Ayurveda says that when our lives and souls are in alignment, our bodies will be healed.
Ordinarily I start with making the body a happier, healthier place to be so that we have greater access to our spiritual selves. But the un-grounding uncertainly of our times has led me to realize that we need to work both ends of the equation. We all need extra tools and extra support to stay happy, healthy and whole during the coming challenges. We need to strengthen our personal relationships so that we have the support we need to fight for what we believe in and what we deserve.
In preparation for St. Valentines Day please join me in a practice of creating inner beauty so that we may engage the world via beauty and love-- first with ourselves, then our loved ones, and then the wider world.
This Kundalini Yoga Kriya (action) is a perfect way to set the tone for all your daily interactions. Do it every day or every other day,
prepare yourself for an open-hearted Valentine's Day.
Do it with your love, your family, your friends & share in the increased closeness and commitment.
If you have not done Kundalini Yoga before this is a good starter sequence with explanations of some of the core elements of the practice. Kundalini Yoga can be hard and is often weird, but it is a great tool for bringing your body and spirit in alignment so that your actions in the world have more potency and grace!
I was rushing off to the cafe to get some work done this morning and was arrested by a particularly beautiful rose. I tiptoed over wet grass to smell it. Suddenly I was nowhere but in front of that rose with my head filled with it's sweet spicy smell. And it dawned on me that Beauty can be the key to the calm awareness that I find so hard to maintain. Until that second I had not been present in my body nor in my environment (spinning plans of the day and working through problems in my head) but I was seduced into the present moment by the beauty of that flower.
One of the keys of practicing Ayurveda is allowing ourselves to learn from our body. It is pretty difficult to understand what our body needs without being in the present moment. In our hectic worlds we don't tend to cultivate the skill of presence and self awareness. We need help to get out of our mental constructions and into a state where we can be objective. Beauty is there to guide us back to the present moment and our place in it.
Beauty gives us a chance to breathe and enjoy simply for the pure benefits of feeling enjoyment in our body. Allowing ourselves to experience enjoyment for a few moments everyday is an easy sort of meditation practice.
Allowing ourselves to feel simple pleasures counters the worry and over activity of modern life. Chintta, or stress and overthinking, is a causative factor for so many diseases and disorders (mainly of Vata origin). Contemplation of beauty is a good way to counter chintta. Ayurveda also prescribes the contemplation of beauty to counter-balance excess Pitta. And if we allow ourselves to be a little bit creative we might use the pursuit of beauty to inspire Kapha to to be more active and engaged in the world (thus balancing negative Kapha tendencies).
So let us consider beauty to be tridoshic (balancing all 3 doshic imbalances), without side effects and thus good for everyone when taken in moderate, daily doses.
There is no doubt that the modern women (and increasingly the modern man!) is pressured by media, advertising and society to fit an idealized beauty that is achievable only with products, products and more products! Those products are crammed full of un- and under- regulated chemicals. The average American woman puts 168 chemicals on her skin every day.
Even if you are a 'health nut' about your skin care regime too you may want to do a little research. One of my favorite allies in guarding against the perils of beauty products (and champions of a chemical-free life) is Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database of products. See how your beauty products score: www.ewg.org/skindeep
If you are still looking for great presents for your favorite adherent to Ayurveda (or perhaps want to tilt a friend in the direction of following ayurveda) here is my pick for the season.
Ayurveda requires dedication and conscientiousness; but it shouldn't be grueling. Here are a.few suggestions that make Ayurvedic living easier via technology and in one instance lovely fragrances.
Programmable, Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker / Slow Cooker
I got one of these a few weeks ago and I have barely used the stove-top since then. It makes nearly immediate breakfast cereals, delicious meat and veggie stocks, beans in a flash ... I even cooked a whole spaghetti squash in it in under 10 minutes. It is stainless so easy to clean and can be set to start times cooking cycles while you are at work. I truly believe everyone should have one!
Magical Milk Frother
A daily cup of milk is so important in Ayurveda: make it easy with this milk frother. It is quick (brings milk to scalding point with 3 frothing cycles) and easy to clean. Perfect for Spiced Milk on a chilly night!
