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August 30, 2008

Not touched by human hands

My sister pointed out something very strange in the supermarket. This seems to happen a lot, supermarkets are just getting stranger and stranger!

She saw loaf of bread with the words:
Not touched by human hands.
As an advertisement, as though that was a good thing. As though the human hand might dirty the bread and make it unfit for consumption. As though mechanical "hands" would do a lot better job of it!

In Ayurveda the process of kneading dough is a beautiful Sadhana, a service which enriches the life the person giving as well as the quality of the food itself, and therefore the person who eats the food. In the book Like Water for Chocolate (which you must read if you love food or books or both) a woman cries into the wedding cake batter and all the guests become miserable when they eat it.

These days extra yeast and sugar minimise the kneading process and rising time, preservatives make it last longer and mould inhibitors stop it going mouldy. Added gluten, canola oil, synthetic vitamins, emulsifiers... and it hardly resembles bread at all. At least not the way bread is made at home, or prior to the industrial revolution.

Let's put some love back into our diet and stop being so clinical about food. Touch it, taste it, love it, we ought not pay for a machine to do everything for us!

August 27, 2008


Ayurveda includes six tastes as an important part of every diet. All people need all tastes, but in different amounts according to dosha. But no matter what your dosha sweet taste (present in all fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates) should make up the bulk of your diet (not in the form of refined sugars!)

Second most important is salty taste. This is an unusual taste because all others are available in a wide variety of foods. Salty taste pretty much only comes from salt, though it can be found in trace amounts in some foods such as amla and seaweed.

Salty taste is made up of fire and water. This of course makes it most beneficial to Vata and less so for Kapha and Pita, both already having strong fire or water elements. When you put salt on the tongue saliva instantly comes. These secretions are preparing your body for digestion. the same thing will happen in your digestive system. Salt will encourage the secretion of digestive acids.

Salt plays another important role in helping us to taste all taste. Water is required in order to taste anything at all, so by eating salt, which induces water, our enjoyment of food is increased. Flavours are released and satisfaction is felt. The right amount of salt can help both in term of weight gain and weight loss, helping us to feel satisfied when full, or enjoy more food when it is needed. Without salt Vata can react and food feels heavy and unsatisfied, food tastes bland and cravings continue.

Now I'm not saying anyone should go overboard. The important thing to remember is that all tastes should be included in every meal (spices are the key) so your meal should never taste so salty that it numbs your taste buds to the other flavours. And remember to use Himalayan Rock Salt which is most friendly to all dosha.

August 24, 2008

A story about finding peace

Many people arrive in India only to get on the next airplane out of there. Whilst it is undeniable, India is difficult, there is a certain art to being in India that requires enormous resrve of values and faith. Here is a wonderful little story Maya Tiwari tells. It's similiar to the concept of being the lotus in the mud.

"In India, the homeland of this exsquisite art of life, one learns quickly to trust the infinite wisdom of the Lord and eventually the self. Amid the chaos of erratic activity and the cacophany of mind-boggling noises, stupendous calm and gusto combined exist in the humans who live there. As one taxi driver said, "There are only four essentials to living: good horn, good brakes, good nerves and good luck." Put another way, the horn signifies our intentions; the brakes are our ability to stop and contemplate; nerves are the essential fibres of our courage and choices, and finally, luck is simply the grace of the Lord."
Ayurveda: Secrets of Healing, Maya Tiwari.

August 20, 2008

Finding an Ayurvedic doctor

The relationship between the patient and the doctor is a very important one if healing is to occur. This has been lost in modernity with fifteen minute appointments with doctors who may know nothing about you and may never see you again.

My guru, Babaji, advises that when choosing a guru one would be wise not to trust any yogi blindly. Before we surrender ourselves to the Guru it is sensible to question that Guru's motivation. If they are asking for money, or seeking fame, or some other selfish and worldly gain, it is unlikely they are deserving of your unwavering trust and devotion.

Similarly when choosing an Ayurvedic doctor, especially for panch karma, the patient would be wise to question the doctors motivation. Take a trusted and healthy friend with you to see the doctor for their opinion. Don't fall prey to advertising or hype.

Babaji says "No individual should claim, "I can heal," real Yogis and saints do not claim, only pray to the Divine. It is only the Divine that can heal."

Listen carefully to their diagnosis and treatment plan, take notes to help remember and don't be embarrassed to ask lots of questions. Especially ask about possible emotional and physical effects of treatment, both good and bad.

Once you choose your doctor with this sort of vigilance, then surrender to them. Trust everything they say. Trust your body and it's ability to heal, and pray for grace and love and openness. Trust the healing process and all that it brings up. Faith is one of the most healing energies there is. But blind faith can be very dangerous.

August 17, 2008

More about bathing

My dad grew up in the coal mining district of Chesterfield, England. In those days the English washed once a week. We heard a story of one family with 9 children, and they all used to bathe in the same water, starting with the least dirty person and ending with the dirtiest. The father, being a coal miner was of course, the dirtiest, and was washed last, even after the dog!!!

