A Guide To The Ayurveda Experience Of Mind And Body Wellness

 
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I first learned about Ayurveda on Instagram. As someone who’s really focusing on optimizing eating habits as I get older, I instantly wanted to learn more about the ancient philosophy.

Soon I discovered that Ayurveda is a medicine system dating back thousands of years with the goal of balancing the body naturally. Ayurveda derives from two Sanskrit words. “Ayur” translates to “life” and “Veda” translates to “meaning or science.” Therefore, Ayurveda is all about the “knowledge of life” and focuses on how to live mindfully, and in harmony with yourself, to achieve optimum health.

Ayurveda has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years. Much of the health system was realized through self-awareness and in nature. The core tenet of Ayurvedic philosophy is eating a diet of whole, organic, seasonal foods that compliment your body type and work toward optimizing your health. Ayurveda is even said to yield some medicinal benefits.

What is the philosophy behind Ayurveda?

What’s incredibly cool about Ayurvedic philosophy is that it’s unique to every person based on their individual makeup. Within the philosophy, I learned from Iris Rose Lami, Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant, that “there exist three doshas, or life force energies, within each of us. The doshas are pitta, vata, and kapha, and each is characterized by two of the five earthly elements. Each individual possesses his or her own unique ratio of the three doshas.”

When it comes to healing, Iris supports that “Ayurvedic practitioners begin with determining your doshic makeup, as the doshas will clue the practitioner into your individual needs. Different doshas require different types of food and exercise and are prone to different types of health complications. Through Ayurveda’s holistic, bio-individual approach to medicine, individuals will find remedies unique to, and thus more effective for, their individual bodies and minds.”

As someone who often approaches life logically, I also asked Iris to expand on the science behind Ayurveda. She told me that “there isn't necessarily a singular body of science that corresponds directly with Ayurveda's various assertions and recommendations, but you will find that a lot of modern research on the science of health and nutrition supports Ayurveda's ancient claims. For example, the three body types we recognize in the medical community today—endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph—correspond with the three Ayurvedic body types—kapha, vata, and pitta—respectively.”

What are Ayurvedic eating habits?

Nate Masterson, certified health expert, explained to me that “Ayurvedic eating habits include mindful eating, as well as portion control and eating at least six ‘tastes’ per meal—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.”

Frances Geoghegan, founder of Healing Holidays, also gave me additional insight into how the rules of taste affect your doshas. “Sweet, sour, and salty increase kapha and decrease vata. Pungent, bitter, and astringent increase vata and decrease kapha. Sweet, bitter and astringent decrease pitta. Pungent, sour, and salty increase pitta.”

Here’s a nifty infographic from OMVED Therapies to help you visualize the different types of diets:

Why is Ayurveda good for the mind, body, and soul?

Since I’m new to the lifestyle, I enlisted help from Iris Rosa Lami. Iris believes Ayurveda is great for the mind, body, and soul because “it understands, more than any other field of medicine, that the three are connected. In fact, they are inextricably intertwined, one inseparable from the other.”

How do the three intertwine, exactly?

Iris went on to say that “a healthy mind requires a healthy body; a healthy body, a healthy spirit; and a healthy spirit, a healthy mind. Thus, Ayurvedic medicine prescribes ways to tackle all three simultaneously. An Ayurvedic therapist won't just give you dietary recommendations; they will guide you in optimizing every aspect of your lifestyle, from sleep and relationships to diet and exercise to spiritual practices and positive self-talk. In tackling every angle of self-improvement, Ayurveda promises to transform your whole life.”

This style of transformation reminded me of yoga and how it focuses on so much more than movement. My instinct was right because Iris pointed out that “the sister science of Ayurveda, yoga, embraces not only physical activity, but also breath work, stress management, relaxation, and spiritual enlightenment.”

Along my journey, I’ve discovered that the commonality of any practice that’s good for the mind, body, and soul is the intention of balancing all parts of you—Ayurveda included. I could certainly use a little more balance in my life which is why I’m inatately drawn to practices like this one.  

What are some other benefits of Ayurveda?

