Author: Dr Sarah Kucera
From the emphasis on the inclusion of plant essences and the absence of synthetic ingredients in skincare products, to food that is organic and free of genetic modification, as consumers, we are trying to find our way back to our natural roots. The lovely chiropractor, Ayurvedic practitioner and author, Dr Sarah Kucera, reports that it is, therefore, no surprise that this trend coincides with the influence of Ayurveda in our health and wellness practices. She explains that as the sister science to yoga and one of the oldest forms of medicine on the planet, connecting to both the external nature and our own inner nature is exactly what Ayurveda encourages us to do.
Ayurveda tells us that nature is made of five elements (ether/space, air, fire, water, and earth) and that we, too, have these elements within. It is the expression of these elements that makes each living being unique. This expression is called our dosha or our primary constitution. There are three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) and though we are a blend of all, there is most commonly one or two that is more predominant. Our dosha is our guide for our lifestyle, our daily routine, the type and amount of exercise we engage in, and ultimately, how we eat. Though each person may have different food preferences, some excluding specific foods such as animal products, Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of a plant-based diet regardless. This is because plants carry the highest amount of prana, also known as energy or life-force.
Enhancing Your Plant-based Diet With Ayurvedic Principles
A plant-based diet is already aligned with Ayurveda, and not just because plants are medicinal and pack an energetic punch, but in another major way: the use of intention. By promoting self-inquiry and the act of making conscious choices to support what we need in any given moment, Ayurveda is largely a practice of being intentional. This is intrinsic to a plant-based diet as you simply have to slow down and be aware when you’re scanning ingredient lists or making recipe substitutions. In addition to eating plant-based and being intentional, here are some suggestions to enhance your diet using Ayurvedic principles:
1. Eat Seasonally
Thanks to our ability to import food, we don’t have to wait for the tomatoes in our gardens to ripen to make an epic batch of homemade bruschetta – but this isn’t entirely a good thing. The weather and qualities of each season give rise to plants that bring balance to our physiology. So, if we aren’t eating what we are growing locally, we could be missing out on the very ingredients that will ward off seasonal illnesses and keep us healthy year round. In spring, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and fresh berries are astringent, light, and detoxifying which help us to cleanse and slough off the accumulation of winter. Then summer provides us sweet fruit and all the makings of a good salad which cools us internally, so that we are less likely to experience symptoms of excessive heat, such as anger and inflammation. And finally, when we need grounding and warmth the most, produce like squash and root veggies, along with grains, nuts, and seeds are available to help us sustain the dry, light, and cold feelings fall and winter bring.
2. Consider the Qualities of Your Food
The word “quality” here doesn’t mean good or bad – rather, it is how we would describe it using the Ayurvedic gunas. A guna is a qualifier or descriptive word. There are 20 in total and they are paired in opposites: light/heavy, dry/oily, hot/cold, clear/cloudy, mobile/static, dense/liquid, rough/smooth, hard/soft, sharp/dull, subtle/gross. These are important because if too much of one quality is consumed, a condition with the same quality can manifest. For example, if one is consuming a lot of foods that are astringent or drying, like beans, dried fruit, crackers, or bread, it’s possible that they could develop a dry condition such as dry skin, constipation, or even insomnia or anxiety. The same would be true of someone who is intentionally avoiding healthy oils or fats.
The key is to become familiar with the food that we are eating, so that we don’t consume in a way that could cause accumulation. Plant-based diets are inherently lighter and drier than diets that include more meat and dairy, so it’s important to be sure that we’re getting an adequate amount of healthy oils like nuts and seeds, as well as consciously adding heavier foods like cooked veggies, soups, and stews.
3. Focus on Variety
Ayurveda considers all food to have a medicinal effect and to be purposeful with specific timing, but if we are over-consuming even our superfoods, what was once could have served as a remedy could cause a malady. At times, eating a well-rounded plant-based diet can be difficult or inconvenient until you find your groove, but the concern is that the groove could become a rut. Eating a variety of foods will promote a healthy microbiota, along with ensuring you’ll get the full spectrum of macro and micronutrients that our bodies need.
4. Eat For How You Feel and What Your Senses are Telling you
It’s important to stop to check in with how we are feeling both mentally and physically before choosing what we are going to eat. Our instincts and healthy cravings are like status updates from our internal environment, acting as indicators as to what sustenance will be your best medicine in the moment. The meal that serves us best on a day filled with fun and laughter is not likely what will pacify our mood on a bad day.
As you begin to approach your diet from an Ayurvedic perspective, remember to start slowly. Take time to make the changes that don’t feel overwhelming at first and the ones that you feel will work best for you at the time. Observe the ways that Ayurveda can strengthen your connection to nature and support your path to being the best version of yourself. If ever in doubt, there are plenty of knowledgeable Ayurvedic practitioners around the world who can provide seasonal guidance to support your journey.
To learn more about Sarah: @sarah_kucera
Check out her book The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook: Holistic Healing Rituals for Every Day and Season