In other words, the science of Ayurveda illustrates this essential point about nutrition: There is no single diet for anyone, or a constant one throughout the year, or for all stages of a person’s life.
Using these principles, we are able to a create harmony between what our bodies need and the cycle of nature. It means not giving up our intuition and power to “this is the answer” diet fads, computer diet programs, and any diet that claims to be the only diet for all people. *One caveat: No single system including Ayurveda, however sophisticated it is, is 100 percent accurate. Instead, they give us starting places for us to personalize what we eat, with a little intuition and some trial and error. Ayurveda is particularly useful in helping us become aware of how what we eat interacts with our bodies.
The key in understanding Ayurveda is distinguishing between the Ayurvedic principles as they apply successfully to all 10 constitutional types and the cultural application of Ayurveda as it is done in India.
Failing to distinguish the two leads many to conclude that eating live foods and practicing Ayurveda are in conflict. In India, “live foods” does not mean the sophisticated live-food cuisine that we have developed here in the U.S. It means basically cold salads – an imbalance to vatas. The other cultural consideration, which is most important, is that in India, because of parasites and pathogenic bacteria, it makes sense for basic survival to heavily cook the food, unless one is living in very unique circumstances. For example, in Konavala, there is a live food yogic research center that I have visited, where workers using extreme caution are able to grow and eat a 100-percent live food diet. They have actually produced a variety of scientific research on live food and diet.
We also need to note that the Rishis, who were the ancient yogis, deemed a live food diet as the best to support their transformation into liberated beings. This yogic live food diet is one that is different from today’s live food diet; it is primarily for building the prana, and could cause imbalance for those who have a predominately vata constitution. The yogic Rishis were not particularly concerned about the body’s going out of balance because they were primarily interested in liberation. The classic Ayurvedic diet aims primarily at balancing the doshas (constitutional qualities that tend to go out of balance with improper diet or lifestyle), building the life force and preventing and healing disease. This is aligned with the way most people in the live-food movement also use live foods. Since 1979, I have been studying Ayurveda and applying the scientific principle of Ayurveda to live foods with wonderful results. Ayurvedic practitioners and medical doctors with whom I have shared this approach have generally been able to understand the distinction between the Indian culture’s approach to Ayurveda and the scientific, cross-cultural approach which we are talking about. In this case, as Hippocrates, the great Greek physician pointed out, “Food is your medicine.”
In essence, what I have found is 100 percent success with people of all 10 constitutional types, who are on 100 percent live foods. We can certainly employ the principles of Ayurveda to create an optimal, individualized live food diet for ourselves.
According to Ayurveda, the five basic elements of creation, – air, water, fire, earth and ether – manifest in the human psycho-somatic complex as three dosha essences: vata, kapha and pitta. And then various combinations of these that make 10 basic constitutional types. These constitutional types and dosha forces govern all our biological and psychological aspects. When they are in balance, they maintain the body in a healthy physiological state. If the dosha forces become unbalanced, the results can range from a feeling of subtle disharmony in the body-mind complex to the development of disease. When a person is described as being of a particular dominant dosha, it means that dosha is most easily thrown out of balance. Having an understanding of our constitutional type helps us make choices about what foods we eat, when we eat, and how to change our diet with the yearly cycle of seasons, as well as the seasons of our life.
The basic seasons of life include 0-12 years, which has a strong kapha-override on all the constitutions. From a simplified point of view, kapha means mucus. From age 0-12 the forces of mucus, or kapha, dominate. That is why children often have lots of colds and earaches. During this time, we do not recommend kaphagenic foods. For the full details of this, please consult Spiritual Nutrition and also Conscious Eating, which have extensive lists. Some classic kaphagenic foods include dairy, soy, and wheat.
From ages 12 to 60 years, although in our culture because of people’s poor health habits it is really 12 to 45, pitta dominates. And so, our food choices are made to minimize an excess of pitta, or fire, in our diets. For example, if you have a predominately pitta constitution, it would be best to balance your pitta, particularly during this cycle of your life, to eat a more bland live-food diet, minimizing pitta spices, such as cayenne and hot peppers, and hot and fiery foods in general.
