We started our study of Ayurveda with a visit from Felicia Tomasko, an expert from Los Angeles on Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic counselor, and a yoga teacher. Felicia is also editor of LA Yoga, which you would certainly have heard of if you do yoga in Los Angeles. Similar to Warren Kramer, it was really nice to have a person teaching us who has a national reputation in their field.
Below: Felicia Tomasko (far right) discusses Ayurveda with Natural Epicurean students.
Ayurveda – A First Impression
Similar to macrobiotics, Ayurveda is a study of the energy of everything and naturally food is a key part of how that energy is transferred to our bodies. So according to Ayurveda, food is very much tied to health – imagine that! One of the things we students have observed and enjoyed about Ayurveda is that spices are a key element in the energy of a particular food. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric – we’ve been playing with these any many, many more. In fact, Ayurvedic food is very much about the study of the taste of food.
Below: Spices for in-class tasting.
Ayurveda – The Basics
Ayurveda is “the science of life” (ayur + veda = life + study) and dates back around 2,000 to 5,000 years. Ayurveda identifies three doshas, or types of energy which are constantly varying in intensity within the universe and within us. Each of us is born with a given balance of these doshas:
- Vata – governs movement, lightness. Is ephemeral and active, and prone to dryness and coolness.
- Pitta – governs transformation, digestion, discernment. Is fiery and driven in energy. Tends to be hotter and brighter.
- Kapha – governs growth and lubricating elements of the body (e.g., joints). Is more settled and steady in energy. Is colder, heavier, and wetter than the other doshas.
Doshas are prone to fall out of balance, in fact that is where the word “dosha” comes from – that which can fall out of balance. Since vata energy is more active and ephemeral, it is the most likely to get out of balance. What can throw your doshas out of balance?
- Food (e.g., too much spicy food can aggravate pitta’s already fiery nature)
- Weather (e.g., too much cold weather can aggravate kapha’s coolness)
- Physical activity (e.g. too much movement/travel can aggravate vata’s tendency to be overactive)
So where it gets interesting is that physical problems are tied to doshas. For example:
- Feeling tired and sluggish? Kapha dosha is likely overactive. Pungent, bitter foods may help lighten you up.
- Feeling acid reflux or burning in your digestion? Pitta dosha is too increased. Cooling sweet or astringent foods may be helpful.
- Dealing with dry, flaky skin? The dryness of vata may be aggravated. Moist oils or sweets could help.
Food and Doshic Balance
How can you know which foods will keep your doshas in balance? Ayurveda starts with the flavors of food, of which there are six:
Each of these tastes affects doshas in different ways because each taste carries energy of it’s own. An example is that pungent food is fiery and hot (e.g., jalapeno peppers). When you combine pungent food with a person with a strong pitta dosha, which is already fiery and hot itself, the person’s doshic balance is harmed – the person will tend to have overactive pitta-ness. To calm that over pitta quality, you could eat tastes which are more cooling – astringent and bitter (e.g., eggplant, leafy greens, turmeric, cucumber).
Learning how to identify tastes was one of the more enjoyable parts of my time at The Natural Epicurean – we spent a lot of time in the past few weeks focusing in on flavors. I think that it’s going to make me a better cook primarily, and secondarily will help me a better healing cook.
Note – foods can have multiple flavors at once. For example, oranges are both sweet and sour. Bananas are sweet and astringent. Tomatoes are sour and sweet. Onions are pungent, and their sweetness intensifies when they’re cooked.
Ayurveda is a really old way of planning for health. Although it is not intuitive for Westerners, the more we work with it the more we’ll understand it. Then, we can incorporate Ayurvedic philosophy into our daily lives more easily. And one does not need to live and eat Ayurvedically all the time, agonizing over the doshic balance of every meal – you can use it as part of your overall health plan.
I’d like to write more about Ayurvedic philosphy and food, but I’ll save it for another time!
- Warren Kramer – Part Two (dietiscorrect.wordpress.com)