By Myra Lewin
When I was a child, I lived in a crowded house with a very small kitchen. My mother’s rule was that only one of us was allowed in the kitchen when she was cooking. I felt special whenever I was that person. Helping her prepare meals for our family of seven was the reason I developed the love for wholesome, home-cooked food that grew with my study of Ayurveda.
We say that “food is medicine” in Ayurveda because nothing else has the same power to nourish, heal and bring together community (even if that community is a parent and child cooking together in a small kitchen). When you study Ayurveda, you learn that all foods have distinct properties that can bring you closer to or further from health, depending on your individual constitution. But Ayurveda also teaches that not all food is equal. Food that is filled with prana, cooked gently with digestive spices and served in a sattvic home environment is the medicine that we should seek.
In recent decades, eating for convenience or entertainment, through frozen meals, packaged foods or at restaurants, has replaced the simple act of daily cooking that puts our health literally into our own two hands. Perhaps this distance from preparing our own food (and the surge in health concerns that have accompanied this change) is the reason so many people are now interested in Ayurveda.
Ayurvedic cooking: The oldest prescription
Food is meant to be medicine. When we cook our own meals, this happens in two ways. The first is when you infuse your own loving energy into a meal. This is why we have a practice at Hale Pule of grounding ourselves before we start cooking – we choose to cook guided by our loving energy. The second is when you use your viveka, discrimination, to choose what and how much to eat. When you feel scattered or light, you can create a meal with a vata-calming grain, like brown basmati rice. If you notice too much heat in your body, you can add pitta-reducing foods, such as cucumber or mint. These are choices that you simply can’t make at a restaurant where someone else is in charge of the menu.
I work with clients in differing stages of their experience with cooking. Many haven’t cooked in years but are ready to make changes to feel better. Some cook all the time, but only by following recipes, so I guide them to tap into their creativity to make use of whatever is in their fridge or garden. I also work with a number of beginning Ayurvedic practitioners who want to better acquaint themselves with the opportunities in the kitchen so they can effectively counsel their clients. In Ayurveda, there is room for everyone who wants to embrace the healing power of food.
I like to remind everyone that cooking isn't meant to be complicated. When we move out of rigid ideals of perfection, cooking actually becomes truly fun. Anyone can start with simple recipes, like a grounding breakfast porridge to replace cold cereal that increases vata and weakens agni. As they gradually expand their creativity in the kitchen, my clients often send me pictures of meals they have made and share stories about their balanced weight, clear skin and calm mind that has come with the Ayurvedic approach to cooking. Cooking at home also reduces food expenses and allows people to tune in to what their bodies really need to eat.
As more people rediscover the beauty and joy of Ayurvedic cooking at home, it’s not just our bodies that will heal. Whether we are alone or eating with friends and family, we can connect at the dinner table to share love with each bite. Because this, too, is medicine, and sometimes it is the kind we need most.
Ayurvedic chef training: June 6-19
I’m hosting an Ayurvedic chef training this June on Kaua’i, open to anyone who is interested in understanding how to apply Ayurvedic principles to preparing simple, nourishing meals. Whether you want to teach your clients to cook, cook professionally or just learn more about how to feed yourself and your family well every day, we’ll give you the tools to embrace this art in light of the ancient science of Ayurveda.