I’ve been thinking about which direction I want to take this blog. My mission is to show people how to use food to HEAL their bodies from preventable illnesses.
About 95% of the people who will read my blog will have grown up with Western medicine. Don’t get me wrong, there have been INCREDIBLE innovation in this area… 100 years ago, reattaching a severed hand would be impossible, but now it happens regularly.
The down side of Western medicine is that it is too focused on treating one symptom at a time. Ayurveda, on the other hand, notices when small aspects of your life is out of balance and corrects the issue BEFORE it progresses into a chronic illness.
So, from now on, I’ll use a combination of modern science to explain the ancient healing art of Ayurveda. One quick example is the issue of heartburn. Anyone who has dealt with this knows that it’s a fiery feeling in your throat and it often happens when you eat too much spicy food.
Western medicine would either conclude that you need a pill to fight those symptoms or cut out spicy food altogether. Ayurveda, however, would say simply add more water to any spicy meal you eat and maybe have it once a week so your body can properly burn off the excess heat.
I hope y’all enjoy this new path I’m taking and with every blog post you’ll have one great tip you can include in your life to optimize your health.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to determine the best way to open the discussion about Ayurveda. Then it hit me – we are in the middle of vata season, so it is the perfect time to explain this dosha!
In a previous blog, I gave an overview of the three doshas. You can read it here, but let’s dive into vata.
Understanding the basics of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is simply the science of life on earth and the doshas represent the combinations of the 5 main elements in humans. Those five elements are:
Ether: space. This element is lighter than air – think about astronauts – they are floating through ether.
Vata dosha explained
Vata is the combination of ether and air, and if translated from Sanskrit, means wind and movement. As you can see from the picture above, that most of the aspects of the vata body type are related to movement in some way. While movement is good, having too much of this dosha can be a bad thing. Let’s look at how vata reveals itself in different aspects of a person’s life.
Physical components of vata
One of the easiest ways to recognize that vata is your prominent dosha is to look at your frame. Most vatas will have a light frame and will have a tough time gaining weight. Other physical signs include:
Thin, dry hair
Cold hands and feet
Quick bursts of energy
Sleep is light
When in balance, vatas can use these characteristics to their advantage. A sign of this is increased productivity at work or home. Becoming unbalanced, however, has serious repercussions such as:
Mental components of vata
People who have vata as their dominant dosha are extraordinary because they are very creative, energetic and can spark conversation with almost anyone about anything. Energy is constantly flowing through them.
When there is too much vata in your body, however, you experience things like:
Anxiety (thoughts moving too much),
Talkativeness (do you know anyone who talks non-stop?),
Memory issues (trying to take in too much information at once and nothing sticks).
Taming vata imbalances through nutrition
The great thing about Ayurveda is that not only does tell us about the doshas, it gives us the information we need to remain in balance and live the best life possible!
Remember that vata is wind and wind moves best when there is very little to interfere with it. So, logically, the best way to tame vata is to put obstacles in its path. Here are some food groups that effectively block excessive vata activity:
Nuts: cashews, walnuts, almonds, etc. all contain healthy fats that can stop excess vata in your body
Lean meats: organic, family farmed beef, chicken and fish contain protein that fill you up, preventing excess air from wrecking havoc on your body
Healthy oils: if aren’t a fan of eating nuts, adding healthy oils to your meals, like olive and coconut, initiate the same grounding feeling as nuts would
Dairy: low fat and full fat dairy foods are another great option. You’ll also get the calcium to strengthen your bones!
Warming spices: spices that have a hearing effect – you know when you eat them and your body suddenly feels warmer – are perfect for vata imbalances. Ginger, cayenne pepper, turmeric and red pepper flakes are great starting points.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of how the Vata dosha impacts your body, you can take small steps to to regain and maintain optimal health! Combining any of the foods mentioned above is also a good tool. Try a warm cup of milk with ginger and turmeric, if you don’t want a full meal.
What are some of the ways you can think of to balance any excess vata you are experiencing?
Another year is just beginning and I absolutely LOVE the idea of giving up all desires to be skinny. Honestly, it is completely overrated, even if you’re overweight. American culture has trained us to think that any excess body weight means you are overweight, which if not true at all! From this day forward, I suggest telling yourself that you are making changes to become the healthiest you for you. Forget what society expects! You DESERVE the gift of health.
You all know that I am a firm believer in the ancient healing art of Ayurveda. Following this ancient medicinal system, we are taught to treat our body with reverence. Your body’s are a reflection of our current health. All of your past decisions have made you who you are today. Embrace the lessons you’ve learned from them and use them to move into a healthier lifestyle.
Remember that even if you aren’t in perfect health, you are just as worthy of self-love as a body builder!
Before my enlightenment
Throughout my teens, I followed so many diets in an attempt to look like my best friend who was much skinnier than me. I never took into account that my bones were thicker than hers, which meant I SHOULD NOT look the same as her. Fast forward to my twenties. I became friends with many “overweight” people who were doing things I couldn’t; my best friend from college played on our school’s rugby team. She ate junk food on occasion, but more often than not she would eat mostly healthy foods. This is where I picked up my theory on how to eat to mold your ideal body!
