COOKING . . . some AYURVEDIC strategies
By Michael Dick ed Judy Dean
Relationship of food to life
Ayurvedic as contrasted to Western nutritional concepts
Organic vs. non organic
Nutrition as process
Consideration of doshas in taking food
Considerations of choosing & cooking foods
Considerations of consciousness in eating
Glossary of Ayurvedic terms
RELATIONSHIP OF FOOD TO LIFE
Ayurveda is the science of life and the body of knowledge of how to improve life and extend life. Life, according to this system, depends on three elements: mind, body, and spirit or Consciousness. Life does not exist without all of these. Fundamentally, Consciousness is everything there is, and in the realm of the senses the body is an extension or expression of Consciousness.
The mind, having no material existence in the sense of “physical”, is the link between body and spirit or Consciousness. It is through the operation of mind that the body becomes aware of its spiritual nature. Conversely, the spirit or Consciousness knows the sensory experiences of the body through the mind.
Consciousness is a non-material intelligence and energy. Modern quantum physics tells us that all matter is fundamentally energy. The fact that matter exists presupposes intelligence or Consciousness. Thus, it could be said that food and Consciousness partake of the same nature. When we take food into the body we take energy and intelligence into it . . . to maintain and prolong the body’s vitality. By this act we nourish the body’s physical functioning and the ability of the mind to function. We also nourish our emotions, the senses, and thus the quality of awareness or Consciousness. We become – in a literal way – every quality we eat and every quality we contact through experience.
An aphorism (verse) in Ayurveda affirms that food is our medicine and a good regimen of diet is worth a hundred drugs. And . . . no amount of drugs can overcome a poor regimen of diet.
The values of food and diet are:
· maintenance of the bulk of the body, giving life physicality
· promotion of balance in physiology thus promoting growth, health, strength, vitality
· purification and healing in case of disease, thus promoting longevity
· sensory enjoyment and a sense of well-being
· mental, emotional and sensory functioning which promotes skill in action
· promotion of awareness to right action
AYURVEDIC AS CONTRASTED TO WESTERN NUTRITIONAL CONCEPTS
Western readers need to understand that classical literature of Ayurveda lacks the concept of vitamins, as such. However, ancient knowledge is rich with information on the therapeutic value of metals, gems and minerals (internal & external) which addresses the idea in a more fundamental way. Vitamins . . . various synthesized substances . . . are of modern invention and they have become a cultural truism. Indeed, vitamins have their value. Yet they are not unique in providing nutrition.
It is interesting to reflect that recent experience with vitamin therapy on the part of Ayurvedic physicians has helped these doctors diagnose and treat nutrient-related disorders, among others, ever more accurately. For example, Vitamin B-12 and folic acid deficiency can definitely be associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. Tongue diagnosis, a very reliable complementary medicine technique used by Ayurveda, reveals this connection. The lingual expression of the imbalance can be read and linked to this modern Western syndrome.
Other syndromes are being identified as we read; and, it may be that Ayurvedic diagnostic techniques can be used to reveal vitamin imbalances. This would be a simpler method than hair analysis.
Organic vs. Non organic
Interesting and important information comes from recent investigations by Yale researchers around organic versus non-organically grown foods. Researchers have found that organic foods are up to 85% more nutrient-rich then their non-organic counterparts. According to recent research findings modern practices of farming, pest control, soil management, food distribution, handling and storage have significantly altered the nutrient values of foods over the years. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are picked in an unripe condition and some are treated to bring about a kind of ripening while in transit and storage. Almost all foodstuffs are stored for days, weeks, and months before they are consumed.
When Ayurveda arose, farming methods were drastically different. Foods were grown locally and eaten in season, for one thing. Since Ayurveda maintains that foods should be picked fresh and prepared and eaten immediately that translates these days into a preference for organic fruits and vegetables which come closer to the Ayurvedic ideal.
