MEREDITH KLEIN gives us an Ayurvedic perspective on how to balance both the mind and body through the foods we eat. In particular, she focuses on the nature of vata, which is particularly susceptible to imbalance during the autumn months, currently experienced in the Northern Hemisphere.
Could the food on your plate stand between you and a peaceful mind?
The ancient science of Ayurveda says absolutely! In understanding our bodies and minds to be subject to the same energetic patterns as everything else in the universe, when we feel scattered, erratic, and particularly busy in the mind, we are suffering from an excess of vata energy. Vata is ruled by the elements of air and space; the creative, generative energy of life. Physically it manifests in conditions characterized by dryness, irregularity and lightness, including insomnia, constipation and chapped skin. In the mind, vata is experienced as quick-moving thoughts, inability to focus, and excessive anxiety.
During the fall or autumn, we are particularly susceptible to vata imbalance, but given the pace of modern life and its many competing demands, I find that just about everyone I encounter has some amount of work to do to pacify vata.
Vata is ruled by the elements of air and space;
the creative, generative energy of life.
At its heart, Ayurveda is fundamentally a science of balance. Any time we detect an excess of a particular energetic quality, we treat it by inviting in the opposite qualities. One of the best ways to overcome imbalance is through diet, since we eat several times a day. Every meal becomes an opportunity to make wise choices that help restore us to a place of optimal balance and wellness.
Preparing your own food you can take responsibility
for tailoring it in ways you will most enjoy,
and that will provide the maximum healing effects.
When you find yourself experiencing the overwhelm of a racing mind, or subject to physical conditions that reflect the qualities mentioned, consider these guidelines when choosing what to consume:
Choose foods that are warm and moist. Stews, dahls and soups are optimal choices, as is anything else that requires a bowl rather than a plate. Raw salads, smoothies and dry foods like cookies, crackers and toast can throw us further out of balance. If you do eat these things, consider using warming spices like ginger, cinnamon or cloves in dressings or spreads that can accompany your meals.
Favor foods that are sweet or slightly sour. The sweet and sour tastes are recognized in Ayurveda to be vata-balancing. Avoid sweetness in the form of refined sugars and choose foods that are naturally sweet. Consider introducing these flavors via condiments to accompany your meals, like chutneys. Fruit is most balancing when cooked (see the recipe below).
Eat near the earth. Foods that grow in the soil – potatoes, beets, parsnips and other root vegetables – are inherently grounding, as are the numerous winter squash varieties that grow on ground-level vines.
Eat meals you prepare yourself. The simple act of cooking can be a very grounding exercise, and in preparing your own food you can take responsibility for tailoring it in ways you will most enjoy, and that will provide the maximum healing effects.
This easy vata-balancing recipe makes for a healthy dessert or a tasty topping for warm breakfast cereals.
Warm Fruit Compote
2 large green apples, peeled and diced into ¾ inch pieces
2 pears, peeled and diced into ¾ inch pieces
1/3 cup dried prunes (or other dried fruit of your choice)
1/8 cup golden raisins
Half a vanilla bean pod (optional)
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and add 1/2 cup of water.
Bring water to the boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Cover the pot and let fruit cook 15 to 20 minutes, until soft but not mushy.
Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated.
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