Ayurvedic Soup Recipe: Coconut Curry Root Veggie Soup for Vata Season and Vata Dosha
Ayurvedic Soup Recipe - Fall and early winter are the "vata season" in Ayurveda. Vata dosha is made of the elements, air and ether (learn more about the Ayurvedic elements here; and then read more about the Ayurvedic doshas here). Throughout summer, vata is in the "accumulation phase" in our world and in our bodies, preparing for what Ayurveda calls the "aggravation phase" in the fall. When fully expressed, or aggravated, vata is dry, cold, mobile, unstable, and light. Aggravated in our bodies, we can see this as dry skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, dry hair, unstable joints, gas, bloating, and constipation. Aggravated in our minds, we can see this as worry, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, and depression.
Do you dread fall? You might already have a great deal of vata in your Ayurvedic constitution (the way your genes express themselves through the elements and doshas, when you came into this world). On the other hand, you might have a great deal of vata aggravation, or imbalance, especially if you live a fast-paced lifestyle with a lot of movement, "busy-ness," and/or travel (and not a lot of rest or routine).
To balance the vata symptoms you might experience any time of the year, and especially in the fall, or vata season, Ayurveda tells us to bring in the opposite qualities of vata: warmth, moisture, stability, and heaviness (fire, water, and earth elements). So we eat more soups, stews, curries, and stir fries, cooked with more oils for moisture, spices for warmth and improved digestion, and root vegetables for stability/earth quality.
Here's a fabulous recipe that you can use as a "template" for soups, stews, and curries all fall and winter long! Feel free to change out any of the veggies for others, add any protein (great with shredded chicken), and change up the spices to suit your tastes. Don't like onion and/or garlic? Throw in a pinch of hing (asafoetida) powder.
However you like it, here's to balanced vata dosha!
Ayurvedic Coconut Curry Root Veggie Soup Recipe for Vata Dosha and Fall Season
1 tbs. Ghee (can sub Butter or Oil of Choice)
1 tbs. Sunflower Oil (can sub Sesame/Oil of Choice or more Ghee)
1/2 Medium Yellow/Sweet Onion, diced
2 Small or 1 Large Russet Potato(es), chopped into 1/2" cubes
1 Small Butternut Squash, chopped into 1/2" cubes (about 2 cups if using frozen cubes) (feel free to toast the seeds, if you're starting with a whole squash, to sprinkle over your soup!) - you could also sub in sweet potato, parsnips, rutabaga, more russets, or more carrots and celery here
3 Medium Carrots, sliced into thin coins
3 Large Celery Stalks, sliced in half lengthwise and then sliced across thinly
1/2 lb. Shiitake Mushrooms - optional, but they make it so earthy and further strengthen the immune-boosting power of the ginger and garlic! (de-stem and slice the caps -- save the stems for a mushroom or veggie broth later)
1-2 inches Fresh Ginger, peeled and grated (or sub in 1-2 tsp. Ginger powder)
3-4 Cloves Garlic, peeled and grated
1 Tbs. Curry Powder (or if you don't like the heat, 1 Tbs. Turmeric powder)
1 Tbs. Cumin Powder
1/2 Tbs. Coriander Powder
4 Cups Vegetable Broth (I like to make my own with leftover and accumulated, frozen veggie peels and scraps, including those aforementioned mushroom stems.)
1 Can Light (or Regular) Coconut Milk
1 Can Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans, drained and rinsed (or chopped, boneless, skinless chicken breast/thighs - about a pound total works here)
2 Tbs. Sea Salt (or more or less depending on your taste and how salty your broth is)
1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped - save stems for another use, like tossing them in with your next stir fry (optional - can sub in flat-leaf parsley if you don't like cilantro)
Juice of Limes (optional)
Heat ghee and/or oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat.
Add onion, potatoes, squash, carrots, and about a tablespoon of salt to help soften/draw out moisture from the veggies; sauté, stirring frequently, until softened (about 7-8 minutes).
Add celery and mushrooms, sautéing another 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until also softened.
Add garlic, ginger, curry/turmeric, cumin, and coriander and stir constantly so everyone is coated in seasoning and to avoid burning the garlic.
Add broth, coconut milk, and chickpeas (or protein of your choice--great time to throw in chopped, skinless, chicken breast or thighs); stir well until combined.
Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes, or until potatoes and squash are fork tender.
Stir in optional lime juice and cilantro.
Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding the remaining tablespoon of salt (or more or less, depending on your taste).
Serve it up, and enjoy!
Meghan Hays is an Ayurvedic Practitioner offering Ayurveda Salt Lake City. To Schedule Your Initial Ayurvedic Consult, PleaseContact US
How To Get Better Sleep From An Ayurvedic Perspective
Sleep is one of the three pillars of health in Ayurveda, along with diet and creative output. Arguably, sleep is the most important pillar in that, if you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t have the energy to do the other two—you won’t have the energy to make healthy and supportive food choices, and you won’t have the energy to bring forth into the world what you are inspired to create or manifest (at the very least, you won’t be able to work to support yourself).
Sleep is what we, as humans, spend a third of lives doing (assuming you’re getting the recommended 8 hours). Sleep is perhaps the cornerstone of our health, and ironically, I’d say most people would admit that they’re either not getting enough sleep, or they’re not getting quality sleep—they’re not feeling rested upon rising in the morning.
How To Get Better Sleep:
Schedule If you have a schedule that allows you to sleep at night (versus a job that requires you to take a night shift, etc.), Ayurveda tells us to be in bed by 10pm at the latest. Ideally, we would be asleep by this time. If you stay up later than this, you’ll get a “second wind.”
Why? Well…Ayurveda tells us that the liver is doing really important detoxification jobs between 10pm and 2pm. Among the 500 or so other metabolic processes it assists with, the liver gets “revved up” around 10pm to clean up any toxins you consumed over the course of the day that it couldn’t get to (because it was assisting with digesting your food), recycling old blood cells, and turning all of that into bile.
So your metabolism gets going to do its nighttime janitorial duties around 10pm. If you’re asleep, you won’t even notice, unless you’ve done something to interfere with this process like consume a lot of alcohol or eat too close to bedtime (in which case you’ll probably wake up nice and warm, even hot—more on this later). If you’re awake, however, you might notice that, no matter how tired you are, you “become alive,” or get a second wind, and want to start watching a new series on Netflix, interact with social media, or start cleaning out your closet.
For me, I notice this begins around 9:30pm or so. So I have to start winding down around 9pm in order to thwart this tendency; otherwise, I’ll be up until 2am organizing my pantry and planning my calendar for the next year. True story. And obviously, this unsupportive habit sets you up for a vicious cycle of waking up groggy, exhausted, and sleepy, slogging your way through the workday, plopping yourself down on the couch, ordering take out because you’re too tired to cook, watching TV and checking your phone all night, interfering with your circadian rhythms with all that blue light (more on this later too), and then getting that second wind to repeat it all over again, only to try to catch up on the weekends or on your days off, which then messes up your rhythm even more.
So what do you do?
1) Eat an earlier, lighter dinner. Be finished with your dinner and all eating by 7pm at the very latest (I, personally, try to eat around 6pm and be done with the meal by 6:30pm). This will give you at least 3 hours between dinner and bedtime. If you go to bed with food on your stomach, your liver won’t be able to do all those nighttime janitorial duties about which I just spoke. This is also where I feel a lot of diet pitfalls come into play for so many of us. We eat at night for comfort, looking for a reward for doing a hard job all day or just for making through the day. I promise you will drop weight if you stick to this rule of finishing dinner and all food by 7pm or earlier.
Also, make sure dinner is not the largest meal of your day. Your metabolism is higher around Noon, so eating your largest meal at that time is best and ensures you’ll digest any heavier choices well before bedtime. Your metabolism is beginning to lower to get you ready for sleep in the evening, so make dinner a smaller version of lunch, or choose lighter options like soup or salad at this time.
Have a family or partner that expects dinner to be a big event? Do what I do and cook a big pot of soup or stew and just have a smaller portion of it. What if your family likes to eat later? Have a cup of soup or a lite salad on your own, and then join them when they eat dinner with a cup of herbal tea for yourself. Explain to them what you’re trying to do and why you’re doing it. Ensure them that you’re so happy to sit down and join them, catch up with them about their day, etc. even though you’re not eating with them.
Maybe you have a partner who likes to cook, but they always do it later in the evening. Have them put aside a portion for you to eat for lunch the next day. Make sure to tell them how much you loved and appreciated it. Again, join them while they eat and enjoy the company and conversation. Explain to them what you’re doing.
I’ve seen all of these strategies work really well for people, when they actually mean business about improving their sleep and getting their digestion and health back on track. You have to stand in your confidence and conviction; be loving but firm in your resolve. It’s possible to make this work, even if the rest of your household isn’t on board.
If you need a little treat or get hungry about an hour before bed, have ½ a cup of warm oat, almond, hemp, or dairy milk with a ¼ teaspoon of Ashwagandha powder (you can order this from Banyan Botanicals), a pinch of nutmeg to digest it (incidentally, it’s also a mild sedative), and a little raw honey or maple syrup. This will help you sleep, satisfy a sweet tooth, and it’s light enough that it won’t interfere with your liver’s clean-up-on-aisle-six job. Limit it to half a cup so you don’t have to wake up and pee in the middle of the night.
On a side note, cut out any beverages an hour before bed to help with that issue, if it is one for you.
2) Limit Alcohol Consumption Speaking of beverages, alcohol is one of the main culprits for disrupted sleep. It requires a LOT of work from your liver since it is basically poison (don’t get me wrong: I love my wine!), disrupts your hormones, and dehydrates you. If you drink more than one drink a night, you’re probably waking up in the middle of the night, usually hot and thirsty, possibly with anxiety or problem-solving on your mind, or you have to get up to pee multiple times in the night because of alcohol’s diuretic qualities. If you choose to consume alcohol, limit it to one drink, have it with a meal (incidentally, the Mediterranean diet correlates red wine consumption WITH food to its positive health benefits), and have it before 7pm so your liver doesn’t have to spend its nighttime janitorial duties processing alcohol while you sleep.
