How to live well

In the last of her series of articles for SAMAYA, Eminé Ali Rushton shares her views on how Ayurveda can benefit each one of us.

Ayurveda means the ‘science of life’ in Sanskrit. It is based on the 5 Elements Theory – that all living and non-living matter is made up of earth, fire, water, air and ether. Working out which elements predominate in your own body is just the beginning… once you know this, you will also learn which foods will energise, balance, aid weight-loss, irritate or aggravate. It’s fascinating stuff! I call Ayurveda my contingency plan for chaos. We know modern life is tough – unbelievably busy, tiring and stressful at times. While I am not in a position to press the pause button in any permanent way (I have bills to pay, children to raise, deadlines to meet), I really need a way of living and eating that makes me more resilient, emotionally and physically. Ayurveda offers a completely holistic way of eating and being. All Ayurvedic advice considers not just the effect upon our body, but also the effect on our emotional and spiritual health. I would never want to eat in a certain way solely to lose weight or alter my appearance – the really crucial thing for me is that I FEEL wonderful in my own skin, and have a calmer and happier outlook. Recent research has identified the link between our gut health and our mental health (95% of serotonin is made in our gastrointestinal tract). Remarkably, given that Ayurveda is a 5000-year old medical science, they knew that our gut health held the key to our wellbeing. The Ayurvedic diet focuses on promoting optimal digestion and metabolism (called agni) but also on eating for your own unique body type. It is also high in sattvic foods, which naturally leave us feeling happier, calmer, peaceful and positive – happiness is a happy stomach!

So, Ayurveda is seasonal, it is individualistic, it is about promoting optimal gut health – all things that we know, in modern life, are important if we are to eat healthily in a practical and long-term way. It is also kind, moderate and adaptable – which is why it’s so perfect for modern life. There are foods that do not best support your body, and those that do, and it’s about balancing the two. Food is medicine, and we need it more than ever in the 21st century! Ayurveda is a realistic and liveable foundation for modern life – and it’s so simple to adopt. Start by adding smart spices to your food, and adapt the herbs and spices you use season by season (this spring, try adding more fresh mint, parsley, coriander, chervil, dill, turmeric and cumin to your food). Then start adapting your daily menu to include more sattvic foods and dosha-supporting ingredients – sattvic foods are whole, pure, organic and uplift our senses, they are full of life’s energy, but always ‘light’ on the stomach and easily digested: nuts and nut milk, seeds, organic seasonal fruits and vegetables, legumes (mung or yellow split lentils ideally) and herbal teas. Then consider eating a lighter breakfast in warmer weather (we can eat larger breakfasts in autumn and winter), make lunch your most substantial meal, and have a lighter dinner. By doing these simple things more often than not, and eating the foods that best support you seasonally and individually, you will be giving yourself a solid and strong foundation of good health that you can then build on, if Ayurveda continues to interest you.

Ultimately, the most important thing that Ayurveda helps us with though, is in decoding the language of our own bodies. It encourages us to adapt our diets based upon how we feel. It makes us listen more closely. It aids us in understanding why we crave certain foods – if you are serially imbalanced it is very likely you’ll continually crave one or two of the 6 Ayurvedic Tastes that do you the least good. For me, being predominantly the fire element, when I start to crave very salty or very sour foods I know I need to listen up and work on lowering my stress levels with the right tastes (so that is more sweet, bitter & astringent foods). It has helped me understand my body in a much deeper, and more appreciative way. Ayurveda soon becomes a second language that then becomes second nature, and, for me, has resulted in an outlook that is calmer, a mind-set that is stronger, and body that feels lighter and happier – and, in a truly holistic sense, a more balanced self, every day, regardless of what life throws at me.

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