Ayurveda: Guiding Principles
by Angela Hope-Murray
& Tony Pickup
According to ayurvedic teaching, starting any form of treatment without first dealing with the toxins in the system that have caused the disease will only make matters worse. In the short term, treatment may superficially relieve the symptoms, but the imbalance in the doshas will manifest as disease again either in the same location or elsewhere. Toxins may either be eliminated or neutralized. This applies to both the physical and emotional level of disease.
(Editor's Note: Doshas refer to three energies or forces corresponding to the three basic body types in Ayurvedic medicine: Vata, Pitta, Kapha.)
The Emotional Level
Anxiety, anger, fear, insecurity, jealousy and greed are human emotions recognized by us all, but as children we are taught that it is not appropriate to express these ?negative? feelings. Ayurveda teaches us that this is incorrect thinking and that it is important to release these emotions otherwise imbalance in the doshas will occur, leading to a build up of disease-creating toxins.
First of all, we need to know what our repressed emotions are. Sometimes they have been so effectively buried that we are quite unaware of them. The only way to find out is through observation. This is a little more than plain observation of what is going on in our lives ? it involves observing the observer, even though that sounds almost impossible. It helps to ask the question: ?Who is it that observes you are happy (or sad or angry, etc.)??; ?Who is it that is aware you are seeing this page?? The answer is the true self, or the soul, unchangeable and unaffected by the exigencies of life; in Western medicine it is sometimes referred to as insight ? literally looking inward.
There are many techniques to assist in this process of observation. It helps to pause for a couple of seconds before doing anything; discussion with a group of like-minded individuals refines the ability to make contact with this insight; meditation is extremely useful.
Observation is the key to understanding your emotions. For example, if anger arises, you should be completely aware of it ? do not try to do anything about it, just observe it. In this way you will learn how it arose, and what it resulted in. Release of anger is the important feature and, once again, this involves not doing anything; simple observation will enable its release.
The Physical Level
The guiding principle of Ayurveda is that each person has the power to heal herself. Much can be done to remove or neutralize toxins in the body by balancing the doshas, using an appropriate diet as part of a program of measure in all aspects of life. Such dietary adjustments also serve to maintain the balance of the doshas and thus perfect health. Spiritual development is vitally important, but it is difficult to maintain if the body and mind are ailing, so our eating habits must be examined.
What is eaten should be chosen to balance the individual constitution. Choosing the proper diet is a simple matter when given an understanding of the constitution and how it relates to the qualities of various foods. The taste of the food (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter or astringent) and the season of the year must also be considered.
You should not eat unless you are feeling hungry, nor drink unless you are feeling thirsty. Do not confuse these two feelings; it is a great temptation to drink in order to assuage hunger, but all that will happen is the digestive fire will be diluted.
In the process of eating, you are feeding not just the body but the mind and spirit as well. It is important, therefore, to feed all five of the senses by preparing and consuming food that is attractive to look at, good to taste, inspiring to smell, and pleasant in constitution. It may seem difficult to satisfy the sense of hearing, but the sound of food being cooked, or of a stick of raw celery being chewed, can do so in a very pleasing way.
Always prepare, serve, and eat food with love. We have all had the experience that food cooked by someone who loves us is somehow more pleasing than that cooked without love. To hold on to unloving feelings while we are eating tends to cause indigestion. Poor digestion will give rise to production of ama (toxic material caused by poor digestion) and thus to the promotion of disease. Drink water with your meal in sips. After you have finished eating, a mixture of yogurt and water will aid digestion. This drink should be about half yogurt and half water, but see what suits you best. If you have vata as a strong characteristic, then add a little lemon juice. If your major dosha is pitta, then add a little sugar. For kapha individuals, a little honey and a sprinkle of fresh black pepper is probably a good idea. This is specifically a drink for the end of, rather than during, a meal. The best drink during the meal itself is water; don?t drink milk with a meal, especially if the food contains meat.
