Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lesson #13: Transitioning Into Fall & Winter: The Fall & Winter Vata Diet

Transitioning into Fall and Winter: The Fall & Winter Vata Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

The long days of summer have passed. The trees have turned color marking the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The leaves have fallen to create a thick mulch like a blanket to protect the earth against the cold. The plants are going dormant for the long sleep of winter. And everywhere nature is in the process of gathering and storing. It is against this backdrop that we will explore the ayurvedic recommendations for fall and winter. First let’s review the transition from summer to fall.
Summer is known as pitta time, characterized by the combination of fire and water. In early fall, the accumulated fire of summer is released giving rise to the colorful leaf displays. The heat and humidity of summer naturally give way to the cool, drier days of fall. During this transitional time, we want to imitate the natural process and release the build-up of summer heat from our bodies. An excellent way to do this is to eat plenty of apples and pears which are in seasonal abundance. Their soft fiber and mild astringency help clear the bowels and the blood of excess heat. Do this while the days are still warm and the leaves are changing.
When the weather turns cooler and the dried leaves are falling to the ground, we can continue to eat the abundant apples and pears, only then we cook them to guard against the cold weather. At the same time we begin to eat less summer fare like salads and fruits and transition to warmer fare like soups and stews.
Fall is characterized as being cold, dry, light, rough, dispersing, moving and quickly changing. Ayurveda calls this combination of qualities vata or wind. If we continue eating cool and light summer foods into the fall, we can become too cold and too dry. If we don’t take time to slow down we can become worn out and exhausted with excessive movement in the body (think cold shivers). Mentally we are in danger of becoming scattered, unfocused, anxious and fearful (think trembling leaves).
The basic strategy for fall all the way through winter is to apply the opposite qualities of warmth, moisture, nourishment, smoothness, slowness, regularity and focus. Let’s go back to our example of the apples and pears. Apples and pears are naturally astringent, that is cooling, drying, and toning. For the fall and winter, we need to counteract the cooling and drying qualities. So we cook the fruit slowly and add a little cinnamon and organic butter. The cooking and cinnamon provide warmth and the butter provides moisture. Yum!
Every natural quality has its opposite. If we are moving into a cold season or are feeling too cold we apply the opposite quality of warmth to provide balance. An important pair of qualities in our study is expansion and contraction, or dispersing and gathering, which move in a cycle. Let’s take a closer look, then we’ll be ready to understand the diet for fall and winter.
The expanding half of the cycle begins with the spring harvest of shoots and sprouts and culminates with the abundant summer harvest of fruits and vegetables. The fall harvest marks the beginning of the contracting half of the cycle where the food value is concentrated into seeds, nuts, grains and roots before the rest of the plant withers and disperses (the action of vata). The cycle ends with winter which represents dormancy, where the life force is fully contracted before expanding outwards again in the spring. The concentrated forms of plant-life from the fall harvest which are able to withstand the long winter are the key to a healthy fall and winter diet.
In general, the fall/winter diet is called the vata pacifying diet. It features highly nutritious warm cooked foods and drinks. Adequate protein intake and high quality oils are essential. Fall harvest foods like whole grains, seeds, and nuts are known for their concentrated protein and oils. Proteins are building foods that give us the strength to endure the long winter. Oils counteract the dryness of vata and help raise our metabolism to provide more warmth. Well cooked whole grain and bean combos with added high-quaility oils from nuts and seeds, porridges, grain soups, stewed veges and roots, nuts and seeds are the staples.
High quality animal protein is a useful supplement. Organic poultry is one good choice for concentrated protein. Fresh fish is also high in protein and essential fats, but care needs to be taken to avoid environmental toxity and contributing to over-fishing. Beef and pork are considered the most warming, but being highest on the food chain, they are also a potential source of stored environmental toxins. All flesh foods need to be of highest quality and eaten in small portions if at all. Yogi’s will want to avoid eating meat for spiritual reasons. Remember that not just nutrition is concentrated in animal flesh, but also the hormones and emotional primal fear that are released when the animal is killed.
As an alternative to flesh food, an excellent choice is to supplement with organic eggs which are highly concentrated and nutritious. Dairy is another good choice, but is considered neutral to cool in nature. Therefore choose soured and aged varieties or simply use melted cheese or warm milk with spices. Whey protein powder is excellent. If you are deficient in protein you may feel low energy and weak with chronic aches and pains as the winter progresses. (As a special note, vegans must also take care to supplement with B-12. Also, vegan diets and raw food diets are considered too cooling for northern winters. Without animal foods, extra care must be taken to use the seeds, nuts and tonic herbs which are especially warming. Sesame seeds and oil, red ginseng root and ashwagandha root are good choices).