Give the gift of a Quiet Mind
The App-sphere is certainly full of all sorts of nonsense and fluff. But there are also some gems out there thatactually help make us better people rather than just more distracted and distractable. One of the most fuss-free ways to incorporate more mental clarity into your day is HeadSpace the app that is actually a meditation training program with hours of high quality meditation guidance and even specific programs for things like working on your health or your relationships.
Make everything Smell Sweeter
Mat Mist is a delightful way to bring Pitta-balancing fragrance into your life and your exercise routine. These mists are designed for yoga mats and workout gear-- but are so nice you will want to use them in your car and home too! Order a subscription and have a seasonal scent sent to your door every 4 months!
Have a friend who is on the precipice of new vision for their life?
Perhaps what she (or he) needs is a Journeying Workshop with Shaman and healer Heather O'Connor. I work with Heather myself and find her support to be invaluable.
Heather's grounded guidance is an elegant introduction to developing your own vision.
Heather has 2 workshops coming up on Oakland in Late January.
“Philosophy is an infertile hybrid. Life is a prolific hermaphrodite.”
My least favorite thing about Ayurveda is the tendency towards punctilious rule following. My favorite thing about Ayurveda is its incredible dynamic flexibility.
A core adage of Ayurveda is:
Anything can be Medicine; Anything can be Poison.
There are no hard and fast rules, only guiding principals. In a world where even the reliability of seasonal weather changes are untrustworthy this flexibility is both a great gift and a great responsibility. We may not know what is lurking around the next corner, but we are armed with orienting principals no matter what.
This is all very liberating; the power and responsibility to manage our own health is in our hands. The tricky part of course is the self-awareness to know what is needed and the will to act on this self-awareness.
Self-awareness gives us the knowledge needed to act in the best interest of our body. But this is a certain kind of self-awareness that purely reflects our experience. Our body does not think or read or analyze scientific reports; it feels. The senses, or indreyas, are our window into our own physical needs. So in order to determine what your body needs you must be in tune with the sensations and drives of your body.
The indreyas support health by helping us navigate via the gunas or discernible physical qualities. We are inherently tuned to navigate the world via gunas. Our indreyas provide us with simple identification of experience, free of judgement or concept. What are the elements of any experience? Is this hot or cold, still or mobile, fine or course, rough or smooth? It is in our natures' to seek balance. We instinctively react to being overheated by balancing with something cooling. If our elbows are dry we soften them with soothing lotion. Refining our self awareness further gives us more refined tools to navigate changing landscapes.
I recommend a daily practice of listening to the sensations of the body and identifying them. Even a few moments of this will do. Be silent and listen for what your body knows and needs.
Read more here about how to understand the urges of the body.
Ayurveda is a plan for self-cultivation. It is a set of guidelines about how to live well and in the end how to die well too.
Recently my mom succumbed to a sudden illness. For years she had been saying that if she got sick she would refuse the poisons and machinery of modern medicine, refuse the prolonging of the inevitable. She was preparing my sister and I for the choice that she made -- to allow the natural course of things.
My mother was an expert knitter, spinner, water-colorist, dressage rider, cook. She dabbled in cello and sarcasm and half a dozen other arts. Mostly she was a master gardener. She loved the fertility she found in the Central Coast after a life in the cultural brutality of the Midwest. When she first moved to California her gardens were dense and lush; like they had been in the moist Midwest. With time her attitude towards gardening morphed; if it thrives encourage it, if it does not let it go. Her garden was a mix of the carefully cultivated and upstart volunteer plants growing where they chose. She had become more a facilitator than an imperialist. There are tomatoes growing with the impatiens, onions in all the flower pots, roses and herbs together. Especially in these years of drought the garden took on a sort of zen cacophony.
This is how she lived and how she died. With an ear to the rhythms of nature and what that implies for us.
The pomegranate tree in the front yard was fruiting in early fall as my mother passed. Persephone descends to the underworld for the dark months of the year with only 6 pomegranate seeds to eat. In Persephone's absence fall comes, all the land goes barren, humans starve. Persephone is divided between her love for her mother and her love for the King of the Underworld. A deal is struck and in the end she cycles between Hades and her mother Demeter. Summer and winter mirror her movements.