If possible, allow your food to pass through the digestive system before doing any strenuous exercise. When you exercise, the body reduces the blood supply to the gut and makes it available to the appropriate muscles; this disrupts the whole process of digestion and must be avoided if ama is not to be produced. The same is true of sleeping; the circulation of blood in the body changes profoundly, and the gut is no longer supplied with what it needs to allow correct digestion and assimilation of what you have just eaten. Avoid both these ?activities? for a good two hours after a meal. This does not mean that you cannot go for a stroll after eating ? it is almost certainly beneficial to take a gentle walk following a meal.
Food has the property, as far as digestion is concerned, of being either heavy or light, related largely to the amount of digestion required. Light foods include cooked rice and potatoes, whereas heavy foods include things like raw food and cooked meat. In the West, we tend to think that salads are ?light? food, but they actually require a lot more digestion than a cooked vegetable. Raw and cooked food have different amounts of agni (digestive fire) present in them and should never be eaten in the same meal, except in very small quantities.
Light food makes it easier to integrate body, mind, and spirit because there is less redistribution of blood to the gut for digestion. Heavy food always leaves you feeling tired and lethargic, and often actually induces sleep.
Diet and the Mind
Everything you eat will affect your mind as well as your body. In Ayurveda, the mind has three possible states that are related to the state of the constitution as a whole:
? sattva, or peaceful equilibrium, in which the power of discrimination is most accessible
? rajas, or activity, in which excessive thoughts prevent discrimination from being accessed
? tamas, or inertia, in which there is a heaviness and attachment to the physical realm such that there is neither activity nor discrimination.
This division of states of mind is the cause of another of those vicious circles that tend to characterize our lives. The power of discrimination allows us to know the correct balance and what is the most appropriate action in a certain situation. If this is clouded, or access to it is not possible, then we are unable to decide, for example, what to eat and how much; this can give rise to a more tamasic state (having the quality of tamas or inertia), which further obscures discrimination!
Food that is bad, fermented, or preserved for too long increases the amount of tamas in the body and then in the mind. A good example of a fermented food is alcohol. This does not mean we should not drink alcohol, but we are all aware of the effects of too much! Legumes and high-protein food like meat, fish, and poultry increase rajas, as do any of the pungent spices. To increase sattva we should increase our intake of grains, fruits and most vegetables.
Dos and Don?ts
Always eat fresh foods when possible and avoid preserved, canned, or frozen food items, though the latter are permissible if fresh is not available. Eat light foods until your appetite is satisfied, but do not be tempted to clear the plate just because there is food on it. With heavy foods, try to restrict yourself to satisfying only half your appetite with this type of ingredient. If you are ill, eat only light foods, and then in small quantities, until half your appetite ? at the most ? is fulfilled.
One of the most important rules in Ayurveda is never to combine in one meal foods that ?fight?, either in terms of the signals they give to the gut or in terms of their qualities:
? do not eat cooked foods and raw foods at the same meal since they require different types of digestion
? avoid combining heavy and light foods
? avoid drinking milk while eating radishes, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, meat, fish, eggs, citrus fruits, melon, bread, or cherries
? do not mix milk and yogurt
? eat fresh fruit separately from other meals (cooked fruit may be eaten at the same time as a cooked meal)
? avoid mixing different types of protein, such as meat and cheese.
In recent years, Western medical research has identified other unhelpful food combinations in line with the traditional ayurvedic ones above. Keep heavy high-protein or high-fat food items in separate meals from lighter foods such as starches and vegetables. These types of food require quite different digestive processes in the gut for proper nutrition. If you eat them together, there will be competition for the appropriate digestive mechanism and neither will be digested properly. Proteins and fats require slow digestion and absorption by the small bowel, whereas starches need to pass quickly to the large bowel where they are acted upon by bacteria to produce special forms of nutrients. Your small bowel needs this form of food. If they are eaten together, then fat and protein slow down the passage of the starches and they do not reach the large bowel in time to be digested by this special bacterial mechanism. It is your bowel that suffers and is unable to function properly as the controller of nutrients entering the body.
Do your best to maintain the separations between different types of foods as indicated above ? there is nothing ?wrong? with any of them, they just do not combine well.
Angela Hope-Murray and Tony Pickup
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