Ayurveda Part II: Ayurvedic Principle to Live By, December 22, 2016

This past week on my trip home, I read the book, Food, Woman and Desire by Alexandra Jamieson. I have to say, it was one of the most empowering books I have ever read. It spoke to me on so many levels by echoing and confirming things my heart and body have been saying to me. Mrs. Jamieson and I have many of the same views on food, nutrition and wellness in general. The book stressed so much more than just food- because wellness is so much more than just food! Food impacts every other aspect of our lives and vice versa- whether we know it or not. Food can be empowering and liberating, or it can be devastating and imprisoning. How we act out other areas of our lives will determine this.

Unfortunately, I have lived much of my life thus far on the imprisonment side. You can read about my journey here. My experience is not uncommon and it is largely why I chose to start this blog in the first place. Ultimately it took someone to come to me from a place of understanding and recovery that turned the tables for me. I hope I can do the same for others.

Healing your relationship with food takes time. Learning to love yourself again (or even for the first time) takes time. Learning to find your worth in something other than your body takes time. Learning to cherish, nourish, and listen to your body takes time, patience, and guidance. The Ayurvedic principles have been crucial in my journey to wellness. They have changed the way I view food by challenging my westernized understanding and education on nutrition. Applying Ayurvedic principles helped me to listen to my body again and taught me that nourishment is so much more than mere calories. (Thank God!) I feel like a broken record saying “food is more than calories” but honestly it is so incredibly true.

My wellness journey is far from over, (I mean, is it ever?!) but I have found such peace around food and within myself by applying these practices. The following list is my spin and perspective on Ayurvedic principles. Some of these directly apply to food, some do not. But they work together to create a harmony between your body and soul where both dance together to nourish and empower.

1.    Wake up early to meditate and set intentions for the day. This one is hard for me. I’m not a morning person- however, once I am up, I love it. Not that I want to have a full on conversation with you (my husband will vouch for that!), but I love siting in the stillness with a hot cup of tea, reading, meditating, and setting my intentions for the day. I think I also find comfort in the habit. Growing up I remember waking up to my mom on the couch with her coffee, having her own quite time. I was always curious and intrigued with this practice. Now I understand it. I use this time for meditation, journaling prayer, and quite time. You can apply what practices you want, but the general idea is to reflect, find peace within yourself and set the goals you want to accomplish in that day. That way your day and your time is purposeful. This is especially important for personality types like myself who get flustered with so many ideas, chores, and things I want to accomplish, that I end up doing none of it. (Ahhhh the struggle on an anxious person). Remember, “what you think, you become”. Set your mind on higher things and foster an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness. This will lead to greater joy and fulfillment in your day.

2. Listen to your body. This is harder than it sounds. It can take time and practice, depending on your history and current state of health. First, you have to get to that place where you have no more junk food cravings. This may involved a 21 day detox from sugar, gluten, and dismissing any food intolerances from your diet. Once your body starts to feel good, you can actually feel it talking to you because the cravings and inflammation are not overshadowing its true needs.  Not only will you be able to differentiate between hunger and appetite, but also when you are hungry, your innate intuition will actually be able to guide you in what kinds of foods your body needs. For example, some meals I feel like I need more carbohydrates, others I do not. This is implying whether my body needs more energy at that moment or not. In this way, I am not relying on calculations or formulas, but innate human intuition. All animals have intuition when it comes to food and humans are no different. At times I even crave specific nutrients. The other day at the store, I was looking at a can of sardines. I had never had sardines before but wanted to start incorporating them in to my diet. Just thinking about fish made me salivate big time. To me, this was my body telling me it wanted omega 3s. I went home and ate them immediately and they tasted like the best thing I’d ever had.

2.    Eat fresh food. While I am a fan of “meal prep”, I also believe in not eating everything 100% premade. I believe in freshly prepared foods. This is because I believe food has energy (at least, real food does) and we take on that energy. And I don’t just mean its caloric amount, but it’s actual energetic effect on our body. For more on this, read my previous post ____. This is why food is to invigorating and life giving. I believe the longer it sits prepared, the less energy that food retains. To reap maximum benefits from food, I believe in freshly prepared foods as often as possible. This is also one of the many reasons I believe investing in sustainably and humanely raised animal products. I don’t want to eat the energy from a sad life…. I’m sorry if this sounds rather morbid!

3.    Be Active. Activity makes you feel GOOD. This doesn’t mean you have to go “work out” every single day. In fact, you don’t have to go to the gym at all if that’s not your thing! Find something you love and look at it as “play” instead of “work”. (I’ve starting saying, “I’m going to play at the gym”, vs “I’m going to workout”. Haha) Play tennis with some friends, walk you dog and appreciate the sounds and smells of nature, ride your bike into town, start swimming, play disc golf- all of these things can be fun and invigorating while providing awesome health benefits- on both our physical bodies and our minds.

