Natural Health Spotlight: Bounce Back With Ayurveda
From issue 171 (Sep/Oct 2020) of Kindred Spirit, Danah Mor writes on the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine system perfect for helping you to stay well in these difficult and challenging times
by Danah Mor
The past months have been challenging for us all. We have sacrificed many of our usual freedoms to protect each other’s health and save lives, but defending against COVID-19 and other stress-filled challenges can affect your body and mind in ways you probably did not expect. Being locked down at home day after day can create lethargy and inertia in both body and mind, while becoming unemployed increases the likelihood of depression and hopelessness, and looking after those who become sick or need extra care is physically and emotionally draining. The good news is that with the wisdom of Ayurveda, we can create ways to sustainably support ourselves and bounce back.
Ayurveda originated in the Himalayas, where its healing secrets were recorded in scriptures from 10,000–500BC. Ayurveda is scientific, and is built upon a basic understanding of nature and life. The healing concepts are simple and applicable to anyone. Ayurveda works alongside conventional Western medicine and is used in thousands of hospitals and clinics in India and around the world.
At the foundation of Ayurveda is the fundamental belief that every cell in the universe is composed of five elements, air, fire, water, ether, and earth. These elements surround us and are also within us – we consist of them. For example, muscle tissue is predominantly earth and water, while stomach acids are mostly considered by Ayurveda to be fire. Those same five elements are in the foods we eat, and by eating particular compositions of foods, we increase specific elements in the body. Spicy food, which is predominately fire, increases the fire within the body, for example.
Ayurveda emphasises the concept of balance, through which changes occur naturally. Health and illness often reflect balance and imbalance, leading to comfort and discomfort, happiness, and misery. Balancing dietary habits through Ayurveda can lead to subtle and positive changes in your health and life. Ayurveda also emphasises the prevention of pain, disease and imbalance, and the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
The five elements inside the body are the three doshas, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is space and air, Pitta is fire, and Kapha is water and fire. While we consist of all the five elements, we are dominant in one of the doshas. Ayurveda represents the whole self; mental, emotional, and physical. In other words, doshas are a true gateway to understanding ourselves and others.
During times of challenge such as the pandemic lockdown, external stresses interfere with normal habits. Confinement indoors causes a lack of physical exercise. Stress makes many of us reach for comfort foods that tend to be heavier, and we may feel more lethargic, sleep more or, conversely, be anxious and fearful and not able to sleep at all. These kinds of behaviours are related to the elements of earth and water.
According to Ayurvedic principles, the best way to bounce back from life challenges, from the mental and physical effects of having too much water and earth in the body, is to adopt a Kapha-pacifying routine. This regime will stimulate your body and mind in healthy ways, allowing you to find balance. It dries up excess water retention and mucus that may have built up in your tissues. It will make space for lighter elements and bring new energy into your life, allowing you to counteract the adverse effects of lockdown and other stressful situations.
When Kapha is in balance, you will exhibit some of the following positive qualities: reliable, responsible, calm, affectionate, caring loving, a peacekeeper and even-tempered.
When Kapha is out of balance, you are likely to display negatively in some of the following ways: resistance, possessiveness, over emotional or holding on to your emotions, neediness, lethargy, sleeping too much, depression, lack of enthusiasm, apathetic, sluggish, congested, overweight, have slow digestive system, oily skin, nasal allergies, asthma, obesity, skin growths.
To stay in balance, Kapha requires nourishing these parts of the body: lungs, stomach, body fat, and lymphatic system
- Bitter, astringent/light, pungent (cayenne pepper) dry, warm foods: mostly plant-based such as flavorful steamed veggies, broth soups, quinoa, millet and buckwheat, sprouts and seeds (chia, sesame, sunflower)
- Light grains, light proteins, abundant vegetables, drying and heating foods, heating and pungent spices with thermogenic properties
- Freshly cooked vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, help to stimulate and cleanse mucus and excess Kapha
- Hot herbal teas
- Add warming spices to food and tea, like cinnamon, ginger or cayenne
- Sprouted beans, quinoa, spinach, dandelion, salads, cayenne, pepper and ginger
- Also, work on mental aspects to increase self-acceptance, body-image affirmations, cardiovascular exercises. Love the body you have!
Sweet, sour, salty/heavy, cold, oily: such as fried/oily foods/drinks, ice cream, heavy dairy, animal protein, cold iced drinks, wheat and couscous, sweet fruits like bananas and mangos or heavy nuts like brazil nuts and macadamia nuts
Foods to reduce
Fatty foods, heavy and fatty proteins, dairy, gluten-based grains, red meats, starchy vegetables
Anise, asafoetida, cayenne (uncooked), cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, basil, bay leaf, black pepper, chamomile, caraway, cardamom, coriander, dill, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, horseradish, marjoram, nutmeg, oregano, peppermint, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, spearmint, thyme, turmeric
Kapha-balancing activies/daily routine
Stimulating movement like brisk walking in the morning to increase circulation, mood, and immunity
Self-massage with warm raw sesame oil
Neti – irrigating your nasal passage with warm saltwater
Nasya – dip a cotton bud in warm sesame oil, swirl it inside your nostrils, and inhale deeply
Stimulating, energising yoga postures that are stimulating and energizing like sun salutations and cat pose
Eat only when hungry. Allow the body plenty of time for digestion
Signs of excess Kapha:
Cold, cough, allergies, congestion, flu, fatigue, depression, weight gain
Adopting these tips will help your body naturally find its balance and become stronger, healthier, and able to deal with life’s challenges. Ayurveda invites an understanding of our bodies so we can make good food and lifestyle choices. By practicing Ayurveda, you will learn your unique constitution and body type. We cannot be grouped by gender for calorie intake, blood group, or age because we are all different, and our bodies are continually changing their internal environments. What may be beneficial for you on a sunny day, maybe harmful in the winter. The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda helps us to understand the elements at work in our body so that you can create balance, improve, and sustain good health through challenging times.