Ayurveda is a form of traditional east Indian medicine dating back 5,000 years. While Ayurveda is often given a bad name because of Ayurvedic medicines we now know to be harmful — like those containing lead or mercury– Ayurveda has many positive practices that are helpful even now in our era of pill-popping.
The first time I heard of Ayurveda was as a website technician for BanyanBotanicals.com. My boss at a web design agency in Santa Fe assigned me to Banyan Botanicals, but I didn’t really understand Ayurveda and I thought it sounded “weird.” I just did my work and that was that.
Eight years later I was reintroduced to Ayurveda by the mother of someone I was dating. She swears by Ayurveda, and truly believes an Ayurvedic lifestyle is the secret to good health, inner peace, and no frown lines.
It turns out Ayurveda is more than a traditional medicine. It’s a lifestyle, and one can see improvements without a major lifestyle shift by embracing a few techniques. To help me understand these Ayurvedic techniques better, I reached out to Ayurveda expert Margo Shapiro Bachman.
Tip #1 and Tip #2: Sip warm or hot water with each meal, and avoid ice cold drinks during or after your meal
“These first two go together,” says Bachman. “Ayurveda places a great emphasis on digestion as this is where many imbalances begin. The more we can do to optimize good digestion the better for prevention (which is a focal point of Ayurveda). Warm liquids encourage the digestive process where cold liquids hinder it.
“Ayurveda encourages small amounts of warm or hot water with meals to enhance digestion,” continues Bachman. “Ice cold beverages with meals and also apart from meals are thought to shut down digestion. Cold has constricting qualities, and that is what it does in the body.”
I have never been one for ice water — I prefer room temperature or hot water — so this was one of the easiest adjustments for me to make.
Tip #3: Practice mindful eating
How often do you grab a burger at the drive-thru and eat while you’re cruising? Or wolf down a salad in front of the television? Ayurveda tells us that’s probably not the best way you could be eating.
“Our state of mind is linked to our bodily processes,” Bachman explains. “When we are eating in a mindful state, food happily moves through our system where it can be digested, assimilated, and absorbed. Ayurveda discourages eating when we are upset, bored, etc… as this can create indigestion or other digestive upsets. Practicing mindful eating is also another way to incorporate consciousness into all our daily activities.”
Tip #4: Emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables
While fresh fruit sometimes gets a bad reputation because of all the fructose, that’s not the case in Ayurveda.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables have more prana (life force) and vitality in them which enhances our prana when ingested. In addition to prana, fresh fruits and veggies are also loaded with vitamins and minerals that are often depleted from foods that are further from their fresh, natural state,” Bachman tells me.
Tip #5: Cut back on coffee
Coffee has been a hard thing for me to cut back on in the past. I have spent much of my life working at artisan coffee shops, and there’s not much I love more than a delicious cup of perfectly brewed coffee. When I read in an Ayurveda article that coffee’s harm goes beyond the caffeine, truthfully, I was a little bummed.
“This is not in Ayurvedic literature, per se,” explains Bachman, “but coffee is not considered a ‘healthful beverage’ and excess consumption can weaken the kidneys and over stimulate the nervous system. Therefore, Kapha types may do ok with a cup as they often need stimulation to feel balanced, where a Vata type would feel very imbalanced on coffee.”
Tip #6: Make – and stick to – a schedule
Finding a schedule that works for me — and sticking to it — has been a challenge, especially since I got married and am now sharing my daily life with someone else.
“Ayurveda offers guidance on creating daily rhythms to encourage a healthy lifestyle that flows in harmony with the natural world,” Bachman says. “This can create feeling of stability and balance and ultimately protects our health. Vata types need the most structure to feel balanced and greatly benefit by making and sticking to a schedule, but they are also the first ones to want to change it. Kapha types do better with a varied routine to break up their tendency for inertia. Pitta types are in the middle.”
Tip #7: Embrace ginger
You won’t believe my delight when I realized how wonderful ginger is for our bodies. I eat ginger like it’s going out of style.
“Ginger is a wonderful spice for many reasons! It is considered a ‘universal medicine’ since it has so many uses,” says Bachman. “Fresh ginger is tridoshic (good for all doshas), and dry ginger is Vata and Kapha reducing and Pitta increasing. Some of its general properties include increasing agni (digestive fire), increasing circulation, and decreasing inflammation.
“Ginger can be used for colds, flus, sore throats, indigestion, fever, menstrual cramps, and much more. It is a widely accessible spice that is easy to incorporate into foods and beverages.”