Seeds have special value in the cold months because of their high oil content and warming nature. Many are considered to be carminatives or digestives. When freshly crushed or ground they release their aromatic essential oils. Try adding fennel, caraway, cumin, coriander, mustard, dill, anise, sesame or celery seeds to your soups and stews. In Indian cooking black mustard seeds, onion seeds (kalonji), wild celery seeds (ajwain) and fenugreek seeds are also used. One combination is called panch phoron which is cumin, black mustard, kalonji, fenugreek and fennel seeds. You can also make wonderful digestive teas with your crushed seeds.
Of course seeds are a great source of vegetable oil as well. Remember a key feature of our strategy is to provide moisture. Therefore fall and winter is the time to apply oil both externally and internally to ward off the dryness of vata. Sesame oil is the classic massage oil of ayurveda. First warm the oil slightly, apply from top to toe, exercise a little if you like and take a hot shower or bath to remove the excess. (Remember to clean the bottom of the tub after use to avoid slipping). Any oil or lotion applied to the skin is absorbed into the body (trans-dermally) so make sure it is of good quality and food grade. Two other choices for massage are sunflower oil which is lighter and mustard seed oil which is even more warming than sesame oil.
Sesame oil is also excellent for cooking, as is sunflower seed oil (it has a more neutral flavor). Flax seed oil is not used for cooking but is especially high in the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Try a spoonful or two every day. Other sources of omega-3’s are fish oils, pumpkin seed oil, hemp seed oil and Canadian rapeseed oil known as Canola. Canola is a hybrid product and may cause allergic reactions in some people. Others avoid Canola for political, scientific, and ecological reasons involving genetic modification. And don’t forget seeds for eating. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are all delicious.
Nuts are also an excellent source of oil and protein. Walnut oil also contains some omega-3’s, though not as much as flax oil. Almond oil and apricot kernal oil are excellent for massage. All nuts, which are harvested in the fall, are excellent and healthful additions to your fall and winter diet.
The best grains are whole grain or minimally processed rice, spelt, wheat and oatmeal. They can be slowly cooked with water, spices and oil. Millet, corn, rye, and barley can be too drying by themselves, so use them less frequently and balance them with other foods. Buckwheat is also drying but has the special feature of being warming. Add a little organic butter or sesame oil and you’re all set!
Roots are another important part of the fall harvest and are divided into two main classes, bitter and sweet. The bitter roots like dandelion, burdock, gentian, barberry, echinacea, golden seal, rhubarb, yellow dock and Oregon grape root are used early in the fall to clear heat from the body and selectively through the vata season to ward off infections. Sweet roots like carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabaga are used as food and are excellent additions to soups and stews. Other sweet roots are considered to be tonics, strengtheners and immune boosters. They are sometimes added to soups and stews as well or taken as teas or supplements. Try astragalus, ginseng, winter cherry (ashwagandha), wild asparagus (shatavari), Chinese angelica (dong quai), rehmannia, solomon’s seal and wild yam root.
Other important veges are the tubers including potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and jerusalem artichokes. Please note that potatoes are drying and gassy for some people so be sure to cook them well and add some butter or oil. Cruciferous veges including brocolli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are also excellent winter foods. They keep well because of their toughness, but need to be softened and well cooked before eating. All the winter squashes and pumpkins are excellent winter foods. They keep well because of their thick skin and are nutrient dense and unctuous.
Fall is a time of gathering and storing. Fruits can be dried for winter use. Tomatoes can be canned for addition to soups and stews. Apples are cooked into apple butter or made into cider. Grapes can be made into wine which has a warming quality. For fresh fruit, we can enjoy the heavier fruits like banana, avocado, figs and dates. Citrus can also be enjoyed in the winter. Try baked grapefruit or add lemon juice to warm water with raw honey. For sweeteners enjoy the nutrient dense ones like molasses, raw honey, barley malt and rice syrup.
We can also gather and concentrate our own vital forces by slowing down and turning within. Let the body become very quiet and still, practice slow deep diaphragmatic breathing and draw your awareness inwards to a single point. Then slowly repeat a seed phrase over and over again in your mind until you become very quiet and peaceful.
In sanskrit, the word for a seed is bija. It is defined as the seed of plants, the seed-corn or grain, the semen of animals, or a short seed sound or mantra. Bija is also defined as the germ or primary cause, the source, the origin and the truth. This last definition, truth, points to the relationship of the seed to what is known as satyam, the level of existence which is beyond time and space, which is permanent and non-changing, therefore considered true. By contrast, we also study ritam, the aspects of existence which are in time and space, therefore impermanent and subject to the cycles of birth, change, and decay. What is it in the seed which is permanent and provides continuity in life if not life itself?
The cycle of life then is seen in the form of the seed or root sprouting or expanding into formed existence, having its day in the sun, and then withdrawing back to the seed or root. Summer represents the expanding movement outwards and winter represents the contracting inward movement back to the dormant seed state. This on-going pulse or rhythm is the breath of life which is forever creating and dissolving the world.