Nutrition as Process
The most important consideration about nutrients from the perspective of Ayurveda is that nutrition is the end result of a series of activities . . . digestion, absorption and assimilation.
The end product – nutrition of the body-mind – is the effect caused by these activities occurring in a coherent, synchronous and sequential manner.
Nutrition from the perspective of food supplementation is based on a belief that one needs to add a course or treatment of vitamins and minerals. To a deficient system supplementation can be valuable; however, according to Ayurveda if supplementation occurs in some inappropriate form it may actually feed the imbalance or disease it is intended to improve. For example, persons taking mega doses of Vit C and Vit B complexes may have increased inflammatory symptoms because of this “mega dosing”. There is much to know about what supplement to take, when should it be added, how much should be taken, who is taking it and all the other variables of healing.
Hopefully, we will all come to understand . . . through experience and inspiration . . . the needs of our systems as well as our status as immortal beings. Ayurvedic nutrition addresses this idea and can be undertaken most fruitfully.
CONSIDERATIONS OF DOSHAS IN TAKING FOOD
The body might be described as the expression of three dynamic principles . . . vata, pitta, kapha. The Western way of describing these principles is motion (vata), transformation (pitta) and structure (kapha). These are governing principles of physiology associated with tissues, organs and systems of the body. When their functions or qualities get out of balance then discomfort or pain arises.
Food and the manner of taking it is the best tool (or medicine) for restoring and maintaining the proper balance of the qualities and functions of these governors of physiology. Also, of the many facets of our lives food is the one over which we have most control. Basically, we can eat whenever or whatever we want. We can eat food raw. We can also boil it, steam it, fry it, bake it, roast it, dry it, smoke it, pickle it, season it, or garnish it, and so on.
Foods taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. The possible variations are great indeed, yet each one of these taste factors affects the manner in which our body performs. While vata, pitta, kapha take their instructions for governing the body from the DNA molecules in the cell nucleus, everything else in life that we experience modifies the way the cell carries out its DNA programming. Thus, food and our manner of diet are so crucial to our health.
The value of the dosha system of body typing is twofold:
· A lifelong theme or target value for maintaining balance in each individual is provided. It is sufficient for health to follow the theme.
· A theme of physiology is provided. The theme, because of its liveliness and volatility, tends toward imbalance (a natural process), and, therefore, needs to be constantly addressed or balanced for one’s entire life.
It can further be taken into consideration that body typing implies a specific set of qualities and functions unique to a body type. Maintaining balance in physology means balancing the functioning of vata, pitta, kapha in the individual according to the body type. Balance is promoted by taking in qualities of opposite nature to the predominant physiological principle or dosha.
If pitta, for example, is the dominant dosha in an individual body type with its hot, oily, sharp, liquid qualities then we eat foods with cool, dry, dull, non-liquid qualities.
If vata is the dominant dosha with its cool, airy, dry nature, then we eat foods which are warming and grounding.
If kapha is the dominant dosha manifesting groundedness and stagnation, then we eat foods which are enlivening and uplifting.
CONSIDERATIONS OF CHOOSING & COOKING FOODS
General guidelines for choosing edible and healthy foods according to Ayurvedic practice are simple enough. Oversimplified – yet useful for conceptualizing – is the idea of eating local, eating in season and eating fresh out of the ground. It is an ideal, of course, which can be scarcely achieved in everyday practice (without a garden and fruit trees) yet it represented a way of life in the culture which gave birth to Ayurvedic concepts of health and wellness.
Today we can set out general guidelines which honor the principles of Ayurveda as it was originally conceptualized, yet which speak to modern circumstances. Consider the following:
· Choose organic over non-organically grown foods
· Choose freshly picked, vine-ripened foods whenever possible.
· Favor foods grown in your local area as they will have more specific usable food value
· Choose foods for a meal which favor a single taste, e.g., sweet or pungent or astringent. This simplicity results in much better digestion.
