Eating is something we all know how to do and it is a hot topic today with Michelle Obama’s directive to promote healthy eating and reduce the rate of obesity in this country. Ayurveda is a word that many people cannot even pronounce, but it holds guidance and benefit for healthy eating.
By way of introduction, Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that offers health on both the body and spirit level. The underlying theory behind Ayurveda is the power of healing from within. When an individual is balanced in body and spirit, nature allows that the body will function vibrantly and has the ability to heal itself.
Ayurveda uses terms of nature to describe the basic elements that are used to create the different “doshas” (body types). The five elements are: air, space, fire, water, and earth. Each of the elements is represented in all body types, but it is the varying amounts in each individual that gives everyone their unique quality. When we relate to the human being as composed of varying elements of energy, we can determine what substances and behaviors are suited to an individual. For example, a person with a predominately vata dosha will have physical and spiritual qualities that reflect vata’s elemental qualities of space and air. This makes vata individuals quick thinking, thin, and fast moving.
Ayurveda uses many different lifestyle techniques to balance an individual. One of the most important methods of balance is through eating and digesting food. Food directly nurtures the body and spirit. It gives strength and sustenance so the body can function optimally. When food is not properly digested and absorbed, the body becomes weak through malnutrition and toxic build up. Ayurveda is unusual in that foods are not labeled universally good or bad. A food is judged on how it suits an individual’s body constitution.
There are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste is composed of two of the five elements. The elemental nature of the taste is thus matched to the body type and its elemental make up. For example, the taste of bitter is made from the elements of air and space, which are the same elements that make up the vata constitution. Vata types should avoid the bitter taste or eat it in moderation, since in excess a vata imbalance will be created. While eating the food suited to one’s body type is important, there are other factors involved in proper digestion. Ayurveda looks at a person’s spirit not just the physical body. Food cannot be absorbed properly if the total eating experience is lacking.
The total eating experience can be divided into three main categories. One, is what you eat and how it is prepared. Two, is how to eat to improve digestion and three is where and when to eat. Let’s look at each of these more closely.
What you eat and how you prepare food is very important. The food is fueling the body so it can function. All the cells in our body are constantly recreating themselves and the food we eat is the foundation for these cells. Our bodies need pure, wholesome food to carry on its natural process. Moreover, all who come in contact with the food should be happy to prepare the food. There have been numerous experiments showing how the mental state of a person caring for a plant can impact the growth and health of the plant. Unhappy, disturbed people have plants with little vitality. So too, the spirit energy carries over into food. Here are some of the guidelines to have what we eat serve us in the best way:
- Organic, pure food that is not genetically modified is best.
- Food should be fresh, never old, burnt or rotting.
- Try to eat predominately vegetarian- animal protein should not be the main part of the meal.
- Avoid microwave ovens.
- The food should be prepared by a happy, settled cook.
The next category is how to eat to improve digestion. This encompasses the mechanics of eating. Certain foods and behaviors harm the digestive process. We can eat the best quality food in the world, but it has to be done in a certain way in order to absorb and nourish the body. These are some of the basic recommendations:
- Eat only when you are hungry.
- Eat to feel 75% full.
- Avoid large quantities of liquid before, during, and after meals.
- Avoid ice cold food and beverages.
- Avoid large quantities of raw and uncooked food.
- Chew food well.
- Eat at a moderate pace - not too slow or too fast.
- Try to make lunch the largest meal of the day.
- Try to not eat anything until the previous meal has been digested (2.5 to 4.5 hours)
- Meals should be eaten around the same time each day.
The final category is the eating environment. The atmosphere of our meals impacts us in both a physical and spiritual way. This goes beyond mechanics and gives respect to the eating process and what it does for our bodies.
- Eat in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere with a settled mind.
- Eat mindfully without working, reading, or watching television.
- Sit while eating.
- Try to take a few minutes after a meal to sit quietly before becoming active again.
- Do not eat right before bed.
- Do not eat when you are upset.
- Eat food that is pleasant to your sight and taste.
The details of the eating process can seem overwhelming. These are principles that we can incorporate into our lives to guide us. They are meant to bring us back to balance. If the recommendations are done in a forceful, restrictive way, there will be no benefits. If we gently ease ourselves into a new routine, we will journey to a place of balance in a compassionate and sustainable way. Success is in the direction.
Here is a little more food for thought. We can digest things other than food. We digest experience as well. This article has presented eating in a new way – take the time to digest and process at your own pace.