Ayurveda: Preparing Your Kitchen as a Ritual Space for Healing
At the change of each season I take a few hours to clean out and prepare my kitchen for the next season. I sort through anything that doesn’t seem fresh or healthy and move it out. I then spend time creating fresh spice mixtures, soup stocks and other staples. This practice is calming and creates space in my life for eating well.
In Ayurveda, a form of wellness that stems from ancient India, but has direct application to contemporary life, we often say that the most important ingredient in food is the consciousness of the chef. Compare, then, the consciousness imbued in food lovingly prepared in the home with food cooked under pressure by a stranger in a commercial kitchen.
The choice is clear: home-prepared food has the potential for more consciousness-value and can, therefore, transmit more radiant health. Even more so when the chef clears the space and their mind prior to cooking. When the kitchen is lovingly prepared to create scrumptious and delightful food, high-value healthy food will be the result.
What can we do to make food a partner in the creation of our radiant health?
Preparing Your Kitchen
We can prepare our kitchen as a ritual space. Ayurvedic practitioner and educator Cate Stillman recommend performing a “kitchen sadhana” several times a year. In the seasonal kitchen ritual, we approach our kitchen as a temple. Just as we would not want to leave waste in a sacred space, we want our kitchen to be uplifting, free of debris, and be a space of clear, clean, energy. To create this creative space where we can transform loving thoughts into nourishment, we clear out any stale, left-over, or processed foods to make room for more lively, vibrant foods that are full of life-energy.
Spring is a perfect time to perform a ritual cleansing of your kitchen. To get started, approach your kitchen as a temple of your health. Find any foods that aren’t serving your highest good and clear them out. A well-stocked, clean kitchen, and clear mind while cooking results in vibrant health.
While we clear out stale, old, left-over, or processed foods from our kitchens, we can simultaneously begin to bring vibrant, life-filled foods into our kitchens. Visit a local farmer’s market for fresh, seasonal, often organic fruits and vegetables. Fill up bulk jars with grains, rice, and legumes. And because spices have very high potency and healing properties, fill a spice rack with freshly ground spices. Having a clean coffee grinder (one that hasn’t been used for coffee) in which you can grind spices and spice seeds into fresh powder makes it easy to have very fresh spices and spice mixtures at your fingertips.
Experience Your Food
In Ayurveda, the term “ama” is used to describe what we might call “sludge-factor;” really any obstruction to vibrant health and well-being. When food, experience, or emotion is undigested the body and mind produce ama. Every time we eat on the go, eat with improper food combinations, or when digestion is weak our bodies produce Ama.
Since, according to Ayurveda, ama is the root cause of many diseases, it is imperative to reduce ama. Signs that ama is accumulating in the body include brain-fog, excess weight, and a thick white coating on the tongue. Whenever we experience these signs they are indications that we should take measures to reduce ama.
Ayurveda gives us many ways to reduce ama, and many of these are found right in our kitchens. The first way to reduce ama is to strengthen digestion. To do this we can use digestive-fire (agni) enhancing spices in our foods such as fennel, cumin, coriander, turmeric, pepper, ginger, and salt. If digestion is weak we may experience gas, pain, or bloating after eating. One traditional way to strengthen digestion is to eat 1/2 tsp ghee (clarified butter) at the start of our meals or take a 1/2 cup of licorice tea about 15 minutes before a meal. Stewed apples is another wonderful recipe for reducing ama, stimulating digestion, and regulating elimination. Finally, we can use hot water routinely to reduce ama and stimulate digestion.
At the turn of the seasons, or when ama has accumulated in the body, it is recommended that we spend a few weeks taking a lighter or ama-reducing diet. An ama-reducing diet allows the body to naturally reduce waste, loose accumulated weight and strengthen the digestion. An ama-reducing diet is not indicated for long-term use but can be applied at the change of seasons or whenever you feel ama is accumulating.
Another way we can reduce ama is through smart food combining. While Ayurveda gives many rules for combining foods, the most important of these have to do with proper combinations for dairy. Because dairy is heavy, it becomes difficult to digest when eaten in combination with many other foods. In particular, Milk should not be combined with eggs.
While this may come to a surprise to many people on a western diet, Ayurveda describes how the combination of eggs and dairy creates an indigestible sludge throughout our digestive tract. The best way to avoid ama, in this case, is to avoid ama-creating food combinations. Traditional food combining can be a complex art, but here is a more simplified chart of food combinations to avoid, developed by Dr. Paul Dugliss, MD (link to food combination chart).