· Favor foods which are dosha specific to your constitution.
· Choose either cooked or uncooked (raw) foods for any meal. Your digestive system will appreciate not combining cooked and raw in a single meal.
· Choose only fresh foods. Avoid leftovers, canned or frozen foods . . .or, use them as little as possible.
· Favor meals which are warm and freshly prepared.
· Choose optimum food combinations. Said another way . . . avoid unhealthful combining such as milk with fish, whole grains with citrus fruits, etc.
Cooking is a crucial part of the process of transforming food molecules into the elements of tissues like muscle and bone. Ayurveda sees cooking as an extension of the (a) gross digestive process carried out in the stomach and intestines and of the (b) more subtle digestions of the liver and the cells throughout the body.
There is a kind of balancing that must be done . . .cooking foods enough to facilitate digestion while not cooking enough to destroy nutrient values. And this balancing may need to be adjusted for each individual’s digestive ability. Of particular note – and to be remembered – is that Ayurveda holds digestion to be the root of all health. It is to be protected at all costs, and that protection takes the form of guidelines in cooking:
· Cleanse foods carefully prior to cooking
· Serve meals while warm and freshly prepared. Cooked foods are considered “leftover” after 5 hours except for kitcheri which may be eaten within 24 hours. The problem with leftovers as well as with canned and frozen foods is that prana or vitality is gone.
· Vegetables should be cooked until they are just tender. Occasionally, certain conditions of a person’s digestive process might suggest that food be cooked until it can be made into a puree.
· It is highly recommended that cooked and uncooked foods not be combined in a single meal.
· Honey may be used in its uncooked form and applied to cooked foods. Honey becomes poisonous when cooked.
· Ayurveda prefers to avoid certain food combinations the most common of which are combining milk with fish and citrus fruits with whole grains, especially whole wheat. Cooks can easily make themselves familiar with food combining.
· Choose the manner of cooking which best suits your culinary goals. For example, boiling makes food more vata balancing. Baking makes it more kapha balancing. Stir frying (sautéing) balances vata and if ghee is used, pitta is also balanced. Steaming helps balance pitta and kapha. Roasting to the point of charring is considered carcinogenic even though this method may reduce fats.
A notable element in maintaining a more-or-less Ayurvedic kitchen is the amount of time which must be spent in meal preparation. This is especially true if a household contains a disparity of doshic types. Variety of doshas presents a real challenge to the cook, although with practice variety can be managed – it can even provide interest and inspiration. Crock pots are useful tools in the meal preparation and management process as is a wok (which facilitates stir frying).
Microwave ovens, on the other hand, are not encouraged. Following research in the Soviet Union which led to microwaves being banned, Vaidyas have stated that the basic prana or energy of foods is disturbed in microwave cooking. For this reason using the microwave is not advised for cooking or reheating, if possible. Also, since raw foods tend to increase vata and are difficult to digest, they need to be cooked. Cooking with flame is preferred because it avoids introducing harmful electromagnetic field effects.
The cook prepares dishes that have the effect of balancing one dosha for each eater. Each person may take foods which do not balance the dominant dosha when they are taken in smaller amounts or less frequently. Condiments are used at the table to modify effects. Thus, each person adds to the cooked foods on her plate those spices and sauces which are balancing to her body type. And since the different body types tend to different qualities of digestion, these differences can be addressed by providing appetizers or digestives to be taken before, during, or after a meal. Fresh ginger slice with lime juice and salt might work for a kapha person. Cumin-coriander-fennel tea might favor a pitta person and a vata person might favor lassi (yogurt and water mixed), and so on. Ayurvedic meals, although much more rule-bound than Western meals, are always a taste treat and visual delight.