From 60 years on, everyone has a greater tendency for vata imbalance, which is exemplified by the sort of diseases we see in people 60 and over. That includes bone and joint difficulties such as arthritis, nervous system issues such as senility, and a tendency to dehydrate. A diet that modifies vata is one that emphasizes sweet, salt and sour foods. “Sweet” never includes white sugar, but may include more of an emphasis on cherries, berries and citrus, which also include sour. The emphasis on the vata state of one’s life relies heavily on adequate hydration and the eating of foods high in minerals such as sea vegetables that create a salty effect that holds the water in the system.
Now that we understand the seasons of our life, we can look at the seasons of a year. Applying these same principles, we can understand that in the summer or in hot climates, we want to eat a pitta-calming diet, and in the spring and fall, more of a vata-calming diet because we are going through a change. And in the cold, damp winter, which is aggravating to kapha, we want to eat more of a kapha-pacifying diet. For example, if anyone is so foolish as to eat ice cream in general, he or she should certainly cut back in winter; or, in live food terms, consider the frozen banana. Bananas are very kaphagenic and frozen bananas which are cold and damp, are not recommended in winter.
We also have the cycles of the day. The cycles of the day include 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., which is a vata time of activation, pranayama, Yoga asana, and very little food; from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. is the kapha time of the day, where a moderate breakfast that is not kaphagenic, is appropriate. And then between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m. we have the pitta time of the day, where our digestive forces are the highest. The best time to eat your “big” meal is the pitta time of the day. I strongly recommend, for optimal health, that we eat our biggest meal before 2:00 p.m., and this applies to all doshas. From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., which is when people often have hypoglycemic imbalances, the vata people in particular may want a small snack to balance the vata, whereas kapha people shouldn’t really snack, for they need less food and need to eat less often.
The extremes of how many meals a day you eat depend on your constitution. The kapha can be completely comfortable eating two meals a day and having a juice at night. A vata person may need 5 small meals to keep balanced. We need to be very careful about blanket statements regarding how many meals anyone needs in a day. Dinner time, a kapha time from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., is a time to eat very little, because the digestive forces are at their lowest, and it is very easy to aggravate kapha, and create gas, and bloating by eating too much. This is the time I may have simply a juice or a tomato and a few sprouts, which is appropriate for my kapha constitution. A predominately vata person may need a little bit more food at that time. According to Ayurveda, the European, Middle Eastern, and American approach to eating the big meal at 8 or 9 o’clock at night is nutritional suicide.
Ayurvedic people, those from India in particular, say vatas cannot safely be based purely on 100 percent live foods. My research experience with thousands of clients who have been successful on a 100 percent live food diet, has shown just the opposite. People of a predominant vata constitution can eat 100 percent live food diet if they eat heavier, oily foods, such as avocado, soaked nuts and seeds, coconut. In particular, they should have soaked nuts and seeds because they have oil to balance their lightness and water to balance their dryness.
Heating herbs help vatas because they give the raw food the warmth it needs. Since the vatas have a tendency to be cold, or get cold, warming the foods to 110 degrees to 118 degrees in the sun is particularly helpful. Vatas are also imbalanced by dry foods, such as dried fruit and dehydrated foods in general, but they can eat those if they add back the water element by soaking the fruit. Vata people should eat at regular intervals up to five or six times a day. Blending raw vegetables in a liquid soup is good for vatas, for it provides water and nutrients that are easily digestible. This may be a clue in the emphasis in the live food movement on blended foods, although I feel that blending the food by hand is far superior to the use of a mechanical blender which may easily oxidize and destroy much of the food’s elements, enzymes, micronutrients, and create electromagnetic field imbalances. The focus on blending foods moves us away from the mechanism of chewing, which is important for stimulating digestive enzymes and building serotonin. The blending process and the soaking of nuts and seeds does tend to minimize the gas people tend to have because of the airy quality of their constitution and their inherently weak digestion. In general, vata people are best maintained in balance with soupy, oily, salty, and warm live foods.