Lesson #12: The Fullness of Summer: The Summer Pitta Diet

The Fullness of Summer: The Summer Pitta Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy

How quickly the coolness of spring seems to turn into the heat of summer! And before we know it, summer is giving way to fall and fall to winter. At the same time, the spring harvest quickly blooms into the summer harvest, and before we know it we are storing foods for winter use.
Many people are familiar with the concept of eating with the seasons to maintain good health. For example, we can eat a reducing low-fat diet in the spring, an energizing high-carb diet in the summer, and a warming high-protein diet in the fall and winter.
To help stay in tune with the changing seasons it is especially helpful to mark the transitions between the seasons. In this article, we will focus on diet for the transition from spring to summer, summer itself, and the transition from summer to fall.
For background let’s review the concept of tridosha (three-doshas) from ayurvedic science. Kapha dosha is a combination of earth and water and has the qualities of coolness, dampness & heaviness and exhibits a downward, slow, and contracting action. It accumulates in nature and within ourselves during winter to a point of excess or aggravation in the spring. Nature’s spring harvest gives us the natural antidote for excessive kapha. Thus, the ideal spring diet is warming, drying and light with an upward and outward action.
If we continue our spring diet too long, we can become too warm, too dry, too light, and too expanded (think frazzled and scattered). During this time, we see the shoots, buds, tender greens, and early flowers of spring turning to the fully flowered, fully leafed and fruiting fullness of summer. This is the time to begin incorporating the full array of summer foods into our diet.
After kapha dosha comes pitta dosha which is a combination of fire and water. Fire has the qualities of heat, dryness, and lightness with a rapidly rising and spreading action. Water has the qualities of coolness, dampness, and heaviness with the downward and contracting action we noted with kapha dosha. Together, fire and water, as pitta dosha, have the qualities of heat, dampness and lightness with a rising yet contracted or intense action.
We can say that water helps to balance fire and that maintaining this balance of fire and water is central to maintaining good health in the same way that it is essential for maintaining all plant and animal life. For example, in gardening we need the right amount of sunlight and warmth (fire) and the right amount of water for each plant.
The ideal summer diet then is one that is cooling, moistening, nourishing and refreshing, with a balanced action. We find these qualities in abundance in the natural summer harvest which is rich in mature leafy greens, colorful flowers and fruits, and naturally complex carbohydrates. According to taste, summer foods should emphasize these naturally sweet foods, with the addition of bitter (cooling and clearing) and astringent (balancing & toning) foods.
After pitta dosha comes vata dosha which is a combination of air and ether. Vata has the qualities of coldness, dryness, and lightness. At the end of summer, it is time to transition back to a richer, more warming, oily and heavy diet for winter.

The Summer Diet

In the transition from spring to summer we can emphasize green leafy vegetables which are in abundance. They are bitter and astringent with a high chlorophyll content. They are detoxing, cooling, cleansing of the blood, the liver, and the skin. Choose tender or bitter greens and lettuces of all kinds along with handfuls of cilantro, parsley, dill and mint for generous salads. Also cook the more mature greens as they become available like kale, collards, chard and beet greens.
Flowers have a special affinity with pitta and help mark the transition from spring to summer. The bright colors correspond to the element of fire. Keep plenty of flowers around the house and garden and learn which flowers can be eaten. Try adding squash blossoms, rose petals, violets and borage flowers to your salads. Nasturtiums are delightful as well which exhibit a slightly pungent taste which shows its subtle fiery nature.
Some flowers are too strong and fiery, however, and can even be poisonous or narcotic. Take special note of the deadly nightshade (solonaceae) family such as belladonna, dulcamara, henbane, jimsonweed, and tobacco. Interestingly, when prepared homeopathically, these can be excellent remedies for excess fire, fever, redness, and delerium by the principle of like cures like. Please note the fruits of these plants can also be poisonous, like the brightly colored belladonna and dulcamara berries. Also, we have the cultivated nightshades, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant, which can aggravate inflammatory conditions like arthritis or act as common allergens.
As summer comes into fullness, we can focus on the cool and refreshing juicy fruits of the summer harvest. Eat plenty of apricots, sweet cherries, grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums and melons of all kinds. Perhaps the epitome of the summer harvest is the magnificent watermelon which is deliciously sweet, cooling and refreshing.