This has always been a favorite myth of mine. There is death, love, mystery, longing and reunion, the promise of rebirth and the inevitability of natural cycles. It is a core myth of western civilization and it teaches that these things are the stuff of life; not just the fun easy bits. It is the knowledge of nature and it's patterns and the ability to live well within them that civilizes us.
I am fortunate to have been cultivated in such a garden.
There are so many details in Ayurvedic Dina Charya or daily routine. Too many for most mortals. There are very good reasons for all of the rules but most of us simply can't maintain all the recommended Ayurvedic maintenance we'd like. But some indications that are far too important to ignore.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about when to eat. This is often MORE important than WHAT we eat.
Here are 3 vital rules about WHEN to EAT that are not too hard to follow but will serve you well if lifelong health is your goal:
Don't eat before bed.
Ever wonder why your eyes are puffy some mornings and not others? This is (probably) why. When you eat less then 3 hours before bed, longer if your digestion isn't very strong, the food that you have eaten does not get a chance to digest-- so it sits in your belly and festers. The food in our belly is not supposed to ferment and when it does it produces gases and what we call ama. Ama is partially digested food and the cause for lots of disease and can be considered responsible for the western concept of 'inflammation'. It will also make you puffy. And nobody wants to be puffy.
Exercise first thing in the morning.
The ancient texts say exercise comes after prayer and bodily elimination, and before breakfast. This is super important if you don't want to develop arthritis later in life. Why? That pernicious stuff ama gets lodged in joints when partially digested food is circulated around the body by exercise (or any vigorous activity). Ama can't be processed in the joints (only in the digestive tract) and so festers and creates stiffness, blockages leading to pain, and eventually the deformation of the joint. It is OK to exercise before dinner-- but definitely wait at least 3 hours before exercising. But morning exercise will give you better effects especially if weight loss is your goal. Morning is Kapha time (6am-10am) -- inherently heavy and slow. You can counter the heavy slowness of that time a day by vigorous exercise. Whereas exercise in the evening (2pm-6pm) is Vata time and will increase Vata in ways that are not generally beneficial in our Vata agitated times.
Eat a big lunch (and a small breakfast and dinner).
Digestion requires agni (digestive fire). Fire is a principal of transformation. Just like fire transforming fuel into energy agni transforms food into bio-available nourishment when it is digested properly. Agni in your body is related to agni in the environment. So when the sun is highest in the sky the principal of fire is most pronounced in the environment, and in our bodies. Strong agni means strong digestive abilities. You are more able to efficiently digest in the middle of the day, also known as Pitta time. Eat your largest and most nourishing (or most challenging) foods around noon. This includes cold or raw foods, heavy foods like meat or cheese, yogurt. Even sweets are best digested in the middle of the day. Leave breakfast and dinner for lighter and simpler foods; simple grain cereals, light soups, tender sauteed veggies.
One of the best ways to learn is from other peoples experiences (much less painful than going through it yourself!).
When it comes to developing a healthy relationship with food I recommend Jenn Meek's brilliant workshop:
Sunday August 23rd, 2015 2-4pm
1708 Lincoln Ave. Alameda, CA
Learn techniques to re-establish a healthy relationship to food and body:
- manage stress
- enhance body appreciation
- build body awareness
- practice joyful eating
- develop intuitive eating
No dogma here, just practical skills to fall back in love with food and your body.
$20 pre-register; $30 at the door
Americans have a problem.
We think everything can be fixed with something more, something we can buy, something we can consume. I know when I am feeling a little "off" I'm easily tempted to log onto Amazon and have a pair of shoes or an herbal tincture sent over. Back before I fell for Ayurveda I would rush off to my favorite Juice Bar for a Kale Coconut Blueberry with Spirulina, Wheat-grass Juice, and extra B-Vitamin Boost when I started to feel like I was coming down with something. I now know this is a great way to ensure that I would get sick. Why? Because it was more-- and what I needed was less.
For most of us sickness is not a sign that we need something. It is a sign that we have had too much.
