It’s a common refrain: one size does not fit all. And when it comes to what you put on your plate, this is especially true. Insert Ayurveda - a holistic way of eating that’s tailored to the needs of each specific body type.
Ayurveda has been practised in India for at least 5,000 years, but in UK, it’s still relatively unknown.
According to traditional Ayurveda, doshas do not get influenced by gender. Having said that, there is a need to have a specific approach to well-being when it comes to women. Juggling many responsibilities, making time for more activities than ever before. It is not an easy job being a woman these days though it is infinitely more exciting and challenging due to the many opportunities she is provided to prove her mettle.
There is certainly no shortage of information or education on health—how to take care of your teeth, how to eat well and take care of your heart and bones, how to keep your gut healthy—but how do you take care of your womb, what does that mean and why is it even important? Ayurveda is one of the few sciences that looks at the reproductive tissues outside of the major transitions of puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Further, Ayurveda uniquely exams the menstrual cycle as a window into the human body.
The menstrual flow is a by-product, after all, of the most basic tissues of the body. After we ingest our breakfast, this food undergoes transformation through the seven tissue layers of the body. The first is plasma, then blood, which is then followed by the muscle and fat tissues. After these four layers comes the bony tissue, nervous system, and, lastly, the reproductive tissues. The actual menstrual flow is considered to be a by-product of the first layer, rasa dhatu, or the plasma. Plasma is a vehicle for nourishment. It carries hormones, vitamins, minerals, water—all sources of nourishment. When this layer is healthy and flows freely, so too do all of these nutrients as well as wastes so that they may leave the body with ease. The second layer, rakta dhatu, or the layer of blood, also is part of the menstrual flow, releasing excess pitta.
The rasa dhatu and rakta dhatu are also the first two to be vitiated by excess vata, pitta, or kapha after they leave their home in the gastrointestinal tract. As such, they are most quick to change in quality and consistency. By paying attention to your flow, its qualities, and your experiences before and after its release, you can get a strong sense of how the doshas are at play even before they fully come to fruition on a gross level in other layers of the body. This gives an opportunity for intervention so that the physiology of the body may come back to a stronger balance, and therefore, stronger health.
General Menstrual Self-Care
The menstrual cycle is effectively a monthly cleanse and is treated as such in the Ayurvedic tradition. Our goal, then, is to support the process of cleansing. As with any other cleanse, importance is placed on rest and rejuvenation and kindling agni.
For this reason, for centuries, women in India have been given the opportunity to be relieved from their daily duties and go in seclusion so that their body may fully cleanse both on the physical and mental level. The menstrual cycle is a gift that is unique to the female gender, and can be viewed as such, instead of being viewed as a nuisance or inconvenience.
Basic Guidelines for a Healthy Menstrual Cleanse
Eat a simple diet. You want to reserve all of your body’s digestive fire for the purpose of cleansing. Eating kitchari and other warm, thoroughly cooked meals will do just that. Try adding spices, such as ginger, cardamom, saffron, cumin, coriander, fennel, and cinnamon.
Honor yourself with rest and rejuvenation. Cleansing involves the movement of wastes down and out of the body and we want to be sure that that directional flow is not counteracted by upward movements, like excessive talking or thinking, sexual intercourse, and even pranayama and yoga. These activities also take up a lot of energy and your body needs to use all of its reserve energy towards cleansing.
Don’t suppress urges, like urination, defecation, and sneezing. Doing so promotes vata to go opposite of its normal downward flow.
Reflect and Meditate.Hydrate. As with any other cleanse, hydration is of upmost importance to move wastes. During a menstrual cleanse, hydrate with warm teas, such as ginger tea, lemon tea with honey, or CCF tea (cumin, coriander, and fennel)
What is the Ayurvedic diet?
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian science on how to be healthy. It’s an amazing, complex science which encompasses food, yoga, meditation and many other practices on how to be well. The Ayurvedic diet specifically would be how to eat for health.
Ayurvedic doctors believe food can be poison or food can be medicine, it all depends on what you eat, how much of it and how well you digest it.
What are the three Ayurvedic body types?
Vata is the air body type or air dosha. Pitta is the fire body type and Kapha is the earth body type (and a little water).
Emotionally, mentally and physically, women are enriching themselves but this also placing demands on their health. Which is why, no matter what her age, a woman needs to pay attention to her lifestyle, nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being to stay at the top of the game.
According to Ayurveda, doshas do not get influenced by gender. Having said that, there is a need to have a specific apporach to well-being when it comes to woemn
Ayurveda through the usage of natural herbs aims at helping women find their body rhythm. The ancient text, the Charaka Samhita, presents various categories of herbs that help women achieve better health and remedy their problems. These are used in Medicine Kitchen's 3/5/7-day detox cleanse.
How do they influence our connection to food?
Ayurveda believes we have all of the elements in us, and the one that is your dosha means that you have more of that than any of the others. The same goes for food. Food has all the elements in it too, and we use food to balance out our own doshas. For example, Pita is the fire body type, so they should try to incorporate food that is quite cooling, to balance the heat that is in their body. This can be fresh fruit, coconut milk or water, salads and other cold foods. They should probably avoid foods that would increase the heat in their body, such as chillies, too much red meat and too much alcohol. All body types, in their natural state, are balanced and healthy, we only become unbalanced and unhealthy if we eat the wrong foods or live the wrong lifestyle, by incorporating too much of the same element that is our dosha.
What happens if our doshas become unbalanced?
Keeping it really simple, every dosha is associated with common illnesses and when you are in an unbalanced state for a long period of time it manifests in different illnesses or conditions. For example, Vata people might get arthritis or osteoporosis. Kapha people might have a higher tendency towards type 2 diabetes, and those of the Pitta dosha might have skin and liver related issues.
What factors affect this?
What you eat, your general lifestyle, and mental health I.e. levels of stress. Even where you live, in terms of weather conditions, and what stage you are in life all affect your balance. From a baby to an adult is considered the Kapha life stage, where you’re literally gaining mass i.e. earth. The second stage is Pitta, when you’re an adult and in the working world, and literally, that fire in your belly will help drive you forward. The last stage is the Vata stage, where everything gets drier. And becomes evident in the wrinkling of our skin.
Does the time of day we eat play a part?
Ayurvedic doctors believe that your digestion is strongest in the middle of the day, so lunch should be your biggest meal. You should eat dinner early, so you have time to digest before you lie down. You’re encouraged to only eat when you’re hungry, and to only eat as much as you can fit in two cupped hands. The frame of mind you eat in too is almost as important as anything else. For proper digestion, you should be calm and focused on your food, and don’t drink water with your meals.
What are the Ayurvedic dietary dos and donts?
There are quite a few, for example, don’t mix fruit with food. Don’t eat two types of protein in the same meal as it’s quite hard to digest. Don’t drink water with meals, as it dilutes your stomach acids. Always try to eat at regular times every day.
Are there any Ayurvedic foods in particular that can help fight illness?
There’s no such thing as an Ayurvedic food. All natural food though will do something good for you. And it’s the role of Ayurveda, to help you understand the best foods for you. Spices, chillies, ginger and garlic are considered particularly good for preventing and fighting colds and other simple issues.