Liz Moody

Photo: Nadine Greeff

If you’ve been dabbling with trying a more ayurvedic lifestyle but have been confused about where to begin, Kate O’Donnell has good news: It isn’t nearly as hard as you think. In her new book, Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind: 100 Simple Sattvic Recipes, O’Donnell breaks down ayurvedic in a way that’s at once beautiful and super simple to understand. She also shares a key principle of ayurveda—that how you eat is as important as what you eat. “Preparing and eating meals with satisfaction in mind and in accordance with healthy digestive practices will give you the best results,” she says. Here, she shares the nine ayurvedic rules for increasing digestion and leaving the dinner table feeling great. “Ahara rasa, the nutritive liquid resulting from food being broken down in the stomach, is the building block of a balanced body. If your digestion is not working properly, it can lead to imbalances,” she explains. “Incomplete digestion can result from eating too fast, eating when you’re not hungry, or eating heavy foods at night. The following practices can increase digestive power and a feeling of satisfaction after meals.”

1. Slow down.

As mealtime approaches, begin checking in with your body. What does the hunger feel like? Are any qualities at the forefront, such as heat or cold, dryness in your mouth, nose, or skin? Are any emotions coming through, such as irritation, sadness, or anxiety? Simply pay attention and take note, without any judgment, to what is going on in this moment. This action of bringing the attention into your body and away from the work of the morning or afternoon encourages discernment, leading to better meal choices and an easier time of implementing the practices that follow.

2. Sit down.

Sitting down while eating is as important for the digestive organs as it is for the mind. The organs relax and prepare to do their jobs when you sit. Take three deep breaths, focus on the activity at hand, and give thanks for the food before beginning.

3. Quiet down.

Talking sends energy out of your mouth while the food is going in. Eating quietly will ensure that the downward-moving energy of chewing, swallowing, and digesting cruises along down the line. Avoid scheduling meetings and phone calls, watching TV, or reading during mealtimes.

4. Eat more fats and proteins at lunch and a lighter meal at night.

Taking the time to focus on solid nutrition at midday ensures that your body is properly fueled and food is fully digested throughout the afternoon. Not eating enough can lead to relying on stimulants or adrenaline until dinner, increasing rajas in the mind. Then eating slowly to digest foods at night (cheese, white bread, fries, meat) increases tamas in the mind by increasing the heavy quality. This vicious cycle can be headed off at lunchtime. Note: Those who get up early, especially those who exercise early, may find breakfast to be an important meal as well.

5. Eat only when hungry.

This can take some practice, but it is No. 1 in preserving a strong digestive fire. The habit of eating to fuel an overactive mind is very common. Just begin by pausing before a snack to tune in to your stomach—is there hunger? Even better, tune in and wait 10 minutes before snacking. It is likely the compulsion to eat will subside. It is common for this desire to come in the evening as well, when the mind is still hyperactive from the day. The body wants to increase tamas, slow down, and rest, so it makes sense that the body would crave heavy qualities from comfort foods at the end of the day to stabilize and replenish. A sattvic sensibility, however, will look first toward rejuvenating activities when the appetite is dull, replenishing energy without taxing the gut.

6. Have consistent mealtimes.

The whole system, mind and body, responds well to routine. Consistent mealtimes train the digestive juices to show up, ready to rock, at the appropriate times, and the mind relaxes into the routine, free of wondering when and what the next meal will be. Regular mealtimes build trust between mind and body by showing the body that attention is being directed toward proper nourishment. Think of how discombobulated dogs get when their usual mealtimes are changed. On a subtle level, that can happen to us too.

7. Eat light, or not at all, when angry or anxious.

The ayurveda texts list states of mind that are not ideal for digestion. Two biggies, worry and anger, are prevalent emotions for many. At times when the mind is occupied with such turbulence, nothing will digest well, and it is best to take warm liquids and wait until things calm down to eat.

8. Drink warm or room temperature water.

Keep that cozy feeling going in your gut by avoiding cold drinks and favoring warm water. Warm water does wonders to rehydrate and calm the body.

9. Eat seasonal and local.

Increase prana by enjoying fresh foods that have had minimal processing and that haven’t traveled far. Seasonal foods offer the qualities necessary to balance the current environment. If it’s cold out, cook your food.

Based on excerpts from The Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm Clear Mind by Kate O'Donnell with the permission of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Copyright © 2018.

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