General Ayurveda Guidlines
- Eat at regular times
- Sit down when eating
- Eat home cooked food
- Avoid drinking with meals
- Eat in a calm environment
- Avoid eating just prior to bed
- Make eating your meditation
- Chew your drink and drink your food
- Give enough time to digest between meals
- Drink warm water/ herbal tea during the day
- Eat food with clean energy - plant based
- Avoid processed, packaged and fast food
- Use spices (the right for your PDE)
- Shop, cook and eat consciously
The food that boosts your health
It is important to note that apart from us humans all other species in the world are using food as the only medicine to maintain their health. And they are gaining this wisdom directly from the nature and practicing all through their life, while we humans are trying to learn from the literature and struggling to practice inside our square rooms. If we can completely trust in our mother nature and treat with respect, the healing process will start inside and outside our skin.
To understand the use of food as the medicine ayurveda defines food as nature’s essence which is recognised by its six tastes; sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent. Whether it is a fruit or a vegetable, nut or a grain, the properties of each food item vary according to the dominating elements in it, which we can sense by its natural taste. When we take in a food with a particular taste, remember that its effect in our body is decided by the property of that food.
For example, all the food/drinks with the taste of sweet and salt are highly dominated by earth-water elements and when we take any of the food with these tastes, it will naturally increase the force of kapha in our system. The kapha property food supports the body by generating new tissues, and is considered as a good medicine when the force of vata is high in the system, which is a destructive force for the tissues and highly influence the body during the old age and cold seasons.
At the same time all the food/drinks with the taste of sour and pungent are highly dominated by fire-water elements and the intake of the food items with these tastes can boost the force of pitta in the system. Pitta property food are maintaining the digestive as well as the heating system of the body and supporting blood circulation and immune power.
The food that tastes bitter or astringent is considered as vata force increasing properties because of the domination by air-ether elements in those food items. Most ayurveda medicines are bitter and astringent in its taste because of its medicinal values that can eliminate the toxins in the system.
To improve your health with the nature’s medicinal plants, grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, you can learn more about the six tastes of ayurveda and make use of its properties in your daily meal plan according to your PDE (presently dominating elements).
Sweet is essential to maintain healthy tissues in the body, but in excess it creates conjunction in our systems and leads to overweight, and in a later stage causes diseases of the organs. Overuse of sweet over a long period of time, especially the concentrate sweets available in the market, can destroy pancreas and spleen.
On the other hand, since starchy food is needed to generate new cells in the body, the lack of sweet in our diet can cause malnutrition. Most grains are sweet in its basic character and a natural source of starchy food. Because of their grounding properties these starchy food increases kapha but reduces pitta and balances vata. Therefore, I have designed the kapha reducing recipes for my guests at the retreat in my village in India with less starch and less sweet ingredients.
The earth-water elements in the sweet and starchy food nourish the body tissues and help the natural process of growth, which is good for pitta and vata dominants.
Salt is one of the most essential tastes for smooth function of the joints and intestines. Deficiency of salt can lead to constipation and stiffness in the body and a negative attitude in the mind.
Though the earth and fire elements of salt work as laxative to support the digestive system, excess use of salt over a long period of time can damage kidneys and adrenal glands. Overuse of salt can also increase the blood pressure and effect the heart function. Mentally it can generate greediness and dissatisfaction in life.
Salt increases kapha and pitta but reduces vata. While small amounts of salt help the digestion, in large amounts it can lead to vomiting, which is a signal from the body to reduce the intake. In a few ayurveda therapies saline water is used as a natural way of cleaning the internal systems.
Sour is the natural supplier of acid, the liquid form of fire aiding the digestive system, which is essential to maintain a healthy metabolism. But it can be harmful for the organs if the acid in the systems exceeds a limit, as if the fire in the kitchen got out of control.
Although sour boosts up all the tissues’ functions, overuse can decrease the function of the reproductive glands. This is one of the reasons I usually advice to reduce the use of sour in the diet to people who have lack of sexual drive. Sour is hot in its character and increases pitta. It also increases kapha but reduces the vata element.
In South India people in general like spicy food. It has been a hard time to train the local chefs appointed in my health retreat in Kerala to prepare food for my guests without making it too spicy. I often remind them that like the sour taste the main property of pungent is fire which needs to be controlled in the food, otherwise the mind can get disturbed with anger, frustration and in the long run even strong emotions of hate. At the same time, the absence of pungent can slow down the digestion and reduce the level of enthusiasm in the mind.