3) Evening Activities In order to induce sleep at the right time, you’ll need to allow your eyes and your brain to observe the increasing darkness outside. You are part of nature; just like the animals that are awake with the sun and asleep when it’s dark, so should you be in order to prevent disease and feel your most balanced self. Screens and bright lights interfere directly with this process. -Blue light from screens interferes with our circadian rhythms (biorhythms that follow the light of the sun) – blue light suppresses melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy – okay during the daytime but problematic after sunset b/c it will keep you from being sleepy at appropriate times -Blue light is emitted by fluorescent lights, LED lights, and all of your devices/screens -Some ideas: Turn off screens at LEAST 1 hour before bed (2-3 if you are having serious sleep problems) Dim lights / use more candles (carefully) Trade your regular reading lamp’s light bulb for a red or orange light (longer wavelengths than blue, so doesn’t penetrate the skin like blue light) – one that doesn’t emit blue light – or try candlelight if it doesn’t cause you to strain your eyes Blue-light blocking or amber glasses to mitigate the melatonin-suppressing effects of the blue light if you have to/want to look at screens after dark
So what do you do instead of look at screens or eat? Try some of these options to wind down: At 9pm, turn off the TV and/or put away your phone (go ahead and set your alarm for in the morning, if you use your phone for that). Take a warm, Epsom salt bath (I like 2 cups per bath) to absorb muscle and nervous system-relaxing Magnesium. Drop 20-40 drops of Lavender and a few drops of Chamomile essential oils into your bath. Relax. Rub almond or coconut oil on your skin, massaging gently and with self-love. Slip on some PJ’s you don’t care about getting a little oil on. Use my 30 minute Relaxation/Restorative video or any of the techniques and stretches in those videos to get your body prepped for sleep. I like to sit outside under the stars and listen to an audiobook. I get to “read” without using a screen. I also like to curl up after my bath/nighttime beauty rituals with an actual paper book or magazine (remember those?).
Creating a ritual that you start one hour before bed will get your body and nervous system back into the habit of getting sleepy at an appropriate time each night. Give it time; be patient. It might be hard to do this at first, and you might not be sleepy the first couple of nights or even the first week. But trust me, you will feel so much better once you get into the groove.
4) Bonus Tips To Help You Get Better Sleep - Lower the temperature of your sleeping room/bedroom to somewhere between 60 and 69 degrees Farenheit (some sources say even lower!). We like 68 degrees. - Invest in blackout curtains OR wear a sleeping mask (cheap ones that work really well on Amazon). I can’t live or travel without mine now. It’s amazing how much light can come in from streetlights, automatic lights on your house, etc. The darker the better. - If you are a light sleeper, consider investing in some earplugs. I like Mack’s silicone putty ear plugs. They’re a little tricky to get used to the first time you use them in that you’ll hear the sound of your own breathing very distinctly (kind of like being in a sound deprivation tank), but trust me, once you get used to it, you will be amazed at how much sounder you sleep and how much less you awaken to random noises in the night. - Try my Ayurvedic Sleep Tincture! Link here! Take one whole dropper-full (you might need to "dip" the dropper twice to get the whole dosage) when you're tossing and turning and need a "nudge" to get some Zzzz's.
I hope this helps give you some ideas about how to get better sleep. If you simply adhere to having an earlier, lighter dinner by 7pm (6:30pm even better), you will improve your digestion, your weight, AND your sleep.
Summary - How to Get Better Sleep
_Bed/Asleep by 10pm _Dinner/All Food by 7pm or earlier (I try for 6:30pm) _Dinner should be lighter than lunch. _½ cup warm Milk, ¼ teaspoon Ashwagandha powder, pinch nutmeg, and honey or maple syrup to taste about an hour before bed _Limit all other beverages/liquids one hour before bed _Limit alcohol to one drink/glass of wine with a meal and be done by 7pm. _Turn off all screens 1 hour before bed. _Create a nighttime ritual that you start that 1 hour before bed that can include anything you’d like, as long as it doesn’t involve screens. _Create an optimal environment for sleep by lowering the temperature a great deal and investing in a sleep mask and/or ear plugs that work for you. Try a few until you find the one(s) that feel good.
If you'd like Ayurveda in Salt Lake City and to work more closely on sleep and insomnia, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also offer virtual appointments to anyone in the world. You can learn more about Ayurvedic Health Counseling by clicking here.
Ayurvedic Elements - Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether - Introduction to Ayurveda
Thousands of years ago, the original Ayurvedic scholars, called "rishis," observed that everything in nature, including ourselves, is made of five ayurvedic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. While these elements are not to be taken literally (rather, they are metaphors for all the molecules and energies that make up our universe), we can find health and harmony in our lives by observing and working to balance these elements through Ayurvedic diet, lifestyle, and daily habits/practices.
Here is an overview of what those elements might look like in your mind and body. When these elements come together, they are called the Ayurvedic "doshas." You can read more about the doshas here.
The Earth Element = Structure and Stability
The earth element is what gives everything shape and form--anything you can touch or feel contains the earth element. In the body, earth gives us our form and shape. It gives rise to all of our bodily tissues. In the mind, earth brings stability.
When we have too much earth element in the body, we will have too much tissue (weight gain). When we have too much earth in the mind, it leads to dullness and lethargy. Conversely, when you have deficient earth element in your body, you will also be deficient in tissue. When you have deficient earth in the mind, you will experience instability and have difficulty maintaining information.
The Water Element = Moisture and Flow
The water element gives rise to all substances that contain or involve moisture. In the body water represents all bodily fluids, specifically the lymphatic and interstitial fluids. The water element is also involved in byproducts and waste fluids like mucous, sweat, urine, tears, breast milk, and male and female reproductive fluids.
The water element In the mind is involved in flow, which allows you to flow from one task to another in your day and allows you to experience a healthy flow of thoughts. When we have excessive water element in the body, you might experience swelling, or edema, and excess fluid production.
In the mind, excess water element will manifest in excessive emotional flow (ex. excessive tears and even excessively deep feelings of sadness). When water is deficient in the body, we will experience dry mucous membranes and tissues. In the mind, deficient water element will show up as an inability to "flow"--or an emotional "dryness" of sorts. This could be seen in an inability to form emotional attachments.
The Fire Element = transformation/metabolism/clarity
The Fire Element is involved in anything that produces heat. The fire element, therefore, is involved in digestive fire, and metabolism in the body at both the gross and cellular level,
The fire element gives you the ability to transform food into healthy bodily tissue. In the mind, fire element gives you the ability to transform sensory input into clear concepts and to discern and experience clarity.
In excess, the fire element produces too much heat, or inflammation, in the body. This could manifest in your metabolism processing food and energy too quickly. It can potentially "eat up" tissue when it runs out of fuel and cause symptoms like redness, heat/fever, and/or weight loss.
Excess fire in the mind results in angry emotions, intensity around work and projects, and criticism of others. Laci of fire element in the body can cause coldness, sluggishness, and even weight gain. In the mind, deficient fire element will cause lack of clarity and discernment, making deciding things difficult, and motivation scarce.
The Air Element = Motion
The air element is involved in all movement in the universe. It is a unique element in that it is the only element that has innate movement, and can move around the other elements.
The Air Element, like the wind, has a variable nature to it. It is always changing. Becuase of this, the air element is inherently unstable.
The air element governs all the movement in the body: everything from nutrients and wastes moving in and out of cellular membranes, to blood circulating through your veins, to the movement of your limbs, to the movement of your thoughts, and especially the movement of food and waste through your digestive tract.
Excessive air element in the body can result in dryness and coolness (think of air evaporating sweat from your skin and cooling you off), nervous ticks and tremors, and variable digestive symptoms.
Excessive air element in the mind will usually result in agitation, "circling" thoughts, repetitive thought patterns, fear, anxiety, and worry.
If you don't have enough air element you might experience dullness, lethargy, and potentially slow reflexes. Deficient air in the mind will be reflected similarly as dullness, heaviness, and potential difficulty recalling concepts.
The Ether Element = Idea of "connectedness" / Space
The Ether Element is the container in which all of the other elements reside. It is the context within which the other f0ur ayurvedic elements assemble or manifest. You can think of the ether element as the "vacuum" of space. Ether element tends to have a diminishing effect on the other elements.
As an example, the ether element increases in you as you age. Think about the changes aging brings about. Your hair grows thinner, your skin and bones grow thinner/diminish, Your mind becomes more unstable.
It follows, then, when the ether element accumulates in the body, we have weaker and drier tissues; when it accumulates in the mind, we become ungrounded, unfocused, and spacey. When we don't have enough in the body, we become heavy and dull; when ether is deficient in the mind, we have trouble connecting concepts, connecting with others, and connecting with the Divine.
The Five Elements and the Doshas The five elements come together to make up your unique constitution. They also come together to formthe three, Ayurvedic Doshas.
Since we interact with the world and elements around us, it is inevitable that we will accumulate too much of one or more elements or become deficient in them throughout our day, throughout the seasons, and throughout our lifetimes.
Ayurveda seeks to teach us about ourselves so that we can take responsibility for our health and bring ourselves back into balance through diet, lifestyle, daily habits, and remembering that we are Nature--we are Divine.
In your 2-hour Initial Ayurvedic Consultation and 50-min Report of Findings, we will determine the unique combination of elements in you--at birth and in the current moment. We will give you the tools you need to bring yourself back into balance--to heal yourself from the inside-out.
Combinations of all the elements make up all of nature, including our bodies and minds. Each one of us has all five elements in different combinations. The elements make up the three, Ayurvedic doshas, or the fundamental energy in the universe and in our bodies and minds. Each of us has a unique balance of these elements and doshas at conception, or birth. These energies tend to go out of balance at different times in our lives due to environmental factors, such as diet, lifestyle, climate, relationships, daily habits, and even thought patterns.
Summary The Five Elements of Ayurveda Are: Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Ether. Everything in nature that can be said to exist are comprised of these five basic elements. Ayurveda seeks to restore balance to the individual through balance of the five Ayurvedic Elements.
Ayurveda for Salt Lake City Utah - How is practicing ayurveda in Salt Lake City (or anywhere in Utah or the desert west region) different from practicing ayurveda in other parts of the country.
When we relocated from New Orleans to the high desert, my ayurveda Salt Lake City had to change. In New Orleans, the environment was hot and wet most of the time. So coming here to Utah where it is "high and dry" - I had to alter the way my husband was practicing ayurveda because he has a lot of Vata already, and being here was just going to further complicate the potential imbalances. Without all of that hot and wet air from the Gulf of Mexico tamping his Vata Dosha down, I was worried he might end up with a terrible Vata Imbalance, so we had to make a lot of adjustments to his diet and daily routine to help keep him in balance.
That got me thinking - there are probably a lot of people in Salt Lake City and Utah who need Ayurveda to help stay on top of the dryness and altitude to prevent a Vata Imbalance.
Let me explain Ayurveda and Geographical Environment to get started. First off, it is important to think about your region and it's qualities. The Salt Lake City area could be called "high and dry" to put a fine point on it. So when you are looking at Ayurveda for a region, you have to think about what elements qualities correspond to the elements of where you live.
As an example - the qualities of the Air Element are cold and dry, but certainly "high and dry" fall directly into the Air Element, which in Ayurveda is called Vata.
So if you live want to do ayurveda salt lake city, then you have to think, "O.K., it is high and dry where I live. That is a lot of Vata in my environment. So if I already have a lot of Vata Dosha (air element) in my constitution, and then I live in a place that also has the qualities of Air, then you get air on air, and that isn't good. It is going to go out of balance. I should work hard to balance all of that air."
How might you do that? Add the OPPOSITE QUALITIES into your life.
If the qualities you are trying to offset are cold and dry (the qualities of the air element), then you want to add the opposite qualities of Warm and Wet.
