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Ayurveda: A Timeless Approach to Nutrition



As I finished up my 300-hour certification in Ayurvedic Yoga this weekend, I started thinking about how much my training has taught me about food and how we nourish ourselves. In our modern Western world, the approach to nutrition often revolves around carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and calories. However, Ayurveda, an ancient healing system from India, offers a distinctly different perspective on food and its impact on the body. 


The Ayurvedic Perspective on Food

In Ayurveda, food is evaluated not just for its nutritional content, but for its Rasa (taste),Virya (potency), and Vipaka (post-digestive effect). These principles help guide us in the selection and combination of foods to promote balance and health.


Rasa (Taste): Ayurveda identifies six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste has a specific impact on the body and mind. For example, sweet taste is nourishing and building, while bitter taste is detoxifying and cooling.

    

Virya (Potency): Food can have a heating or cooling effect on the body. This potency helps to balance the body’s energies, or doshas, and is crucial for maintaining health.


Vipaka (Post-Digestive Effect): This refers to the effect food has on the body after digestion. It can be sweet, sour, or pungent, influencing long-term physiological effects. Ever wonder why salty foods effect insulin level? If you eat something salty, it's long term effect on the body has a potency of sweet!


Qualities of Food (Gunas)

Ayurveda also considers the gunas, or 20 qualities of food, which can be heavy or light, dry or oily, heating or cooling, and so on. These qualities affect how food interacts with our bodies and minds. For instance, cooling foods like cucumber can help cool our inner temperature and our mind.


The Wisdom of Nature’s Colors

Ayurveda acknowledges the intelligence of nature in the colors and shapes of foods, which often hint at their healing properties. Nature’s design is not random; it’s purposeful and insightful.


Red Fruits: Fruits like red grapes and pomegranates are known for their blood-purifying properties. Their red color corresponds to their ability to nourish and support healthy blood circulation, reinforcing the idea that red fruits benefit not only our blood, but our heart health.


Brain-Shaped Foods: Foods like walnuts and Brahmi (a traditional Ayurvedic herb) are shaped like the brain and are recognized for their brain-nourishing properties. Walnuts, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, support cognitive function, while Brahmi is renowned for enhancing memory and mental clarity.

These examples illustrate how Ayurveda looks beyond mere nutritional content, recognizing the symbolic and therapeutic relationships between foods and our bodies. Western nutrition programs typically do not focus on these qualities, often overlooking the profound connection of nature.


Ayurveda believes that "like increases like and opposites balance". This principle guides us to understand how the characteristics of the foods we consume impact our body. For instance, if tomatoes make you feel hot and heavy, you would incorporate foods that are cooling and light to counterbalance those effects. By recognizing not only the properties of the foods you eat but also how those properties affect you, you can align with nature and promote self-healing. This approach is not typically included or taught in Western nutrition or medical programs.


Seasonal Eating and Cleanses

In Ayurveda, the seasons play a crucial role in dietary choices. Foods are chosen that align with the natural rhythms of the environment; we eat what we see growing in our environment. Ayurveda advocates for biannual cleanses to support the body’s natural detoxification processes. These cleanses, are conducted only in autumn and spring, and help to reset the digestive system, enhance immunity, and promote overall well-being.


Autumn: This season is seen as a time to build and nourish the body in preparation for winter. Warming, grounding foods such as root vegetables and spices are emphasized.

  

Spring: Spring is a time for cleansing and rejuvenation. Lighter, detoxifying foods like bitter greens and tart cherries help the body shed excess accumulated during winter.


Personalized Nutrition

Unlike the one-size-fits-all approach of many modern diets, Ayurveda tailors dietary recommendations to the individual’s constitution, or dosha - Vata, Pitta, and Kapha - each one with unique characteristics. An Ayurvedic practitioner assesses an individual’s dosha (Prakriti) and any imbalances (Vikriti) to create a personalized nutrition plan that fosters balance and health.


The Enduring Wisdom of Ayurveda

Ayurveda’s longevity as a healing science is a testament to its profound understanding of nutrition and health. By looking to nature and the inherent qualities of food, Ayurveda provides a timeless framework for achieving balance and well-being. This holistic approach recognizes that food is not just fuel but a vital component of our overall health, influencing our physical, mental, and emotional states.




I will be speaking at the Oregon Holistic Nursing Association Conference this Autumn, sharing insights on how we can merge the ancient healing modalities of Ayurveda with our present-day well-being practices for ourselves, and our clients. The wisdom of Ayurveda offers valuable lessons for those seeking a deeper, more harmonious relationship with food and health, proving that ancient practices still hold relevance in our modern world.


I hope to see you in Oregon, or send me an email olympiaintegrativehealing@gmail.com

to learn how you can benefit from the healing practices of Ayurveda and Yoga.



Lisa Ostler

BSN, RN, NC-BC, E-RYT 200

Student of Ayurveda



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