Two Dog Tales
by Shannon McCall
As yoga practitioners we know that we are more than just our bodies…more than our bodies and still we have to take care of these bodies. Ayurveda-the science of life- evolved to help us recognize our multi-dimensionality and to take care of ourselves at all levels so that we could fulfill our purpose (dharma) in our lifetime. We need to make our living, take care of our families, enjoy our relationships and explore the deeper dimensions of who and what we are. When we are sick we simply can’t do those things. Ayurveda recognizes wellness as not simply the absence of disease, but also the presence of health in all of the vital tissues, balance within our constitutional type, clarity in our minds and senses and a sense of being established in our Self. I love this last part: Svastha—to be truly healthy we must be seated in our Self, the source of real healing.
One way to work with self-care in a multi-dimensional way is to use the model of the koshas—literally “sheath” or “covering”—which Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda use to describe the different layers covering the Self. The first layer is called annamaya kosha (“anna” means “food”) which refers to our physical body. At this layer we literally are what we eat, so how we eat, when we eat and what we eat all affect our food body directly.
Many of us focus too much on what we eat, but from an Ayurvedic perspective, bringing more awareness to how and when we eat is key. At the heart of this approach is an awareness of food as holy. We connect to the plants (and animals if you eat them) that are the source of our nourishment with respect and gratitude. We take food preparation as a practice or sadhana—a sacred activity—and recognize the energy within food as life-enhancing—literally. Below are a list of some basic principles of ayurvedic eating. Rather than going for sweeping change, pick one thing from the lists below that resonates with you and work with it this week. Remember, ayurveda is all about expanding awareness and getting back in sync with our body intelligence.
HOW TO EAT:
- Slowly and mindfully. When we eat in a hurry or while stressed out we can’t properly digest our food. Digestion is a para-sympathetic activity (rest and digest). If you are eating too fast, eating on the run, eating mindlessly, you are creating toxicity in your system.
- With attention on the food.
- With gratitude and reverence for the gift of food.
WHEN TO EAT:
- 2 or 3 time/day At regular times without snacking. Eating at regular times stabilizes the appetite and blood sugar and helps regularize elimination.
- smaller meal at breakfast.
- largest meal mid-day (10 - 2pm—those who aren’t hungry in the morning, can skip breakfast and have brunch instead)
- earlier, lighter dinner (ideally this meal is vegetarian as your digestion is not as strong in the evening and meat is heavy and hard to digest). so that you will have have mostly digested your food before bed-time.
- After your previous meal has been digested. (5 - 6 hours after a big meal—at least 3 hours after a lighter meal). Snacking between meals interferes with digestion and causes indigestion.
- Only when you’re hungry: when you’re hungry, your digestive enzymes are ready and waiting for food. When you eat when you are not hungry, its like putting food into a cold over, it won’t cook properly. Poorly digested foods leaves a toxic residue in the body (ama) and will turn into less than optimal body tissue.
WHAT TO EAT:
- Whole foods: whether your an omnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, eating paleo or macrobiotic, eat plenty of vegetables and fruits in season, organic or unsprayed whenever possible (absolutely important for the “dirty dozen—most highly sprayed fruits and veggies (strawberries, apples, spinach, red bell peppers, bananas…)and for all meats, nuts/nut butters, oils and dairy). 1/2 plate protein/grain (whatever you’re doing) and the other 1/2 vegetables
- Freshly prepared foods: freshly prepared food has more prana in it.
- Food that supports your doshic make-up.
- Probiotics: a supplement, along with a little fermented food at meals.
PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT OPTIMAL DIGESTION:
- Relaxation while eating
- Hydration with warm water and lemon/lime first thing in the morning.
- If digestion is variable or slow, a slice of fresh ginger root with lime juice and salt 20 min before eating will help.
- Sipping warm water with meals.
- Relax for a bit after eating.
- Avoid iced water in general and definitely while eating.
- Avoid drinking a lot the hour after eating (so as not to water down your digestive juices).
- Eat until satisfied but not full so your digestive organs will have room for all of their pumping and churning actions.
- Give your digestive system a break by eating lightly one day a week (fast on soup or kitcheree). This supports your system in digesting any excess from the week.
These general principles work well for most people. Though there is no “one size fits all” in Ayurveda. If you know through your experience that certain foods/practices don’t work for you, avoid them.
If you would like to learn more about an ayurvedic approach to living, I will be teaching Ayurveda for Fall at Two Dog Yoga on Saturday, Oct., 3rd, from 2 - 5pm. I would love to see you there. Questions? email me.
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