How do you do this?
Easy - Add: - eating foods that are warm and wet - like soup. - put oil on your body and moisturize your skin every day (abhyanga in Ayurveda)
Remove - - Cold Dry Foods from you diet - Carbonated Beverages (cold and full of air bubbles) - Excessive Movement - Excessive Meditation - Extreme anything - Vata equals movement, so slowing down and avoiding anything extreme in your life will help reduce Vata Imbalance.
Vata imbalances can lead to dry joints, dry hair, anxiety, and eventually disease. Vata (being like the wind) is the easiest of all of the doshas to become imbalanced, and the hardest to contain and balance. This is doubly true, when you live in the high desert.
If you are wondering how to apply ayurveda Salt Lake City, please contact Meghan today by e-mail email@example.com or visit our Contact Pagewhere you can book an Ayurvedic Consultation at her Ayurveda Clinic Salt Lake City.
Ayurveda and Weight Loss - Part 2 Sustainable Solutions to Attain Your Healthiest Weight
Ayurveda and Weight Loss Part 2 - If you haven't read "Part 1," on Ayurveda and Weight Loss, you can do that by scrolling down to my last post. Now that you understand the root causes of weight gain, let’s talk about why you’re probably here: what can I do about this weight gain? How do I bring myself back into balance?
Ayurveda Diet - From an Ayurvedic perspective, we always want to address the root of the problem. So you’ll want to consult with a practitioner to determine your prakruti, or your underlying constitution. Are you a vata working with a kapha imbalance? Are you a kapha, working with a kapha imbalance? You get the idea. Online quizzes are helpful, but don’t often differentiate clearly between prakruti and vikruti (underlying constitution and current imbalance). More About Ayurvedic Diet
And then you’ll also want to look at a what, exactly, has happened in your life that is causing you to gain weight? What do your daily habits look like (do you have any, or is everything changing from day to day)? After that, we bring in the diet, lifestyle, and daily habits that will work best for you, as each individual is unique with different needs.
That being said, I’m going to give you some solutions today that ANY constitution can use to heal their relationship with food and the underlying causes of their kapha imbalance, or weight gain.
1) Take back your relationship with food. Working on digestion is one of the highest (maybe THE highest) physical practice in Ayurveda. Your body is your vehicle for contributing love and light to this world. Ayurveda wants you to treat it as such. And how do we build that body and its tissues? Through food we eat, of course. We literally are what we eat. Eating, therefore, is a sacred act. We do it at least three times a day; therefore, you have at least three opportunities every…single…day to get back in touch with and even take control over the type of body and the type of tissue you build. HOW you eat is even more important than WHAT you eat with regard to building healthy digestion and strong bodily tissues. Here are the guidelines to create a healthy eating environment at least three times a day:
A. At the same times each day, sit down, eliminate distractions, and create a calm environment. Let’s unpack that guideline b/c there’s a lot there.
“At the same times” = create a routine around your meals. Eat breakfast each morning at the same time. Designate a lunch break (and take it) at the same time each day. Same for dinner.
“Sit down” = no standing at the counter over the food container. Put your meal on a plate/in a bowl, put it on the table, and then sit down at the table to eat it. No one ever created healthy tissue by wolfing down a sandwich, while driving their car.
“Eliminate distractions” = no TV, no podcast, no reading, no work. Sorry. Your brain prioritizes a low level of distraction all the time over digestion, so if you’re engaging the brain in the task of emails, the drama of the news, or your favorite TV show, it’s not going to give digestion the proper energy it needs to know which and how much of each digestive enzyme it needs to secrete to properly digest your food. This leads to gas, bloating, burping, and/or reflux. And let’s face it, how long does it really take to eat a plate full of food (without rushing)? Ten minutes max? You and I can both sacrifice ten minutes out of our day to give digestion a fighting chance.
“Create a calm environment” = This could be anything from agreeing not to talk about politics and religion at the dinner table to eating in silence; this could mean committing to getting away from your desk at work to eat lunch outside, with a co-worker in the kitchen/lounge, or even sitting in your car if you have no other peaceful options; this could mean always putting fresh flowers on your breakfast table, lighting candles at dinner, or pulling out the good china for lunch. Let’s create something sacred out of the seemingly mundane.
B. Before eating, take 3 deep breaths, a moment of silence, or say grace (if that’s in your comfort zone/tradition). This is a real game-changer for me. If I can remember to do this, it’s so much easier to follow the remaining guidelines. My digestive system is so much happier, and I experience less indigestion in general. I like to put my hands over my food, close my eyes, and take three deep breaths while feeling gratitude for every being, who contributed to my meal (the people who picked the produce, the animal that gave its life, the truck drivers who brought it to the store, the workers in the store, the person who cooked it (probably me!), etc.).
C. Chew thoroughly. This one can be groundbreaking. If you’re like me and have a lot pitta and a strong appetite, you probably have a lifelong habit of shoveling your food and eating very quickly. This is not such a great approach for creating healthy tissue. As strong as your digestive system might be, it’s going to have a really hard time digesting whole pieces of food. Slowing down and chewing your food can help to eliminate all kinds of problems, from reflux to gas and even chronic diarrhea. Give your digestive system some help and focus on chewing your food to an even consistency before you swallow. Again, if I take those three deep breaths before I dive in, I remember to do this way more often than not.
D. Only eat until you are about 70% full. Here’s the key to finding an ideal, supportive body weight that’s right for your frame. If you can give yourself the space and patience and time to find what this means for you, it can be incredibly rewarding. This ensures that you never feel stuffed and never overload your digestive system, which can create toxicity and, eventually, illness and weight gain in the body. Again, this can really take some time, especially if you never sit to eat, take designated meal breaks, or have no routine or rituals around food. You probably don’t pay much attention to natural hunger and fullness signals either. And that’s okay! You’re going to now, right? Good.
E. .Wait at least three hours before eating again to allow your system to properly digest your food. According to Ayurveda, there are three stages of digestion, and they happen in the stomach, the small intestines, and then the large intestines, in that order. If your last meal is still being worked on in the small intestines, where a great deal of nutritional absorption takes place, and you go and eat something else because you’re bored (or anxious, or whatever), your body has to take energy away from that digestive process to then go back up to the stomach and work on whatever you just ate. So now neither process is getting the right amount of attention, and this is usually when problems like gas, bloating, reflux, and diarrhea like to rear their ugly heads.
And I would like to add a caveat: wait until you’re actually hungry again to eat, especially if you’re working on this 70% full principle. It can take some time to get this right. If you don’t eat quite enough, you might be genuinely hungry two hours after a meal. In the name of trying to keep your body from thinking that famine is coming, there’s not need to deprive yourself in the name of trying wait three hours. Go ahead and eat again, but sit down, take a few breaths/say grace, chew thoroughly, and stop at 70% full.
One more thing here: if it doesn’t bother you to go a little longer than 3 hours to eat again, waiting a bit more can give your body an opportunity to use stored fat as fuel. This can aid in your weight loss efforts. I want to point out, however, if you have a lot of vata in your constitution, or prakruti, this can backfire. Going a long time without eating for vata can increase ether (emptiness), causing you to feel ungrounded, even dizzy, and then possibly reaching for whatever junk food is available and possibly even binging on it. Instead, vata does better with smaller, more frequent meals, eaten when truly hungry. This is difficult for vata, but it’s worth cultivating in that noticing true hunger and fullness signals gets vata out of the clouds and back into their bodies, which was the problem that created the weight gain in the first place, remember? If you’ve got more pitta and/or kapha in your constitution, or prakruti, you might do better with going a little longer between meals. Bottom line: pay attention to your body. Set an alarm or alert on your phone or calendar to remind you to check in with yourself throughout the day, if needed.
F. Sit for 10-15 minutes after a meal, or take a stroll. This is a tough one for me in that I’m ready to get “back to business” after I eat. I’m ready to do another task or get back into whatever I was doing before the meal. But I’m getting better and better at reminding myself that sitting and reading something fun (for me), like a magazine or good book, is a real privilege that I can carve out the time for. If the weather permits, taking a five-minute stroll is a great way to aid in digestion (the movement of walking helps with peristalsis, or the movement of the smooth muscles that line the digestive tract). We’re not talking power walking or working up a sweat—it’s a “stroll.” (Okay, vata? Okay, pitta?) Get too fired up about this, and you’ll probably have cramping or diarrhea. Take it easy, enjoy the scenery, notice your breath. Again, we’re trying to get you back into your body, noticing its processes, and its needs.
G. Take no more than ½ cup water or liquid with meals; any more will interfere with the digestive process and your ability to note when you’re at that 70% full mark. If you have something like soup or stew with your meal, you don’t need that beverage at all. Additionally, beverages should be taken warm (especially if you have a lot of vata in your constitution in that vata is cold and dry, so we don’t to add more of that cold quality) or room temperature (even if you have a lot of pitta in your constitution in that the digestive system and metabolism have to “roar up” to bring that cold water back to body temperature, thus causing a temporary surge in heat…and pitta, as you know, is already hot enough). On that note, drinking water between meals is really important in your weight loss efforts. Every organ needs water to function efficiently. We also, a great deal of the time, mistake thirst for hunger. Sipping water or even herbal tea (something non-caffeinated) throughout the day is important for keeping all tissues of the body hydrated and also to keep you satiated between meals/snacks. Guzzling water will just overtax your kidneys in that you can only absorb about ½ cup of water at a time. So keep a reusable water bottle or thermos of herbal tea on hand at all times, and sip frequently.
H. .A few tips if you know you’re dealing with an underlying vata imbalance, or you experience a great deal of dryness, anxiety, and variability in your digestion (gas, bloating, constipation, and even alternating diarrhea and constipation):
Raw food is not your friend in that it is very hard to digest. Instead of salads and smoothies (which are cold and drying…vata is already cold and dry, so we don’t want to increase those qualities), bring in soups, stews, chilis, and stir fries instead. These warming, nourishing, “comfort foods” can take the place of other foods that have become comforting but are not supportive, like sugar, white flour, etc.
Vata digestion is variable and often low, so smaller, more frequent meals might suit a vata constitution or underlying vata imbalance better than “three squares a day.” But remember to apply the principles we talked about before: eat when truly hungry, stop when about 70% full, bring in those mindfulness practices like grace and chewing.
Since vata digestion can be variable or even low, your food should be seasoned well, so use lots of yummy spices, like ginger, cumin, fennel, turmeric, basil, thyme, oregano, etc. Since vata is dry by nature, a little salt goes a long way to keeping moisture in the tissues of the body. Same goes for oil: use it in your cooking and drizzle a little high quality extra virgin olive or sesame oil on your cooked food, or finished product. Don’t be afraid of oil and salt; many of your health problems probably stem from dryness as a root cause, and these things will help immensely in grounding, calming, and satisfying vata.
