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April 24, 2008

Nuts about nuts

It all started with palaver, an African stew made with ground egusi seeds, leafy greens and vegies, served with chunks of meat or fish. Then I realised every country in the world makes food from toasted and ground nuts or seeds. Think satay from Indonesia or pesto from Italy or chestnut paste from France.

One of my favourite variations in an almond casserole my mum used to cook. Soak almonds overnight, slip off their skins then grind them. Make almond milk and then use the almond milk to make a bechamel sauce. Pour this sauce over steamed vegies, which you can then bake for awhile, or just serve straight up with rice or bread.

So back to the palaver. Roast and grind pumpkin seeds (assuming you can't get egusi seeds) with some raw onion, coriander powder and cumin powder to make a paste. Fry the paste in some ghee, then add some chunky vegies. Cover the base of the saucepan with water and simmer, covered till the vegies are soft. Add finely chopped spinach and more water if needed. Traditionally served with yam.

So, get creative, thicken sauces with flour, mashed vegies or eggplant. Try using walnuts, sesame seeds, pine nuts or hazelnuts. Add different vegies, and serve with different grains. Nuts are quite heavy, so a closed handful should be enough for one person, and spice them well. All nuts and seeds are good for Vata. Pita does best with skinned almonds, and should avoid cashews and peanuts because they are too hot. Kapha suits lighter sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.

April 19, 2008

Health and Meat

Of course meat has it's place in Ayurveda. Partridge meat, for example, is used for semen production and memory. The blood of lions and leopards and the liver of young female animals are all used pharmaceutically too. But these animals are healthy, freshly killed and sacrificed with great ceremony. A far cry from the meat available in your local supermarket, no doubt. Such animals may have lived it's life indoors, rarely excercised, eaten an un-natural diet and been slaughtered weeks ago after watching the death of many other animals and without any great reverence for it's soul.

Which brings me to the affect of meat on our health, one of my main reasons for choosing not to eat it. The meat we eat today hardly fulfils our medicinal needs, and therefore is not hugely beneficial for our health, and in some ways it is detremental. If you do choose to eat meat, which can be a very good choice for Vata for example, there are a few things you can do to help your body along.

Meat is very difficult to digest, so cook and chew it well. Eat it in small amounts and with appropriate spices to balance your dosha and that of the meat. Meat also creates both tamas and rajas, so make sure the rest of the food you eat is very sattvic, peace promoting food.

Above all avoid bad food combinations, there are many foods meat should not be eaten along side, so keep your meat meals simple. Do not mix meat with eggs, milk, fruit, yoghurt or cheese. In fact eat all of these foods at least a couple of hours apart from each other.

But only the most grounded Kapha could live on vegetables alone. For the rest of us, the choice to omit meat from our diets must accompanied by the addition of other good quality sources or protein and fat. Mung beans, nuts, seeds, ghee, olive oil, sesame oil, milk, soft cheeses and fresh young tofu all offer adequate and satisfying long term nutrition, without the need for meat.

April 14, 2008

Know Thyself

Many great Doctors from ancient times have known it, within and without Ayurveda, but humans, unlike all other animals are constantly working against it. Aulus Cornelius Celsus wrote in Da Medicina that "above all things everyone should be acquainted with the nature of his own body".

Most creatures are naturally and instinctively acquainted with their physical bodies, you can watch dogs eat grass when they feel sick for example. They know, without thinking too hard about it, what they should or shouldn't eat, when they are hungry and above all when to stop eating.

Humans on the other hand have that great gift of intelligence, but it is not always accompanied by wisdom, and it can override our all important intuition. Know thyself, don't trip up on desires, or think about things too much, or be too persuaded by media or doctors (even Ayurvedic ones!) If you are hungry; eat, if you are full; stop eating. If someone tells you to eat something which makes you feel bad in your body (not in your head) listen to yourself. Only you can truly know your own body.

Remember you could be addicted to some things, which could give your body some bad symptoms when you give them up. Like sugar or other simple carbohydrates, like chocolate or coffee, if you stop eating these things which you are addicted to you could feel worse for a few days or even weeks, but in the long term you will feel better. Know the difference between a food craving that is intuitive and one that is an addiction.

Learn that heavy feeling in your body from drinking too much milk, or that sour hunger from alcohol, or a light, buzzing from sugar or how your stomach feels like you've eaten a brick when what you've really eaten is something deep fried.

