Marc T. Edwards photo

Introduction

We live in a dynamic world which bombards our senses, challenges our mental capacity, and buffets our physiology. We remain healthy if we are able to compensate for all these influences and maintain balance (homeostasis). If awareness is permanently established in the transcendental reality, this happens automatically because life is lived spontaneously in complete accord with natural law. Otherwise, it's all too easy to make mistakes. In the current era, few have claimed their birthright to enjoy Cosmic Consciousness. What is more, many question whether God or any transcendental reality exists.

Thus, for most of us, there is a great need for practical guidance on how to maintain balance. Ayurveda (Sanskrit for the “Science of Life”) is the owner’s manual for the human body. It explains our individual differences (see The Doshas) and how to harmonize with them to maintain balance, improve vitality, and resist disease through choices of diet and lifestyle.

This page summarizes general Ayurvedic recommendations to prevent imbalance, enliven self-repair, and boost strength and immunity (Ojas). Imbalances in the body most often result from unsuitable habits, improper digestion and metabolism of food, and the accumulation of environmental toxins. Healthy habits can go a long way towards preventing and reversing disease. This regimen may differ from your current habits. If so, take it slowly. Focus on one change at a time. Phase out the old habit and phase in the new over the course of a week or more so as not to create stress and discomfort. To a certain extent, your body has adapted to whatever unhealthful habits you may have acquired.

How to make healthy choices

As you make this journey to health, always respect and generally follow your spontaneous desires. Desire is the expression of the physiology in seeking what it needs to achieve balance at a given moment. Nevertheless, be aware that some non-life-supporting desires may arise due to old habits and imbalances. In other words, when you have a choice to make, also use your intellect and judgment.

Ayurveda emphasizes daily and seasonal routine. A routine is helpful because it provides a stable platform of rest and activity. Modern science has demonstrated many bio-rhythms that govern hormonal activity, wakefulness, etc. We have all experienced how these are disrupted by air travel across time zones. Therefore, if you develop a regimen is in harmony with the prevailing daily and seasonal cycles of nature, you will gain nature’s support in maintaining balance in your physiology while dealing with all the other changes which are inevitable in life. If you are irregular in your daily routine, you will face that much more change with which to cope. An erratic routine especially aggravates Vata.

Eat to make Ojas not Ama

The importance of routine also applies to diet. While variety in food whets the appetite, irregular mealtimes disturb digestion. When the digestive process is faulty, it generates a toxic products known as Ama. Otherwise healthy foods can turn to poison if taken in excess, at the wrong time or in unsuitable combinations. When Ama accumulates, it blocks the channels of the physiology (Shrotas) which maintain the circulation of nutrients and waste products. This can be gross or subtle. The cholesterol plaques of atherosclerosis are an example of Ama. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Alzheimer's disease are examples of serious problems resulting from Ama accumulation at a more subtle level.

How to maintain balance

To maintain balance, diet and activity must adjust with the seasons (see sidebar Diet for Season and The Doshas). The hearty food that helps keep us warm in winter would fail to refresh in summer. Conversely, while it is enjoyable to stroll after dinner in the cool evening breeze of summer, the experience would be quite different in winter.

In seeking better balance, consider making Transcendental Meditation a fundamental component of your daily routine. Hundreds of scientific studies have validated the short and long term health benefits of this practice. Most importantly, it will open your awareness to the transcendental reality of life. A taste of that effortless experience may surprise you. It's simply a home-coming: waking up to the fullness of your inner being. It fulfills the primary goal of Ayurveda, which is to help us reconnect to the source of Life. It would be a waste of a lifetime not to have this experience. It makes everything else better.

Daily Routine

  • Be generous in your interactions with others. Radiate positivity. Cultivate Sattva.
  • Do not restrain or force natural urges (urination, defecation, belching, sneezing, crying, passing flatus, etc.)
  • Exercise regularly, but not to the point of exhaustion, strain, or profuse sweating, which can deplete Ojas or cause injury.
  • Suitable exercise for most people would include walking at a comfortable pace or doing Hatha Yoga asanas for at least 20 minutes.
  • The morning Kapha period (6-10 AM) is the ideal time for exercise. In the evening, the Shrotas are said to be relatively "closed" and vigorous exercise may interfere with sleep.
  • Seek to get to bed before 10 PM and to arise by 6 AM without an alarm. Alarms are "alarming" to the nervous system!
  • Stop work by about 9 PM and ease into bedtime. This is particularly important if you have trouble falling asleep.
  • Avoid sleeping during the day, except in the heat of summer. Even then, semi-reclining in a chair is preferable to the bed.
  • If you are sexually active:
    • Do what is comfortable without strain.
    • Hot milk with a little whole cane sugar and ghee helps to restore Ojas.
    • Give preference to the night time.
    • Avoid sexual activity during menstruation and at the full and new moon.

Meals

  • Take your meals at approximately the same times every day.
  • Do not eat in the following situations or the food may turn to poison (Ama) in your stomach:
    • Before the previous meal is digested (generally 3-4 hours for the main meal).
    • If you are experiencing indigestion, sip warm water or Kanji water.
    • If you are emotionally upset, allow the intensity of the emotion to subside.
  • Digestion is most lively at mid-day. Therefore, lunch should be your main meal.
  • Breakfast and dinner should be lighter in both quantity and quality of food.
  • Do not eat breakfast if you are not hungry.
  • Do not eat before sleep. If you are hungry at bedtime or suffer from insomnia, have a glass of boiled milk with cardamom.
  • Eat while sitting in a settled and quiet atmosphere with full attention on your food. Do not work, read, stand, drive a car or watch TV while you eat.
  • Have a moment of silence or prayer prior to eating to make a smooth transition to eating by getting settled.
  • Eat to about ¾ of your capacity so that you are not left either very hungry or very full.
  • Insufficient food aggravates Vata. Over-eating spoils the digestive fire (Agni) and produces poison (Ama).
  • Eat at a comfortable pace, neither too slow nor too fast.
  • Chew your food well: the digestive process begins in the mouth.
  • Sit quietly for a few minutes after finishing your meal before returning to your activities.
  • Take a short leisurely walk after dinner to promote digestion.

