“When diet is proper, medicine is not needed. When diet is improper, medicine will not work”
-From Charaka Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic textbook
Ayurveda comes from the ancient Sanskrit words ayush (life) and veda (study), which translate to “the knowledge or science of life”. A healing system born more than 5,000 years ago, it is said to be one of the oldest in the world, in combination with it’s sister tradition, yoga. The primary purpose of Ayurveda is to help to prevent illness; this is achieved by following the principle of conscious connection of the mind, body, spirit, and being in harmony with the laws of nature.
There are a few simple Ayurveda-based lifestyle practices that can help us on our way to ultimate physical, mental, and spiritual freedom.
Eating According to Dosha
In Ayurveda, each individual’s health is based on the five basic elements; aakash (space), jala (water), prithvi (earth), teja (fire), and vayu (air). Specific combinations of these five elements result in three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha, or the energies that circulate within the body. Vata is a combination of the elements of ether and air, representing the principle of movement. Pitta is the elements of water and fire, representing the principle of energy. Kapha combines water and earth, representing the principle of structure. The doshas are believed to be responsible for a person’s physical, psychological, and spiritual health. The key is to balance all three doshas for optimal health, wellness, and spiritual growth, leading to the higher Self.
Avoid Incompatible Food Combinations
Combining foods with vastly different properties and energies can overwhelm the digestive fire, known as agni. An unbalanced combination can cause indigestion, gas, bloating, and the potential creation of toxins. According to Ayurveda, every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling property (virya) and a post digestive effect (vipaka), with some foods having unexplained effects (prabhava) on digestion. To maximize our digestive power, it is recommended we eat foods with similar properties. A complete list of incompatible food combinations can be found at this link. For example, when consuming milk, always have it separately from all other foods, since it takes more time to digest. It is also recommended not to combine grains of any kind with meats and fish. That said, adding helpful spices such as coriander, fennel and cumin while cooking is very beneficial for digestion. It is also believed that having cold drinks can slow agni and digestion, and can shock the body, and should be avoided whenever possible.
Eat Warm and Cooked Foods
We are what we eat! Our digestive capacity is known as agni. According to Ayurveda, raw foods are considered cold, dry, light, rough, and Rajasic—a Sanskrit term that can be translated to mean “activating” or “exhausting”. Consuming foods with these qualities can strain our digestive fire and decrease our digestive capacity, particularly if digestion is weak to begin with. This can all potentially lead to poor absorption of nutrients, lack of nourishment for our tissues, imbalances in our body, and, ultimately, illness or disease. In addition to eating warm and cooked foods, drinking warm water is encouraged.
Practice Good Oral Health
What we eat becomes the building blocks for the tissues of our body. The mouth is the gateway to healthy eating, and it is crucial to maintain optimal oral health. It is recommended to do a tongue cleaning/scraping first thing upon waking. While asleep, the entire body goes through a repairing and detoxification process and expels ama (the Sanskrit word for toxins). One way the toxins are eliminated is through the tongue - one might notice a coating on the tongue at waking - that’s ama. By scraping the tongue one could help the body’s natural detoxification process.
Guidelines for good balanced digestion include; eating fresh (not stale) leftover foods, following regular mealtimes, eating only when hungry, consuming the largest meal around noon and not snacking between meals as this can disturb digestion. Incorporating daily movement such as brisk walking that practising gratitude can influence digestion in a positive way.
Ayurveda recommends cleansing and detoxing in the springtime to enhance digestion. One should always consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner and family doctor before commencing a detox program.
Integrating these simple practices into our daily lives can lead to healthier, vibrant bodies which is the start of one’s spiritual journey to awaken the vital energy (gaya) which in turn leads to liberation.
By: Suganthi Kathiravelu-Lem