We can also enjoy the generosity of nature’s harvest from the summery tropics. Consider eating more mangoes, sweet pineapple, papaya, avocado, coconut, dates, and figs as they come into seasonal abundance from May through October.
A special class of fruits are the berries. They are well noted for their medicinal use. Their rich colors show a special affinity to fire. The colors show the presence of rich pigments, flavonoids, and phytonutrients now being studied by modern science. In classic ayurveda, the Indian gooseberry, known as amla or amalaki, is considered one of the best rejuvenatives for pitta, with protective and nourishing actions for the blood, liver, heart, eyes, skin and small intestine. We can use bilberries and wolfberries for the eyes, elderberries for the immune system, hawthorn berries for the heart, blueberries for the pancreas, schizandra berries for the adrenals, cranberries for the urinary tract, and saw palmetto and chaste tree berries for the reproductive system. We can enjoy fresh raspberries, blackberries, mulberries and organic strawberries. (Please note that commercial strawberries are highly sprayed and not recommended.)
For vegetables we can enjoy generous amounts of the so-called fruits of the vine such as cucumbers, okra, summer squash, zucchini, bitter melon, peppers and tomatoes. And what would summer be without delicious fresh-picked sweet corn? We can continue with lots of salads and work in more cruciferous veges like kale, brocolli (especially the flower heads), cauliflower and cabbage towards fall. Other veges of note are artichokes from the desert and jerusalem artichokes which are native to the midwest. For the transition to fall, when the weather is cooler, work in parsnips, sweet potatoes, and rutabagas.
Remember that pitta is a combination of fire and water. Too much fire has a drying effect. Use unctuous grains like basmati rice, spelt, whole wheat, and oatmeal to counteract the dryness. Too much water leads to dampness, humidity, heaviness, swelling, bloating and oozing. Use drying grains like blue corn, barley, quinoa and amaranth to counteract dampness.
All beans and peas are excellent for pitta and summer use because of their natural astringency and protective effect against environmental toxins. Try soy milk, tofu spreads, tofu dogs and cold bean salads for convenience. But don’t forget the abundant variety of fresh beans, string beans, green beans, peas and snow peas. Furthermore, whole grain and bean combinations provide a rich source of plant-based protein.
Animal based proteins are generally more heating and should be used with care during the summer. Exceptions are fresh water fish, and, if desired, organic poultry. Eggs can be a reliable source of supplemental protein, but the best source for summer use may be fresh organic dairy products. Fresh dairy is considered to have a neutral to cool affect on the body. If you want to enjoy ice cream on occassion, summer is the time to do it!
Drink spring water, fresh vege and fruit juices, and green tea in the summer. Green tea combines well with the mints, crysanthemum and rose for sun tea. Crushed fennel, coriander and dill seeds make a fine digestive tea. And you can use passionflower, california poppy, or chamomile tea to relax.
Cold-pressed olive oil and organic ghee are the best oils for regular summer use. Sunflower oil can be used if there are no inflammatory disorders. For essential fatty acids, borage oil and evening primrose oils are specific for pitta. Borage flowers have a cooling blue color and attract bumble bees to the garden. The beautiful evening primrose blooms in the coolness of the evening in harmony with the moon. It can be used for its phytoestrogenic properties to help balance the feminine moon cycle. In fact, why not enjoy the cool evenings and refreshing moonlight yourself!
You can also enjoy the coolness of water, gardens and woods. Think cool while you practice summer yoga poses like the half moon, tree, cobra, grasshopper, half spinal twist, inverted lake and lotus. Wear cool colors like white, blues and light greens, wear silver against the skin, and use soothing apricot kernal oil, coconut oil or aloe vera on the skin. Use floral scents like rose, jasmine, lavender, geranium or neroli, or more grounding woody scents like sandal.
Rose holds a very special place in our summer repertoire. The rosaceae family includes not only the mighty rose itself, but also the afore-mentioned cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and hawthorn berries, all marked by their five-pointed sepals. The leaves and petals of the rose family are noted for their astringency. For example, rosewater is used as a topical astringent and raspberry leaf tea as an internal astringent and gentle diuretic. And last but not least, the rose family includes all the apples and pears which mark the end of summer and the transition to fall.
The transition from summer to fall is also noted by the glorious burst of autumnal colors. This colorful pittic display can be viewed as the last hurrah of summer. We call it Indian summer. This is the time to release the remnants of summer heat from the body. And this is the time to enjoy the late summer harvest of apples and pears, perfect cleansing and clearing foods to end the summer season.