Don’t be afraid of carbs. Whole grains, like rice, quinoa, bulgur, etc. can be incredibly nourishing and grounding for vata (and pitta alike). These active (often overly active) brains and nervous systems need the replenishment from the B-vitamins these foods offer as well as the feel-good hormones (like serotonin) they cause our systems to emit. While low-carb diets might get fast results, that’s not what we’re looking for here, remember? We want awareness, nourishment, and sustainability. Ayurveda gives us long term solutions to the underlying cause(s) of our imbalances. Again, let’s embrace that idea of sustainability.
OK, enough about food now, let’s talk about the mind and emotions; they play SUCH a large part in our daily lives and relationship with food and our bodies.
2) Take back your relationship with your emotions. If you recognize and pay attention to them, you might not feel the need to “eat them” instead. What I mean by that is, we often use food as a comforting coping mechanism, when we have emotions we don’t want to recognize or deal with.
One of the best ways I’ve found to deal with my emotions is to write them down first thing in the morning and/or before I go to bed. If you’re resistant to the idea of journaling, that’s okay. Sometimes, in the morning, I just write down my dreams. Sometimes, I just write down what I have to do that day or some ideas for a project that’s on my mind. I used to hate the idea of journaling. I really don’t know why. I guess because, like so many of us, I didn’t really want to address my feelings. The mind can be a scary place, no? What I’ve found is that, if I approach this “journaling” with a light-hearted attitude, it’s so much easier. I wake up, do a few morning self-care practices, pour myself some tea, and bring it and my notebook with me outside to write for a few minutes and watch the hummingbirds come to our feeder. I promise myself that I can read the morning headlines and check my email (and drink my tea because it’s cool enough by then) right after I do a few minutes of journaling. I get an immediate reward for taking just 10 minutes to write down what’s in my head, and the pay-off for the rest of the day is HUGE. Since my thoughts are now down on paper, they’re not whirling through my head all day, sending me into a thought or action spiral that results in sitting down with a bag of chips or candy because I needed some emotional comfort. I already took care of myself…and before I even checked my email. It’s a win-win.
Find what works for you. For many of my clients, writing down their thoughts or to-do’s before they go to bed is what works best. I call this a “mind-dump;” dump out the contents of your mind before bed so they don’t wake you up at 2 or 3am. If you still wake up at 2am, you can now tell yourself not to worry; you already wrote that down and can look at it in the morning. Writing is a very effective tool for dealing with emotions, and can help you avoid “eating your feelings” later. I encourage you to try it. Set a time each day that you’ll do it. I tack it on to my morning tea, but you can tack it on to anything you already do every day.
3) Take back your relationship with stillness. This is going to be hard for vata in that they don’t feel comfortable without motion of the body or mind; they see this mobility (remember the mobile quality of air?) as part of the creative process. And maybe it is, but in order to have balance (remember balance?), you have to bring in opposite qualities of the doshas in order to prevent them from running away with us and causing disease. So we have to find a way for vata to be okay with being still, again, so we don’t end up eating our feelings later because that’s the only way we get comfort and balance. This will be hard for pitta as well in that they often don’t see the value in sitting over “doing” and productivity. But maybe a pitta mind will respond to something like, “Hey, if we spend just 10 minutes in stillness each day, we can be even more productive later.” Same for vata: “If we calm and ground now, we will have even more energy and freedom for creativity later.” Bottom line, if you don’t create stillness somewhere, your nervous system never gets a break, and you never train the mind to focus on the present moment. We age faster, turn to food for comfort, and we miss opportunities that come our way because we’re distracted all the time.
So find a way, each day, to sit in silence, whether it’s through a meditation practice (it can be guided, which, I know, isn’t exactly silence, but at least you’re not the one doing the talking), a breath practice, a restorative yoga session, or even sitting at a window, watching the birds go by. Whatever it is for you, do it everyday, and again, tack it on to something you already do everyday. For me, I tack this on to my morning shower and self-oil massage practice (called abhyanga in Ayurveda). I need to allow some time for the oil to absorb into my skin before I get dressed, so I put on my robe, and I sit to do my breathing (pranayama) and meditation practices. This keeps my blood pressure down, clears my energy before I interact with clients, and gives me a sense of calm and focus that seeps into every part of my day. If I do this in the morning, I am less prone to making unsupportive food choices later.
4) Take back your relationship with movement. This can be a tough one. We grow attached to our exercise routines, often because we are trying to burn calories, are afraid of gaining weight, or we need to “make up for” previous food choices (ie. punishment). I encourage you to find a way of exercising that you enjoy—that you look forward to. For me, that means I want to change it up each day. One day a week I do yoga, then Pilates, then circuit training using my own body weight (ie. calisthenics), then a hike, then an Eliptical or treadmill workout. This keeps me engaged and having fun. I do make sure that there are two things that are always the same: 1) I do my exercise at the same time each day. This ensures that vata isn’t running away with me; I’m creating grounding routines, and the nervous system isn’t left to guess what’s going to happen, staying on high alert all the time, trying to conserve resources and hoard food and calories. It knows we workout at 7am each day (or whatever time you decide works for you). 2) I use Ayurvedic principles to keep my intensity levels in check. Ayurveda says that exercise should only be intense enough to just begin to break a sweat. Then, you cool down. For me, that’s about 20-30 minutes of exercise, and I make sure that I’m always able to breathe through my nose. Once that is no longer possible, I’m pushing too hard, and my nervous system is going to have to work way too hard to bring me back down to homeostasis (too much air/movement and too much fire/intensity). 20-30 minutes might not sound like much, but I do it everyday, so over a week, I’m getting 140-210 minutes of exercise, which is right in line with what the American Heart Association recommends (150 minutes a week) to prevent a myriad of diseases.
Think of it this way: if you’re trying for an hour a day, you’ll probably only hit the mark a few times (or maybe even only once). 20-30 minutes each day not only adds up to more than 60 minutes once a week, I’m creating a grounding, nourishing, reliable routine that balances out vata—that balances out the underlying cause of my weight gain. Remember? Yep, it’s all about balance so that we break the cycle of punishment with exercise and reward with food. A little each day goes a really long way.
So I hope this gives you some tools to work with in your personal journey. I hope, too, that this gives you an idea of what a sustainable way of living can look like. It’s all about the journey and not necessarily the destination. Use these tools at every meal, at every workout, every day, and you might not even care what the number on the scale says anymore. You’ll develop a sense of confidence in your ability to take care of and nourish yourself. Over time, your body will let go of what’s not serving it anymore, and this could be anything from excess weight to a health condition you thought you might be on medication for the rest of your life. The possibilities are endless when you start to put faith in your own ability to heal.
Please let me know if you have any questions or would like to set up an initial Ayurvedic consultation to learn more about bringing your body, your mind, and your heart back to balance.
Meghan Hays Ayurveda offers Ayurveda Salt Lake City - Ayurvedic Consultations Salt Lake City and is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner. To Schedule Your Initial Ayurveda Consultation, pleaseBook Now
The Three Ayurvedic Doshas - An Introduction to Ayurveda in Salt Lake City Utah.
Disease in Ayurveda is thought to be the natural end result from living out of balance with Nature. Disease symptoms are the body's natural way of communicating that imbalance.
Conversely, Ayurveda views healing as a natural result of living in harmony with our environment. Ayurveda teaches us how to achieve that balance by balancing what is knowns as the Three Doshas, which are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
The elements make up every part of ourselves and our universe, and the combine to form the three ayurvedic doshas.
What Are The Doshas? The doshas are the fundamental energies that make up the universe and operate in our bodies. Each of us has a individual, and unique composition of the doshas in our bodies and minds when we are born. This combination of the three doshas does not change throughout our lives. They determine what we’re naturally attracted to and what we are repelled from. They are also what cause us to become out of balance with our environment, which causes us to become sick, or become diseased.
Understanding your constitution gives you the power to choose and create a diet and lifestyle that best supports your unique constitution, which will keep you free from disease and disharmony. This is what an Ayurvedic consultation will help you do.
A Description of the Three Ayurvedic Doshas - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha
Vata Dosha is composed of air and ether (space). Individuals with a primarily vata based constitution will tend to be drawn to creative pursuits; they love movement and variety.
Physically, people with Vata Dosha tend to have small, thin, and delicate features. They will tend to be "dry." Their digestion will tend toward having a variable appetite, gas, bloating, and constipation.
When in balance, people with Vata Dosha are enthusiastic and energetic. When they are out of balance, they will have a very difficult time staying still, maintaining commitment to projects or tasks, and keeping focused on completing what is in front of them.
People with Vata Dosha are prone to fear, worry, and anxiety. However, when they live in balance with their environment and practice a vata reducing diet and daily practices, they will find relief from these difficulties.
PittaDosha is comprised of a mixture of fire and water (to contain the fire). People with pitta dosha constitution tend to be drawn toward leadership and intellectual pursuits. They love to achieve goals and will generally have a tendency toward being intense in everything they do - especially work.
Physically, people with pitta dosha tend to have moderate features. They tend to be a bit oily and have very strong digestion, strong appetite and have a tendency toward overly acidic (hence the tendency toward ulcers) if they abuse their digestion for too long.
When in balance, people with pitta dosha are warm, friendly, and focused.
When out of balance, people with pitta dosha become intense, angry, and prone to inflammation. However, when practicing a pitta reducing lifestyle, none of these become a problem, but something they will need to monitor or pitta will go out of balance.
Kapha D osha is made of earth and water. People with a kapha constitution tend to be drawn to routine and comfort.
Being the heaviest of the elements, earth and water cause more solid features (thicker bones and skin, larger features, etc.). People with kapha dosha tend to have more moisture in their bodies and more emotional “flow” in their minds. Their digestion will tend to be on the slower side and can cause them to weight gain. People with kapha dosha often have a very low appetite and feel better when they fast.
When in balance, kapha people are nurturing, steady, and reliable.
When out of balance, they are withdrawn, sluggish, and emotionally attached to their possessions, routines, and relationships. By practicing a kapha-reducing lifestyle, these troubles can be mitigated and maintained at a low level.
During your session with me as an Ayurveda Clinical Specialist and Ayurvedic Health Counselor in Salt Lake City (or online) we will identify your unique makeup and constitution, which is achieved looking at your physical features, physical tendencies, and lifelong digestive, psychological, and emotional tendencies, From this, we will determine your Ayurvedic constitution, which ayurveda calls “prakruti.”
We will also determine the imbalances in your body and mind. This is called your “vikruti."
Once we determine what is out of balance, we will determine which practices, including diet and herbs, will bring you back into balance and harmony with your environment,
Ayurveda and Weight Loss Part 1: The Doshas and Weight Gain - Getting to the Root Cause
Ayurveda and Weight Loss Part 1: The Doshas and Weight Gain - Getting to the Root Cause
Before we jump into the subject of ayurveda and weight loss from an Ayurvedic perspective, it’s important to understand how the 3 doshas operate in the mind and body in order to grasp how they affect weight gain and weight loss and then, of course, how we use Ayurvedic principles to correct the imbalance. In case you’re brand new to Ayurveda, the doshas are the three governing forces in Ayurveda that determine our physical traits, our personality traits, our emotional and psychological tendencies, and what type of diet, lifestyle, and environment is best for us. There are three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. The doshas are made of the 5 elements, and you can find a short video on my website about the 5 elements. The link to that video is in this slide right here, and it’s also in the comments. I would check that out when you can to learn a little more about the foundational principles of Ayurvedic medicine.
