How much do you pay attention on what you eat? Do you go to the local market to buy fresh products or do you order online vacuum packed food? Do you prepare your food with love or are you impatiently waiting for the beep of the microwave? And, how do you eat? Consuming a sandwich on a bicycle in a hurry, or do you skip breakfast at all? All these questions were addressed in the Ayurvedic workshop I once followed. Some principles were known to me, but I also learned new insights that could improve my eating habits.
Ayurveda means literally ‘knowledge of life. Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicine, contains a 3000 year old wisdom, is incredibly versatile and focuses on the prevention of diseases. Yoga poses, breathing exercises, meditation and proper nutrition are the basic elements for a healthy life in body and mind. Mindfulness is also a key ingredient in ayurveda. The workshop focused on nutrition in combination with these famous 'awareness'. Why, when, where and how we eat are more important questions than what we eat. From Ayurvedic perspective it is 'better' to eat a chocolate muffin in which we longed for with a lot of yummy sounds than to eat uninterested a macrobiotic meal in front of the television.
The workshop is given by Liese van Dam, a dynamic young woman. She is a yoga teacher, gives ayurvedic massages, nutritional consultations and retreats. Excited she tells us about her cooking workshops based on Ayurvedic recipes. We introduce ourselves (ten women and one man) and explain why we are here. Some of us hope that the Ayurveda offers solutions for their allergies they have gotten over the years. Others are especially curious. I am particularly interested how I can get more rest in my eating behavior. We begin with a brief meditation. Liese let us experience how important it is to feel ourself and thereby to know – from your body – what your needs are, rather than make rational choices from the head. Often we all know so well what is good or not good for us, but is this really what the body wants?
Liese asks us why we eat. I sum up in my head: ... If I crave for something sweets, even if I am not hungry ... if I am restless or stressed and of course if I am really hungry. The principle of ahimsa (nonviolence), is an important value in ayurveda and Buddhism. It is showing respect for all sentient beings. Not only avoiding animal food but also admitting what you do to your body with what and how you eat. Is your body really grateful after a dinner at a fast food restaurant? Adapt to the needs of your body is to show respect for your body. This is not always easy in our quick Western culture.
The ayurveda put it actually very simple: eat when you are hungry and eat not if you have no appetite. Important is how it feels in your body when you are hungry. Can you feel a difference in your body between longing for candy or real physiological hunger. The one will become cranky, the other light in the head and some else will experience anger if they don't eat on time. Liese explains that it all depends on our 'agni' which is different for all of us. Agni, the Sanskrit word for ‘fire’, means the digestion process. It is important that our digestion is in an optimal condition. Only then can our food, that has to be transported to our cells, serve as the proper fuel. In ayurveda, it is important to keep your agni in balance. To enlarge this fire it is recommended to drink 15 minutes before a meal fresh ginger tea. A brief silence before a meal is therefore not so crazy. Besides expressing your gratitude for what is on your plate, your agni is better prepared for the food.
4 pm? Cup-a-Soup!
Times are important in ayurveda. Between 10 am and 2 pm agni is burning most strongly. From the ayurvedic tradition the lunch would be the largest meal. The art is to eat the right amount. Sometimes we feel quite heavy and fatigue after a meal. This could be because we have consumed to much food; the fire goes out. At the end of the afternoon, we can feel less concentrated, or needing some sweet or savory. That is not weird. Take your responsibility what you choose: a date instead of a candybar, a rice cakes instead of chips. The advertising slogan '4pm? Cup-a-Soup! ' is in line with the Ayurvedic tradition, except that there might be just a little too much artificial flavor enhancers in it...
Want to digest emotions? Meditate! After ten o'clock in the evening starts another kind of digestion. Not breaking down food, but the digesting process of the emotions that we have experienced during the day. If we eat a lot fat after 10pm, agni will increase and therefore the inner digestion cannot take place. You risk that emotions are not properly be processed during the night. A good rest has its value! The chance you will wake up tired and with a heavy feeling is so not strange then. This insight was really an eyeopener for me. My sleep rhythm is not yet in balance this year and I understand very well now why! Eating late a full pack of crackers with different fillings is the cause. A meditation before sleep would might be better…
Happy meal? What does a Ayurvedic meal look like? Today our food is pretty far cultivated that it is far from their source. Because of all these chemical processes, such as overheating milk, it is way more difficult for our bodies to digest. The over processed food do not longer nurse our body. The advantage is of course that it will extends the due date. But if that is very health? Check this movie. The video shows that MacDonalds have understood the idea of a long duration date. The burger and fries look after four years (!) exactly the same.
In our Western society, it is not always easy to eat according ayurvedic principles. Liese indicates that it is our intention that counts. We should pay most of our time – that’s already 51%- a little attention to our diet, it's good enough. When we finally taste her homemade delicacy, I adjust my new habits immediately: the sweet smell sniffing I notice watering my mouth. Slowly I chew with attention and with love I swallow it. My agni embraces it fervently. Barely unconsciously chewing without tasting is not allowed by agni.
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