As yoga practitioners, we know that we are more than just a body, and yet we have to attend to our body. Ayurveda, the science of life, evolved to help us take care of ourselves at all levels so that we could fulfill our purpose (dharma) in life.
When we are sick, our physical body has been taken over by some pathogen or another. Yet what is also true is that our energy body is out of balance. We are probably dealing with imbalance in our mental/emotional field, and more deeply, we may be out of touch with our Self, the source of real healing.
One way to work with our multi-dimensionallity is to use the model of the koshas. “Kosha” means “sheath” or “covering”, and is used in Yoga, Vedanta and Ayurveda to describe the different layers covering the True Self, or Consciousness itself. This week I will begin a series of writings on the 5 koshas, beginning with the first layer we call annamaya kosha, or the food body.
The word “anna” means food, and at this layer we are describing the physical body. This is where, we literally ARE what we eat. In ayurveda we say we ARE what we digest and do not eliminate. So how we eat, when we eat, what we eat and what we eliminate all affect our food body directly.
Last week, I wrote about lightening the load on our system as a support for disease prevention and longevity. Bringing more awareness to eating, not just what we eat, but also how and when we eat is one major way we can take care of our food body (the other two are sleep and sex–more on those later). Following are some basic ayurvedic principles to support your digestion and overall health. Rather than going for sweeping change, if you are looking to make some changes in this area, pick one thing from the lists below that resonates with you and work with it this week. The more we bring our body into balance, the more we can flow with the messages our body gives us. The more out of balance we are, the more perverse our cravings, and on and on from there…Remember, ayurveda is all about expanding awareness and getting back in sync with our body intelligence which we do by feeding our body well, and getting back on track when we have veered off (we all veer off sometimes–we are looking for 80 % here–which gives your body enough “ground” to handle the 20% veer off).
HOW TO EAT:
Slowly and mindfully. When we eat in a hurry or while stressed out we can’t properly digest our food. Digestion is a para-sympathetic activity (rest and digest). If you are eating too fast, eating on the run or eating mindlessly, you are creating toxicity in your system.
With attention on the food.
With gratitude for the gift of healthy food.
WHEN TO EAT:
2 or 3 times/day at regular times without snacking. Eating at regular times stabilizes the appetite and blood sugar and helps regularize elimination.
Smaller meal at breakfast and largest meal mid-day, ideally between 10am – 2pm. Those with more kapha in their constitution, who are not hungry in the morning, can skip breakfast and have brunch instead.
Earlier, lighter dinner. Ideally this meal is vegetarian as your digestion is not as strong in the evening and meat is heavy and hard to digest. Also you want to have mostly digested your food before bed-time.
Wait to eat after your previous meal has been digested. This is approximately 5 – 6 hours after a big meal and at least 3 hours after a lighter meal. Snacking between meals interferes with digestion and causes indigestion.
Eat only when you are hungry. The sensation of hunger means your digestive enzymes are ready and waiting for food. When you eat when you are not hungry, its like putting food into a cold oven, it won’t cook properly. Poorly digested foods leave a toxic residue in the body (ama) and will turn into less than optimal body tissue.
WHAT TO EAT:
Whole foods: whether your an omnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, eating paleo or macrobiotic, eat plenty of in-season vegetables and fruits, organic or unsprayed whenever possible. Best to avoid the dirty dozen of the most highly sprayed fruits and veggies. Choose organic meats, nuts/nut butters, oils and dairy when possible. Half your plate should be a protein or grain (whatever you are doing) and the other half vegetables.
Freshly prepared foods: freshly prepared food has more prana in it.
Food that supports your doshic make-up.
Probiotics: a supplement, along with a little fermented food at meals.
PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT OPTIMAL DIGESTION:
Hydrate with warm water and lemon/lime first thing in the morning and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Avoid iced water which is too shocking for your digestive system, causes constriction and cools down excessively what you want to be hot.
Avoid drinking a lot the hour after eating (so as not to water down your digestive juices).
Eat until satisfied but not full (your digestive organs need space for all of their pumping and churning actions).
Relax for a bit after eating.
Give your system a break by eating lightly one day a week (fast on soup or kitcheree). This supports your system in digesting any excess from the week.
These general principles work well for most people. If you know through your experience that certain foods and/or food combinations don’t work for you, avoid them. For instance, some heavier people do fine skipping breakfast, and condensing into one meal, brunch, or at mid day. Some lighter body-types need a small snack in the late afternoon. Lighter body-types need more water throughout the day, and heavier body-types need a little less. Though there is no one size fits all in Ayurveda, these general principles are a good place to begin.
Pick one thing from the lists above that draws your attention to practice this week. Share your comments below.
With Love, Shannon