First and most importantly, let’s talk about Vata’s role in Ayurveda and in weight gain and weight loss.
Vata is made of the elements of air and ether. Air is the element that governs all movement in nature, in our bodies, and in our minds. Ether is the container for all the elements; it’s the space around us and through which we connect to others. I like to help people understand ether by mentioning that it tends to deteriorate the other elements when it increases and that it increases in our bodies and minds as we age. That’s why our hair, our skin, and our bones become thinner into old age and also why our minds often become more unstable as we age. So vata, by nature, is cold and dry (like air and space), mobile (like air), and also unstable (like the ever-changing air and the diminishing quality of space, or ether).
If someone has a lot of vata in, what Ayurveda calls, their “constitution” (the unique combination of the doshas with which they were conceived), they will naturally have thinner bones, thinner skin, and smaller features. They also will have a greater tendency to be unstable in their ability to complete projects, stay on course, remain still for long periods of time, or even to focus on one thing at a time. When severely out of balance, people with a great deal of vata dosha will experience greater tendency for fear, worry, and anxiety. Someone who has been working on balancing the vata in their constitution might overcome some or all of these challenges, but these will, most likely, always be tendencies for them.
These individuals, who naturally have a lot of vata dosha in their constitutions, often have a harder time gaining weight due to the variable nature of air and the diminishing quality of ether; their digestion tends to be variable, which makes it harder to absorb nutrients, and therefore, harder to produce tissue (fat, muscle, bone, etc.) from the food they eat. To help balance those individuals with a lot of vata in their consitution, Ayurveda prescribes a very nourishing and grounding diet with lots of fats, oils, nuts, root vegetables, grains, and even some meat and dairy to help them build tissue, AND Ayurveda prescribes lots of spices (think ginger, cumin, cinnamon, asafoetida/hing, basil, thyme, fennel, etc.) to help them digest, break down, and absorb the nutrients from these heavier foods from which they can then produce healthy tissue. To help balance their minds and allow them to focus, Ayurveda prescribes routine in and around their meals, their waking and sleeping times, and their daily habits and work schedule. Ayurveda asks that they slow down, breathe, and bring their consciousness back into their bodies and out of the “ether,” so to speak
Now, maybe you’re thinking, why is Meghan telling me about people who have a hard time gaining weight? What does this have to do with weight loss? Well, stay with me; we’re going there in just a moment.
So next, let me tell you about pitta and kapha doshas. Pitta dosha is made of the element of fire and a little bit of water element. You can think of the water as something that has to exist to contain the fire, like the mucous membranes that line our digestive tracts and protect us from the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes secreted by the digestive organs to break down our foods. You can think of the fire element as any metabolic or transformative process in the body, like the breaking down of our food into absorbable nutrients and the creation of healthy bodily tissue from those particles; in the mind, you can think of fire as the transformation of sensory input into concepts, ideas, and even wisdom.
Pitta, by nature, is hot due to the fire element, a bit oily due to the water element, and also a bit mobile and unstable, due to the constant movement of fire. If someone has a lot of pitta in their Ayurvedic constitution, they will have moderate features, moderate bones, moderate skin…that fire transforms their food into tissues and then burns off the rest. It is very efficient. People with a great deal of pitta are able to be pretty moderate and focused in their studies, their projects, and in their work; they also tend to be passionate in their relationships. They have a great ability to focus, lead, and get the job done. When they are out of balance, however, this focus can turn into intensity, and their clear, sharp minds can become critical, judgmental, and angry. Again, someone with a great deal of pitta can overcome these challenges, but they will always have tendencies toward these imbalances.
Pitta people tend to be able to maintain their weight fairly easily due to the efficient nature of their metabolism and the strong nature of their digestion. Certainly, if pitta overloads the digestive tract, there can be weight gain, but as soon as they put their mind to it or get back to a balanced way of eating, they will usually have an easy time dropping excess weight. In fact, if pitta gets too intense or out of balance, that fire can turn into a conflagration, causing weight loss as it burns up the tissues of the body. Eventually, that fire will dry out all the water element containing it, creating dryness that looks like vata. That fire might even completely burn itself out, just like it does in nature, leaving a cold, dry environment, again looking like a vata imbalance. This is important to note in that it is one way the doshas can “trick” us. What looks like a vata imbalance, has actually resulted from a pitta imbalance. Keep this in mind for later…
When pitta is out of balance, we ask them to do similar grounding practices that we ask of vata; we also want to give them heavier, nourishing foods, but we don’t give them the heating spices that we give vata; we focus on more cooling herbs like cilantro, coriander, chamomile, and mint. We ask them to lighten up and take life a little less seriously by bringing some play and fun into their day. We might even ask them to loosen up in their daily schedules, work less, lower their intensity level, and laugh more.
Stay with me; we’re getting close to bringing ayurveda and weight loss all together for you.
Finally, we have kapha. Kapha dosha is made of earth and water, the heaviest of the five, Ayurvedic elements. Earth represents all the structures in nature, in the body (bodily tissues), and stability in the mind. Water represents anything with innate moisture in the body (bodily fluids) as well as flow in the mind.
If someone has a lot of kapha in their constitution, they will tend to have thicker tissues—bones, skin, hair—and bigger features—eyes, lips, nose, etc. They might also have more innate moisture in their body, producing more sweat, more mucous, and even more breast milk and menstrual fluids in women. Due to the abundance of earth and water in their constitution, kapha people are more easy-going and do things a bit more slowly than vata and kapha. They tend to be a bit slower in making decisions, completing projects, and even moving around in the physical world. While their mind moves a bit more slowly sometimes, they retain information very well, and they are dependable. Think tortoise over hare here. You can imagine, then, kapha digestion tends to be a bit slow as well, so it’s important for them to avoid overloading the digestive system by keeping portions a bit smaller and maybe even fasting sometimes to increase the ether or space in their system so they can move a bit more (more air) and increase their metabolism (more fire).
When kapha is out of balance, weight gain, lethargy, and lack of motivation (being “stuck” in the mud…which is what happens when earth and water combine, right?). They might even be really resistant to change, or stubborn and set in their ways. So, to balance kapha back out, we want them to do all the things modern diet culture tells us to do to lose weight: reduce our portion sizes, eat a plant-based diet and limit carbohydrates, move more to sweat, eat spicy foods that increase the metabolism, and sit less. We also want them to get out of their comfort zone and try something new; kapha tends to be very attached to a routine, so we will ask them to change it up and vary their day-to-day schedules. We might also ask them to let go of their attachments to possessions or even relationships no longer serving them in the hope that their bodies will follow, letting go of excess weight no longer serving them.
All right, so we’ve established that weight gain, therefore, is a kapha imbalance. Now, you might already be asking important questions, like, “I really identify with vata, but I consider myself overweight. So which am I? Kapha or vata?” Great question! That’s where we need to differentiate your nature with your imbalance.
Your Ayurvedic constitution is also called your “prakruti;” it’s the unique combination of the doshas with which you were conceived. Think of it as the expression of the elements through your genes. So if you have a lot of vata in your original constitution, or prakruti, you’ll always have tendencies toward “all the vata things,” like anxiety, worry, fear, inability to focus, variable digestion, dryness, etc.
These symptoms could also be considered your “vikruti,” which, in a nutshell, means your current imbalance. What are you working with right now? For someone with a lot of vata, that’s usually what I mentioned before: anxiety, constipation, gas and bloating after meals, dry skin, etc. For someone with a lot of pitta in their original constitution, or prakruti, their imbalances might look like anger, criticism, work-aholism, burning digestion, diarrhea, skin rashes, etc. For someone with a lot of kapha in their original constitution, their imbalances, or vikruti, will usually look like lethargy, sleepiness after meals, slow digestion, mucous in their stool, swelling/edema, metabolic issues, etc. Any constitution, or prakruti, could, however, have an imbalance, or vikruti, in any (or even all three) of the doshas. So could you be largely vata in your prakruti, but have a kapha imbalance, or vikruti, like weight gain? Absolutely.
One of the beautiful things about Ayurveda (one of the really important take-home messages I want to bring to you today) is that Ayurveda seeks to pinpoint the ROOT CAUSE of our imbalances. And this is important when we talk about weight gain in that I rarely see a kapha constitution come to me, needing or wanting to lose weight. Why, you ask? Well, I think kapha people have kind of figured out how to balance out their issues. They’re just not that hungry most of the time, and if they eat too much, they really pay the price. They’re also not always the most interested in change. I, therefore, see a great deal of vata and pitta constitutions coming to work on weight loss. They don’t like the current state of affairs in their bodies, and they want it to change…and fast! But here’s the kicker: this mentality (“I’m uncomfortable, and I want change now!”) is what caused the weight gain in the first place.
And now the big reveal…drumroll please…
YOUR VATA AND/OR PITTA IMBALANCE CAN CAUSE THE KAPHA IMBALANCE, OR WEIGHT GAIN.
Is your mind blown? OK, maybe not, but I think it’s really interesting to think that moving too much, doing too much, and overloading our senses caused our bodies to get bigger. So let’s make sense of that from an Ayurvedic perspective.
How does this type of weight gain work? It’s helpful to recall that vata is made of air (movement) and ether (space). It’s also helpful to note that any time we change, vata increases. Think of the nature of change: there’s movement from one thing to another (air element), AND you have to give up one thing for another (that creates a space, or void…or ether element). Even change that is considered “good,” like marriage, forces you to give up some freedoms that come with being a single person. Even getting a promotion at work forces you to give up some freedoms that come with less responsibility, right? On the other hand, we have change that is considered “bad,” like the death of a loved one. That can create a big space, or a great deal of ether, and, therefore, vata in our lives.
What happens when you make big changes all the time? Here’s an example I see a lot: getting a divorce, moving to a new city, starting a new job, and then getting involved in a new relationship. That’s a lot of air (movement/change) and ether (leaving/giving up things, people, and places).
Here’s another example: losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Let’s say you gave up carbohydrates for a ketogenic diet (there’s definitely some ether there in leaving behind carbs), adopted intermittent fasting (more ether/space in that your stomach is now empty for a large part of the day), and took up a very rigorous high intensity interval training program (LOTS of air/movement…and the kind that really aggravates vata with all the stopping, starting, and “bursts” of activity). OK, so you get the idea here: change and movement create vata.
Well, what happens when you don’t bring in opposite qualities to balance out the vata? You guessed it: it runs WILD! Did you know “dosha” actually means “flaw,” or more literally, “stain”? Yep, the job of the doshas is to express themselves fully; your job is to balance them out.