Things may have changed for some of us since then, but when I was in Kathmandu the water was only turned on for an hour a day. That's when you washed (yourself, your clothes, the dishes), flushed the toilet and filled a bucket of water for later. In some African tribes, where water is even more scarce, they wash in smoke from the fire.

Bathing is an interesting thing. Everyone, every where in the world does it and we all do it differently. Here's a little something about Ayurveda's views on bathing.
"Soap is not meant for use on the body except when it is really grimy, and even then, as modern medicine agrees, it should never be used on the mucous membranes...

Bathing is prohibited within an hour after eating, and when one is suffering from accute diarrhoea, abdominal distention, chronic cold, indigestion and most acute illnesses. The yogis always advise cold water for bathing, while Ayurveda suggests hot water, except on the head, where only warm water should be used lest it weaken the sense organs."
Ayurveda; Life, Health and Longevity, Robert Svoboda.

Bathing should be done before meditation, prayers or sex. If you want to avoid soap you can use beans. It can also be useful to bathe with salts, oils or essential oils depending on your condition.

August 14, 2008

Four components of health

We live in what Lindsay Wagner describes as a "make it easy, make it quick and make it something someone else can do for me" society. When we are sick we want a doctor to cure us with minimal disruption to our lifestyle.

But an illness can be used as a warning sign that something in our lives isn't right. My husband doesn't drink coffee and someone once asked him "What do you do when your tired?" He laughed and says he goes to sleep. Strange isn't it, that sleeping when your tired is such an unusual thing!!

We would be wise to take responsibility for our own bodies. According to Charaka, to successfully cure any illness, the patient is one of four essential components. These four pillars of restoring health are:
  • doctor
  • remedy
  • carer
  • patient
The doctor tops the list because an incompetent doctor will stifle all of the best efforts of the remaining three, and even progress the illness further. A doctor must be skilled, experienced and knowledgeable, as well as pure in intention.

The remedy will be appropriate to the illness, the patient and the environment. It will utilise multiple avenues (diet, medicine, panch karma etc), be readily available and excellent quality.

The carer will be pure, kind and compassionate, as well as having a strong understanding of Ayurveda and the skill to put it into practice effectively.

And last, but certainly not least, the patient, who must be courageous and faithful. An ideal patient is able to describe their symptoms accurately, and will follow the doctors instructions precisely.

August 09, 2008

Astringent-Did the fox taste the rabbit?

"And although he told her that for the French the preparation and eating of good food was an expression of a national trait, she discovered that for this too he suffered in vocabulary...It was as though he had travelled only the familiar, his experience of taste truncated by the absence of words to describe it...

Did the fox taste the rabbit, she wondered, having no word for its brawn?"

The Grasshopper Shoe, Carolyn Leach-Paholski
Astringent is the sixth taste. Six tastes? That's right, sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter...and astringent. Kashaya is a word to describe a taste for which we have no direct translation in English. The word astringent, which is traditionally used to describe the tannins in wine, or the a constricting medicine, takes on a broader meaning when used in relation to Ayurveda.

It's a hard taste to describe because it rarely exists alone, but it's most easily described as a sensation. It's a dry, puckering unpleasant tightness in your mouth. Bite into an unripe banana for the closest approximation. Strong black tea also gives a close feeling of astringency, but the most astringent food I know of is a little fruit native to Australia called lilly pilly.

Astringent taste consists of earth and air. It is light, dry and cooling. Astringent is less nutritive and more medicinal. Whilst all dosha's require all tastes, astringent is the most beneficial to Pitta, then Kapha, and only in tiny amounts for Vata, as it aggravates this dosha.

Astringent is the sixth taste, rather than the first because it needs to be consumed in the smallest amounts. In excess it will damage the colon. But it is difficult to overdose on astringent taste from food alone, it is usually the result of improper use of medicinal herbs.

Astringency, as you might imagine from the reaction in your mouth, contracts amd tightens the tissues. It is useful in cases of diarrhea and bleeding as it constricts and binds.

It's easy to get all the astringency you need by just adding a pinch of turmeric to your daily meals.

August 07, 2008

Apple Snacks

I saw something in the supermarket recently which rather upset me. Which is why I tend to shop at the markets instead.

I think it was called "Apple Snacks." It was in the refrigerated vegie section. It was a big plastic bag with a number of individual portioned plastic bags inside it. Each portioned contained simply small cut up wedges of apples.

Now maybe I'm wrong but I always thought apples already came in their own perfect, portion controlled, individual wrappers. Where did the need for all the plastic and refrigeration come from? Is it really that hard to cut up an apple? Is it really that hard to get your kids to eat fruit?

There are so many things wrong with this picture that I won't even begin. I'll just say what is the world coming to?!

August 04, 2008

Happy Birthday!

It's my birthday, a quarter of a century under my belt! But more relevantly it's Ayurwhats first birthday. A year since I started blogging. I want to take a moment to express my appreciation to you, the people who read what I write.

When I first started blogging it was simply a way of focussing my learning, I never expected anyone else to be interested. But it's a real thrill for me to know other people out there share my passion. It really motivates and inspires me. I'm really happy when you comment, ask a question, disagree with me, anything...

I've recently added a subscription button top right, just in case you are interested. Happy Birthday me!