Food Selection

Sip water or other beverages during your meals at room temperature or warmer according to your preference. Avoid cold or iced beverages since they interfere with digestion. Also, avoid taking large quantities of liquids before, during, and within an hour of eating.

If you want to get full benefit from Ayurveda, forget the artificial categories used by western food science to describe nutrition. In the long history of humankind, no one worried about protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and micronutrients. Even the idea of "Dairy" as a category is confusing because it includes eggs that were often sold by dairy farms.

Balance the Six Tastes

Instead, learn about the six tastes that affect the influence of various foods on the Doshas:

  • Sweet (especially grains and fruits)
  • Sour (e.g., yogurt, lassi, lemon, tamarind, sumac, amchur powder)
  • Salty (e.g., salt, salty condiments)
  • Pungent (e.g., radish, peppers and most spices)
  • Bitter (e.g., green leafy vegetables)
  • Astringent (e.g., beans and lentils, walnuts, turmeric)

Also think in terms of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans/lentils, milk products, oils, nuts/seeds and spices/herbs. In other words, use the natural categories. At your main meal, the plate will ideally contain abundant fresh vegetables, some whole grains and some beans along with a glass of lassi. Vegetables are mostly bitter tasting. Legumes are astringent. Grains primarily contribute sweet taste. Sugar should not be the main source of sweet taste. Whole cane sugar can be used in small amounts like a spice for Vata and Pitta. You won't necessarily see the oil, nuts/seeds and spices, because they are used in relatively small amounts. The same goes for sour, salty and pungent tastes which deliver flavor. Oil and spices combine to make food unctuous and delicious. The healthful amount of oil used in the cooking depends on your Doshas and the season: liberal for Vata, minimal for Kapha. Fruit probably won't be there except as a garnish or condiment, because it delivers greatest value when consumed by itself. You also won't see processed or fast foods, which enrich the companies that aggressively market them and put you on the fast track to illness.

You don't need to count calories to manage your weight with Ayurveda. Most people spontaneously normalize weight and eliminate cravings when they adopt an Ayurvedic vegetarian diet appropriate for their Doshas, digestion and current state of balance.

  • Favor wholesome, organically grown food freshly prepared with love.
  • A vegetarian diet is more Sattvic than one including animal flesh and is most supportive of health and longevity.
  • Your overall daily diet should include all six tastes.
  • Particularly try to include a balance of all six of the tastes at your main meal (lunch). This is not necessary for breakfast and is optional for dinner.
  • Favor foods that pacify any imbalance (see The Doshas).
  • Rock (mineral) salt is more suitable for most people than sea salt or common table salt. It has a cooling aftertaste. When used in moderation, it will not aggravate Pitta Dosha. Redmond Real Salt is a widely available brand.
  • If your physiology is in balance, favor foods according to your Prakriti and the season
  • Fresh fruit makes a very healthy breakfast. Depending on the type of fruit and the season, it can be lightly cooked with balancing spices with great benefit. Fresh fruit also makes a good afternoon snack.
  • Fruit is best taken by itself at least 30 minutes before other foods. It is less desirable to have fruit in the evening as it is cooling to the digestive fire.
  • Avoid leftovers (more than 6 hours after preparation), frozen, canned and deep fried foods.
  • Vegetables should be well-cooked. Avoid salads and raw vegetables unless you have strong digestion and are trying to balance Kapha.
  • Milk should be taken after boiling, either by itself or with other sweet-tasting foods (see Milk).
    • A slice of fresh ginger, or a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom or turmeric, boiled with the milk makes it more digestible.
    • Adding 1 part water to 4 parts milk also makes it more digestible.
  • Avoid "contradictory" combinations of foods which create toxic Ama:
    • Milk with fish, eggs, sour foods, chocolate, coffee, radish, or salt
    • Yogurt with milk, fish, banana, berries and other sour fruits
    • Melons with other foods, especially cheese, grains and grilled food
    • Nightshade vegetables (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers) with milk or yogurt
  • Avoid fermented foods other than yogurt and sour cream (e.g., vinegar, mold-ripened cheese, yeasted bread).
  • Avoid heavy foods like meat, fish, poultry, cheese, yogurt, and root vegetables in the evening.
  • Avoid foods and drinks containing alcohol, caffeine or chocolate.
  • Avoid tobacco products and other mind-altering drugs.
  • If you take honey, only use raw, uncooked varieties.
    • Do not use honey in baking or add it to liquids warmer than body temperature.
    • Do not use honey if you feel heat or burning in the body or have a fever.

Women's Health

  • During the first 2-3 days of menstruation:
    • Rest at home.
    • Favor light, warm, nourishing foods and drinks.
    • Abstain from sex.
    • Avoid inverted yoga-style postures like the shoulder stand or plow.
    • Temporarily stop herbal therapy, unless otherwise advised.
  • Following childbirth, rest at home and favor a Vata-pacifying diet for about 6 weeks.