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger
Brazil nuts, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds, Walnuts
Milks & Cheese
Seed milk, Hemp milk, Almond or other nut milk
Cane juice, Raw honey, Stevia, Fruit Juices, Maple Syrup
By moving toward more mindful dietary habits with a clear awareness of the impact of the food you eat, on your body, you will move toward a greater connection with your self, in your physical body, spiritual body and mental health.
Despite the prevalence of, and great accessibility to, more gyms, personal trainers, and fitness equipment, there is still a very low rate of exercise in many parts of the world. In the US Alone, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 50% of adults ages 18 and over meet the physical activity guidelines, and only 20.9% meet the guidelines for “aerobic and muscle strengthening”. No matter what kind of lifestyle you have exercise is something everyone should be doing, in some form, every day. And when it come to the Ayurveda lifestyle, we discover yet another amazing reason to incorporate a regular practice of yoga into our lives.
“Ayurveda and yoga are so closely related that some people argue that Patanjali, the first codifier of yoga, and Caraka, the first codifier of Ayurveda, may have in fact been one and the same person. ”
If you have taken a yoga class recently, you know the sensations of the bliss body that you acquire during your class, and in many cases, that heightened joy can last for several hours or days after class. If you can incorporate yoga into your lifestyle, you can experience profound personal growth, mindfulness and peace and tranquility, because the body comes into alignment, which keeps all the non physical sensations of the body free and clear as well.
So, how does yoga complement an Ayurevdic lifestyle? Movement of the body naturally causes tension, stress, aggravation which is referred to as rajasic. When one begins to move slowly and mindfully through an asana practice, being mindful and aware, using proper breathing and relaxation the practice becomes less rajasic and more sattvic, which is a state of being we all want to be in, as often as possible.
“Meditation is just one of the most powerful tools the ancient Ayurvedic physicians prescribed for balancing the mind and body. Ayurveda also offers many other practices for expanding self-awareness and cultivating your innate state of balance.”
Meditation is a powerful too that one can use to care for the human body. Some people mistakingly assume that meditation requires a larger time commitment, or it only “works” if you can do it an hour a day. People get nervous at the idea of quieting the mind and body for a short period of time (looking for any reason to move because the mind likes to distract us from relaxation and make us think we have something much more important to do). This 10-minute video from co-founder Bryan Russell takes you a simple, effective meditation you can do anywhere, anytime of day.
Contrary to popular belief meditation can be done anywhere, it can be done for 10 seconds or 10 minutes or an hour. Do it every day for as long as you can and like all things in life you will get better over time.
So why is meditation part of an Ayurvedic lifestyle? Meditation brings you back into control of your mind, as well as your body. Not “control” in the normal sense of the world, which can be a bit overbearing and egotistical, rather in the sense of the word that you control how your mind sees, feels, perceives things to avoid the klesha’s of life that can distract us from our true purpose. Wondering what klesha’s are – stay tuned to our next blog to learn more.
Ayurveda is just one of the many aspects of yoga that we cover as part of our yoga teacher trainings. Why not learn more about them, and download this helpful guide to Ten Questions to Ask Before Selecting a Yoga Teacher Training.