Monday, March 10, 2014

Health Fix -- Indian Food And The Healing Wonders Of Ayurveda


I have long been a huge proponent of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system whose very translation is the science of life.

After suffering from particularly horrible asthma one summer while living in NYC (something about the wicked cocktail that brews when pollens mix with a high mold spore count), I was looking for an alternative health solution to inhalers and such. I sent myself to California (from whence I came) to recuperate for a month, and while there met with a practitioner who had studied Ayurvedic medicine with Deepak Chopra. One copy of Chopra's book, Perfect Health, and two private yoga lessons later, I was armed and ready to take on my health matter the Ayurvedic way -- treating the whole person not the symptoms/affliction. I still follow many of the basic principles as best I can, and at the least, make it the first place I turn when I need a restart or health boost.

In a nutshell... everyone has a certain mind/body type and it just makes sense to feed and exercise it accordingly. And not in a Western calorie restricting/body pounding kind of way. Instead, it's about satisfying your taste buds and keeping your digestion and spirit strong. Plain and simple. As far as exercise is concerned, there is a huge debunking of the No Pain No Gain philosophy here. There is a lot to be gained with minimal effort.

Each of the three body types, or Doshas as they are called -- Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, carries certain physical and personality characteristics which, when out of balance, can manifest as negative traits or ailments instead. By following a few select guidelines, you can hopefully keep things on the positive end of the spectrum. For example, a Vata type, who tends to be creative and more free spirited, will benefit from warm comforting foods, mild-type exercise, and a regular schedule to offset its restless tendency. A Pitta is more type-A, does well with cooler climates and foods, etc...

You can figure out your dosha in the book or online (often you'll be a combo, I'm a Vata/Pitta), and then you can explore what foods and spices will promote a healthier you. 

This is where I love turning to Indian food -- the taste bud/healing spices are so built in. Western culture has only recently started paying attention to spices such as turmeric while Ayurveda has been relying on these wonders for eons.

get your spices on!

In addition to favoring dosha-specific foodsthere is a set of eating tips or "Bits" that anyone can benefit from. Because sometimes more than what you eat it's how you eat it.

Bits -- Body Intelligence Tips (from the book Perfect Health)

1.    Eat in a settled environment.
2.    Never eat when you are upset.
3.    Always sit down to eat.
4.    Eat only when you feel hungry.
5.    Avoid ice-cold food and drink.
6.    Don't talk while chewing your food.
7.    Eat at a moderate pace, neither too fast nor too slow.
8.    Wait until one meal is digested before eating the next.
9.    Sip warm water with your meal.
10.  Eat freshly cooked meals whenever possible.
11   Minimize raw foods -- well cooked food is much easier to digest.
12.  Do not cook with honey -- considered to produce ama (aka clogged energy)
13.  Drink milk separately from meals, either alone or with other sweet foods.
14.  Experience all six tastes at every meal. 
15.  Leave one-third to one-quarter of your stomach empty to aid digestion.
16.  Sit quietly for a few minutes after your meal.

If you're someone who is looking to lose weight, you'd be surprised at how following these tips and even just eating to three quarters capacity will make a difference. Also, there is an emphasis on lunch as the big meal of the day and a de-emphasis on snacking (with the exception of something late afternoon/tea time for Vatas who often need a boost to make it to dinner). Sipping fresh ginger root tea throughout the day is another overall recommendation to aid digestion.

Other vital parts of the program include Yoga (particularly the Sun Salutation), deep breathing, and meditation (a magic wand in my book). When I'm implementing all of these goodies regularly, I'm at my absolute best.

Hope some of these principles help in the quest for vitality. If nothing else, enjoy a little Indian food whenever you can!

{I'm wondering if I've just entered territory where it's necessary to say check with your doctor before starting any kind of eating or exercise plan. So consider it said! Also, the safety of online Ayurvedic supplements has come into question as they are not regulated so consider seeking an Ayurvedic specialist for any supplements.}

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