Lesson #11: Springing Into Action: The Spring Kapha Diet

Springing into Action: The Spring Kapha Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay.

Now that spring is here we have said good-bye to winter for another year. Or have we? It is possible that we are still carrying around the effects of winter even though the calendar pages tell us it is over. Ayurveda tells us that the effects of winter accumulate in the body over the course of the winter to the point of possible aggravation in the spring. This is termed aggravated kapha. Kapha has the qualities of earth and water which together are cold, damp, heavy, slow, downward-moving and contracted. When in balance with the other elements, earth and water provide stability, nourishment, and insulation from the cold of winter. However, when in excess, we can feel overly heavy, sluggish, dull and congested. If you are feeling heavy in this way, it may be time to do some spring cleansing and change your diet according to the change in season.
It is important to eat warm nourishing foods that have adequate amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs during the winter months. We can think of good winter foods as those that store easily, like nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains and roots. These are foods that are harvested late in the year and are traditionally stored for winter use. They are dense and known as heavy or building foods. In the winter it is sensible to take more of the heavy foods, but in spring time we need to change our diet to favor the lighter foods like vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. If we do this, we can avoid carrying around winter longer than we need to!
These days in America we can eat almost any food we want whenever we want due to availability. But it can be most instructive and helpful to consider what foods are naturally in season. Nature has a way of maintaining balance and providing just the right types of foods at the right time, if only we pay attention. There is an old saying that to go against nature is unwise.
In early spring it can be helpful to gradually lighten the diet. This means eat less and chew more. If we had to rely on stored provisions, we may have to stretch out our remaining food reserves until the spring harvest. As the weather turns a little warmer we can consider some light fasting and more exercise. We can sleep less and get outside more often to experience the miracle of spring. We can notice how the earth stirs and new life begins to literally spring up from the ground.
The long dormancy of winter is over and nature wakes up refreshed and renewed. We see the green mantle of the earth returning. Migrating birds pass through and buds form. The animals forage for rhizomes, shoots and sprouts. Sap rises in the trees. If you want to know what is meant by kundalini rising just walk outside on the ground in the springtime!
The seasonal spring diet is a natural antidote to the heaviness of winter. If our winter diet leaves us feeling cold, damp, and heavy, then a true spring diet brings us warmth, dryness, and lightness. Spring foods have an upward-moving and expanded energy.
First of all it is time to reduce the amount of fats and oils in the diet. Consider a vegetarian diet or use only low-fat animal foods. Especially consider eliminating or restricting dairy to low-fat or fermented forms like yogurt. And forget about ice cream until the full heat of summer! By all means get the junk oils and saturated fats out of your diet.
Change your cooking methods. Eat more raw foods, especially salads. Consider steaming and using lighter pots and pans. Put away the heavy pots used for hearty winter soups and stews. On windy days you can take more liquids or prepare light brothy soups.
Definitely favor all the spring vegetables and herbs, especially greens.You can easily identify the best spring foods as shoots, sprouts and tender greens. Shoots include scallions, chives, asparagus and celery. Notice the upward-moving energy.
Sprouts are most excellent in spring. Consider how whole seeds, grains, beans, and even nuts can lie dormant all winter to sprout in the spring! The germination begins as the ground softens and becomes moist from the spring rains. But growth really takes off after the first thunder and lightning of spring! The lightning serves to wake up the life force and hasten new growth.
If we follow nature, we also need to wake up our foods. Soaking and sprouting is the best method. Consider sprouting seeds like alfalfa, clover, radish and fenugreek. Then there are sprouted beans like lentils, garbanzos, peas, and mung. Whole grains can be sprouted like barley, wheat and rye. You can even sprout almonds. A classic ayurvedic tonic is to soak 10 almonds overnight. In the morning slip off the peels and eat or blend with water into nut milk.
Spring greens are a must. Young and tender greens are perhaps best, but be sure to eat more lettuces, radicchio, arugala, endive, kale, collards, chard, mustards, spinach, brocolli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages of all kinds. You can even get out and forage for wild greens and early perennials in your garden. Look for dandelions, nettles, parsley, sage, raspberry leaf, chicory, sorrel and thyme. In fact, a classic spring tonic of the yogi’s is to collect and boil nettles. Just be careful to wear gloves because nettles can have quite a sting before they are boiled. And be sure to throw out the boiling water and rinse the nettles before eating.
And don’t forget those sprouts as a source for spring greens! When the tips turn green they are ready for eating and are full of chlorophyll. Wheat and barley sprouts can be grown into wheat and barley grass and then juiced. The juices are excellent tonics, cleansers, and health builders - just the thing to chase away the remnants of winter.
Also consider eating more rhizomes, bulbs, budding flowers, and bitter and pungent roots. Ginger, turmeric, onion, garlic, forsythia and honeysuckle flowers, dandelion root, chicory root, burdock root, gentian root, radish and turnip are excellent spring foods to break up and dispell kapha. Also consider hot chilies, peppers and spices to help burn off kapha. And be sure to include saffron which is collected from crocus flowers. The only seasoning not recommended is salt. A classic ayurvedic springtime fast is to give up salt for ten days.
A special herb used in ayurveda for rejuvenation and to reduce kapha is called punarnava, which means to make new again. The plant ,also known as spreading hogweed, can lie dormant for long periods of time before suddenly springing back to life!
Early in spring we can rely on dried fruits, lemons and the spring grapefruit harvest for fruit. We can reduce some of the heavier, sweeter fruits like bananas, oranges, figs, dates and avocados. As spring progresses, we can enjoy all the wonderful berries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and later blueberries and others. Please note that commercial strawberries are highly sprayed and best avoided. Look for organic strawberries which are much more delicious as well.
As for grains, we can reduce the amounts we eat in the spring or we can sprout our grains which give them a lighter, more alkaline effect. We can also eat dried grains like crackers, and decrease or avoid breads and pastries, which are heavy and mucus-forming. Certain grains have more of a warming and drying effect and are especially favored in ayurveda for spring use. They are buckwheat, corn, rye, millet and barley. By all means consider limiting or avoiding all the simple carbs like refined sugars, refined flours, and junk food for your spring diet.
Eating a seasonal springtime diet is cleansing, refreshing and invigorating. In general, favor fresh foods with lots of prana, eat light and eat lighter foods, increase the amount of raw foods and salads, flush out your system with fluids and herbal teas, and decrease the richer, heavier winter fare. Exercise more, get out and enjoy nature, and break up any old habits, attachments and routines. Try something new.
In yoga class favor asanas that are upward moving with lots of arm extensions, and practice the invigorating breathing practices like kapalabhati and bhastrika. For meditation, draw the vitality of the earth upwards using mula bandha and uddiyana bandha. Lift your heart and draw your awareness up the spine. Lift your spirits and soar to the spiritual heights like a flower reaching up out of the earth for the sun. Throw off the shackles of winter. Then raise your voice in song and share the life and joy of springtime with all.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lesson #10: Variety, The Spice of Life

Variety, the Spice of Life: More on Balancing the Diet & Lifestyle
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay

We’ve all heard the expression variety is the spice of life. Indeed, life would be quite boring if we were all the same! And imagine eating the same foods over and over and over again... Yet the American diet has been criticized for lacking variety. The acronym for what is known as the Standard American Diet says it all (SAD). Sometimes the American diet is characterized as the ‘meat and potato’ diet or the ‘white on white’ diet (white flour, white sugar, etc.).
Those of us who are health conscious are well aware of the nutritional deficiencies of a limited diet. We ‘strive for five’ servings of vegetables a day, and look for wholesome foods with their natural nutrients left intact, not refined out. We even look to the health of the soil and organic farming practices to insure we are getting healthy foods with a variety of micro-nutrients.
In ayurvedic practice we look to the major food groups to make sure we are eating a good balance of whole grains, beans, cooked veges, raw fruits and veges, supplemental proteins and essential fats. In ayurvedic cooking we look to the six tastes to insure we are getting a fully balanced meal. Naturally sweet tasting and bland foods are complemented with good quality sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent tastes for good digestion and absorption.