Masterson talked to me about how “it can help your body to function at its optimum, replenishing energy levels, nourishing your skin, and cultivate eating habits that reduce stress.”

While Geoghegan mentioned that “the myriad of benefits includes weight loss, mood improvement, tackling fatigue, and boosting your immunity. It aligns your mind and body, affecting you on an almost spiritual level.”

Ayurveda also claims to be huge for healthy digestion, but what does healthy digestion mean exactly? Iris explained to me that “healthy, efficient digestion ensures the timely and complete excretion of bodily toxins—what Ayurvedic medicine refers to as “ama.” She went on to say that “modern scientists are discovering that healthy digestion is indeed the key to overall health, not only because it promotes detoxification, as Ayurveda claimed, but also because it promotes a healthy intestinal environment for beneficial bacteria.”

What’s the recent hype?

After going 27 years without hearing about Ayurveda, I started to see it everywhere. I spoke to Talya Lutzker, certified Ayurvedic practitioner, and asked her why she thinks more people are starting to get into the practice.

“Because they want real healing. I don’t like to use the word ‘control,’ but I do think people want more understanding and control of their bodies. I think people are wanting to know how to take care of themselves better and they want to be empowered to do so. They’re tired of drugs and fed up with industries that make promises to lose weight or feel better—but only if you keep buying their product or remain a slave to that drug.”

When I asked Talya what originally got her into the practice, she told me that Ayurveda became a simple, common sense system she could learn, understand and apply in her kitchen and her home. She felt empowered around her health for the first time in her life.

In the first few months of transitioning to an Ayurvedic lifestyle, Talya experienced things like weight loss, feeling like herself again, awareness on what her body wanted and needed, a connection to herself, and a return of natural energy.

Talya’s story completely resonated with me because I’ve been looking at holistic trends for my diet for quite some time—from Ayurveda to Paleo to vegetarianism. So often I’m tired after certain foods, catching colds, binging on snacks, buying food from unknown sources, and after a while, I realize how careless it all feels.

What we eat is literally what keeps us alive, and wouldn’t it be obvious to take more care into what we put into our bodies? I’m not sure what practice will be most beneficial for me (I’m a “healthy skeptic” until I try things for myself), but I do believe our society needs a little more education and enlightenment when it comes to food and medicine.

Want to give it a try?

Here’s a look at one of my first Ayurvedic lunches from The Assemblage in NYC (you know, research for this article):

 
PHOTO: COURTESY SONYA MATEJKO

PHOTO: COURTESY SONYA MATEJKO

 

If you want to make your own Ayurvedic cocktail, here are two drinks recommended by registered dietician, Erin Coffield:

  • Moon Milk: A silky and soothing beverage featuring warm milk infused with spices and herbs like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and ginseng (traditionally made with Indian ginseng referred to as ashwagandha, a perceived adaptogen to reduce stress). Cinnamon and nutmeg and the other spices can also provide a sense of a sensory calm—from the way they smell to their taste.

Hint: Bloom the spices first in a sauté pan with about 1 tsp. of butter over medium heat to intensify the flavors; then pour warm milk on top of them and whisk together; transfer to a mug and relax!

  • Golden Milk: A warm, traditional Indian beverage made with milk, honey, and turmeric—the 4,000-year-old spice that gives the milk its golden color. Turmeric also has a long history of use and perceived benefits in Ayurvedic medicine.

Hint: Adding a little fresh or ground ginger and ground cinnamon goes well with golden milk, too.

Or, if you just want to learn more about Ayurveda on Instagram, check out Sahara Rose. Deepak Chopra called her “a leading voice in the millennial generation” and she’s a best-selling Ayurveda author. I promise you, this girl is a true inspiration.

The thing I love about this topic, and how it folds into my perspective on spirituality, is the focus on self-awareness. In life, it’s so important that we come to understand our individual needs for our mind, body, and soul. It’s also incredibly important for us to consider the natural resources and time-tested philosophy that could guide us towards a more fulfilling lifestyle. Not every practice will be a fit, but self-discovery is one of the best parts of life.