So what happens to the person who gets a divorce, moves to a new city, starts a new job, and then begins a new relationship and never slows down long enough to truly take care of themselves? I’m willing to bet they either get sick and/or they gain some weight. Similarly, what’s the tragic ending for the person, who did too much too fast by losing a bunch of weight in a short amount of time? They gained the weight right back…and then some. Ugh.
Bottom line: if you don’t balance out vata by slowing down, getting into a routine around sleeping and working, eating nourishing food in the right way and at the right times, your body will do it for you. You will be drawn to things that comfort you. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s food, glorious food. Because of the way we evolved through the millennia, the human brain craves sugar and fat to increase all those feel-good hormones in the brain and “store up” for another famine. If you’re depriving your body of food by dieting all the time, your ancestral brain thinks you’re in a time of famine. So when you finally break down and break open the bag of cookies, it’s going to persuade you to hoard those calories until it’s sure there’s no threat of starvation.
“Comfort food,” moreover, consists largely of the elements of earth and water, which create tissues and fluids in the body, necessary for survival. These elements and our bodily tissues also “ground” us.” So if you’ve been floating off into the ether on a vata “cloud” of activity and change, putting on weight is the body’s way of making you heavier and bringing you back down to earth, or ”grounding” you, so to speak. Again, if you don’t take the time to ground yourself through moderation, daily practices, and basic self-care, like sleep, your body will do it on its own with a big ‘ol, kapha, fat hug. So now you’ve still got a vata imbalance AND a kapha imbalance. Thanks a lot, right?
And don’t take my word for it, science tells us that when we don’t get enough sleep and/or stress levels rise, our hunger hormone increases (called ghrelin), our satiation (those that tell us we’re full) hormones decrease (called leptin), and our stress hormones (like cortisol) that tell us to actually hold on to fat to prepare for imminent danger or potential famine, increase.
I also want to recognize that if you’ve got a lot of pitta, or drive, in your constitution, this can cause you to take on too much as well. The fire of pitta’s intensity can burn brightly, creating a similar environment in which a person adopts extreme practices, extreme work hours, and even extreme ways of thinking. The air of vata is needed to fan the flames of pitta, so now vata and pitta become “partners in crime,” pushing a person to do more and in a smaller window of time. That fire can sustain this for a while, but this typically leads to burnout, which can look like a nervous breakdown, a complete inability to “do” anything anymore/depression, an autoimmune disorder, or even cancer. At the very least, we can be drawn to unsupportive coping mechanisms like overeating, which again, can cause a kapha imbalance on top of a pitta, or even pitta-vata, imbalance.
Thank you for reading part one of my series on Ayurveda and Weight Loss. If you'd like to take the live course version (recorded), please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Meghan Hays: Meghan Hays offers Ayurveda Salt Lake City and throughout the United States (by Zoom cal). If you are looking for Ayurveda Salt Lake City, please contact Meghan today for an Ayurvedic Consultation. Meghan is a graduate of the California College of Ayurveda and is currently pursuing a Doctorship in Ayurvedic Medicine.
Please Contact Meghan by email: email@example.com
Did you know that as soon as you LOOK at your food, your brain tells your digestive system to start secreting specific enzymes to digest specific foods--it's an amazing historical system that REMEMBERS how to digest foods you've eaten before!
Did you also know your brain prioritizes and engages in a low level of distraction, or sensory input all...the...time?
What does this mean for digestion, you ask? Well, if you're engaged in work, TV, movies, even really intense or emotional conversation, while you eat, your brain will prioritize the other stuff before it works on digestion. Those digestive enzymes, bile salts, etc. aren't going to be produced as accurately or as effectively as they could have been.
This means you're more likely to get gas, bloating, cramping, even diarrhea directly after a meal you ate when watching TV or doing work versus a meal you ate, calmly, free of technology, and in a peaceful environment.
This is why Ayurveda says 80-85% of digestive problems can be solved not by what you eat but HOW you eat.
So next time you sit down, try these Ayurvedic Diet Healthy Eating Guidelines:
1) Step away from work and technology (all screens, including phones, TV, tablets, etc.). If possible, sit outside or in a peaceful environment. Make your eating area/dining table beautiful to look at with fresh flowers, pretty cloth napkins, etc. Make this seemingly mundane habit SACRED. This is, after all, how you nourish, heal, and produce bodily tissue.
2) Once you sit down, close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths or say grace, express silent gratitude, or feel love for all the plants, animals, and people who contributed to the meal in front of you. If you eat with your family or friends, see if they'd like to join you. If you're shy and in a group, just take a deep breath to calm and ground yourself before digging in--no one has to know.
3) Once you begin eating, CHEW THOROUGHLY. This can be life-changing for some. If you're like me, you've been "scarfing" down your food for a lifetime, maybe always finishing your plate first. Instead, focus on the act of chewing. There is no magic number; just try to chew each bite until the food is a consistent texture. This can take care of SO many digestive issues for most.
4) If you're alone, enjoy the silence. It's only a few minutes, after all, and it's a great way to get yourself "used to" being with yourself, especially if you have resistance to a meditation practice. This can be a big step in that direction. If you're in a group, keep the conversation uplifting and light; now is not the time to bring up politics or religion...two topics sure to cause indigestion.
5) Eat only until your are about 70% full. This will differ from person-to-person, but a nice guide can be your cupped hands. If you can eyeball what amount of food might fit into them (it's actually quite a bit), you'll just about hit the 70% full mark for your build/structure (ie. the bigger the person, the larger the bone structure/hands, the larger the amount of food; vice-versa for a smaller person with a smaller build and smaller stomach). This is a great way to maintain or get back to your ideal weight for your particular structure and metabolism.
But give yourself time to find what 70% is . You shouldn't be hungry for at least 3 hours if you eat just enough. If you're bloated or not hungry again for 5+ hours, you probably ate too much. Hungry again after just 2 hours? You might need to eat a bit more. Experiment and be patient as you get back in touch with your natural hunger and fullness cues. It can take time.
5) After you eat, sit for 10-15 minutes. I love to use this time to read for pleasure. It's a wonderful segue between eating/digestion and getting back into the workday. If you truly don't have time to enjoy a few minutes of sitting after a meal, at least take 3 deep breaths or take one more moment of silence to keep your nervous system calm and grounded before getting back into your workday or activities.
6) Avoid drinking cold liquids with your meal. This slows down and impairs digestion. In addition, limit any liquid with meals to just 1/2 cup of warm or room temperature water or herbal tea. Any more will, again, interfere with digestion.
7) Wait to eat again for 3 or more hours before eating again to allow food to pass through all 3 stages of digestion (stomach, small intestines, and large intestines). If you simply wait until you have natural hunger cues (stomach "rumbling"), you're set. This, again, just like the 70% full rule might take some time if you're used to working through meals or ignoring bodily urges because of busy-ness or creative pursuits.
If you eat too soon, you'll take away energy from the stage of digestion in which your last meal or snack still is. It's like dumping raw rice on top of half-cooked rice...you'll end up with burnt rice, cooked rice, and some raw rice. Allow your food to fully pass (fully "cook") through all the digestive stages before eating again.
8) Consider taking an Ayurvedic Digestive Formula, depending on your prakruti and/or vikruti (Ayurvedic constitution and current imbalance(s)). You'll want to consult with your Ayurvedic Practitioner to know exactly what you need. I usually make my patients their formulas, but here are the pre-made formulas I recommend from Banyan Botanicals: Vata Digest Pitta Digest Kapha Digest
Sending love and good digestion to everyone out there!
If you would like to learn more about Ayurveda in general - Visit My About Ayurveda Page Meghan Hays is an Ayurvedic practitioner in Salt Lake City. If you are looking for Ayurveda Salt Lake City or in Park City Utah, please use the e-mail above to contact her for your initial consult or Book Now .
This article is a summary of an article from the February 2020 issue of Eating Well magazine. Link here. In 1948, Leland Allbaugh, an American scientist, was intent upon bringing modern medicine, nutrition, and conveniences to the poorest regions of Greece (whose citizens, then, had the lowest per capita income in Europe). When he made it to Crete, whose citizens had the lowest income levels in Greece, he expected to find a sickly and malnourished population. What he found, instead, inspired many future studies about this region of the world and their abundance of health.
Allbaugh found Cretans had a "surprisingly good" diet, as well as an exceedingly low rate of chronic Western diseases. They had barely any incidence of cancer and only suffered about a third of the heart disease-related deaths as Americans at the time. One of the most interesting things to note was that people on the island of Crete had been eating this way for thousands of years (all the way back to the Minoan period around 2000 BC!).
This study inspired Ancel Keys, Ph.D., to travel to Crete about ten years later. Keys used the island's subjects as a "pilot population" for his "Seven Countries Study." His wife, Margaret, termed Cretans exemplary lifestyle and diet as "The Mediterranean Way."
Here are some of the things Allbaugh found in his 1948 study:
Lesson 1: Carbs, Carbs, Carbs!
OK, don't go grabbing your white bread and Frosted Flakes just yet. Cretans ate an incredibly rough barley bread, or "rusk," and this was the staple of their daily diet; in fact, Allbaugh found that 39% of Cretans' daily calories came from whole grains. Archaeologists, who studied Minoan and early civilizations of Crete, found this whole grain bread was so tough that it actually wore down their teeth.
(Tangent alert! If you've read the incredibly interesting and compelling book Breath by James Nestor, you'll know chewing is incredibly important for the structural health of our human skulls and, therefore, our sinus and upper respiratory structures. In fact, when the advent of "processed" grain (ie. soft bread) came about, our human evolution really suffered, giving us everything from crooked teeth to chronic problems associated with mouth-breathing, snoring, and sleep apnea. Incidentally, if this interests you, I highly recommend this book!)
OK, back to whole grains. So what's the modern lesson here?
Switch to 100% whole wheat or 100% whole-grain bread products (look for sprouted grains, like Ezekiel Breads, for an extra punch of nutrition), and get at least one daily portion of wheat-free grains, like oats or barley...stuff you can sink your teeth into and well, chew. Go for at least 28 grams of fiber a day. Want to regulate your bowel habits and reduce your cholesterol? Eat cooked oats every morning. If you commit to this, I promise your colon and heart health will improve dramatically in a very short amount of time.
Lesson 2: No Sugar for You!
This is incredibly un-fun to write, but Cretans basically ate no sugar. They had a measly 50 calories a day from local honey and grape must. This is about 3 teaspoons of added sugar daily. Guess what Americans are averaging these days? 23 teaspoons daily! This is more than Cretans ate in a week. Yikes. So it's safe to say, Cretans (at least from 2000 BC to 1948 AD) didn't eat desserts or pastries. They ate fresh, seasonal fruit. Even the regional delight "Greek yogurt" is unsweetened. Most of us know excess sugar in the diet not only has implications for higher risk of Type 2 Diabetes, but it's also associated with higher risks of cancer and heart disease.
So what's the take-home message here?