Pungent increases pitta and vata but reduces kapha. The fire and the air element of the pungent taste aid the metabolism by promoting the digestive fire in the system and maintaining the temperature of the body by releasing water as sweat. A moderate use of pungent supports the lymph drainage system and the digestive system.
When I was small and got my first lessons from my grandma she taught me how to recognise the medicinal plants through my senses, especially by the taste. Those days I noticed that the most medicinal plants were the most bitter in their basic properties.
Bitter has the highest medicinal value, followed by astringent and pungent. This is the reason most ayurvedic medicines are bitter in taste. In general all leaves belong to this category and the most bitter among them are considered to have the highest medicinal value for the natural treatments.
Bitter taste has the opposite effects of sweet. Bitter is a detoxifier and it purifies the blood and cleans the channels in the body, where the ama (toxins) usually accumulates and creates diseases. Bitter is cold in its properties and decreases kapha and pitta but increases vata.
The air and ether elements of bitter act as detoxifiers that help to burn the excess fat in the system. It promotes lightness in the body and mind. Most alkaline food contains bitter and astringent taste.
Astringent is anti-inflammatory medicine for the body tissues. If you want to reduce inflammation in your body I can recommend you add astringent taste to your daily diet (with the consideration of your PDE).
Remember that although astringent is considered as the anti-inflammatory medicine from the nature, overuse can disturb the functions of the intestines and rectum and generate fear and nervousness in the mind.
Astrigent is one of the medicinal tastes that can be found in many vegetables and leaves combined with bitter taste. Astringent is cold in properties and increases vata but decreases pitta and kapha.
The earth and air elements of astringent function together as anti-inflammatory and help the body to drain out excess water in the system, which can cause inflammation in the tissues over a long period of time.
Before going to the shop check your kitchen cupboards and refrigerator to find out what you need for the coming week. Write down everything on a piece of paper that shows your determination to choose what you want from the store. Avoid putting your old unhealthy habits on your list.
When you enter the shop, try to stick on the list in your hand instead of following the tempting offers on the boards. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the colors of attractive packets and bottles in the shop which may trick your senses, instead give time to read the ingredient list of every packaged item you pull from the racks.
Overall, we can see that most packaged items are not so healthy, many of them filled with additives, such as colours, stabilisers, preservatives etc. The best food choice is always the organic and the things we can get directly from the nature like what we buy from the local farmer’s market.
In most cases ninety-five percent of the items in a food store is not good for your health and your challenge is to find the other five percent with your smart eyes.
When you walk towards the counter to pay for your food proudly look into your trolley and appreciate yourself, acknowledging that you are now paying for your natural medicine which will bring you health, not disease.
While learning to drive a car we often put a lot of energy and focus into changing the gears on time and keeping the steering steady, while keeping in mind other technical stuff as coordinating the clutch, break and accelerator to control the vehicle. But once we become an expert driver we shift our focus from the technical things and enjoy our drive. Not only in driving, but when we start learning anything new in life it takes a while to forget about the technical sides of it and start enjoying the act.
When it comes to cooking, in the beginning we need to think about the names of many spices and vegetables and carefully measure them with scales. But later, when you become accustomed with the ingredients, you will forget about the measurements and remember them only by their taste.
I have seen in the work of well known chefs around the world that they are not following any printed recipes but their own instinct. They mention that during their early years they were following everything as it was in the recipes, but later they started to enjoy the art of cooking.
The time you start to recognise nature’s medicinal plants and spices with your senses instead of merely by the names, the time you start to measure them with your intuition instead of the scales, you are not just a cook anymore, you are becoming an artist in your kitchen.
A good chef is like a talented guitar player who creates remarkable tunes with the six strings of his musical instrument. The six strings in cooking is the six healing tastes from the nature, which by its combination make fabulous recipes that plays music for our tastebuds.
In ayurveda all the ingredients of the nature are categorised into six tastes according to their main characteristics: sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter and astringent.
It is an old tradition in India that at every meal time we sit in front of the food and meditate for a few seconds to remember the preciousness of the food in our life.
In the silence of our meditation we thank the universal power who created the seed, we thank the nature and the farmer who took care of the seed and helped it grow into a plant, we thank for all the hard work behind the creation of each molecule of food until it reached the plate in front of us. This traditional practice also makes our body and mind prepared to receive the food with complete concentration and respect.
Every meal is important. When you miss a meal remember that you are missing one opportunity in your life to nourish your body.
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