4.    Make time for the outdoors. Get disconnected. Humans were not meant to spend 99% of their lives inside with artificial lighting and constant stimuli. There have been studies done that show just how important being outdoors is to our immune systems and overall feelings of wellbeing. Being outdoors is incredibly important for vitamin D production. Adequate vitamin D is hard to get from foods and conveniently, our bodies make it from sunshine- if we let it. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression, fatigue, and muscle pain- just to name a few.

5.    Enjoy the communal aspect of food. Food and community go together. There is something magical about breaking bread together. Eating with others as often as possible is a part of a healthful and fulfilling life. Food is to be shared and enjoyed together. If you don’t have family, invite your friends or neighbors over! Dinner doesn’t have to be anything fancy. My go to is a platter of roasted vegetables, a fresh salad, and either a roasted chicken or heart soup.

6.    Chew slowly and mindfully. Even when you are with others and having good conversation, always have a mind on you food. Take bites and savor them. Think about the flavor, the texture, how it feels in your mouth. Turn off the TV, shut down your phone. Chew slowly and thoughtfully. This will reap the greatest enjoyment from our foods and also the greatest nutritional benefit. Chewing well allows the first of the digestive enzymes to do their job and also provides less strain on the digestive tract farther down the line.

7.    Stop before your stuffed. Eating slowing and mindfully also helps our bodies to understand when we are full. If we eat at a ravenous pace, our bodies are unable to tell the brain it is full and before we know it, we are STUFFED. We want to be comfortably full and satisfied. Not stuffed, tired, and lethargic. Food should ENERGIZE, not send you into a food comma. This is also why it is important to not wait until you are starving to eat. A ravenous appetite leads to quick eating (Often less than ideal foods), and ultimately, over eating. We’ve all been there!

8.    Keep drinks and meals separate. Old habits die hard! This is something I’m still working on because it is so incredibly ingrained into our western food culture- that drinks go with meals. However, in Ayurveda, food and drink do not go together. This is because drink can dampen your agnior “digestive fire”- especially cold liquids. Cold drinks mixed with warm cooked foods can cause stomach cramps, bloating and general discomfort in the stomach area. Fluids with meals dilute your hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes and slow the digestion/absorption process. Thus, for optimal digestion, the common recommendation not to drink fluids 30 minutes prior to a meal or 30 minutes after. Tradition Chinese Medicine believes that an exception to this rule is sipping on hot tea or water prior or during a meal.

9.    Be mindful of meal times.  The western culture has bred a society that thrives on big late night meals. Who doesn’t love coming home late from work and then comforting yourself on the couch with a big plate of food? However, in Ayruveda, this is no acceptable. Since much of Ayruvada is catered around our digestive fire, the largest meal is at lunch time- when our digestive fire is at its peak. This allows for maximum digestion and reaping of nutrients. As the day goes on, our digestion slows down and when the sun goes down, it likes to take a break and focus on ridding your body of toxins. This is why eating huge meal at night are not ideal. It put unwanted strain on the digestive system and interferes with your sleep cycle and your body’s ability to detox. In my opinion, it is best to keep dinner meals early, and light. Try to eat the majority of your calories earlier on in the day.

10.  Prep your GI tract with bitters/End a meal with bitters.  Again, going back to digestion… your GI tract likes to be gentry prepped for food. Bitters are foods that simulate the GI tract and the flow of digestive enzymes. There are many traditional foods that are considered a “bitter”, such as, dandelion leaves, arugula, chamomile, ginger, or bitter melon. Bitters also curb the appetite and are a great way to end a meal as well. For this reason, I love ending a meal with a square (or three!) of dark chocolate.

11.  Relax. Eating “on the go”… it’s such a common phrase now isn’t it? This is a shame! While it might mean that you’re a productive go-getter, it also means that you are not digesting your food properly. When we stressed out and “eating on the go”, we are triggering our sympathetic nervous system- or our fight and flight response. Cortisol is pumping, we are stimulated, and thinking about a million different things. Our body’s number one priority right then is not to enjoy and digest its food- like it should be. It is tasted with the other stressors in your life and digestion takes a back seat. This is why foods eaten on the go can often cause bloating, discomfort, gas, etc. We need to be in parasympathetic or “rest and digest” mode in order for our bodies to focus on digestion and reap the rewards of our food. So remember before you eat, RELAX, enjoy, and focus on your food.

As always, message me if you have any questions. These are not anything that are etched in stone, but general guidelines to follow. Again, they are my take and my perspective on the principles that have helped me most. I hope they can do the same for you.