Health bunnies can’t fail to have noticed how Ayurveda (the ancient Indian approach to wellness) is increasingly influencing our daily routines. Lattes and porridge laced with the golden herb, Turmeric; the idea of ‘oil pulling’ i.e. swishing our mouths with sesame or coconut oil; ghee (revered as a precious superfood in India) as the ‘good fat’ of choice.
In a way this is a natural extension of the interest in yoga, since Ayurveda stems from the same knowledge base – the Vedas, a vast body of ancient texts covering all aspects of living life to the full from exercise, eating and meditation practices through to astrology and architecture. But what does Ayurveda mean? Directly translated, the word ‘Ayur’ means life and ‘Veda’ knowledge, and generally could be described as a holistic approach to healthy living and longevity. A renowned Vaidya (Ayurvedic Doctor) I met in India recently had a very simplified and practical explanation – that it is a way of extending life mainly through good food and sleep.
To understand a little more, Ayurveda identifies three main elements or ‘doshas’ in our bodies: Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Vata being air, the nervous system, transportation of everything in the body including brain signals. It’s the driver of all the other systems, of movement and life. Pitta is the fire, ‘Agni’ heat and is all about digestion and Kapha earth, water, the connectivity and structure in the body. The theory is that when all three are in balance, we will be in peak condition.
Though we have all three doshas within us, each of us tends to have one or two predominant ones which create our constitution and it can be useful to know in order to help us identify our health ‘weaknesses’. There are lots of online questionnaires to do this – here’s a good example: www.mapi.com/doshas/dosha-test/index.html
This gives us a bit of insight, but it’s not necessary to get too fixed on what ‘type’ you are, as the balance is very delicate and constantly changing depending on the time of day, the season and our lifestyle. The good news is that while we don’t have to understand the intricacies of our doshas, we can use some of the more obvious patterns to generally maintain balance. For example 6-10 am and pm are Kapha times of day, 10-2pm Pitta and 2-6pm Vata. So it makes sense then to eat our biggest meal at lunch time when Pitta – digestive fire – is up. Kapha is the slowing down, the repair of the system so early morning and and early evening are good times to relax, meditate, rest. And 2-6pm time of energy and focus. Seasonally Kapha is associated with Spring, Pitta with Summer and Vata with Autumn/Winter. So, as the cooler weather approaches, we’ll naturally be drawn to Vata pacifying hot, cooked foods, and sweet, warming spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t come out as Vata dominant, on the whole, it’s a case of making sure our Vata is pacified, since it’s the leader in the body and gets pushed up with when travelling and via the stresses and strains of our 24/7 lifestyles, as well as naturally increasing as we get older. Some of the signs that Vata is out of balance are dry skin, wrinkles, anxiety, poor sleep and lack of focus – sounds familiar!?. So, as well as the above eating advice, make an effort to keep a regular routine of three meals a day, go for liquid foods rather than dry (soups, stews, porridge, hot nourishing milky drinks) and try to have time your last meal at least 3 hours before bed, so there’s time to digest which helps to improve sleep. Keep snacking to a minimum (the theory being it over stimulates the stomach acids), but if you are hungry between meals, have nuts, stewed or ripe fruits.
To me this all makes sense, and I’ve definitely noticed an improvement in my digestion, sleep, and general resilience since sticking to the overall principles as much as possible. Interestingly, although I do practice oil pulling, and I use turmeric and ghee in cooking, recently I learned there are three very simple ways to help maintain equilibrium on a daily basis:
- For Vata, practice self-massage (known as Abhyanga) with either Sesame or Coconut Oil. This calms the nerves, moisturises skin and lubricates joints, tones muscles, increases energy in the day and encourages better sleep at night. Although it may seem a faff, it takes just 10 minutes before you shower or bath. Pre-heat the oil by standing the bottle in a bowl of hot water, or simply warm in your hands. Before showering or bathing, take a generous amount of oil in your palms, gently rub into your hands, and begin. Start at your feet and use fingers to manipulate the toe joints and work your way around the soles with your thumbs in circular movements. Use longer strokes to work your way up your legs, gently kneading the buttocks and moving around your belly in a clockwise, circular motion. Massage fingers and hands, again working into the joints, then stroke up along the arms towards the chest and heart. Finish by working oil into your scalp, hair and face (most pure organic oils will be fine on the face, if you’re unsure, use a specific facial oil). Step into the shower and rinse off excess.
- For Pitta, drink Lassi after your main meal at lunchtime. The Ayurvedic version of a probiotic, it helps with digestion and gut health. It’s easy to make – try this simple sweet version: 1/3 cup organic yogurt or kefir or coconut yogurt (if you’re dairy-free); 2/3 cup warm, purified water; 1 to 3 teaspoons of honey or agave (although if you are Kapha, choose less sweetener); pinch of cardamom; pinch of cinnamon. Blend all ingredients with a whisk or hand blender. Adjust spices to taste.
- For Kapha, sip hot water throughout the day. Hot water digests in half the time of cool or cold and it keeps the bodily vessels are dilated, encouraging waste movement.