Ayurveda divides illnesses into one of 2 categories: Santarpanotha meaning caused by excess nourishment or Apartarpanotha meaning caused by lack of nourishment. Outside of anorexia and marathon runners we rarely see disorders rooted in depletion in the US. We are over-nourished. Most of us need less: less food, less work, less information, less stress.
Ayurveda believes that a healthy body will transform the food we eat into exactly what we need.
A simple diet of grain and dahl, a bit of meat and veggies (spices and oils) is sufficient for a long healthy life. More than this and we are feeding the excesses of our bodies (not to mention the packaging landfill, petroleum and water consumption, transport, storage and waste of commercial food production). Think tumors and growths, arterial plaque, adhesion, swelling (inflammation), parasites, obesity, atheromas, sluggish or abnormal tissue function caused by blockages and overuse. We are wearing ourselves (and our planet) out with too much stuff!
Americans (most of us anyway) consume far more than we need. The consequences of this are seen in our favorite diseases: cancer (overgrowth of cells), heart disease (blocked channels), diabetes (bodies overwhelmed by sedentary lifestyle and excess of poor quality consumption).
The current Detox fad is halfway to admitting that less might just be more. Unfortunately most cleanses are simply a way for someone to sell you more stuff (detox kits, fancy water, and colonics). And in the end few leave followers with solid knowledge of day-to-day healthy living. So then you 're-tox' until you buy another detox kit and around and around you go.
We do not need to look to the elders of Japan or Corsica to see what might make us live longer (more fish oil?! yogurt?! goji berries?!). What we can gain from them is the template of their simple working lives and diets. We can embellish with fresh, local foods and resistance to the pressure to over-do everything, American-style.
In an attempt to provide a guideline for healthier living everyday here are 3 easy steps:
Eat freshly-made food. Avoid: bags, boxes, cans, frozen stuff.
Every day eat something that was grown locally (really local-- not 500 miles away local)
Meat-free Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday etc) or better yet a weekly cleanse day of broth and fresh juices.
I imagine that most of my readers are liberal in your politics and social concerns. I am lefter than left in most things. But there are some areas of life where conservation is key. One is with our bodies; we hope to conserve our health and our youthfulness. We conserve the essence of the body; Ojas. Much of Ayurvedic learning is related to this conservation. Carefulness prevents the natural erosion that happens with time and use.
If you live in the West we are also conserving water now too. It is a similar idea: preserve what we have (however little that is) so that we don't have to go with out entirely.
But in this how and un-seasonally dry weather how do we preserve our bodies?
The heat and the dryness desiccate our bodies. Luckily there are a few things that we can do to stabilize our bodies even in this tough climate...
Do abhyunga (oil self massage) every time you shower - especially if you have cut back on showers! Make a blend of sesame and coconut oil with a few drops of cooling essential oils like: Vetiver, Rose, Cilantro, Fennel
If you are not showering at least put a few drops of oil on the top of your head, soles of your feet, and dip a q-tip in oil and use to clean out ears.
To help your skin resist wrinkling with the dryness: soak 1 T of rinsed white rice overnight in a glass of water. In the morning sip the cool rice-infused water.
Stay away from drying foods like chickpeas, papadum, and popcorn. And have plenty of Ghee!
Boil the water you drink so your body can use it more efficiently.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup water
- Pinch turmeric
- few rose petals
- few threads of saffron
- 1 cardamom pod, crushed
- 1/5 tsp maple syrup or another healthy sweetener of your choice
Put saffron, turmeric, cardamom, rose petals, water and milk into a small pan. While it is cool and let the herbs soak in the milk and water for a few minutes. This helps the saffron release it's essence into the milk. Then put the pan onto the stove and bring to a boil quickly. Remove pan from heat to let boiling subside. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil again; remove from heat. Do this 3 times. Add sweetener. Drink 30 minutes before bed.
