Foods & Healthy Diet Based on Ayurvedic Principles
Ayurveda is an ancient science which originated in India. It is said to be 40,000 years old, with texts said to be about 6000 years old. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. It gives us a complete paradigm of life. Ayurveda covers not only the medicinal aspect, but it touches our consciousness, mind, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Ayurveda helps us to achieve a body which works in balance. When our body is attuned to our innate nature, when we eat according to our body type and follow a sattvic lifestyle, then we can maintain optimum health and wellbeing.
Key things to think and remember:
1. “Detox” and rejuvenate your physical self or annamaya kosha by nourishing with food (anna). Annamaya kosha is the physical sheath – the most tangible aspect of ourselves. To aim for optimum health, it is important to eat according to your body type.
2. You can eat according to your body type only if you can recognise what your body type is. You can then choose the right kind of fuel for your “engine” or body type.
3. Eat to create peace within you. Avoid eating food that creates inertia or agitation in your mind.
Food for Annamaya Kosha
Sheaths of human existence – the five koshas
The five sheaths (pancha-kosas) are described, from gross to fne, they are:
1. Annamaya kosha, “food” sheath or the physical body
2. Pranamaya kosha, “energy” sheath or energy body
3. Manomaya kosha, “mind” sheath or mental body
4. Vijnanamaya kosha, “wisdom” sheath or wisdom body
5. Anandamaya kosha, “bliss” sheath or bliss body
These sheaths surround the Divine Spirit or Atma.
The annamaya kosha is named from the fact that it is nourished by food – we physically become what we eat. So it is important to know and understand what we are eating, to keep our body in optimum health. Annamaya kosha is the most tangible aspect of ourselves. Our body is the physical, material sheath of our existence.
We use asanas to bring ﬂexibility, toning, strength, balance, relief, relaxation, and fitness to the physical sheath of annamaya kosha though asanas also affect the other koshas as well. We also eat the “right” food to strengthen this sheath. Ayurveda recommends to cleanse and strengthen the physical body or annamaya kosha by adopting a sattvic diet and lifestyle, oleation and cleansing srotas (the micro and macro channels) through panchakarma treatments.
Ayurveda uses food for stress relief by balancing the functioning of the sympathetic nervous system and endocrine glands to bring joy and remove inertia or restlessness.
Food for your Doshas and Body-Type (Prakruti)
To understand the concept of doshas and body type, frst let us look at some keywords here.
The functional intelligence within the human body that is responsible for all the physiological and psychological processes in a person. One of three functional energies in nature: vata, pitta, and kapha.
Prakruti (or prakriti or mind-body type) The constitution that we are born with; the unique ratio of “vata”, “pitta” and “kapha” doshas established at conception and resulting in a unique set of physical, emotional, and mental tendencies, strengths, challenges and vulnerabilities.
One of the three “doshas” (functional energies in nature); kapha is made up of the earth and water elements and governs structure, liquidity, growth and cohesiveness. Key words used to describe qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, gross, and cloudy.
One of the three “doshas” (functional energies in nature); pitta is predominated by mainly fre and some air and water elements, and it governs transformation, governing all metabolic processes. Keywords used to describe qualities of pitta are light, sharp (or penetrating), hot, oily, liquid, and spreading.
Vata (also called Vayu)
One of the three doshas (functional energies in nature); vata is predominated by the ether and air elements and governs movement, transportation, drying and separating functions and communication.
Keywords for vata are light, cold, dry, rough, mobile, subtle, and clear.
Doshas, Yoga and Food
Each asana has a defined effect relative to the three doshas. We can look upon different yoga asanas according to their structural ability to increase or decrease the doshas. We can change a particular asana toward a particular doshic result. By adjusting the pace and number of repetitions, the same asana for different body types can be done differently with different results.
Similarly each dosha requires a specific kind of food for optimum health, e.g. if someone with pitta body type eats too much hot chilli (fery food) in hot summer weather (fiery season), at midday (fiery time of the day), there is a good chance that they may have aggravated pitta soon. By adjusting food for different body types, we can create health and wellness.
Food for creating peace
For this, let us understand the concept of gunas (quality) of mind.
In yogic and Ayurvedic philosophy, there are three qualities (gunas) of all things in nature, including our mind. We are aiming to create sattvic quality in our mind.
1. Sattwa relates to a feeling of purity, harmony and brings clarity and lightness. Related qualities of sattwa are graceful, peaceful, disciplined, intuitive, sensitive.
2. Rajas relates to the qualities of will power, forcefulness, active, fast, positive and demanding.
3. Tamas relates to the qualities of slowness, lethargic, bland, impulsive, dull, confused. These three qualities are present in all living animals and plants, seasons and time, but in different amounts.
Relevance of Sattvic, Rajasic, and Tamasic Foods
Success in life depends on the ability to know exactly what is good for you and the motivation to act on what you know. Therefore, aiming towards a “sattvic state of mind” is key to experiencing harmony and optimum health. Ayurveda focuses on refining the quality of the mind – to restore the dominance of sattwa.
To create a “sattvic state of mind”, you need to take sattvic intake from your senses. For example, you can listen to sattvic music and engage in selﬂess service. You can spend time in nature where most people experience peace e.g. mountains, waterfalls or the ocean.
Ayurveda also recognises the crucial role proper nutrition plays in maintaining mental sattwa. The Ayurvedic concept of Ahara, or life supporting diet, concerns itself with the effects of various types of food on the quality of the mind, the digestion and the balance of the doshas. Let us look at the quality of diet according to Ayurveda.
Foods which have a sattvic inﬂuence on the mind are light in terms of their digestibility and easily nourish the mind and body. They include fresh foods, pure milk in moderation, ghee, fresh fruit, most vegetables, grains (white and brown basmati rice), whole wheat, oats, split or whole mung dhal (lentils) and almonds. These foods produce calmness, clarity and creativity in the mind and health and vitality in the body.
Sattvic food is the purest diet, the most suitable one for any serious yoga student. It nourishes the body and maintains a peaceful state. This helps calm the mind, so it can work at its maximum potential. A sattvic diet will lead to true health, with a peaceful mind.
Foods which increase the heat and activity level in the body. These typically include onions, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes, radishes, chillies, corn, spices, eggs, fsh, seafood, and poultry. These foods make the mind restless, more aggressive and emotional.
Rajasic foods are hot, bitter, dry, salty, or spicy. They overstimulate the mind and excite the passions.
Tamasic foods promote heaviness in the body and include red meat, alcohol, tobacco, mushrooms, intoxicating drugs, deep-fried and fermented foods and aged foods like cheese and leftovers. These foods cause mental dullness, confusion and disorientation, as well as physical lethargy and sluggishness. They also give a violent slant to the aggressive quality of rajas.
Look at the key points given at the start of this article, and see how can you use diet as a tool for progressing your own journey of life and yoga
MoreInfo: This article first appeared on FlyingYogis magazine