Any magazine you pick up or social post you read will tell you, at some point, what we should be eating and how we should be eating it. It seems to be a constant quest to find out what is healthy, how to keep our weight down or cook the latest superfood. Whether to go vegetarian, or whether we should fast for three days or five. Wheat-free, gluten-free or dairy-free? It is enough to drive a sane person slightly (or totally) mad. My head is spinning now just considering all of these options.
As somebody who battles with a chronic condition, it is important for me to ensure that what I feed my body is as good as it gets. But sometimes it is tough to keep up with science that seems to change daily.
Over these past few years, I have experimented with vegetarianism and pescatarianism. I have tried fasting, I have embraced the Mediterranean diet. All were great for different reasons, and, sure, I saw huge benefits to my health, but, for one reason or another, I still felt that I was missing something. I was still searching for that elusive magic pill (not literally, of course).
When I look back at my own wellness journey, I see how it evolved from an interest in all things Tibetan to meditation, to yoga and to my most recent discovery, Ayurveda. I’ve been exposed to some ayurvedic practices through work in the past, but my curiosity was really sparked by my yoga instructor. She has embraced the practice alongside her yoga, and I’ve been privileged to watch the transformation, which has been noticeable from week to week. So, I wanted to know what it was—and if I could incorporate this ancient practice into my own life and wellness rituals.
Ayurveda (Ayur = Life, Veda = Science) is one of our oldest health care systems. At over 3000 years old, this holistic whole-body practice looks to maintain balance between the body, mind and spirit. By identifying your own Dosha (which is essentially your Ayurvedic mind-body type), this system becomes a personalized practice of making optimal choices about diet, exercise and lifestyle.
Sound complicated? Well, it is not a lifestyle change that you can easily adopt without a little bit of homework. You need to establish your Dosha for starters, which is done by answering a series of questions (but that is an article for another day).
So, after deciding I wanted to learn more about this historical tradition, one that has its roots planted firmly in India, I started my Ayurvedic journey where most of my wellness journeys start: Amazon. I had a tall order. I didn’t necessarily want a handful of books that were going to give the scientific finds behind the practice, but I also didn’t want some quick overview that gave me the basics without any understanding of how to incorporate them into my own life. What I did want was something that would offer me a gentle introduction and understanding into what Ayurveda entailed, and, more importantly, how I could (easily) incorporate it into my lifestyle. I needed recipes that were easily transferable from Indian to Western cuisine, yes, but also that gave an explanation as to why I should be eating in such a prescribed way.
The one thing I learned from my own brief investigations into the workings of Ayurveda was that eating for the season was essential, so based on this little nugget of information, I opted to for The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O’Donnell.
The description on the front of her book stated “A Seasonal Guide to Eating and Living Well with Over 100 Recipes for Simple Healing Foods”. So far, so good. It ticked all the boxes and I hadn’t even ordered it yet.
When the book arrived a couple of days later, I was mezmerised by the pages and pages (319 of them to be precise) of Ayurvedic information, alongside heaps of what looked to be delicious recipes.
The book is divided into two sections. The first is entitled “Understanding Ayurveda: Ayurveda Basics You Want to Know”. Yes, please, just what I needed.
If you wanted just a recipe book, then you could always skip this first section, but you would be missing a treat. This is the background to Ayurveda: What it is, where it came from, how it works, how it views the body and goes hand in hand with yoga. It gives advice on keeping your system of the five elements (Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth), as well as your Doshas, in balance. There is information on the six tastes, and how they help our body integrate beneficial qualities from our food choices. There is also a fair bit of information on why seasonal eating is so beneficial to our bodies, and how imbalance, along with balance, manifests.
One of my favorite chapters is “The Principles of Ayurvedic Eating”: This one gives all the nitty, gritty good advice on how to integrate not just the food but the principles of Ayurveda into your daily life. Throughout this chapter, you get some “practice tips” that help you implement your newfound knowledge straight away, such as intention and attitude when eating.
As the book title alludes to, this is predominately a cookbook, but, in my opinion, it delivers so much more. If you check out the pages’ edges, you will see that the book has a really useful color-coded key that breaks down the four seasons, as well as an everyday section. Each season is then broken down further into Breakfast, Lunch, Supper, Treats, Drinkables and Extras. This is where the magic happens: The food!!
The recipes themselves offer a simplified approach to recognizing that with Ayurvedic cooking, all food can be medicine. Each season comes with an overview that includes a shopping list, lifestyle guidelines, and a food guide that details which foods to favor and which to reduce. The recipes speak for themselves, I have yet to find a dish that I didn’t enjoy—and I mean really enjoy! Lots of one pot cooking is completely conducive to my Vata Dosha.
There is nothing complicated about the recipes. And don’t be fooled into thinking that the use of lots of herbs and spices equals hot and spicy: In my experience, it results in tasty and delicate. I have cooked these dishes for the whole family, and a breast of chicken or a handful of prawns have been added in to make the dishes a little more acceptable to my 25 year-old son.
If you are looking for an incredible recipe book that incorporates tips and advice for daily, healthy living, then look no further. This delightful book is full of great information and beautiful photographs, and is definitely one for the kitchen counter.
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