"Ayurveda" or "Science of Life" the origin of most forms of natural and alternative medicine—has its mention in one of the oldest (about 6,000 years) philosophical texts of the world, the Rig Veda. The Sutrasthana of Charaka Samhita, a much referred Ayurvedic text, says; "The three—body, mind and soul—are like a tripod, the world stand by their combination; in them everything abides. It is the subject matter of Ayurveda for which the teachings of Ayurveda have been revealed."
In its broader scope, Ayurveda has always sought to prepare mankind for the realization of the full potential of its self through a psychosomatic integration. A comprehensive health care is what this natural and alternative medicine prescribes for the ultimate self-realization.
"Life (ayu) is the combination (samyoga) of body, senses, mind and reincarnating soul. Ayurveda is the most sacred science of life, beneficial to humans both in this world and the world beyond."
—Charaka Samhita, Sutrasthana, 1.42-43.
Thousands of years before modern medicine provided scientific evidence for the mind-body connection, the sages of India developed Ayurveda, which continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems. More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life, it offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential.
The two main guiding principles of ayurveda are
1. the mind and the body are inextricably connected, and
2. nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind. Freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body.
The foundation of Ayurvedic nutrition is based on the idea that you are the result of what, when, where, how and why you eat. Ayurveda explains that your food should be eaten mindfully and with gratitude, and that it must be fresh, of the highest quality, digestible, delicious, lovingly prepared and satisfying to your senses. Ayurveda offers a balanced approach to preparing, eating and digesting your food based on your unique body-mind type or Dosha, as well as the time of day, the season, your life-cycle and where you live.
According to Ayurveda, foods and herbs are categorized by their taste, general qualities and how they affect the elemental Doshas (mind body combinations) of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is made of Air and Ether. Vata is light, cold, dry, rough, clear and mobile. Pitta is made of Fire and Water. Pitta is light, hot, wet/oily, sharp, clear and mobile. Kapha is made of Water and Earth. Kapha is heavy, cool, wet, soft, dense and static. The six tastes that are recognized in Ayurveda are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Each taste has qualities associated with it that will either increase or decrease the Doshas. As an example; sweet is heavy, sour is moist, salty is warm, bitter is cold, pungent is hot and astringent is dry.
Two fundamental principles in Ayurveda are; “like increases like” and “opposites create balance.”
Foods with qualities that are similar to a Dosha will increase that Dosha and foods with attributes that are unlike a Dosha will decrease or pacify that Dosha, thereby, keeping the Dosha in balance. The tastes and qualities that balance Vata are sweet, sour, salty, warm, heavy and moist. The tastes and qualities that balance Pitta are sweet, bitter, astringent, cool, dry and heavy. The tastes and qualities that balance Kapha are pungent, bitter, astringent, light, warm and dry. You can refer to the Dosha balancing food lists in Ayurvedic literature or simply consider the general qualities of the food (hot/cold, light/heavy, dry/wet) as to whether it will increase or decrease a particular Dosha.
Ayurveda proposes that all six tastes be included in every meal in Dosha balancing ratios. According to Ayurveda, if your meal consists of all six tastes, your brain and body communicate in way that assists efficient digestion and leaves you satisfied. Proper digestion leads to good assimilation of nutrients and contentment reduces food cravings and over eating. By sprinkling Dosha specific seasoning, or churna, on your meal you can be assured that you are receiving the six tastes at one time.
Ayurveda teaches us that your food should appeal, not only to your sense of taste, but also your sense of sight, smell, touch and sound. Digestion begins with the production of enzymatic saliva in your mouth and it’s your sensory organs that stimulate this mouth-watering process. When you use a variety of foods and spices that are flavorful, aromatic, and visually appealing with an assortment of colors and textures, it enhances your culinary experience and provides you with a wide range of nutrients.
Unlike a fad diet, the dietary practices in Ayurveda encourage a conscious way of living. Ayurveda is a way of embracing food as life-giving energy, and a way of understanding how your individual nature and the influences around you determine how well your food will serve you. Ayurveda explains that your dietary needs and your digestion are affected by the rhythms of nature and the changes that occur in your life. Living an Ayurvedic lifestyle is to make food choices that are based not only on your original Dosha, but according to the quality of the food, the current season and your location. Example: the influence of a hot, heavy, humid, Floridasummer day can be balanced by a cool, light, dry, leafy-green salad. The time of day also has its influence according to Ayurveda. 10 am to 2 pm is the period dominated by Pitta (fire and water) and is considered the best time of day to eat your largest and most complex meal as your digestive fire or Agni is strongest. The cycle of life is yet another determining factor in conscious eating. As we grow older we enter the Vata (air and ether) time of our lives, Agni may weaken and vital tissues become dryer. By eating smaller, more frequent, warm, moist and nutrient rich meals, like hearty soups, you can maintain a balanced state of health.
As a practice based on science and spirit, Ayurveda encourages you to prepare and eat your food in a peaceful, loving and pleasant environment; and to greet your food with reverence, acknowledging its source with gratitude.
The enduring principles of Ayurveda beautifully express the essential nature of eating mindfully and gratefully as a path to living healthfully and happily.