The first seeds of Ayurvedic wisdom were planted in me by my grandmother.
Besides being an excellent cook, she was an outstanding story teller. For any situation that happened, she had a story readily available. One day she told me an ancient story of the royal court physician.
The king questioned his physician: “Is there anybody better than you?”
“My brother,” answered the doctor with a smile.
This answer surprised the king. “Why isn’t he at my court? He has to be the best physician on earth if what you say is true. “In what does he specialize?” asked the king, trying to find out more about the doctor’s brother.
“My brother can predict what disease a person would have just by looking at the food he eats.”
The king, delighted at this answer, enquired further: “Therefore your brother is the best physician in the country?”
“No your Majesty,” disapproved the physician, shaking his head. This puzzled the king. “So, who is then the best?”
“I have yet another brother, your Majesty. It only takes one look for him to tell a person what kind of food he or she should eat. That is how he cures - he recommends a simple food and the person is cured.”
This was too much for the king to digest: “And what about you?”
“I am a physician of the royal family. I became one because I earned your trust. I treat only the people who get really sick and suffer from full blown symptoms. Only then do I prescribe medicine, they take it and regain health and I get praised. That is why I have become the court physician.”
Finally, the king understood: “From this moment onwards your two brothers will teach at our medical schools!”
The conclusion of this story is where we should actually begin, but unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Today, when we say the word ‘medicine’, the first that comes to mind is either pills or the image of a hospital. Our forefathers´ concept of medicine was completely different though. They knew that the key to preserving and maintaining health were clean air, clean water, clean food and clean thoughts.
Charaka and Sushruta emphasize, that medicine comes only fifth in the row. Before we can answer the question of how to eat, it is necessary to bring several things to your attention:
Why is this so important? Before you eat anything you should know whether you can digest it. You should be familiar with your stomach – whether it digests quickly, or slowly. You must be aware of any digestive problems you may have. Every type of constitution gives different kind of digestion, different taste preferences and different tendencies. For maintaining one’s body equilibrium, each of us need something different. What can be beneficial for one person, doesn’t have to be good for the other. Expressed by the words of Charaka; “What is nectar for one, can be a poison for another.”
If you know your constitution and type of digestion, you can begin to think about how you should eat properly. For this you need to know yet one more thing – something about tastes. Isolated substances such as sugars, minerals, proteins or more complicated ones like vitamins are in fact not the ones, which are evaluated by our body as building stones of health or lack of health. Body has its own alchemy and language of recognition. Nature was not so unwise and unkind to give man a destiny in counting calories or milli units of vitamins as a means to maintain good health. She endowed our body with a far more simple and beautiful mechanism – the ability to recognize taste. How else could this be? Our body does not have a single thing without a definite purpose. Nature herself – and not only her edible side – is abundant in tastes. Every cell of our body, especially our stomach, is equipped with this intelligence. When you get sick we lack taste for anything. When you have a fever you crave for bitter tea. You should give small children bittersweet teas when they have tummy aches. In winter, you like to eat food that is spicy and use more salt. In the hot summer, you crave for the cooling taste of a sweet fruit. If the food is greasy, your natural taste leads you to top up with something sour or add more hot spices.
The gifts of the Nature, which are used as food, are manifestations of the same intelligence, matching our body’s intelligence perfectly. The fruit of the mango tree is considered as the king of fruit in India - not only for its sweet and nourishing taste, but also for its cooling properties. Every child knows that there is nothing easier than to fill up the stomach with sweet mango during the season and get diarrhoea. But the Nature has an immediate solution at hand - and that is contained in mango itself! There is no better medicine for diarrhoea than the powder of the dried mango pit. Watermelon has similar intelligence. When I came to the West, I was amazed by the habit of removing the seeds out of the watermelon before eating it. Here again it is the seeds that prevent diarrhoea, which could otherwise easily happen if we eat too much of this fruit.
Ayurveda recognizes six types of taste - sweet, sour, salty, hot, bitter and astringent. Every food you make and eat should ideally contain all the six tastes.
Ayurveda recognizes six types of taste - sweet, sour, salty, hot, bitter and astringent. Every food you make and eat should ideally contain all the six tastes. These should also arrive in the stomach in a certain order. Sweet should come first, followed by sour, salty, hot, bitter and astringent should be last. The reason is simple - and the forefathers of Ayurveda knew it. The intelligence of our body recognizes the tastes not only on our tongue. Our digestive enzymes are excreted in a certain order, which is based on recognition of the tastes - sweet is digested first, and then sour etc. If you can cook food that does not lack in any of the six tastes, you have helped a great deal to our digestion and automatically paved the way to maintaining good health. You do not need any further knowledge. What’s more - you will soon find out, that although eating small portions, you are quite satisfied and your usual craving for ‘afters’ disappears.
When you are in India, you are offered ‘prasada’. Prasad is something that has been made for you with caring and love. It is considered a gift from God. They will not give you anything spicy, salty or astringent. It will always be something sweet. Ayurveda says that if you do not receive at least a little of something sweet at the beginning of the meal, you will crave for sweet after the meal.
It is important to note that every foodstuff has, apart from its taste, something that Ayurveda calls ‘vipak’. Vipak is the post digestive effect of the food. For instance, a banana is sweet to the tongue, but is sour in its post digestive effect. With the knowledge of vipak we should think over the ways in which we combine our food. Some foodstuffs are incompatible with each other. Through its thousand year history, Ayurveda has thoroughly studied all possible combinations. It is aware of the effects of beer, wine and whiskey. So called unhealthy food can become, if correctly combined, a good meal, whereas most healthy foods when incorrectly combined, can become poisonous. When a food cannot be digested, toxins begin to accumulate in the body, further weakening the digestion, which will eventually lead to a disease.
Ever since I settled in the West I have asked myself why, in comparison to the western people, are people in my home state of Kerala, healthier and more active. Although there are many factors, but I would like to point out two of them; – the freshness of food and the way the food is processed. People in Kerala eat only freshly cooked food. They do not believe in leftovers that are kept for the following day, an ancient wisdom that has remained alive in the consciousness of these people. The Rishis did not need chemical laboratories to know that the quality of stored food deteriorates quickly and that only in fresh food lies that which is essential for life - the vital energy, called prana.
If we need, for instance, butter, we go to the supermarket. We throw the butter into our cart and eat it at home without thinking of it. We do not think about how much work was put into it before it got to us; we do not pause to remember in gratitude those who made it for us. The way we eat today supports us in feelings of apathy and isolation. In Kerala, food is cooked three times a day in every family. You always know who prepared the food for you. You feel that it has been made with love. This is the most important, because the energy of the person who cooked your meal enters into the meal in the same way as the heat of the fire on which the food was cooked.
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Titled as “Roving Ambassador of Ayurveda”, belongs to the first generation of Ayurvedic practitioners and teachers who have pioneered the way for Ayurveda's recognition as a mainstream system of medicine.
Born and raised in Paris, she has always been looking at the horizon. The city that nourished her, it was her trampoline for courageous free flight around this planet. It’s inspiring to keep up with her.
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