Life preparing me for my enlightenment
This idea stayed with me long after we left college, but it didn’t click completely until I was living on my own in Philadelphia, PA. One sunny April day in 2013, I decided to walk to my local library. On my way there, my sneaker got caught in a crack in the sidewalk and I fell hard on my knees. While my knee injury wasn’t too bad, there was another lesson in store for me. About two weeks after my knees got better, I started having uncontrollable back spasms. They were so intense that when I went to my mother’s orthopedic surgeon to try to figure out what was wrong, that he couldn’t even touch me without extreme pain!
He ordered a number of different tests to decipher what was wrong but every test came back with negative results. His only conclusion was that my body had locked up from the intensity of the fall to protect me from something, and he was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! He then told me to go home and get as much rest as possible.
After seeing this doctor, I made it my mission to take as much time to rest as I possibly could. Not only that, I realized that I should use this down time to make healthier food choices. Before my accident, I ate fast food multiple times a day. Since I could barely move around my apartment, let alone go downstairs to pick up food from a local restaurant, I brought into my home yogurt, instant oatmeal, protein shakes, et cetera – anything that was easy to make so I didn’t aggravate my injury.
After a few weeks of following this meal plan, my family started asking me questions about my workout regimen. They were concerned that I had been ignoring my doctor and working out. When I told them that the only thing I was doing was making better food choices, they were shocked. My sister even came over one day to check up on me. When she saw that my refrigerator was full of everything I had told her, she went home and left me to recover.
By the end of my recovery, I had lost 30 pounds, with NO EXERCISE!! To date, I’ve lost about 85 in total and I NEVER diet.
What’s the lesson for you in all this?
I’m telling you my story to reinforce the idea that with this new year, you should make a resolution to become a healthier you in small steps. You have developed your current eating habits over the previous months and years of your life – you can’t expect lasting results to come from drastic changes. Food is our first and best medicine for creating a healthier body.
I began this blog as a reminder that you have to love your body, regardless of what shape it’s in. When you love your body exactly for how it is, the easier it will be to make small, positive changes. My story is a testament to that fact. Millions of people start popular diets every day, have success in the beginning and then gain it all back… Why? If a diet is so great, why can’t people stay on them for life, or at the very least maintain the weight they’ve lost?
The truth is: consistency is the biggest piece of the puzzle. I’ve been way off track with this – my mother’s death took me by surprise and I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted because of the depression that set in after losing her. From this day forward, I vow to do better for myself…. Especially because my mom believed wholeheartedly in what I do!
In order to achieve this goal, I must remember that small, yet constant improvement and upgrades to my current preferences is my keystone to finishing the health journey I started back in 2013.
Neither you or I can do intermittent health care. Healthy eating must happen daily. Aside from occasional “free meals,” we have to eat to nourish and maintain our bodies. It is an odd thing that has happened in our society where food intake is such a social and pleasure thing instead of a way to fuel our bodies.
So the conclusion is there is nothing wrong with always being aware of what we do to stay slim and strong and healthy. We should love ourselves for who we are on the inside but also love the potential we have; both inner and outer and always strive to live up to it.
Ayurveda is the most ancient medical science known to man – it’s been practiced for more than 5,000 years!! Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry has done a great job on confusing people about what it is on a couple different fronts. When followed regularly it is much harder for germs to get comfortable in your body (I’ve been sick three times in 5 years!). Another great benefit is that you don’t gain weight as easily.
These benefits are EXACTLY what the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to understand because then you won’t need their concoctions!
In this blog, I’ll explain three of the biggest misconceptions surrounding ayurveda.
1. It’s a Fad Diet
Many people are so used to insane diet programs like Atkins, South Beach, Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers that tell them that they must restrict calorie intake and/or completely eliminate whole food groups that it’s understandable to lump Ayurveda into that category.
Ayurveda has been practiced by millions of people over thousands of years and uses the laws of nature to help guide people to foods that are good for their bodies. There are three main body types – vata, pitta and kapha – which are comprised of the 5 major elements: fire, water, earth, airand ether.
2. It is connected to a spiritual philosophy.
Since Ayurveda originated in India, many people understandably confuse it for a local philosophical, cultural or spiritual practice. In reality, it is a strong science related to creating a healthy lifestyle.
I know what you’re thinking, “Miranda, it can’t be a science because it has to be based on proven facts!” You’d be surprised to know that it is based on just that when you remember the definition of science, which is “knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation.”
Ayurveda has observed the eating habits of humans over several millennia and the basic patterns have been recorded for later generations to refer to should health become an issue for future generations. A great example of this is the doshas: vata, pitta and kapha. These are the same body types we’re familiar with in the United States. Vata refers to people with very thin frames, pitta is the equivalent of medium bone structure and kapha is for the heaviest set people.
