“Ayurveda teaches respect for nature and appreciation for life by showing how we can empower ourselves as individuals. It understands that our own health cannot be considered as separate from that of our family, work, society, and the planet.” In this article on Ayurveda, Beth Alexander writes about centuries-old traditions and practices that can help us find the daily balance we need.
To those who haven’t grown up with Ayurveda, it can seem confusing and somewhat mysterious. But look a little closer and you’ll see that so many of its principles make perfect sense. No matter where you live and what your background is there are aspects of Ayurveda that you will recognise. This ancient system for vibrant health has so much that we can learn from.
So what is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is all about balance. It is an all-encompassing system for how to live in optimum health. And this goes beyond the physical realm to mental health, our interactions with others and with the environment. It is very much a complete way of living, a holistic approach to health rather than a reactive medicine. There is a lovely quote from Sebastian Cole, the herbalist founder of Pukka, that explains it well:
“Ayurveda teaches respect for nature and appreciation for life by showing how we can empower ourselves as individuals. It understands that our own health cannot be considered as separate from that of our family, work, society and planet. In other words, Ayurveda works with real, deep integrated health.”
Finding your daily balance
One of the main principles of Ayurveda is one that we can all relate to. For our best and most vibrant health we should structure our days around the rhythms of the sun and the seasons.
This means going to sleep by around 10pm and waking with the dawn at around 6am. These times can differ a little depending on the season, but the ideal is to be up and doing in the light of the day, and winding things down as it gets dark. Sleep and rest should be prioritised with an ideal of eight hours quality sleep each night.
But what about dancing into the night and lie-ins you ask? Well, they are all well and good in moderation, but we instinctively know when we are overdoing it in our lives. Ayurveda simply recommends the rest and wake rhythms that best bring our systems into balance.
You might have heard of the three doshas and how they relate to each individual. If you’re interested to delve a little deeper then book a session with a trained Ayurveda practitioner. They will be able to give you a full consultation to find out your dominant doshas and recommend particular actions. It’s an interesting process and often explains a lot about how some of our habits make us feel.
One wonderful aspect of Ayurveda is massage with warm oils. Who doesn’t love a massage? If it’s within your means then schedule a regular massage as part of your holistic health routine.
Get moving everyday
Another very relatable principle is that we should all get out in nature and move. A walk in the park, a spot of gardening, a yoga class – take your pick, but make sure you get the body a little fired up every day.
Meditation and mindfulness
There is a lot of talk about mindfulness and mediation these days, and Ayurveda champions both. Meditation brings all sorts of insights and is an extremely powerful practice. But being mindful can be brought into all aspects of life. Next time you are on a tea break take a moment to breathe deeply, feel the warmth of your cup, smell the scent and resist the urge to reach for your phone.
The pace of modern life can be frenetic. Do your best to slow it down from time to time. Choose a day or two a month when you keep your diary clear. Allow yourself to rest and feel into what you and your body need. So instead of keeping busy with a packed list of engagements, you can take your foot off the accelerator and move with the flow of life.
Eating and drinking
The most well-known element of Ayurveda is diet. This is what most people who haven’t studied or grown up with it think of when Ayurveda is mentioned. And diet is indeed extremely important. Ayurveda sees digestion and gut health as fundamental keys to overall physical wellness.
Ayurveda eating recommendations
Stay well hydrated – We all know how important hydration is. Yet many of us go about our lives in varying degrees of dehydration. This can have all sorts of negative impacts on our systems.
Coffee, black tea, sodas and alcohol are all diuretics, meaning that they dehydrate the body. So make a big pot of your favourite herbal tea and sip on it throughout the day. In Ayurveda, warm and hot water is recommended over cold or iced, as they are easier for the body to process.
Eat seasonal and local – It is recommended that we eat mainly seasonal fruit and veg grown reasonably locally. Of course these days we have access to fruits and vegetables from all over the world. And this is likely something many people won’t want to give up. But we can all make a conscious effort to choose more of what is local and seasonal for our kitchens.
When to eat – Ayurveda teaches that we should eat our larger meal at lunchtime when our digestion is most active, then a light evening meal to allow us to sleep comfortably. This can be another tricky one, as most modern lives are set up for a quick lunch and a heavy dinner. But keep it in mind, and where you can try to integrate it into your lifestyle. Another wise recommendation is to eat before you are ravenous and to stop before you are full.
How to eat – When we sit down to a meal it should always have our full attention. Eating mindfully means ditching the mobile phone and concentrating on the flavours, colours and textures on our plate. Chewing well and taking our time helps us to notice when we are satisfied and stop before we are full.
What to eat – Ayurveda recommends plenty of fruit and veg, as well as whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy and spices. Nothing mystifying there – we all know that fuelling up on good quality, ideally organic, wholefoods is the way to go.
Get cooking – Eating warm, cooked foods is another important principle. Raw foods are much harder for the body to digest, and this is especially true in colder seasons or climates. Cooking up nourishing soups and stews based on vegetables, legumes and warming spices is ideal.
Spice your life – Spices in Ayurveda are not only about the fiery heat of chilli. Fragrant herbs and sweet spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric are much more gentle and can be used in all sorts of dishes. Think turmeric lattes, chai and cinnamon pancakes, as well as the more obvious curries and soups.