What do raw, paleo, low GI, high protein, juice fast, 500 calories 2 days a week, green smoothies, HCG, and other health fad have in common? They are all about the diet not the person consuming the food.
For over 5000 years there’s been a health program that is about the individual not the program. Ayurveda is the Sanskrit word for the ancient Indian medical system that literally translates as “ the science of life”. Food is an integral part because the philosophy revolves around improving digestion and metabolism and ridding the body of toxins that are the result of poorly digested food.
Depending on the individual’s mind-body type, or ‘Dosha’, the types of food a person should eat varies. There are three doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha, but most people have a constitution that is a combination. To find out more Pip Andreas caught up with Nadia and Kester Marshall from the Mudita Clinic and Institute in Mullumbimby.
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Nadia, you have a background in communications and Kester was a naturopath. Why were you both attracted to Ayurveda?
Because we both have quite intense, enquiring minds and Ayurveda offered us answers. We both found other approaches to health somewhat lacking – like putting together a puzzle without the picture on the lid. Coming across Ayurveda was like seeing the whole picture for the first time.
How is Digestive Fire, or Agni, so central to Ayurvedic healing and way of life?
Ayurveda teaches that an inability to digest our food properly is the root cause of ALL disease at the physical level. Digestion is viewed as a cooking fire known as ‘Agni’ in Sanskrit. This cooking fire can become imbalanced in three ways. It can get too SHARP and overcook our food, resulting in things like an insatiable appetite, heartburn, reflux, gut inflammation, ulcers or loose stools. It can get too DULL and undercook our food, resulting in symptoms like low appetite, heaviness and lethargy after eating, weight-gain and sticky constipation. Or, it can become VARIABLE like a fire blowing in the wind resulting in variable appetite and things like gas, bloating or pain after eating and dry constipation. When food is undercooked or overcooked, it creates undigested food waste known as ‘Ama’. This heavy, sticky, toxic waste accumulates in the digestive tract and eventually overflows into the channels and tissues, hampering cellular nutrition and waste disposal. It is here that it contributes to the manifestation of disease.
All we seem to hear about in health blogs is raw foods, raw foods,and more raw foods. Ayurveda advises the opposite.
Ayurveda teaches that we should eat predominantly cooked food that is warm, light and slightly oily because food of this quality helps to maintain a balanced digestive fire. A little raw food is fine, particularly in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky and Agni is strongest or in the warm summer months when we’re craving cooling foods. But eating predominantly raw food year-round isn’t advised for anyone. Raw foods are cold, dry and light in quality which means if eaten in excess they will increase Vata or the Air/Ether elements in the body/mind. If someone follows a raw food diet over a long period of time, particularly if they have any Vata in their constitution, they will eventually become very imbalanced, very depleted and probably fatigued. We see a lot of post-rawfood clients in our clinic needing to recover.
Another fad is cooking with coconut oil, yet Ayurvedic cooking uses mostly ghee (clarified butter). Can you use coconut oil and still follow Ayurvedic recipes?
Yes, absolutely you can. Coconut oil is a lovely oil and is used a lot in Ayurveda, particularly in the south of India. Both oils are predominantly sweet and cooling so have a similar effect on the body but ghee is favoured for cooking because it is so stable with a very high smoke point. It is favoured as a carrier of medicines because it is very, very subtle and able to penetrate the deepest tissues, carrying medicines deep into the body. From a western perspective this makes sense because it is predominant in short chain fatty acids (butyric acid) which are very easily digested, can travel throughout the body and communicate directly with immune cells to reduce inflammation. Coconut oil is predominant in medium-chain fatty acids so is slightly more difficult to digest.
Ayurveda is taught in yoga teacher training, and Kester teaches this component in yoga schools locally. Yet so many yoga teachers seem to be embracing raw foods and green smoothies.
I think everyone is just trying to do their best. Eating raw food and green smoothies will indeed keep you thin. They may also feel really good when you first start out because aggravated Vata leads to a catabolic state in the body or the breaking down of tissues which releases a lot of energy initially. Unfortunately this doesn’t just mean the depletion of fat, it means ALL of the tissues including the deepest ones – bone, marrow, nervous and sexual reproductive tissue. Ojas is at the end of the chain of tissue metabolism so if these tissues become depleted, so too will our Ojas which is associated with all modern diseases of depletion including auto-immune conditions and chronic fatigue. From an Ayurvedic perspective, it is a worry because a predominantly raw food diet coupled with a very intensive yoga practice can be a detrimental recipe, especially for young women.
Tongue scraping? I’ve tried it and it just makes me gag.
Tongue scraping helps to remove the toxins that accumulates on the tongue overnight but it isn’t a huge amount so it’s not going to have an enormous effect on ‘detoxing’. From an Ayurvedic perspective, tongue scraping is really more about oral hygiene, helping to eliminate bad breath and keep your mouth and teeth clean and healthy.
Since most of us are a combination of Doshas, Ayurveda can seem a little confusing. Can you explain simply?
We are each born with a certain genetic elemental blueprint which informs our physical and mental tendencies. We may be more spacey, airy, fiery, watery or earthy… or a combination. We call these types or ‘doshas’ Vata (Air/Ether), Pitta (Fire/Water) and Kapha (Water/Earth). This knowledge is useful because it can help you to care for the elements in your body/mind in a simple, steady way, particularly the ones that are inclined towards imbalance. We think it’s easiest and most sustainable to take a tri-doshic approach that is focused on keeping your Agni in balance. This is why I wrote my book Living Ayurveda and our cookbook WARMTH.
Find out more at muditainstitute.com/