Each of the doshas (body types) has a general rule for how it reacts to the food we eat, which is connected to the 5 major elements.
Vatas have a body constitution that consists mostly of air. Think of someone you know who is naturally very thin; they’ll most likely have a tendency to talk fast, have a lot of ideas going through their mind (which is why they forget things easily). To combat this, they need grounding foods like healthy fats, which is in nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, et cetera.
Pitta, which is my dosha, is based mostly on fire and these people need to be especially careful with the foods they eat in order to prevent the body from overheating. A good example of this are the very hot spices such as cayenne pepper, chili powder, ghost peppers, and sriracha. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve had a couple of these spices and my mouth burned for a while!
Back to the Ayurveda connection. Since pitta doshas are already mostly fire, these people don’t do well with spices (because fire on top of fire is never a good thing!).
Kaphas, the heaviest body type, are made mostly of earth, which is very sturdy and needs a significant amount of water to keep moving. Think of a mountain – it is impossible to move any part of it unless there is a river cutting through it or a torrential downpour causes a landslide. To be at their best, kaphas need lots water-based foods such as fruits and vegetables. That prevents their digestive systems from becoming too stagnant, which can lead to weight gain and decreased mobility.
3. It takes a long time to feel any benefits
A huge part of why so many people are afraid to incorporate ayurveda into their lives is because they think they have to wait 4 to 6 weeks to feel any benefits (thanks Big Pharma!). Adopting either part of or the entire ayurvedic lifestyle is HUGELY beneficial to your health!
Three years ago, I remember getting a horrible chest cold after babysitting my nephew one day. My chest was so heavy (filled with fluid) that it felt like an elephant Sat on my chest and refused to get up, no matter how much Robitussin I took! Fed up with the pain, I found a home remedy, that I later learned was from ayurveda, and it was thyme infused tea. Luckily I had both ingredients in my kitchen cabinet, so I decided to give it a shot. Immediately after drinking the tea, I felt my lungs and sinuses clear out and about 60 minutes later, the fluids were coming out much more easily after I coughed or blew my nose.
For this Wellness Wednesday, I wanted to take a little time to explain what my blog is all about. I mentioned earlier that I have used the ancient healing arts of Ayurveda and yoga in the past, and when I really followed them, I was the healthiest I’d ever been! To give you a better idea of what I mean, imagine getting multiple (3 to 5) headaches and issues with upset stomach/heartburn every week – Tylenol was ALWAYS in my medicine cabinet.
Then when I had a back injury that put me on bed rest for 5 months, I had to reevaluate my relationship with food and went back to the basics. Here’s a great quote from Ayurveda:
During my recovery, I focused on eating simple, protein rich foods that would properly fuel my body. Since I couldn’t move very well, I stocked my refrigerator with Chobani yogurt that had fruit on the bottom. The yogurt had the protein I needed to maintain my muscles and fats to insure that the tissues in my joints wouldn’t deteriorate.
Two months into my recovery, my doctor yelled at me because she thought I was ignoring her order to rest because I apparently had lost a significant amount of weight. By the end of my recovery, I had lost 30 pounds!! I owe that weight loss to Ayurveda, which is the ancient Indian tradition of seeing how the foods you eat react with YOUR body (no two people are alike so following a cookie cutter diet is stupid and potentially dangerous!). I’ll do other posts explaining the basics of Ayurveda, but let me give you a brief example.
Ayurveda and me
My body type is called pitta and the main element in it is fire. This shows in my ruddy complexion, my occasional fiery temper and my tendency to experience heartburn. Because the main element in my body type is fire, it is important for me to avoid very spicy foods because I can overheat. The best foods for me, especially in the hotter months, are cooling foods like water, berries, melons, leafy green veggies, yogurt, etc. Basically, you should visualize water being dumped on forest fires – water keeps the fire from damaging too many things. My body is the same way!
Again, I’ll do more detailed posts soon regarding ayurveda, so don’t worry if you’re not a pitta like me.
How does yoga play into this?
Most people know that yoga is a series of gentle stretches and poses that help our bodies maintain flexibility. What you don’t know, however, is that those stretches and poses can also tell your body to fix certain blockages.
As I get deeper into my training as a yoga instructor, I’ll be able to explain this in more detail, but think about when you are hunched over a computer for a few hours and you have a sudden urge to get up, stretch and walk around. That is your body’s way of maintaining itself. And that’s exactly what yoga aims to accomplish, help your body realize what is out of sync and do gentle actions to correct it.
Combining the two to create a new experience: YogaVeda
My new healthy lifestyle model is called YogaVeda because I teach you how to harness the power of food and movement to become the healthiest you possible. I will never tell you that you need to get up at 3am and do an intense military-style workout. I’ll also never tell you to completely eliminate a food or meal from your diet (unless you’re allergic!); I just help you find a better version of it.
If you combine good, nutrient dense food (because we all need to eat!) and simple, regular movement, you will be surprised at what you’re actually capable of!