We are all affected by stress. We may not be running from wild beasts regularly but the pernicious aspects of stress are everywhere. Modern-day stress can be related to the concept of chintta, translated as over-worked mind or worry. Even in the relatively calm environment of India hundreds of years ago the grinding effects of stress, mental-overwork and uncertainty were blamed for weak digestion, convulsions, paralysis, tremors (Parkinson's), anemia, heart problems, skin dryness, sexual and reproductive weakness and, worst of all, the diminished ability to love (and feel love!).
So what can we do to balance it's effects?! One of the easiest (and most delicious) ways is a cup of warm milk daily. Milk's soft, cool, soothing, Sattva (calm centering) inducing, and Ojas (vitality)- supporting qualities directly counter the corrosive effects of stress. Think of the deep calm seen in the eyes of a happy cow!
Milk is a precious food. But some special guidelines are required for healthy use, to preserve your digestive vigor, and even correct a developing milk intolerance so that you can benefit from it's many gifts:
- Fresh, organic, unpasteurized, un-homogenized whole milk is best. Organic aw milk is usually the best we can get (unless you have a neighbor with a Jersey). All commercial processes denature milk and make it more difficult to digest. Avoid ultra-pasteurization like the plague it is.
- Drink milk warm, after simmering. Raw milk is harder to digest and has more lactose (which some people have issues with). You can add water to your milk when boiling to make it lighter to digest.
- Add a pinch of ginger, clove, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg etc. These spices give your Agni (digestive fire) the extra umph it needs to digest efficiently.
- Let milk be a meal by itself or a between-meal snack:
- A cup of warm spiced milk is a great breakfast for people who are not too hungry in the morning.
- When it is too late for dinner but you don't want to go to bed hungry have a cup of hot milk with nutmeg or a few strands of saffron for a restful nights sleep.
- Milk and food combining:
- Avoid milk with salt. Ayurveda says this is a very damaging food combination. This means cooking with milk, cheese, yogurt etc should be avoided (see below for exceptions). Don't add salt to your oatmeal if you have it with cream. Cream soups are out, and cream cheese bagels are asking for trouble.
- Avoid fish and milk as is compromises blood and brain tissues. Alas Cullen Skink & Finnian Haddie are not Ayurvedically appropriate.
- Avoid milk with anything sour. This is why fruit and milk combinations are problematic for many.
- Have milk with grains: cream on oatmeal or farina, rice pudding, cocoa thickened with barley flour are delicious, properly food-combined occasional treats.
Like everyone else, I did some reviewing of 2014 in the last month. One of the things that I was pleased and somewhat surprised to realize is that my clientele has developed into something I really love! Regardless of health level or even willingness to take on Ayurveda as the one-true-healing-practice I am blessed universally to be working with people who I sincerely like.
I am impressed by how many artists, writers, musicians, strugglers-for-the-betterment-of-the-world and thinkers-on-interesting subjects that I get to talk to (and cajole a bit) on a regular basis! I am inspired and challenged every day by the people who come to me for help. It is such a blessing to support a community of people whose work in the world I really do support.
Not all practitioners get to work with clients that they love; and it has not always been true for me. In inspirational small business coaching they always say some version of “do what you love with authenticity and you will attract the kind of clients that make you happy (and supposedly rich)”. I have brought more of myself to my practice & integrated my creativity with the ancient practices of Ayurveda consequently the people who come to my practice are more and more interesting and willing to engage with ayurveda authentically and with curiosity. Such a joy to work this way!
There is no doubt that it is the intensity, edginess and liminality of Ayurveda that draws creative people. Ayurveda speaks to those who see that what passes for ‘normal’ ways of addressing the body and society don’t work. Ayurveda asks a lot from people; so is best for those with bravery. Ayurveda excels for those who have chosen to live their lives in a self inquiring way. It takes a critical and flexible mind to consider new ways of relating to the world. Perfect for artists and thinkers.
I have often wished I could throw a party and introduce you all to each other. And this year I hope to be able to do this in the form of informal ayurveda ‘salons’ where we can come together and eat and share stories and a meal and nurture some sort of community. Please let me know if you have any ideas or are interested in getting involved.
Dark. Cold. Wet.
I'm sitting in a cafe with a hot cup of cocoa at the moment.
Maintaining balance in Winter, especially through the holidays, can be a challenge.
