If you were to meet a nutritionist from 5000 years ago, what advice would they give to improve our modern day diet?
In this two part series of articles I have been looking at the practice of Ayurveda, and how we can apply the ancient wisdom of its teachings to our modern day lifestyles. As it turns out, many Ayurvedic lessons passed down over thousands of years are just as relevant now as they have ever been.
In my first article I discussed the three doshas, and the benefits of adjusting your diet based on your unique body type. We also looked at our bodies’ need to eat with the seasons, along with the importance of maintaining a healthy digestive system. If you haven’t read it yet you can do so right here!
Let’s take a look at three more lessons we can learn from the art of Ayurveda.
#4 - Energy is Everything
In the previous article we touched on the concept of prana, which refers to the sacred life force energy that flows throughout all living beings. Prana is a concept that is also at the heart of many other traditional Eastern practices such as yoga, martial arts and meditation.
In Ayurveda, one of the key principles of a healthy diet is to prioritise food that is high in prana. High prana foods are fresh, locally grown, in season and minimally processed. The less time between farm to table the better. Foods that are canned, old, packaged and processed lack prana. Meat is also considered as a low prana food because it is dead, and contains the negative emotional energies of the animals from when they were killed.
Prana is a very complex topic and levels of prana in foods can vary dramatically depending on where, how, and even by who the food was grown. But as a rough guide to prana, here are some examples of high / medium / low prana foods:
High Prana Foods: Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables; minimally processed whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds (especially sprouted).
Medium Prana Foods: Imported (non-seasonal) produce; dried nuts / seeds / legumes; frozen fruit and vegetables.
Low Prana Foods: Canned, processed and packaged foods; limp and lifeless fruits and vegetables; meat products; ‘ready meals’ / mass produced foods.
As well as the foods themselves containing prana, the way we prepare them also has a massive impact on the energetic properties of our meals.
When we make our food, energy is transferred. If you make food when you are stressed or angry, the food itself holds this negative energy. Food made with love and positive intention is heathier and higher in prana because it contains the positive vibrations of the person who made it.
Think back to going to your Grandma’s house for dinner as a child, or visiting a family owned restaurant where the chef prepares everything by hand and beams with pride as your meal is served. Eating these foods comforts us and makes us feel good because of the positive energy that is transferred when they are made.
Likewise, consider the feeling that you get when you eat a processed meal that has been mass produced by machines on a production line. They could follow the exact same recipe and use the exact same ingredients as your Grandma; but the feeling you get when you eat them will be very different.
The concept of prana is one of the main reasons we chose to start up our own facility for making our supplements, long before it was considered practical or even financially viable to do so! Not only does making our own products mean we have full control over the ingredients we use to make them; we also know exactly who is making them. They’re made by people who genuinely care about and take pride in every single one that leaves through the door. We have a very small but extremely close team who love their work and feel passionate about making a difference to our customers’ lives. We even chose the location of where our products are made – Glastonbury – because it is a town with a very special energy unlike anywhere else in the UK. I genuinely believe the energy found within our products is one of the main reasons why they are superior to any other on the market.
To summarise: eat a diet full of colourful and seasonal plant based foods, prepare them with love, and take time to enjoy them with positive intention to fully harness the power of prana.
#5 - Sleep Soundly
A good night’s sleep is one of the pillars of Ayurveda and is considered just as important as the food we eat. Sleep is the time when our body heals and repairs itself, our organs detoxify and our mind rests.
According to Ayurvedic teachings our sleep cycles should closely mimic the rising and setting of the sun. Going to bed before 10pm and rising early (between 5am and 6.30am) is considered an optimal structure for healthy sleep.
In the Western world, many of us worry endlessly about our diets and spend fortunes on gym memberships, yet pay little attention to our sleeping habits. Not only do we fail to get the optimal 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night, but our fast paced modern lifestyles also mean that many of us suffer from sleep disturbances.
In Ayurveda there are three main types of sleep disturbances which can all be linked to an imbalance of doshas:
- If you are struggling to fall asleep and your mind is in overdrive thinking about the events of the day, it is likely a Vata imbalance. Those with a Vata imbalance often take a long time to fall asleep, or wake up tired because their sleep was light and restless.
- If you have no problem falling asleep but wake up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep, you may have a Pitta imbalance.
- If you sleep long and deeply but struggle to rise in the morning and still do not feel fully rested, you may have a Kapha imbalance.
To find out more about the three doshas and how to balance them, check out my previous article.
Here are some practical tips from Ayurveda to improve your sleep quality:
- Spend time outside during the day to align your circadian rhythm with the cycle of the sun.
- Exercise earlier in the day to allow your nervous system time to calm down before bed.
- Avoid too much stimulation at night. From my own experience turning off screens and putting my phone on airplane mode a couple hours before bed works wonders.
- Eat your last meal at least 2 - 3 hours before bed to allow enough time for digestion.
- Keep your bedroom cool whilst sleeping. Research shows that people fall asleep easier and sleep more deeply in a cooler environment.
- Make your bedroom a clean and comfortable environment designed for sleeping. Remove electronics and choose calming colours to promote a restful atmosphere.
- Invest in comfortable sheets (ideally organic cotton) and wash them regularly to avoid energy stagnation. You can also use relaxing essential oils such as lavender, ylang ylang and chamomile on your sheets and pillowcases.
#6 - Spice it up!
The health benefits of spices are no secret. Gram for gram, spices contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than any other food group on the planet – which is why a small pinch can go such a long way when it comes to our health.
Science has known this to be true for decades. Yet in Western cuisine, the vast majority of our meals contain no more spice than a shake of salt and a pinch of pepper.
Spices are highly regarded in Ayurveda for two main reasons. The first is that most spices enhance digestion, helping to improve the absorption of our meals. The second is the unique health enhancing properties that are so different from spice to spice. Ask any Ayurvedic doctor to show you their medicine cabinet, and they’ll probably take you straight to their spice rack!
Here are a few most popular Ayurvedic spices and the benefits they offer:
- Ginger: A fiery and versatile spice, traditionally steeped in hot water and sipped before meals to enhance digestion. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and is also great for the respiratory system.
- Turmeric: Perhaps the most powerful spice on the planet, turmeric has been shown to support a healthy heart, brain, joints and digestive system. It is also considered to improve the complexion and is used both internally and externally in traditional Ayurvedic beauty recipes.
- Cinnamon: This sweet and warming spice helps to balance blood sugar, reduce heart disease risk and even support weight loss. Look for Ceylon cinnamon instead of the cheaper cassia cinnamon, which can be harmful in large doses.
- Cumin: Packed with iron, manganese and calcium, cumin adds a punchy and fragrant flavour to a wide range of cuisines. It has also been shown to benefit brain health and support a healthy digestive system.
- Fennel: A cooling spice, fennel is often used after dinner to aid absorption and reduce gas and bloating. Fennel is also a natural anti-inflammatory, and has been shown to be an effective natural remedy for menstrual cramps.
As traditional Ayurvedic cooking relies heavily on curries and dhals, spices are a key part of the day to day lifestyle. But there are countless other ways to enjoy them, such as adding turmeric to a smoothie or using it to make golden mylk; spicing up your hummus with a pinch of cumin and coriander; or even adding a pinch of cinnamon to your favourite dessert! All spices contain their own unique benefits, so don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy as many different types as you can.
So there you have it! These are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my studies of Ayurveda, and how we can apply them to our modern diets for best results. I hope it helps!