In this article however we are going to look at two other methods of insuring good variety in our diet. One method is modern and the other traditional. The modern method is based on the idea of phyto-nutrients as found in different botanical families.
The health protective benefits of various plant compounds have been well studied. So how can we insure that we are getting all the nutritional benefits we need? For example, most of our vegetables come from nine distinct botanic families. If we eat veges from all of these families, we will get a full range of phyto (plant)-nutrients. Let’s familiarize ourselves with these different families.
Brassicaceae: The brassicas are also known as Cruciferae or the Mustard family. They include cabbages, brocolli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collards, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, rutabagas, watercress, horseradish, and, of course, mustard! Some people will find them a little too rough and hard to digest, especially raw. But don’t give up! Cook them well. They are nutritional powerhouses.
They are also known as goitrogenic. This means they contain a chemical that can interfere with thyroid function and cause goiters. This can be de-activated by careful cooking. Interestingly, horseradish and mustard are used as digestive stimulants which improve digestion.
Asteraceae: The asters are also known as the Compositae or Aster family. There are two main sub-families, the dandelion sub-family or salad group and the aster sub-family which has nine tribes including the artichoke tribe or thistle group and the sunflower tribe. The asters are considered to be botanically and chemically complex. So eat plenty of lettuces, chicory, dandelions, endive, escarole, radicchio and salsify from the salad group. Eat globe artichokes, burdock root and thistle seeds from the thistle group and sunflower seeds and Jerusalem artichokes from the sunflower group.
Apiaceae: This is known as the Parsley family or Umbelliferae. Many of our culinary herbs and spices belong to this family, including anise, celery, chervil, coriander, caraway, dill, fennel, lovage and of course, parsley We also see many important medicinal herbs in this family, including the angelicas, bupleurum, gotu kola and osha. Common foods include carrots, parsnips, celery and celeriac.
Chenopodaceae: The goosefoot family derives from the seashore and often grows on disturbed soils. The greens from this group can be high in calcium but ironically are also high in oxalic acid which can block calcium absorption. These greens are best for occasional use or can be cooked to help reduce the oxalic acid. Important foods include beets, spinach, chard and lamb’s quarters.
Cucurbetaceae: This is the gourd family distinguished by the cucumbers, squashes, pumpkins, zucchinis and melons. They hold a special place in ayurvedic as well as in Native American lore where they are called one of the Three Sisters along with corn and beans.
Fabaceae: And speaking of beans, the Pea family is also known as Leguminosae. Aside from the wide variety of edible peas and beans, this family includes alfalfa, clover, astragalus, licorice root and kudzu.
Lamiaceae: The mint family is also called Labiatae. There are many other important families of herbs worth studying, but the mint family is known for its culinary herbs such as basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme and savory along with all the mints. Other important members are lavender, germander, horehound, hyssop, motherwort, catnip, coleus and skullcap.
Liliaceae: The lily family has many sub-families which include the onion, asparagus, agave and aloe groups. For onions eat your onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and chives. The asparagus group includes common asparagus, sarsaparilla, solomon’s seal, and wild asparagus (aka shatavari). Agaves, yucca, and aloe vera round out the family.
Solanaceae: This is the nightshade family from the tropics. Members are the potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillo, paprika, peppers, eggplants, chilis and tobacco. Please note that over-use of nightshades can lead to allergies and inflammation in some people.
In fact, one of the reasons to study food families is to avoid creating dependencies and potential allergies from overuse. A standard technique for managing food allergies is to practice a rotation diet, rotating food groups in and out of the diet and noting their effects. Other botanical and animal families can be studied for this purpose as well.
For now, consider the families above and see if you are over-relying on any of them. Then try adding in an agreeable member of any missing family. Of course other standard considerations such as time of year, availability, and method of preparation should also be considered. And by all means, enjoy getting to know your foods!