How do we enjoy ourselves, nourish our souls, and not overdo it at the same time?
- Body-wise: Protect yourself against the elements by doing Abhyunga (warm oil massage followed by steam or a hot bath. You can do this by yourself or have a professional or loved-one do it for you!). Stay bundled in woolens and take advantage of the fashionable-ness of hats and scarves this season by keeping your head covered. Nothing causes vata-caused aches and pains and miseries like cold!
- Food-wise: Rich stews and soups will help keep your tissues nourished. Hot cereals and stewed fruits with spices make perfect breakfasts. Have ghee everyday in food or just a half teaspoon melted in water or warm milk when you wake up.
- Treat-wise: Hot tea with milk and spices is a good indulgent choice (steer clear of that phlegm inducing Egg Nog). Skip the triple Chestnut Caramel latte too.
- Spice-wise: Garlic is reputed to be the best medicine for those suffering from symptoms due to cold including stiffness and pain in the joints. Vaghbat (one of the classic writers of ayurveda) tells us that garlic sprouted up from the amruta that dropped onto the soil when the demon Rahu was slain in his attempt to steal immortality. This is why the Brahmans don't eat it; it comes from a demon. But for the rest of us warriors, especially those who eat meat and those who work with their bodies, Garlic is essential during the cold months.
- Guilt-wise: Don't make yourself feel bad about what you eat in the next weeks. Guilt will surely backfire. Just stick to one easy rule: if it is fresh and made with love eat it!
If you know anything about Ayurveda (or chinese medicine) you know that cooking your food is of the essence digestively. But the repertoire of American cooking lacks cooked (or at least hot) beverages that are satiating liquid meals. Luckily other cultures have caught on to the convenience and benefits of these ‘fast food’ meals.
Below I have included raw, cooked, warm and not-too-cold recipes, and recipes with and without milk products. If you have any digestive disorders avoid the raw recipe (walnut shake) or toast the nuts before you use them. The ‘lightest’ of these smoothie-stand-in’s is Yusha. Yusha is not a smoothie at all but a light savory soup. It is easy to make over-night in a crock pot then take with you in a thermos for whenever you get hungry. It is light, delicious, nutritious and perfect for replacing a meal on the run!
½C walnuts soaked overnight
3 large Dates
1 pinch each: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom powder
few drops of Vanilla
1 ½C water
Pulse all ingredients in a blender for 2-3 minutes.
There are many variations of this easy drink to try. A splash of rose water is delightful, different types of nuts or seeds can be used as long as they are soaked (avoid cashews and peanuts as they are very heating and heavy). A pinch of salt will bring out the flavors. I might be interesting to try a savory version too.
Takra or Seasoned Buttermilk
Takra is typically served after lunch to counter the symptoms of IBS and related digestive disorders by increasing assimilation of nutrients and reducing post-meal discomfort. But a mid morning sweet takra (savory is also good) is much like a lassi: nourishing, digestion improving and light to digest.
1C Whole Milk Yogurt
splash of rose water
1 t raw honey
Season with a pinch or 2: Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace etc
Whisk Water & Yogurt vigorously until a bubbly foam appears--3 minutes is ideal. This whisking is essential to transforming the yogurt (that is heavy, heating and phlemy) into the light digestive qualities of Takra. Don’t skip it! Add salt and spices to your liking.
Sahlab is a delightful hot breakfast (and dessert) of the middle east. When visiting Palestine I was often in a cue of children outside the elementary school waiting while a street vender ladled steaming styrofoam cups of sahlab out of a giant mobile cauldron, sprinkling each cup with chopped nuts and spices. Originally the taste and thickening agent came from regional orchid root bulbs. Now we use cornstarch, but rice flour would also be a good choice.
This is a drinkable version, but can be made thicker so it can be enjoyed with a spoon.
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch (or fine rice flour)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons rose water (or vanilla)
unsweetened dried shredded coconut
2 tablespoons pistachio nuts or almonds; chopped fine
Mix the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the milk.
Bring the remaining milk and sugar to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
Add the cornstarch mixture and the rose water, stir to loosen up any starch that settled on the bottom.