What’s On Your Grocery List?
Through simple methods of Ayurveda, we can also begin to shape our food choices for our particular constitution or our particular imbalances. Ayurveda acknowledges six primary tastes groups; sweet (dairies, meats, many grains), sour (yogurt, sauerkraut), salty (rock salt, seaweed), pungent (chilies), bitter (kale), and astringent (drying, like pomegranate). Each of these tastes transmits information to our bodies.
A well-balanced meal should contain some of each of these tastes, even if some are in a small proportion. The sweet taste, for example, is a tissue-building, nourishing taste. This is why many of us crave sweets (for better or for worse) when we are upset or need a boost of energy. Our body is asking us for more energy, more sustenance, and more nourishment. The salty taste builds a digestive fire and communicates warmth and heat to the physiology.
The sour taste is moisturizing. So someone who is weak, cold, and dry throughout their physiologies, could incorporate more of the sweet taste, salty, and sour tastes to bring in more vitality (ojas), more warmth, and more moisture. The bitter taste is purifying and cooling to the physiology. So someone who is experiencing hot flashes, rashes, or irritability could incorporate more bitter flavor into their diet to reduce their symptoms of heat in the body. In this way, Ayurveda can use taste as a mechanism to create change in the physiology.
For someone who is more balanced in their physiology, Ayurveda recommends eating along lines of the constitution, or predominant dosha. In Ayurveda, there are three dosas (literally, defects), that dominate our physiologies. Vata is thought to resemble air and ether. Pitta resembles Fire. Kapha resembles earth and water. People who are more Vata in their physiology tend towards a wiry body. They can be vivacious, anxious, and changeable. The tastes that are most balancing to Vata dosha are salty and sweet. People of a more Pitta nature are more Type-A.
They are driven, athletic, and can be intense. The most balancing tastes for those of a Pitta nature are Bitter and Sweet. People of a Kapha nature tend to be sweet, nurturing, and can tend towards being more heavy-set. The most balancing taste for Kapha people is Pungent and Astringent. Everyone needs all six tastes but the manner in which we use and proportion these tastes is different depending upon body type, and imbalance.
The key, however, to using the kitchen as a pharmacy starts with the practice of creating our kitchens as ritual spaces for healing and deep nourishment. When cooking is a ritual act, then healing will flow from this intention. When we allow consciousness into our kitchens we quite naturally and intuitively move towards the foods, tastes, and dishes that are most resonant with our physiologies.
When we are cooking we can ask ourselves the simple question: what taste is missing? How can I bring this taste into my food? When we are eating, rather than mindlessly shoving food into our mouths, we can pause and ask ourselves: what taste would I like to experience next? In this way, our kitchen becomes a temple, cooking a ritual act, and eating becomes a delight to the senses.
When cooking is a ritual act, then healing will flow from this intention.
Recipe & Ama reducing Dietary Duidelines
Stewed Apples Recipe (Dr. Paul Dugliss):
Ingredient (one serving):
• 1 whole, fresh, sweet apple, cored and peeled
• 2 whole cloves (per apple)
• 1/4 cup of purified water
- Core, peel, and dice apple into small pieces.
- Add cloves, apples and water in a covered pot.
- Stew apples in 1/4 cup of water until soft consistency (usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes).
- Remove cloves and discard before serving.
- Let stand away from heat for 5 minutes, to cool a little
Hot Water Routine (by Dr. Raju)
The Hot Water Routine is not based on “flushing” out the toxins with large quantities of water. Instead, it is based on the effect of warm water on the tongue. This stimulates digestion. Through stimulating and enhancing digestion two things occur. First,
whatever food you take during the day is processed better, decreasing the likelihood that you will produce ama. Second, when the digestion is not working on a meal, stimulating it will cause it to “burn” up old ama. Thus, it is really the effect of warm, wet
water on the tongue that is responsible for most of the effect of the Hot Water Routine.
1) Bring water completely to a boil and place it in a thermos (a one-quart thermos is ideal)
2) Take a sip on this every half hour throughout the day (more can be taken if you like)
3) Stop at 6 PM so that you do not have to be up in the night to urinate
4) If you are dealing with any digestive disturbances, place the following spices in a one-quart thermos with the water, letting them steep the whole day as you drink it: 1 tsp fennel seeds, ¼ tsp coriander seeds, and ¼ tsp cumin seeds
Ama reducing dietary guidelines (by Dr. Paul Dugliss)
This diet is indicated in the case of low agni (low digestive power) combined with Kapha imbalance or Ama excess. Food should be fresh, well-cooked, tasty, satisfying.