Cut out added sugar by reading labels. Aim to get no more than 25 (women) and 36 (men) added grams of sugar a day. Most labels these days differentiate "Sugars/Added Sugars" from "Carbohydrates." What's more, if you aim for those 28 grams of fiber a day, it'll be tough to also get in that added sugar; in other words, you'll more naturally end up eating whole foods and less added sugar.
Lesson 3: Eat Your Greens...and also Fruits!
This is one of the most interesting "tid-bits" from the article that I found. Around 1450 BC, the Minoans ceased to govern their island, and over many centuries, Crete was conquered and occupied again...and again. These foreign invaders exported all of Crete's best produce: namely, lemons, figs, and raisins. Cretans, therefore, were left to fend for themselves and forage in nature.
Lo and behold, there is a bounty out there to be had by scavengers, and a huge part of Cretans' diets became "horta," a broad array of 100 edible plants, like purslane (containing high amounts of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, shown to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes) and dandelion greens (you know, that annoying "weed"...also an Ayurvedic wonder-food that can help ward off liver disease and cancer). Not only did Cretans eat an abundance of wild greens, they also ate a great deal of onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and eggplant, which grow easily in extreme conditions and easily in household gardens.
Similarly, Cretans' "staple fruits" are some of the highest in nutrient density: grapes, pomegranates, and melons (they put Americans' top three fruits, apples, oranges, and bananas, to crying shame). Not to mention the average Cretan consumed 432 pounds of produce annually! Today, each American only gets about 220 pounds annually (neither statistic includes potatoes, by the way...pretty sure most Americans get those in the form of fast-food French fries...).
Eat plants at every meal, and eat the rainbow--the more variety, the better. Get leafy greens (especially the bitter ones that fight cancer, like kale, chard, dandelion, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) and colorful fruits (especially dark-colored ones like berries and pomegranates with the most cancer-fighting antioxidants) into your diet everyday. I always add half a cup of mixed berries to my morning oatmeal and cook green veggies into my lunch and dinner.
Lesson 4: OK, here's where you might get happy...because it's where we talk about WINE!
So we all know the studies go back and forth...and back and forth...on health benefits of wine. Are 1-2 drinks beneficial, or is alcohol just plain poison?
Here are some scientific facts: red wine is rich in polyphenols, which are the same antioxidant compounds found in olive oil. These guys keep platelets from building up and clotting blood vessels, improve cholesterol, and improve blood vessel function.
Here are some interesting facts to note about the people of Crete and their wine consumption:Cretans drank mostly red wine ("krasi") and always with meals. This is interesting in that some research suggests there is a synergistic relationship between food and wine that promotes heart health better than drinking wine alone. Speaking of "alone"...wine did exactly the opposite for Cretans. As the article states, "[R]egular wine consumption clearly enhanced a general culture of intergenerational sociability--another key pillar in the health and welfare of the long-live Mediterraneans." They weren't drinking to drink; they drank as part of family-style, sit-down meals, everyday, which led to familial and friendship bonds. This strengthened their hearts and supported their mental health. (This speaks to the difference in how many of us consume our food. While every meal was a family or community event for Cretans; for many of us, meals are just something to get out of the way while we stare at a screen.) Allbaugh says Cretans might not have been completely upfront with how much wine they actually consumed out of fear of judgment from the Americans; his research, however, shows that alcohol only accounted for 1% of their total, daily calories. (BTW: two, 6oz glasses of wine account for over 10% of your total calories, if you were to consume 2000 calories in a day.) So maybe they consumed a lot more wine than they appeared to, but they sure consumed it differently from many in today's world.
Bottom line here:
Don't start drinking if you don't already, and approach everything in moderation. Remember, HOW you consume things often matters more than WHAT you consume. So occasional wine with a meal, shared with people you love, could improve your heart health.
Lesson 5: Fat is Friend--Not Foe!
And here's where we talk about olive oil...lots of olive oil. While only 1% of Cretans' daily calories came from wine, a whopping 40% of their calories came from olive oil. In fact, Allbaugh said, to a foreigner, their food seemed to be "swimming" in oil. Olive oil, incidentally, contains monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and raise HDL ("good") cholesterol, which probably accounts (among their other habits) for Cretans low incidences of heart disease.
Experts say that Cretans in the 1940's were probably consuming olive oil harvested when the olives were still green or early-harvested, which means their olive oils were even richer in antioxidants than your typical olive oil. Greener olives contain higher levels of oleocanthal, which is a highly potent antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects. Oleocanthal has been shown to reduce risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
All extra-virgin olive oils have oleocanthal, but it's worth looking for "early harvest" EVOO, which is a bit more "grassy" than average EVOO. Since EVOO has a higher smoke point (rendering its anti-oxidants basically useless), use it to "finish" meals by drizzling it on veggies, grains, and dishes, and make your dressing out of extra virgin olive oil to punch up the nutrients in your salads.
Lesson 6: Protein from Plants is Power
Even though Cretans would have had access to a very lean, low-in-cholesterol meat from goats, the first domestic animal the Minoans brought to the island around 3000 years ago, they only ate about 7 ounces of goat or other red meat a week (many Americans eat this much in one meal...steak house, anyone?). Cretans, additionally, only at about 6 ounces of fish each week and an average of 2 ounces of poultry a week. This blew my mind!
While there was access to a little fresh milk and cheese, the bulk of Cretans protein came from legumes (think: chickpeas, fava beans, and lentils) and nuts, like almonds, chestnuts, and walnuts. This means, combined with the protein from all those whole grains they were eating, Cretans' diets commanded a whopping 76% of their protein from...you guessed it...PLANTS. With all that heart-healthy fiber and phytonutrients, it's no wonder this community of people had such low risk of heart disease.
If you want to live as long and healthfully as the Cretans, make beans and nuts your protein staples, and "garnish" your diet (if you are an omnivore) with lean cuts of meat and poultry several times a month.
Start off slowly, however: if your household is full of carnivores, start out with one day a week of plant-based eating (ie. "Meatless Mondays");begin to replace red meat with poultry (ground turkey instead of beef or pork); add another day of the week in which you eat seafood-based meals (look for wild-caught over farm-raised fish). Take it one meal at a time, and soon, you'll be trimmer and healthier than you ever thought possible!
Finally, Lesson 7: Portion Control...It's a Thing
So here's one of the most interesting (I know, I know--I think it's all interesting) points to note: when Allbaugh described his study subjects back in 1948, he said they were a pretty hungry bunch. Most Cretans only consumed around 2500 calories a day. You're thinking, "That's a lot of calories, isn't it?" Well, it's about as much as the average, modern American eats, and we mostly sit at desks all day. What you must take into account is the back-breaking physical labor most Cretans did every day; so 2500 calories pretty meager in comparison to actual energy needs.
Additionally, Cretans tended to eat 6 smaller meals a day, instead of 3 squares we are so used to; some studies suggest this is a more effective way of keeping cholesterol and insulin levels in check (both risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, respectively). Cretans also fasted, in accordance with the Greek Orthodox calendar, on Wednesdays and Fridays (not to mention various religious holidays throughout the year that required the same). This, interestingly, mimics the 5 days of eating and 2 days of fasting a week some studies show can promote longer life span and keep blood sugar levels stable. Things that make you go, "Hmmmm," right?
Pay attention to your portion sizes. Ayurveda says to eat until you're about 70% full so you food has room to "mix" and digest. This is tricky, but if you slow down and pay attention to eating your food (instead of staring at your phone or the TV), you'll begin to find what this means for you. This is also the best way to achieve an ideal body weight for your frame. And, don't worry, if you're hungry again in a few hours, do what the Cretans did and eat another small meal.
I hope you found this as interesting as I did! I think some really important take-homes are: eat more plants and less animal protein AND enjoy your food (and wine!) in good company. The Cretans loved spending time with their families and friends, and they loved to dance. Isn't that what life is all about anyway: whom we love and who loves us? Bring that joy into every meal, and you'll surely live a little longer...or at least a little more happily. Thanks for reading!
Meghan Hays is an Ayurveda Practitioner in Salt Lake City. If you are looking for Ayurveda or an Ayurvedic Clinic in Salt Lake City, please contact Meghan today.
I'd like to start off by writing that YOUR AYURVEDIC MORNING ROUTINE BEGINS THE NIGHT BEFORE. If you don't go to bed at a decent hour (10/10:30pm) and get a good night's sleep (7-9 hours), you won't have the energy to wake with the sun and perform your morning routine. That being said, let's look at what Ayurveda recommends (and what I attempt to do most mornings...hey, I'm human too!):
1. Wake with the Sun.Okay, I know I've already lost some of you. This one is a tough one for me--always has been, but I can tell you, when I go to bed at an appropriate time (see above), I am WAY more apt to wake by 6:30/7am. Why, you ask, is it important to wake with the sun? Just like animals in nature, humans have circadian rhythms, or "sleep-wake cycles." These rhythms correspond to daylight and darkness and, therefore, affect your hormones, which then affect when you are alert, when you are sleepy, when you are hungry, etc. If you align your habits properly with the day (in a nutshell: wind down when the sun goes down and get going when the sun comes up), your hormones, adrenals, nervous system, and digestive system function properly. Guess what happens when these are functioning properly? Your IMMUNE SYSTEM is also functioning properly to help you ward off disease and fend off pathogens. Mis-align yourself over a long period of time (you'll see this, often, with night-shift workers), and you increase your odds of lowering your immune system and developing chronic disease and autoimmune disorders, or even just getting sick more often.
2. Empty Bladder and Bowels.Most of us wake up and pee first thing in the AM. Some of us are lucky enough to have a bowel movement first thing in the morning too. No worries, if you're not. As long as you're having at least one bowel movement a day, you're considered "regular" in Ayurveda. If you're not having at least one BM a day, you are considered constipated, and you might want to consider a consultation to rectify this (often, a few super-simple changes go a long way). According to Ayurveda, all disease begins in the digestive tract, so having an efficient and healthy elimination pattern is integral to disease prevention. If you have at least one bowel movement daily, your digestive tract (one of your first line's of defense against pathogens) is acting efficiently in moving potentially harmful waste matter out of your body. You can help along healthy elimination patterns with a classic Ayurvedic formula, called "Triphala." It's a blend of three different fruits, which nourish and cleanse the tissues of the body and encourage healthy bowel habits by "tonifying" the tissues of the colon, which then respond properly to elimination urges. I make my own capsules with the powdered formula, but you can also purchase ready-made tablets here from Banyan Botanicals. And you can read more about Triphala here. I often recommend taking two tablets with warm water before bed. Give it a few days to rectify your bowel habits.