Cook on low heat until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly.
Serve in individual cups. Scatter chopped pistachios over the surface of each cup; sprinkle with cinnamon and coconut.
This pudding is a favorite of Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian, and Egyptian children. I have reduced the sugar to make a liquid breakfast cereal suitable for a thermos. Rice may be purchased already ground or crushed at home with a mortar and pestle or electric blender.
4c whole milk
1/4c rice: ground (or rice cereal)
1 teaspoon ma'ez zahr (orange blossom essence)
1/4c chopped toasted almonds, pine nuts or pistachios
Mix rice with water and add to milk which has been brought to a boil.
Stir and cook until thickened and then add sugar.
Continue cooking and stirring until mixture coats the spoon.
Add flavorings and boil a few minutes longer.
Pour into individual serving dishes and decorate with chopped nuts.
Suff; Ethiopian Sunflower Seed drink
This drink is nourishing, filling, and refreshing. Traditionally consumed during Lent or fasting days Suff makes a great between-meal snack or meal replacer. Several beverages based on seeds (sunflower, flax and sesame) are made in Ethiopia. You can use this recipe with any of these seeds.
Some recipes call for fresh ginger to be added but I like it with a pinch of cinnamon and just a bit of honey.
1\2 cup sunflower seeds
honey (as required) or sugar (as desired)
3 cups water
Rinse and drain seeds (this is not necessary if you are using sesame or flax seeds).
Roast the seeds in a dry pan till they smell toasty.
Grind seeds until smooth in a blender or food processor with a little water.
Add the rest of the water, blend until very smooth.
Add honey and spices.
To reiterate the reasons for avoiding smoothies (as they are usually made):
Cold: indigestible and damaging to the digestive fire
Raw: indigestible and create fodder for parasites
Terrible food combinations (fruit with milk or yogurt, fruit with veggies etc, protein powder and other desiccated supplements) cause digestive confusion and poor absorption. If you persist they will contribute to dysfunction in the blood and marrow which can translate as fatigue, lethargy, sensitivity to cold. etc
Despite the ‘nutrients’ in smoothies you will not get the benefits when you consume food raw, cold (esp frozen!), and in poorly combined forms. Smoothies produce ama (indigestible waste) in most people (want proof: check the tongues of people who you see in Jamba Juice for thick white coatings!).
If you are an Ayurvedic adherent you have heard of the perils of smoothies. There are a number of reasons that a person who wants a long, happy and healthy life will eschew smoothies. Yet smoothies are easy to make, tasty and satisfying, convenient to carry with you, and a delivery system for all sorts of nutrition supplements. Liquid breakfasts are ideal for those of us who are not hungry enough for a meal before we leave the house but wish to avoid the temptations of a midmorning scone. Luckily there are ‘smoothie replacements’ that do not offend the rules of Ayurveda and will supply you with the benefits and convenience that smoothies do.
See my next post for recipes!
I love it when the modern science backs up the ancient science of Ayurveda.
Here Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel explains how we would not have evolved into the ever-so-advanced species that we are without having discovered cooking. Without the technology of cooking we would have to spend a full half of our time chewing food. Not an efficient use to time for a smart ape. We are primates but we are not monkeys and this is one of the clearest explanations I have heard of how we became human.
Thankfully there are loads of great Indian recipes on YouTube. So much easier than reading a recipe (for me anyway...).
This video is by Pratibha Jani. She has such a great way of presenting the information with lots of useful commentaries that are even in alignment with Ayurvedic principals!
In general Ayurveda doesn’t care what your weight is if everything is working properly (but it doesn’t take much to have weight issues to make us feel less vigorous). Much of what Ayurveda says about what we would call ‘the issue of weight’ is actually about building weight and strength. 2000 years ago people were more likely to be over-active and undernourished than us moderns. But as Classical Ayurveda (what was written down) primarily addressed the courtly and warrior classes there is also knowledge about how to avoid excess heaviness. The rich have always suffered from overly rich food, more psychological than physical stresses, and laxity in daily routine (it’s hard to be a lazy serf!).