Learning and developing this intuitive response to your physical body is crucial, more important than anything you can learn in your head about disease pathways or doshas or diets. As Hippocrates put it "It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has."

April 13, 2008

Sweet v Fat

An article was recently published in The Australian Wish Magazine about how sugar is behind the 'obesity blow-out.' Adam Cresswell quotes some impressive statistics that counter the common modern belief that fat is a much bigger problem than sugar.

In the last 40 odd years obesity have gone through the roof, particularly in the western world. In that same amount of time soft drink consumption has increased more than 60% and corn syrup consumption has increased 1000%. Even fructose, found in fruit, is not above suspicion.

Look at it this way, it takes 6 oranges at least to make a glass of orange juice, which can be gulped down in a few seconds flat, usually cold straight from the fridge, and contains none of the fibre of the whole fruit. There is an 80% increased risk of gout in men who drink more than two glasses of orange juice a day. And children are more likely to put on weight relative to how much juice they drink.

Ayurvedically speaking sweet taste is the most ama forming of all tastes, whilst refined sugar, the purest form of sweet taste is the most ama forming of all foods. Sweet taste is heavy and cool and made up of earth and water elements, sweet is therefore very life-sustaining, very building and very strengthening. In it's refined form sugar is too ama forming for all dosha, but in all forms sweet foods will increase Kapha. Whilst fruit is a natural unprocessed food, it is still a big hit of water and earth elements, which will raise Kapha, and ama if digestion is not strong.

For convalescences, children or pregnancy for example, such strengthening sweet taste can be beneficial, but where obesity is present sweets are worse than fats. Sweets must be accompanied with digestive herbs and spices or they can cause obesity in all dosha.

April 12, 2008


Marma are vital points on the body, much like the pressure points made popular through acupuncture. There are thousands of these vital points located all over the human body. They are found at important meeting sites for the nerves, muscles, tendons, veins, ligaments and bones. Marma are also the meeting point for the mind and the body. 107 of these Marma points are fatal if wounded.

Marma are much bigger that Chinese acupuncture points, and are measured relative to the patients finger width, ranging from half to four fingers across. Activating these points, usually by oil massage will activate Vata, and therefore every neurophysiological system in the body.

Surgeons used these points to anethatise their patients, and then whilst operating their knowledge of avoiding the vital marma helped them to avoid disabling or killing their patients. But Marma aren't only used to increase health. Traditionally knowledge of marma was given to warriors so that they could kill their enemies on the battlefield swiftly and cleanly by applying pressure to certain points.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, for if these Marma points are stimulated incorrectly it can disrupt the whole system. When used in the correct way they can save lives.

April 08, 2008

Why am I vegetarian?

Many people ask me this question, particularly because it's a bit unusual in my culture. But my mother and father have both been vegetarian (my dad isn't anymore) and so it's always felt quite normal for me. They did not raise me vegetarian however and the choice has always been mine. I chose to become vegetarian myself when I was 21.

It happened whilst eating dinner at a friends house. My student friends at the time were very excited to be eating beef, something we could not usually afford. Seeing them so happy to be eating meat, made me realise I was not. I ate it anyway, not wanting to be a spoilsport, but didn't really like the taste, and felt awful afterwards. I got indigestion and gas and I realised I could no longer eat meat, even if it was cooked and served to me by a friend.

The decision coincided with my decision to travel to India to visit my Guru, and though not directly related I feel that being vegetarian reflects my spiritual commitment to a non violent life. I have been strictly vegetarian for three years now, and have been told that five years is easy, and after that people begin to crave meat agian. We'll see. I suspect the reason for such cravings is a lack of knowledge in our culture of how to cook wholesome satisfying meals without meat

In Ayurveda meat is not recomended as a daily food, but it does have it's place. Meat is traditionally used for treatment of diseases including luekemia and certain lung disorders and animal products are used in many medicinal formulas. This is, of course, a very contentious issue, and the decision is very personal. I suggest that meat is ok if it is chosen very carefully and eaten with great appreciation and without guilt.

If you don't actually want to be vegetarian, but agree that it is better for your body, mind and the planet just reducing your intake of meat to once a week will make a really big difference. Make sure you choose organic, free range, local and fresh sources of meat, and eat it with reverence for the animal and prayers for it's soul.

So that mentions a few of my reasons-spiritual, health and a general dislike of meat anyway. It's a very personal thing, and I'm not really sure words will explain it properly. But I'll continue this thread by expanding on those reasons and a few more individually and in a bit more detail.