Ayurveda is Not About Food

“assorted spices” by Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash

Forget the glossy Instagram pics of colorful spices laid out in hand-carved wooden teaspoons. Ignore the Vata/Pitta/Kapha diets and the Facebook “What’s Your Dosha?” quizzes. Ayurveda is a way of existing in the world; it’s not a grocery list.

Ayurveda describes how the elements inside us interact with the elements of the world to create health. It is the science of how to live a balanced life in a world that includes seasons, daylight savings time, seasonally blooming trees, thoughts, relationships, 24/7 media, thoughts, sleep cycles, sex, breathing, thoughts, political systems, five (at least) senses, and — yes — food.

Ayurveda is able to largely treat disease through diet because digestion plays a starring role in many illnesses. However, digestion is affected by much more than the ingredients we chew and swallow. How and when we eat — how and when we do anything, really — are also members of your digestive cheerleading squad.

Eat Your Words

Have you ever sat down to a meal starving and then heard some bad news? Or remembered that you’re giving a presentation the next day? Or realized you’d forgotten something important? Your hunger does an immediate disappearing act. One thought = no hunger. More than that, anything you put in your stomach at that moment is likely going to sit there like a brick. Because the fastest way to affect the physical functioning of the body is through the mind.

Timing is Everything

A large meal eaten at 12pm is going feel very different than the same meal eaten at 12am. What if that large meal was preceded by a heavy workout? Or a nap? Or several slices of pizza? We have times when our bodies are naturally hungry (the sign that we may be able to digest what we eat), and times when hunger can and should diminish. As with anything in nature, our body has cycles. Ayurveda is about understanding these rhythms and developing an awareness of our place within them.

Chew on This For a While

I’m going to boldly proclaim chewing to be a dramatically undervalued activity. Gulping and chugging are like throwing giant logs onto your little digestive stomach fire and asking the flames to do all the work of breaking it down. Chewing is literally the only reason we have teeth. (And selfies, but let’s focus purely on biology.) It is amazing how simply focusing on chewing your food fully can bring satisfaction to your mind and relief to your belly. I once spent a month chewing every bite thirty times before swallowing, soup included. It made me a better person and a difficult dinner companion. I recommend it.

Candyland’s Molasses Swamp

I have watched too many people get stuck in the swamp of food lists and foreign-sounding recipes and give up on Ayurveda in general. The wisdom well of Ayurveda runs deep and can bring meaning and intention to any aspect of daily life. We cannot separate out the way we eat and what we eat from all the other ways we pay attention: from awareness of hunger to our state of mind and emotions, to our environment and habits. The actual food on the plate is only one piece of this larger puzzle of health and wellbeing; calling that one piece “Ayurveda” is overlooking the holistic experience of the human holding the fork.