Ayurveda Day 50: Nutrition

In order to say something is Ayurvedic, we have to be able to know the following:

– The nature of the patient (constitution)
– The nature of the disease (imbalance)
– The nature of the medicine (diet and lifestyle)

Often I will get questions like this:
“I have dry skin that won’t go away…can you give recommend me an ayurvedic medicine to cure it?”

I appreciate that people are curious and want to know more about Ayurveda to help cure them. That’s a great thing! Unfortunately, my answer is always the same:

“Without knowing more about you and the disease, I cannot know which medicine will help you.”

I then may be able to describe generic things – meditation & breathing practices, to eat following the ten healthy guidelines, doing abyangha (daily self oil massage), ahimsa…ultimately all those things will make a big difference as they make the person more conscious of their own role in their health. This is paramount. Though Ayurveda always takes things to their root cause, there are foods and herbs we can suggest as medicine for a person.

In western medicine, the public health approach is based on a statistical model that generalizes what is good for most people. Unfortunately, this falls short insofar as that what may be good for a 23 year old male living in the tropics will be lumped into the same category as a 47 year old female living in the desert. These are extreme examples (and in some cases, research is becoming more individualized), but it leads me to this saying in Ayurveda:

“Nothing is right for everyone. Everything is right for someone.”

This means that from an Ayurvedic perspective, what may be right for one person won’t necessarily be right for another or everyone. We must look at the nature of the patient, the nature of the disease, and the nature of the medicine (the doshas).

This brings us to the foods we eat.

In general, medicine in Ayurveda can be broken down into food and herbs.
Foods have a milder effect on health – they produce the tissues of our body and their actions aren’t immediately felt.
Herbs have a more immediate effect on health and can be noticed much quicker.

Obviously, both play an important role.

When we consider foods, we look at 4 things:

– Rasa – The taste of the food: sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy/hot), bitter, and astringent (drying).
– Virya – The potency – does it have a cooling or heating effect in the body?
– Vipaka – the long term action of the substance; or the post digestive effect
– Prabhava – The pharmological action of the substance. Not related to the other three qualities.

We can look at the foods we take in the following manner:

Everything is either poison or medicine.

From this simple lens, we have to ask ourselves why are we putting what we are eating into our bodies.

In today’s society, we eat to please our brain. We look at it from the perspective or Rasa – is it pleasing to my senses? The brain will crave more and more based solely on taste, in order to improperly satisfy your ego.

In order to use food as medicine, we need to look at it from the perspective of Vipaka. Vipaka has sweet, sour, and pungency to it as well. But it’s effect is on our internal body. Whereas with Rasa, foods affect our senses, with Vipaka, the foods affect our physiology. So although sugar may have a sweet taste, from the perspective of Vipaka, it does not do what quality sweetness does in the body.

The different tastes we have and how they affect the body is a really intriguing topic. Tomorrow we will delve into a breakdown of each sense, which doshas they are best for, and even what a plate of food should look like for each dosha!

Until then I will leave you all salivating – pun intended 🙂

With gratitude,

S

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