5 Things to do if you want to (healthily) gain weight (don’t do these things if you want to lose!):
1. Sleep in the afternoon, especially after eating. Napping increases bulk (ie Kapha) — generally over-sleeping increases weight.
2. Drink liquids after you eat: liquid dilutes your digestive fire (agni) and slows down the digestion process.
3. Eat heavier, sweeter, starchier, more nourishing foods. This is the diet of a person who does a lot of physical activity and is trying to build tissues and especially muscles. Foods to prioritize:
- meat (especially chicken, fish, beef, and pork)
- wheat products, and other refined grains
- Urad dhal: a tasty small black bean used in many south Indian snacks like idly and dosa, also used in the light bean soup called dahl. Also known for making your bosom bigger.
- raisins: considered good for muscle development.
(note: many of these food requirements are also aphrodisiac as healthy weight is required to be fertile and sexual).
4. Drink beer. Actually the texts say drink sura or varuni. Both are sweet beverages said to be like beer (perhaps bubbly) made of rice, herbs, and dates or jaggary. Unlike the sharp, heating, & light drinks like vodka or whisky which in small doses increase digestion and assimilation sweet drinks are said to increase fat weight.
5. Don’t exercise so actively — or even move around very much. If you are a thin fidgety person and you want to build weight channel your kinetic energy into strength building exercise like weight lifting, Iyengar - type Yoga or other vata calming activity.
7 Things to do if you want to (healthily) lose weight:
1. Make Honey your main sweetener. Get rid of all other sweeteners (especially artificial!) and use a dab of honey when you need a bit of sweet. Honey is light and a bit astringent so very good for countering overweight conditions. Just remember never to heat your honey—it becomes a poison over 125 degrees or so.
2. Stop consuming anything cold. This especially applies to iced beverages but also any other cold food.
3. Drink hot water instead. Ginger and tumeric tea will be especially helpful. But don’t drink too much liquid: pay attention to your thirst and don’t overdo it. Most overweight people are carrying a lot of water weight and swelling due to being incapable of digesting all the liquid they consume to dampen their hunger.
4. Have more sex. I know a Vaidya who insists on patients having sex when working on weight loss. This may seem like putting the cart before the horse (ie I’ll have more sex after I lose weight) but sex is the best exercise for losing weight so get started today!
5. Don’t snack. Sit down at a table and eat as much healthy, delicious food as you need to feel satisfied, then have a pinch of fennel seeds (try an unsweetened mukvas from an Indian store) and don’t put another thing into your mouth until the next meal 3-6 hours later. It is important not to eat any less than 3 hours before bed too.
6. Wake up earlier—take advantage of the active Vata time of the early morning and get up at 6 am or earlier.
7. Don’t eat breakfast. When you do get hungry have a light snack of tea and toast with ghee. Make lunch time your largest meal of the day & use the agni or fire of midday to help metabolize your meal quickly and efficiently.
This is an Indian drink: sweet, creamy, and flavored with nuts, cardamom, fennel, rose petals, and poppy seeds. Traditionally this would be made with whole milk-- the nuts and seeds alone make a milky drink that is dairy- free and so can be combined with other foods.
- ⅓ C almonds
- 3 T sunflower
- 3 T hemp seeds
- 3 T poppy seeds
- 3.5 T raw cashews or other nuts
- 4 C water
- 1 C raw sugar
- 1 t fennel seeds
- 10 black peppercorns
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 1 - 1" stick cinnamon
- few strands of saffron
- 20 rose petals, more for garnish
Combine almonds, seeds, cashews, and pistachios with 2 cups of water; soak for 1 hour. Remove and discard skins from almonds and pistachios if needed. Drain nuts and seeds; set aside.
Bring water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan. Add sugar and saffron, stirring until sugar is dissolved; set aside. Toast the fennel, peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon in an skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes; let cool slightly. Transfer spices to a food processor, along with the nut mixture, medicated ghee, 1 tbsp water, and rose petals. Puree to a smooth paste. Whisk paste into water, and strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids. Refrigerate strained mixture until chilled or serve warm. Divide between serving glasses; garnish with grated nutmeg and rose petals, if you like.