How do we practice asteya in the kitchen?
Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, the gratification of the moment takes precedent over well-being in the long-term. We’ve all had moments when we have done something that we know won’t make us feel good later. Many people have this relationship with food. Ice cream is good now. Bad later. I know this, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Consider the idea that this behavior is stealing from yourself. You’re stealing your future well-being.
You can find plenty of Ayurvedic recipes, Ayurvedic cookbooks and Ayurvedic chefs, but as much as you look, you’ll never find Ayurvedic cuisine. That’s because Ayurveda is more than just a way of cooking -- it is a way of looking at food and life as a whole through the lens of nature’s rhythms.
Nature is always changing. If you study what is happening outside your home, you’ll notice that not a single day is the same as another. Your body and mind are a reflection of nature, so they are always changing too. In fact, the Sanskrit word for body is sharira, which translates to “that which is always changing.”
Ayurveda offers each of us the opportunity to become our own healers. To step into this role is a journey, one that requires a commitment to learning the unique functions of your mind and body.
The doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha -- are one of the foundational tools that Ayurveda offers to go within and find out why you feel, act and look the way you do. The doshas are profoundly important to understanding your body and mind, but they are often oversimplified and misunderstood.
Beyond the dosha quiz
A person’s first experience with Ayurveda is often marked by taking a dosha quiz. The results usually include lists of foods and activities to avoid for your dosha (or products to buy). But living according to a black-and-white list is opposite of what Ayurveda teaches.
When prana is flowing without interruption, your body has everything it needs to heal itself (see the first in this series on pain relief to learn more about prana). Pain, whether mental or physical, cannot take hold in a body with an easy flow of prana. When prana is blocked, pain can become so much to bear that people often look to drugs or surgery to cope. But these methods of pain relief dull your body’s natural intelligence and further disrupt the flow of prana that is the key to healing. On the contrary, herbs and Ayurvedic treatments work with the body to address the root cause. As prana comes back into the body, the doshas regain balance and health follows.
Understanding Ayurveda is not about academics and memorizing a list of rules, it is about slowing down and being in the experience of life. One of the best (and most delicious) ways to learn Ayurveda is by taking your studies to your own kitchen.
Becoming an Ayurvedic cook requires little more than a willingness to study the effects of what you eat on your body and mind (although this guide to setting up your Ayurvedic kitchen has a few other tools to get you started). Throw away limiting dosha food lists and focus instead on exploring different foods and different ways of preparing them. Pay attention to the results with a wellness journal, and you’ll soon be able to move away from black-and-white thinking about what and how to eat and toward the innate wisdom inside you.
Is it possible to live in the modern world while maintaining a spiritual focus? Of course. Cultivate consciousness through regular spiritual practice and bring that into everything, everyday.
Cooking can be a spiritual act with that intention. That means turning off the cooking shows, putting away cookbooks with complicated recipes, and moving into your heart, where you have all the information you need to create simple, healing food. Allow your spirit to lead the process and you will be satisfied every time.
Kapha dosha makes our bodies and minds strong and sturdy. A daily Yoga asana practice builds on kapha’s natural strength and reduces the tendency toward weight gain that can come with excess kapha.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time -- even 15 minutes in the morning will combat the effects of sedentary living and create enthusiasm for life that will reach far beyond your Yoga mat. Just set your wake up time a bit earlier (start before 6:00 a.m. and you’ll get the bonus of the increased energy that is present in the vata time of morning called brahmamuhurti) and make the commitment to asana as a part of your morning routine.
To balance kapha’s heavy nature, focus on invigorating poses, such as strengthening standing poses and backbends, as we have outlined in the two sequences below. Hold each pose for 10 to 15 breaths if you are feeling sluggish to awaken kapha. If you are feeling fearful, scattered or other signs of vata imbalance, hold each pose for 20 breaths.
A few weeks ago in our post about a kapha-balancing diet, we shared how kapha is the dosha with the fewest diseases associated. Kapha’s earth and water elements are stable by nature and less prone to go out of balance than vata’s air or pitta’s fire. This is why people with dominant kapha in their constitutions tend to live long, healthy lives. However, one factor can easily aggravate kapha, and it is quite common in our modern lifestyle: sedentary living.
Making friends with kapha dosha is about embracing stability, compassion and even-mindedness. Cultivate balance in kapha and you experience the sweeter side of life.
Even if kapha is not a primary part of your constitution, the qualities that make up kapha (heavy, dense, cool, wet, soft) exist in you. Your body itself is made of kapha tissues such as bones, muscles and fat. Without the structure kapha provides, vata could not move and pitta could not transform. You need to maintain balance in all three doshas to enjoy true health in body, mind and spirit.
You peer into the mirror. There are new lines around your eyes. You see a few new white hairs popping out from your scalp. The universe is giving you a choice here: you can either resist the aging process with chemicals, surgery and fear, or you can simply accept the changes as a reflection that you, too, are a part of nature.
Everything in nature ages, including us. But aging doesn’t have to be scary (no matter what the advertisements may say). In fact, it can be a lovely, natural experience. And, by finding balance in your body and mind and embracing changes as they come, you may find that you can actually feel better with age.
Ayurveda and Yoga can serve as guides to help you feel stronger, more confident and secure as you progress in the natural process of life.