Because of my reputation in Ayurveda and live foods, I have treated people who have gone to the most famous Ayurvedic physicians in the United States, physicians who failed with these people. When they came to me, I had great success with them, even those who were pure vatas. It is my opinion that, unfortunately, the science of Ayurveda has been compromised by the cultural prejudices of doctors from India who are teaching Ayurveda in the United States, and by their students who are guided by those biased teachings. Again, I just want to make the point that the proper application of the principles of Ayurveda is distinctly different from the Ayurvedic-prejudiced teachings of Indian Ayurvedic doctors.
Ayurveda also incorporates food quality and tastes, emphasizing that food is more than just carbohydrate, protein and fat.
The spectrum of nutrition ranges from undifferentiated energies to various levels of differentiated energies, with these energies playing an important role in the balancing, building, healing, activating and cleansing the glands, organs, nervous system, tissues and more subtle elements on the body such as dosha energies and energy centers, as described in Spiritual Nutrition: Six Foundations for Spiritual Life and the Awakening of Kundalini (originally brought out in Spiritual Nutrition and the Rainbow Diet, which is no longer in print). Each food has a particular taste, quality, shape and color, which is part of Mother Nature’s clues and efforts to communicate with us. Each food has its own personality that effect our psych-spiritual and physiological nature. For example, the golden colored mango and papaya have the shape and color radiance that match the pineal and the pituitary gland.
The six tastes in Ayurveda, which include sweet (as in fruit and grains), sour tastes (such as lemon), salty tastes (which are heavy and heating which increases digestive fire and helps to clean the body of wastes), pungent tastes (such as ginger and cayenne )which are heating, light, and dry, bitter tastes (such as spinach and leafy greens which are cooling, light, and dry), and astringent foods (which make the mouth pucker, such as turmeric, okra, and unripe persimmons, tending to be cooling, light and dry). Each of these tastes either balance or unbalance particular doshas, and act in specific ways and specific organs. For example, pungent foods act in the lungs and large intestine, and induce perspiration. Sweet foods act upon the stomach, spleen, and pancreas, and neutralize toxins. Bitter goods act on the heart and small intestine. Sour foods act up on the liver and gall bladder, and can also help stop diarrhea. Salty foods act upon the kidney and bladder, and can soften heart masses and tissues. In addition to the six tastes, there are six major food qualities: heavy (such as wheat), light (spinach, apples, etc.), oily (fatty foods such as avocado), dry (dehydrated foods), hot (such as hot tea), and cold foods. Each of these foods in combination can imbalance the various doshas. The awareness of food tastes and qualities brings an additional consciousness to our use of these and their effects in our live food cuisine.
Ayurveda is a perfect complement to the live food lifestyle and cuisine. The science of Ayurveda, in contrast to the cultural bias of Ayurveda, illustrates the understanding that we are unique individuals and there is no single diet for anyone, or a constant one throughout the year, or of the life cycle of the individual. Using Ayurvedic principles, we are able to create harmony between our inner constitutional needs and the external play of nature and the cycles of our lives. Ayurveda is particularly useful in helping us develop our awareness of nutrition as the interaction between the forces of food and our own dynamic forces and the dynamic forces of our lives.
Gabriel Cousens, MD, MD(H), Diplomate of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, Diplomate in Ayurvedic Medicine, is the director of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in the Patagonia Mountains, Arizona, which is an Oasis for Awakening, and the founder of the Culture of Life Community online social collaborative media network to support our transition from the culture of death to the Culture of Life way of life. He is the author of There Is A Cure For Diabetes, Conscious Eating, Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine, Creating Peace by Being Peace, Spiritual Nutrition, and Depression-Free for Life.
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