- Barley-Light preparation such as soup, crackers, unleavened bread, etc.
- Rye: Crackers
- Oats: Cooked with water to a light porridge.
- Millet: Steamed or boiled.
Wheat Only preparations made from finely ground whole wheat flour:
- Crackers; light bread toasted; unleavened bread such as light, fresh and well-cooked chapati, Arabic bread, tortilla, etc.; couscous; semolina.
Dahl and Beans
Yellow mung beans (green husk removed):
a) liquid dahl preparation
b) prepared with rice as a thin soup
Red lentils: same as preparation for mung beans.
Well-cooked, and slightly juicy in preparation: green leafy vegetables, white pumpkin, asparagus, artichoke, cabbage, zucchini, celery, carrot, spinach, tender eggplant (better with skin removed), tender white radish (prepared with some fat), and green papaya.
Low-fat milk, goats milk, buttermilk, lassi, ghee (in very small amounts).
All in small amounts in cooking. Avoid coconut oil.
Sweeteners, Spices, and Condiments
Honey in small amounts. All spices, except salt. Pungent and sharp spices (pepper, ginger, etc.). Lemon juice.
Ripe and in-season grapes, raisins (soaked, chewed well), pomegranate, papaya (small amounts), fig, apple, guava are especially good. Other fruits if ripe and in season. Avoid bananas and mango.
Dinacharya: Your Daily Yogic Routine
Translating to “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit, Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old sister science of yoga that assists practitioners in leading their lives by way of intuitive rituals. In adhering to one’s specific needs, those utilizing the practice of Ayurveda fall into rhythm with the seasons of self, emulating Mother Nature’s transitions and revelations in spring, summer, fall, and winter.
The Ayurveda practice of dinacharya, or “law of nature,” consists of daily self-care routines, which provide structure for instilling balance and establishing cohesiveness in the physical, mental, and emotional bodies.
Dinacharya is based on the philosophy that human beings run on a biological clock dictated by the patterns of the sun and the moon; different times of day adhere to different types of energy. These energies, known as doshas, connect the body and the mind in functionality. Three doshas exist: vata, kapha, and pitta; each dosha is associated with elements found in nature.
The first and early waking hours of the day 2am to 6am, and their afternoon inverse 2pm to 6pm, are identified as vata, which is associated with the elements of air and ether, or a sense of lightness. Movement is incredibly important at these times, as they are both transitional periods. In the early hours of the morning, it is believed that sleep and dreams are most active and that we are most receptive to thought; in the afternoon, many experience the need to mobilize to reenergize, sparking creativity.
From 6am to 10am and 6pm to 10pm, it is said our kapha energy governs the manner in which we show up in the world. Kapha works in relation with earth and water, countering vata’s airiness with a sense of grounding.
Pitta energy runs its course through our systems during the hours of 10am to 2pm, and 10pm to 2am. Related to fire and water, waking pitta hours are correlated with high productivity. During the wee hours of the evening, typically the mind is resting, but the internal organs are vigorously cleansing the body, preparing us for the next day to come.
A Path to Balance
When the body and mind are in balance with these cycles, we experience a sense of contentment in all areas of our lives. As represented by the changes in even a matter of hours, the human condition is not static. It is not uncommon for one of the doshas to dominate at different points in time, regardless of where the dosha cycles suggest we should be landing on the energetic spectrum. We do not remain in a place of equanimity without putting forth awareness and effort, but it is possible to achieve balance through establishing a dinacharya routine.
Dinacharya practices help to establish congruence in our vata, kapha, and pitta energies.
When instability encroaches into our energetic cyclicality, we may feel noticeably “off” and over time, unbalanced physical, mental, and emotional bodies breed disease and dis-ease. Benefits of dinacharya can be experienced almost immediately, and can serve vitality for decades when adhered to properly.
Components of dinacharya can be incorporated into virtually any time of day, and can be quite extensive; according to Aryuvedic Physician Vasant Lad, there are nineteen steps composing a proper morning awakening of the physical and mental bodies alone. Many traditional dinacharya practices applicable to specific hours of the day can be adapted and become inputs to forming a consistent self-ritual.
