Ever heard the words Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine and wondered what the deal is? Often referred to as the sister science to yoga with origins in India, Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional medical system of the Hindu culture. Ayurveda is the oldest model of holistic health care and dates back three to five thousand years! Ayur meaning life and veda meaning science in Sanskrit literally translates to “the science of life.”
According to Deepak Chopra (perhaps the most well-known modern practitioner) Ayurveda includes two main theories:
1. The mind and the body are inextricably connected
2. Nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind
Deepak sums it up like this: “Freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body.”
In Ayurvedic medicine, everything consists of the five earth elements; fire, ether, water, air and earth. Ayurveda believes that these elements are what unites all humans and they are manifested through three major metabolic types, named Kapha, Pitta, or Vata.
As each human is unique, we each have a different combination of the 3 doshas and tend to lean towards one type over the other two. A fun and insightful look into your dosha type can be discovered here by taking the “dosha quiz,” but the tips I share below can be applied to any dosha type. To fully understand the practice, we would definitely need more than one article… but that’s not to say we can’t glean some of the longstanding proven lifestyle ideals and tips from this age old medicine to apply to our daily lives. Here are my favorite nods to Ayurveda that will help you thrive this winter.
1. Get Things Moving Early in the Morning
An important theory in Ayurveda is that of “digestive fire.” Gut health is considered central to overall well being. We are learning more and more through modern science the important of gut health and how connected it actually is to major disease processes and overall immunity…. Ayurveda definitely has something here!
What to do: Every morning upon awakening – drink a large glass of warm filtered water with fresh lemon juice. If your body leans towards constipation: add bitters to your water to aid in digestion. If your body leans towards diarrhea: add fresh mint or ginger to your warm water.
image by kristen kilpatrick
2. Eat for the Season
Ayurvedic medicine thrives on the theories of the seasonal routine. By balancing your diet and lifestyle with the season, you’re setting yourself up for optimal health through that particular season. Ayurveda teaches that like brings on like, and counter-balancing a season with diet helps one attain balance. In other words, because autumn and winter are dry, cold, windy, rough seasons – you should eat foods with opposite qualities to balance out the side effects of this season.
What to do: In the fall and winter it is important to move away from raw and cold foods and eat warm food with healthy fats, hardy vegetables, warming spices, and hot beverages over cold beverages when possible.
Try incorporating more of these foods in the winter:
Healthy fatty oils like coconut oil or olive oil.
Warm tea, warm milk, warm water.
Hardy root vegetables like onions, carrots, squash, pumpkin, beets, and sweet potatoes.
Warming spices: I like to make this spice blend in the beginning of the season and keep it on my spice rack to add to veggies, teas, warm milk, chicken, or grains.
6 parts turmeric, 3 parts cumin, 3 parts coriander, 6 parts fennel, 1 part powdered dry ginger, 1 part black pepper, ¼ part ground cinnamon
image by kristen kilpatrick
Swish Away Bacteria on the Daily
Oil pulling is an oral Ayurvedic tradition that is similar to the idea of using mouthwash. Current scientific research has actually proven that daily oil pulling prevents gum disease like gingivitis and prevent cavities. It shouldn’t take the place of good dental hygiene like brushing, flossing and dental care, but it is a fantastic addition to your routine. Additionally, taking time to complete a gentle meditative routine is always a positive.
How to do it: Measure 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and swish the oil in your mouth, pulling it gently through your teeth and around your gums (don’t swallow it!) It should be tasty and soothing. The goal is to get up to 15-20 minutes of swishing per day, however even just 5 or 10 minutes will be helpful. I like to use it in the morning before and during showering. Be careful not to spit it down the drain or toilet as hardened oil can clog pipes. Spit in the trash or in a jar to dispose of later.
image by free people
Find a Way to Move Every Day
Walking is considered a tri-doshic exercise, meaning that no matter your dosha type, walking will help balance your mind body and soul without strain. In addition, walking after meals aids in digestion and supports the “digestive fire” that is so important in Ayurveda. In western medicine and science, we also know that walking is extremely beneficial to your heart health, your muscles, your bone density, and burns tons of fat. Why not make walking a habit?
How to do it: Schedule a daily walk after your heaviest meal of the day, in Ayurvedic tradition breakfast and dinner should both be light so your heaviest meal is lunch. Grab your favorite co-worker to catch some fresh air and sunshine together. Or if you, like most of us Americans, save the heaviest meal for dinner – make it a habit to take a stroll through the hood after din. You will immediately feel lighter and this movement actually increases blood flow to your intestines and stomach aiding in and making digestion more effective.photography by olivia thebaut for sfgirlbay
Live in Tune with Nature
Routine is a beautiful way to align your energy, get your life in organized and focus on health goals. In Ayurvedic medicine routine is deeply important and should follow the routine of nature as your guide. Just as the sun rises and sets and the seasons change predictably every day and year, your routine should also be predictable and match the season. Your body is actually already programmed to follow the earth, you have an innate inner cycle called “circadian rhythm.” Ayurvedic medicine encourages you to pay attention to this inner rhythm and the earth in regards to waking, energy expenditure, eating and sleeping.
How to do it: Remember these are suggestions, take them as loosely or seriously as you’d like, I like to think of the cycle of the earth as a general energetic guide:
6 am: Rise with the sun every day, preferably by this time, this is a slower, lower energy time so be gentle with yourself and what you do with your body.
6 am – 10 am: This is a good time to eat a light breakfast, consider meditating, light exercise or yoga and gently start your work day.
10 am – 2 pm: This is your most energetic time, exercise, eat lunch (you have lots of energy to digest a big meal) and in general is your most productive time. Schedule tasks or work events that require you to be on point in this time.
2 pm – 6 pm: Things begin to slow down again here, listen to your energy and save tasks that are less mentally taxing for this part of the afternoon. Ayurveda also suggests eating dinner before 6 pm for optimal digestion and health.
6 pm – 10 pm: You should ideally be asleep by or around 10 PM. When the sun goes down, begin to wind down yourself, gentle yoga or meditation is also good in this time block.
10 pm – 2 am: Hopefully you’re asleep here as Ayurveda believes this time is important for rejuvenation, rest, and digestion. If you’re not, begin to wind down and do something relaxing to help rest. If you can’t sleep, a cup of hot milk with warm spices added is the ambien of Ayurveda and has scientifically proven qualities to promote sleep. (Grandma? Did you practice Ayurveda?)
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