The traditional ayurvedic method of rotating foods is to practice the colors associated with each day of the week. The colors are derived from the planetary association for each day. This is a very soul-satisfying method as the soul reflects the light of pure spirit. Try it!
Sunday: Sunday represents the Sun. The main colors are gold and brown, but any sunny color like red, yellow or orange can be featured. The traditional food offering is wheat. Brown rice, oats and buckwheat are other good choices Try eating yellow and red foods like split mung and an assortment of yellow and red fruits and veges. Ginger, cardamon, saffron and cinnamon are said to enhance the solar energy. One tradition is to avoid cooking with oil on sundays.
Monday: Monday is for the Moon. The main color is milky white. Other colors are white or pale shades of blue, green and pink. The traditional food offering is rice, especially white basmati rice. Barley is another choice. Think of foods like milk, cauliflower, white potatoes, white onions, or white poppy seeds Also consider watery foods like squash and cucumber as the moon is considered to be watery.
Tuesday: Tuesday represents Mars. The main color is bright red. Other colors are jet black and bright shades of orange and pink. The traditional food offering is red lentils. Think of red rice, carrots, strawberries, red apples, red beets, tomatoes, red cabbage, red pepper, black pepper and turmeric. Please note that the idea is not to eat only red foods but to accentuate or feature red foods. This applies to every day of the week.
Wednesday: Wednesday represents Mercury. The main color is green, especially pear green. Other colors are neutral or mild tones of blues, grays and browns. The traditional food offering is whole mung beans. Be sure to eat your greens on Wednesday! Also consider brocolli, green beans, Brussels sprouts, peas, green cabbage and asparagus. Of course pears and green apples fit here as do the herbs cilantro, mint, basil and gotu kola. Good grains are brown rice, wheat, and oats.
Thursday: Thursday is Jupiter’s day. The main color is yellow. You can also feature orange, gold, or bright colors in general. The traditional food offering is chickpeas so it’s a great day for your hummus recipe! Other traditional Thursday foods are nuts and fruits (especially yellow fruits) and yellow veges. Yellow corn or millet are the grains of choice. Like Sunday, one tradition is to refrain from cooking with oils. Some practitioners will stop using oil topically on Sundays and Thursdays as well.
Friday: Friday belongs to Venus, the planet of beauty. The main color is radiant white which contains all colors within itself. You can use an assortment of colors on Friday, especially pastels and flowery tones. The traditional food offering is lima beans or any white bean. Basmati rice, barley, coconut, sweets made with dairy and lotus root are a few white choices. Combinations of different colors work well. And don’t forget the edible flowers! One practice is to avoid citrus fruit or sour foods on Friday.
Saturday: Saturday belongs to Saturn. The main color is black or dark blue. Any dark color will do, including dark browns and grays. The traditional food offering is sesame seeds or black gram (urud). Think of black beans, blue corn, black-eyed peas, eggplant, plums, blackberries, blueberries and black seeds. A special practice is to use plenty of good quality oil in cooking, on salads, or for massage as Saturn is said to be drying.
The main point is to be creative, have fun, and realize that the colors of food do indicate the presence of different phyto-nutrients in a very direct way. And, by the way, the daily colors are a fantastic way of organizing your wardrobe! If you’ve ever changed clothes several times not sure of what to wear, or if the clothes you are wearing just don’t feel right, try spicing up your wardrobe with the colors of the day. You’ll feel great and will begin to notice a subtle harmony with the quality of the day. The goal is not just variety but variety with harmony.

Lesson #9: Ayurveda & the Food Pyramid

Climbing the New Food Pyramid
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently revised it’s food
pyramid of dietary recommendations and launched a new website. All this came after months of testimony from nutrition experts in Washington. The driving force for this major revision is the fact that two-thirds of Americans are considered to be overweight and major diseases like diabetes are on the rise.
Let’s take a look at the new food pyramid through the lens of ayurveda. If you haven’t seen it, visit the new website at When I logged on, I was pleasantly surprised by the prominent saying “One size doesn’t fit all.” As many of you know, this is one of the key concepts in Ayurveda, where we study the individual constitution, age, condition, and lifestyle of each person before making dietary recommendations.
The USDA categorizes people according to sex, age and level of physical activity. For example, let’s say you are a female, 40 years old, and exercise between 30 and 60 minutes most days. Your pyramid recommendation would be to eat 2000 calories a day from a combination of the five basic food groups. This would include 6 ounces of grains, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruit, 3 cups of dairy and 5.5 ounces of meat and beans. You then have the option to click on the food group icons to learn more.
In ayurveda we discuss the traditional food groups only slightly differently.
We discuss whole grains, vegetables and fruits, but divide the dairy and meat and beans categories differently. Beans are considered a food group of their own as providers of plant-sourced protein (when combined with whole grains). Dairy and meat are combined as the animal-based sources of protein. This category includes eggs, poultry and fish. Both ayurveda and the USDA also discuss oils and fats as a 6th food group.
Overall, I was impressed by the USDA’s effort to emphasize eating more vegetables and fruits while reducing calories from extra fats and sugars. A diet high in meat, sugar and saturated fats, and low in fruits, veges, and fiber has been called the Standard American Diet (SAD). The acronym says it all.
Ayurveda also emphasizes the need for overall balance in the diet. Here the distinction is made between heavy foods and light foods. Proteins, carbs and fats are heavy and need to be balanced with vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices, which are light.
I was also impressed by the USDA’s effort to differentiate within each food group. For example, there has been a lot of publicity about ‘good’ carbs and ‘bad’ carbs. In the example above, it’s recommended to make at least half your grains whole, which are an excellent source of dietary fiber. This translates into 3 whole grain servings a day.
But the food pyramid goes further. The new pyramid features a human figure climbing up steps on one side of the pyramid. When you log on to the website, you will have the option “for a more detailed assessment of your diet quality and physical activity” by clicking on the ‘My Pyramid Tracker’. You will be asked your height and weight and asked to keep a food log and an exercise log. As you enter your data you can receive further guidelines and recommendations. This process is called “Steps to a Healthier You.”
I think this is a great feature. I always start private clients out by keeping a diet log and by describing their exercise routine. They are often surprised by what they are actually eating! This bit of self-reflection can make it easier to make changes. We call it ‘bio-foodback’. Remember that diet and lifestyle changes should be made slowly, step by step. Start where you are, inform yourself, and make changes gradually. Put any recommendations to the test. How do you feel from each change? Remember that for most people it is easier psychologically to add healthy choices than to give up old habits. As the new choices become part of your lifestyle, the old habits begin to lose their grip.
So it would seem that we’ve come a long way from the Standard American
Diet. Some critics have said that the USDA could have gone further, pointing to the fact that the government still subsidizes dairy, meat and sugar producers while little assistance goes to fruit and vegetable growers. Or they point out that the USDA needs to spend more money to promote the pyramid and good health when massive advertising campaigns are still touting sugary snacks and beer.
But changes come slowly, and I would have to agree with Eric Hentges, the executive director of the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, when he said “I don’t think that we are going to be successful with some revolutionary tactic. We’re going to have to reverse the obesity trend the same way we got small steps.”