Wake Before the Sun
This vata time of day is believed to be one of quiet connection. Once the sun is in the sky, the clock of Ayurveda ticks to kapha, signaling it is time to move and be productive. Waking earlier than you usually may begin the day offers a chance to connect energetically with self, rather than your inbox first thing.
Because the morning boasts fresh energy and serenity, this segment of the day has the potential to serve as an undistracted platform for meditation. Perhaps your sit consists of a few quiet moments, or maybe lasts a bit longer. Returning to a mindfulness practice at the end of the day allows for you to come full circle with your day’s experience, and is effective in supporting more restful sleep.
Finding time to be active throughout the day is important for maintaining balance and focus, as well as setting the stage for fulfilling the day’s requirements with ample energy.
In the morning, support the waking of your body in a way you enjoy, whether it be taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood, working with kriya, hitting the mat for Pilates, or devoting time to your yoga practice to energize or unfold slowly.
The afternoon is a prime time to get the blood flowing. After your largest meal of the day is consumed at lunchtime, give yourself at least 10-15 minutes for a walk or afternoon stretch to promote blood flow, ensuring the body and mind stay fired and inspired. Evening calls for gentler movement, such as a yin yoga practice, so that sleep may be gracefully eased in to.
This practice has been an aspect of dinacharya for thousands of years, and involves swooshing oil, such as sunflower or sesame, around your gums and teeth for 15-20 minutes each day, typically in the morning. Oil pulling is effective in removing toxins and parasites, which reside in the nooks and crannies between teeth, around the tongue, and in the gums.
These organisms not only affect the outer appearance of our pearly whites, but are often the root of inflammation and infection occurring throughout the body.
To reap the benefits of a brighter smile, clearer sinuses and skin, and healthier immune system, simply drink a glass of water upon waking, melt 1-3 tablespoons of an oil of your choice either on the stove or in your mouth, gargle for 20 minutes (this can be done while preparing breakfast or lunch, reading emails, etc.), spit, and rinse with water.
Known as Abhyanga in Ayurveda, self-massaging is often practiced as a component of dinacharya in either or both the morning and the evening. According to Sandhiya Ramaswamy, regarded Ayurvedic chef and educator, abhyanga, when performed daily, enhances balance in the energy bodies and overall longevity, calms the nervous system, softens skin, and tones muscle, amongst other benefits. Using warm oil, start at your scalp and work your way down the body using your fingertips and palms. Once applied, allow for the oil to marinate into your skin for five to ten minutes, and follow with a warm bath or shower.
This Ayurvedic technique requires a very small time investment, but pays greatly in its dividends. Using silk gloves or a dry skin brush, start at the feet and work your way up to the crown of your head. According to Dr. John Doulliard, director of LifeSpa.com, a leading resource in Ayurvedic wellness, brushing toward the direction of your heart drains the lymphatic system, and can help the body move waste more quickly and stimulate the burning of fat. This technique can be practiced preceding self-massage for added benefit.
Morning and evening meals should be light in comparison to your lunchtime consumption. Afternoon is the time of day most appropriate for intake of your heaviest meal, for several reasons. The digestive system has fully awakened, and the body has ample time to break down what has been consumed without interrupting your awakening or your sleep cycle. Agni, or digestive energy, is in full force; in order to keep the fire roaring, it is necessary to fuel adequately.
According to Monica Bloom, author of “In Your Elements: A Blooming Ayurvedic Guide to Creating Your Best Life,” a warm, vegetable-filled plate should be consumed at this time. Acknowledging this may not be ideal for meals eaten at work in terms of preparation, Monica suggests preparing a large batch of healthful dishes at night, eating a small portion for dinner, and bringing the majority on the go with you the next day to save both time and hunger pangs.
Head to Bed Early
It is recommended to begin your evening ritual around 8:30pm to ensure a restful transition into your evening rest. Unwinding with a book or a bath serves as a palate cleanser between the busyness of the day and the tranquility of bedtime. Establishing an early bedtime initiative for your self can also prevent late-night, metabolism-hindering snacking; around 10pm, pitta energy kicks back in which, when awake can spark hunger, when resting allows for full-body restoration.
The above are only a select few options on the full menu of dinacharya offerings. Taste one, taste all offerings; Director of Ayurveda Programs at Shankara Ayurveda Spa Medha Garud notes that the adoption of two dinacharya-inspired changes can make a difference when enveloped into your day-to-day routine. The implementation of a personal dinacharya ritual can serve as powerful and effective insurance for physical, mental, and emotional congruence and observance.