3. Tongue Cleaning.This is a classic Ayurvedic practice that improves oral health and stimulates your digestive system. (The tongue is, after all, the first and most visible organ of the digestive tract--one of your first lines of defense against pathogens and disease!) Right after you void your bladder/bowels, go to the sink (wash your hands!), and grab your tongue scraper/tongue cleaner--even before you brush your teeth. Check out the coating, if any, on your tongue. (In Ayurveda, coating on the tongue indicates toxicity, or "ama," in the body.) Gently scrape your tongue from back to front, rinsing your tongue cleaner with water after each pass. I usually scrape 6-10 times, depending upon how much coating I find on my tongue that morning. BE GENTLE--you don't want to damage your taste buds or cause any bleeding. After this, I typically rinse my mouth out with warm water, and then I might do some oil pulling with coconut oil, followed by brushing my teeth with a little baking soda. My mouth feels squeaky clean and hydrated!
4. Hydrate! I know it looks like a lot, but I've truly only spent about 5 minutes on my morning routine at this point. So next, I'm all about hydration. Theoretically, you've just spent 8 hours fasting (sleeping) with no liquids, so you should be pretty thirsty. Dehydrated tissues are breeding grounds for pathogens, like viruses. (More on this below.) I drink 8-16 oz of room temperature water--NEVER cold--it's too jarring for the nervous and digestive systems, and it diminishes your ability to digest food. If you have a slower digestive system (get gas and bloating after meals or are prone to constipation), you should consider drinking warm water instead of room temp. Add a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to stimulate digestion and liver function. This will typically stimulate a bowel movement for those who don't wake up with the urge.
5. Walk/Get Outside in Fresh Air and Sunshine. To put some more perspective on this, I'm still only about 10 minutes into my morning routine, so there's plenty of time to step outside, get some Vitamin D, and enjoy Nature as it awakens...and take Stewie the dog on the first of his multiple, daily walks. (Do you ever listen to the birds as the sun comes up? They're amazing!) This is one of the most "sattvic," or peaceful, times of day, and I highly encourage you to check it out. The lower, less potent angle of the sun still delivers Vitamin D (essential for longevity, disease prevention, and immune system function) without the damaging effects of its angles later in the day. Ultraviolet light from the sun is antimicrobial in nature (kills pathogens, viruses, etc.), so now is a great time to use the literal "force of nature" to improve your health and prevent infection. You could take this time to stroll and breathe and enjoy the peace and calm of this time of day, or you could certainly use it to get your heart-rate up (more on this below). PLUS: Daily cardiovascular activity has been shown to reduce the chances that those infected with COVID-19 end up with acute respiratory distress/on a ventilator.
6. Practice Yoga, Pilates, or Calisthenics/Stretching. Speaking of getting your heart rate up: Ayurveda encourages daily movement that brings us to a slight sweat and then brings us back down again. You could certainly count your morning walk as your daily movement, but body-weight-bearing and flexibility exercises, 2-3 times a week will go even further to keep your bones strong, muscles and joints healthy, and prevent age-related issues, like falling. I find that 20-30 minutes of yoga, Pilates, or calisthenics (body-weight training, like push-ups, lunges, squats, and planks), combined with stretching, does the trick for me. This keeps my muscles toned and strong, gets my heart rate into a fat-burning zone, and stimulates my metabolism. You can check out my YouTube channel for some free, workout ideas.
7. Neti (Nasal Irrigation) and Shower The World Health Organization is saying that nasal irrigation/cleaning of the sinuses is just as important as hand-washing in the fight against COVID-19. Why? Your nasal passages are one of the body's first defenses against pathogens and disease. Neti/nasal irrigation/nasal cleansing not only rids your sinuses of potential bacteria, viruses, and pollen (hello, spring allergies!), but it HYDRATES the mucous membranes of your sinuses. If your mucous membranes are dry, pathogens have an easy opportunity to make a nice home for themselves. If your mucous membranes are hydrated and "slippery", the pathogens sit on the surface of the mucous and nasal secretions and eventually drain down your sinuses and into your throat, where you swallow them. There, the hydrochloric acid in your stomach kills them. This is why keeping your nasal passages AND your digestive system strong and hydrated is so important. They are an interconnected defense system against viruses and bacteria.
Here's how I perform neti: Add 1 cup (8 oz) warm water (about 100 degrees F is optimal) to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (use salt WITHOUT iodine, so no "table" or Kosher salt). I boil my water (for safety--use distilled water if you are worried about the quality of your water or get water from a well system) first thing in the AM, pour it into my neti pot, then allow it to come to body temp while I walk outside. I find it takes about 25-30 minutes to come to the perfect temperature after boiling. I usually set a timer so that I don't forget. (Using water that's too cool is ALMOST as uncomfortable as using water that's too warm/hot.) Dip your pinky finger into it to see if it feels right. Use a candy or regular thermometer to get it just right, especially if you're new to this practice. If it stings, you probably didn't add enough salt or the water is too hot. The water should be salty enough to mimic your body's own salinity.
Place the pot spout at the opening of one nostril, lean FAR forward from your waist, and tilt your head away from the pot, until water runs out of your other nostril. If water runs down your throat, you haven't tipped your head far enough forward--try again--it can take a little practice! I pour half the pot through one nostril, and then I pour the other half through the other nostril. Then I blow my nose over the sink (it's going to be all water--you might see a little mucous) and then into tissues or a towel. I also bend over (like in forward fold) and lean over with my head tilted in both directions to get out any remaining water. DO NOT close one nostril to clear the other while blowing your nose--you could damage your ear drum.
You should also know that the practice of neti brings moisture to the tissues of the body, so for about 10 minutes after you irrigate your sinuses, you'll be blowing your nose and ridding your sinuses of excess mucous. This is a great time to take a quick shower, and some people even perform their nasal irrigation IN the shower.
8. Apply Oil to the Body (Abhyanga) and Sinuses (Nasya)
A huge part of Ayurvedic self-care involves application of oil to the body (inside and out), which keeps us protected from disease and hydrated (think: anti-aging!).
Abhyanga: After I shower, I apply oil to my entire body, which is an Ayurvedic practice called abhyanga. It is, by far, my favorite Ayurvedic practice--I love it! Traditionally, abhyanga is done BEFORE exercise/applying heat to the body. You apply warmed oil (run hot water over the bottle or check out my method below) in long strokes to the limbs and circular strokes to the joints. This stimulates the lymphatic system AND builds your immune system (called "ojas" in Ayurveda). Put on some old sweats/clothes you don't mind getting a little oil on or designate just for this purpose, then perform your exercise or yoga asana. (Some like to take a warm bath or steam instead.) This increases heat in your body, opens your pores, and the oil "cooks" into your skin, where any herbs or medications in the oil can infiltrate your bloodstream. Then, you rinse off in the shower (preferably no soap or only where you need it--incidentally, ladies, you should never use soap on your genitals, as it imbalances the PH levels, leaving you prone to infection) and then "pat dry" to leave a thin and protective layer of oil on your body (think of it like "armor" for your day!). I prefer to use oil after my shower, when my body is already warm, and I find this more practical for those of us, who are accustomed to applying lotion, etc. after bathing. PSA: skip the lotions! They are chock-full of chemicals and petroleum products. Sesame oil, almond oil, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, and olive oil are all better options. Depending upon your doshas/Ayurvedic constitution, you will want to pick an oil that keeps you balanced. Sesame, almond, and olive oils are best for dry, thin skin (vata). Coconut, sunflower, and jojoba oils are best for inflamed, irritated, red, or oily skin (pitta). Mustard seed or a light application of sesame oil is great for thick, naturally moisturized, or itchy skin (kapha). After I apply my oil, I slip on a robe I designate just for this purpose and allow the oil to soak in 20-30 minutes, while I perform my breathing and meditation exercises (below), before dressing. FYI: you will have no problems with oil and your clothing if you choose the right oil for your skin, apply the right amount, and give it 20-30 minutes to absorb.
Nasya: Since a neti practice (sinus irrigation above) can actually be a bit drying to some (as it brings moisture to the tissues in the form of mucous, but then as you blow your nose and "cleanse" the tissues, those who are already a bit dry can be left feeling "stripped"), applying a little oil to the sinuses ("nasya" in Ayurveda) can give you back that protective barrier to prevent pathogens from taking their hold on your tissues. I use Banyan Botanicals tri-doshic "Nasya Oil."I truly believe that this has been one of the main reasons (along with neti) I haven't suffered from allergies over the past several years (since I've started this almost daily practice). Here's the link to an article with a video link on how to do perform nasya. 9. Breathing (Pranayama) and Meditation Okay! We're in the home-stretch! Keep in mind, I'm still only about an hour into my morning routine, depending on how long I spend exercising. And this next set of practices can only take 5-10 minutes, depending on how much time you have to spend on them.
Pranayama: If you've been getting my Friday Yoga/Healthy Back videos, you'll already be familiar with this breathing exercise, which doctors around the world are recommending to help exercise and clear/expectorate your lungs to avoid infection and keep your immune system up:
Inhale DEEPLY for a count of 5--fill your lungs completely.
Hold your breath for a count of 5 (don't rush!).
Exhale COMPLETELY for a count of 5--empty your lungs.
Perform 5 rounds, and on the 5th round, instead of exhaling, cough forcefully a few times to expectorate the lungs.
This routine helps "exercise" and clear the smallest alveolar sacs at the ends of the lungs, which don't get lots of work, unless you do intense cardiovascular or breathing exercises everyday.
I LOVE alternate nostril breathing (nadi shodhana) and do five rounds of this each morning, which takes about 5 minutes.Here's a link for instructions on how to perform alternate nostril breathing.I use a ratio of 4 counts for inhale, 16 counts to retain/hold my breath, and 8 counts to exhale. FYI: you have to get a full, deep breath on those first 4 counts to be able to comfortably hold your breath for 16 seconds without creating anxiety of panic, so work up to this and be patient or simply eliminate the retention.
Meditation: There are SO many ways to practice meditation. There are apps, like Calm and MNDFL, and there are many styles, like Zen, Transcendental, felt-sense, etc. It's worth finding a practice that works for you. If you have a "monkey mind" that loves to go all over the place, a guided meditation is probably best for you. In other words, I wouldn't try to just sit down and focus only on your breathing--you'll become frustrated very quickly. That being said, the point is not to STOP thinking--good luck with that. The point is to FOCUS the mind to come into the present moment. When you do that, Ayurveda says, you stop time, and the body ceases to age. I'm sold! There are so many health benefits to meditation, including lowered blood pressure and increased immune function. I also like to do my self-energy/Reiki work at this time, which is another form of meditation all on its own. If you're a beginner, start with just 3 minutes and work your way up from there, just adding one minute at a time every couple of weeks.
At this point, you could dress or have breakfast or whatever you want! Morning routine is done, and I GUARANTEE you will such a better day if you simply choose 2-3 of these practices to work on each month. Don't try to do it all at once; I can also guarantee you'll either become overwhelmed or burnt-out and give it all up. Choose just 2-3 (or one!) that resonate(s) with you, and work on it/them for a good month. It's taken me years to get all of these practices under my belt, and I still struggle with my breathing/meditation--those are the first ones to go if I'm feeling unmotivated or short on time, but they're the ones that make me feel the best. I hope you modify, "tweak," and make these practices work for you.