CONSIDERATIONS OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN EATING
The goal of Ayurveda is perfection. This means perfection of bodily health, perfection of ability to perform righteous or dutiful action, and perfected ability to achieve pleasure, happiness and wealth as well as spiritual fulfillment. These aims of Ayurveda -- which are promoted or discouraged by the qualities of the things we do and of the foods we eat – can be realized if we so choose. We are, or become, what we eat in the most absolute literal sense of the words.
If a person desires a spiritual life and is consciously following a spiritual path – as contrasted with a more materially-oriented lifestyle – that person will use diet and eating to assist spirituality. This is done by taking into consideration the gunas which might be described as the qualities, characteristics or attributes inherent in prana. of all matter, including foods. The gunas are sattva, rajas and tamas
Foods which are sattvic promote evenness of temperament, balance of emotions, courage, forgiveness, good judgment, clarity of perception, compassion and love of all things including Truth and other holy abstractions. Foods which are sattvic include basmati rice, dal, a special salt, pure rain water, ghee, milk, barley, and honey among other foods. A person who is truly sattvic knows about life in its full scope and depth, and a sattvic diet is the only one possible for spiritual awareness and fulfillment.
Foods which are rajasic feed our attachment to sensory stimulation and to dynamic action. Rajasic foods include such spicy things as sugar, red meats, alcohol and caffeine. These foods promote fiery emotions and behavior. Such foods can tend to addictive use. This sort of addiction takes the form of attachment to some foods and experiences and aversion to other foods and experiences. Such attachment and aversion promotes a judgmental, critical existence.
Foods which are tamasic include such things as leftovers, fried foods, canned foods and stale rancid foods as well as edibles which have been microwaved. Eating these promotes dullness, lethargy, sloth and insensitivity.
GLOSSARY OF AYURVEDIC TERMS
Ayurveda The eternal system of life knowledge from an ancient culture of India. It defines life as a combination of mind, body, senses and spirit. Its aims are to heal the sick and prevent disease, sustain quality of and length of life. Its scope includes knowledge of science, medicine and philosophy.
Dosha The fundamental governing principle of life and creation, which – in the body – serves to execute the blueprint of DNA. This sustains sentient life during all the vagaries of changing times. When influence upon this governing agent is overwhelming . . . disease arises.
Guna This term means quality or attribute. It describes a fundamental stable energy which is the nature and essence of any substance. [qualities &attributes of prana?] Thoughts, feelings and similar subtle energies are considered as substance as well as actual materiality like foodstuffs. The gunas are sattva (spiritual), rajas, (worldly), tamas (involutionary or decaying).
Ghee The clarified essence of butter which obtains from cooking it for about 15 minutes over medium heat. When cool, accumulated fats on the bottom of the pot are discarded and a pure, golden oil is retrieved.
Kapha The name of the governing principle of Creation relating to physical forms of energy. It is responsible for secretions, maintaining lubrication, fluid balance, growth, heaviness, grounding, forgiveness, compassion, potency, understanding.
Pitta The name of the governing principle of Creation relating to transformation reactions. It is responsible for digestion, absorption, assimilation, metabolism, complexion, body temperature, vision, courage and enthusiasm.
Prana A subtle essence of all energy forms; hence, the energetic essence of all creation. The particular prana of foods determines whether and how foodstuffs are used.
Rajas (Rajasic) The mobilization of energy by Consciousness in such a manner as to produce action, attraction, repulsion, desire and so on.
Sattva (Sattvic) That style of functioning of Consciousness which embraces balanced use of the mind, body and senses thus promoting wisdom, compassion, clarity, health and long life.
Tamas (Tamasic) That style of functioning of Consciousness which embraces notions of darkness, inertia, insensitivity, ignorance and so on.
Vaidya One who knows. A respectful title of an Ayurvedic medical practitioner, indicating appreciation of the depth and scope of knowledge in the training of this science.
Vata The governing principle of Creation that has the most importance by having the ability to move all things. It is responsible for respiration, circulation, elimination, speech, motion, locomotion. It also governs all nervous system functioning, intuition, cheerfulness and creativity.
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