Lesson #8: Moving Towards a Balanced Diet

Moving Towards a Balanced Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy

Many of us eat on the run or simply eat what is convenient. Others try various diet plans with varying results only to go back to our old habits. Or perhaps we consider food as a tedious chore to be gotten over with as quickly as possible! So how do we move towards a balanced diet? And exactly what is a balanced diet?
In this article we will attempt to answer these questions according to the time-tested advice of ayurveda, the science of healthy living.
First understand that the diet plan that is right for you is unique to you. And as you change, your diet will also change.
Secondly, it is not necessarily helpful in the long run to follow a diet plan from a book or piece of paper. You could use such a plan as a guideline or a starting point, but it should not be followed blindly. The key is to slow down just enough to practice a little self-awareness. Simply watch what and how you eat, and how you feel from eating. Then introduce positive changes gradually. It is rarely helpful to change your diet all at once.
Moderation is the key to a balanced diet. Not too much, not too little. Not too hot, not too cold. Avoid extremes like too much sugar or too much salt. Instead try to eat a variety of foods from all the different food groups.
And finally, to insure good nutrition, quality counts over quantity. So choose fresh, wholesome and pure foods. Avoid junk foods.
Here is the step-by-step process:
1. Before analyzing your diet or attempting to make any changes, simply keep a food journal for a week or two. Record everything you eat and how you feel day by day. You may be surprised. For example, you may realize that you’re eating more sugar than you thought!
2. Reduce snacking. Too much snacking between meals disrupts the normal process of digestion and prevents us from noticing how individual foods are affecting us. It is better to let one meal digest, noticing its full effects, before eating the next meal.
3. Regulate your meal times. Your physiology works on circadian rhythms. Eating at regular mealtimes helps to reset your natural rhythms and strengthen your digestion.
4. Simplify your meals. Eating too many foods at once also confuses the picture. The goal is to be able to notice which foods are best for you.
5. Don’t overeat. Too much food overwhelms the digestion and the mind. It is best to stop a few bites short of being full. Chewing your food well also helps prevent overeating.
6. Notice the effects. How do you feel? Then put two and two together. For example, if you feel sluggish and headachy after a meal, think back. Next time, eat something different. Gradually you will discover which foods are best for you.
7. Make changes gradually. It is no use to make wholesale changes in your diet. Besides, if you change many things at once, there is no way to separate the effects.
In this manner you will begin moving towards a balanced diet. Slowly discover which foods have negative effects and reduce them. Notice which foods leave you feeling well and accentuate them. Ultimately, you can learn to choose your foods intuitively on a day by day basis. What do I need today to feel more balanced?
Now that you understand this process, we can take a look at the six important food groups which are recommended for a balanced diet. If you find one is noticeably lacking, you can introduce foods from that group into your diet slowly. They will gradually displace other perhaps less desirable foods.
1. Whole grains. There are many nutritional advantages to whole grains over refined grains. However, some people have trouble digesting whole grains. So be sure to try different preparations until you find a few dishes you enjoy. Start with one serving a week, and move towards at least one serving per day.
2. Beans & legumes have many health protective benefits and combine well with whole grains to form complete proteins. As they can also be hard to digest, cook them well, try different preparations, and remember that the smaller the bean, the easier to digest. Split or ground beans are also easier to digest. Keep the portions small. Try for two to four servings per week.
3. Fresh cooked vegetables are essential to a balanced diet. Try for at least one cooked green or yellow vege every day. Also, try to find a cooked leafy green vege, which are nutritional power-houses, to enjoy from one to four times a week.
4. Raw food is also important. Ayurveda recommends primarily cooked foods, but raw foods are essential for their vitality and their enzymes. Fruit digests quickly so it is best eaten alone. Salads and fresh juices are other excellent choices. Try for one serving per day.
5. Animal foods are considered as supplemental protein to be enjoyed two to four times per week. Ultimately, our protein requirement is split between vegetable sourced proteins (whole grain and bean combos) and animal sourced proteins. It is best not to mix more than one animal protein at a time. Small portions are best. Consider either dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, or game. Being high on the food chain and therefore potential carriers of environmental toxicity, eat only the highest quality. Vegans, who choose not to eat any animal foods, must find a reliable source of vitamin B-12 as a substitute.
6. Essential fats. Many people are deficient in this category. Traditionally, this category is filled by eating a variety of nuts and seeds and the oils derived from them. Fish oil is also excellent. One of the best vegetable sources is flax seeds.
In summary, remember to go slow, notice the effects, and make only gradual changes. Enjoy the process. Take an interest in your food, but don’t become obsessed. Simply try little experiments by adding foods or taking foods out of your diet. Remember the goal is not to eat a prescribed diet from the outside, but to develop a diet that is personal, flexible, and intuitive.