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LEARNING IN AYURVEDIC KITCHEN
Text Lauha Halonen
How ayurveda relates to cooking? Would it be possible to make yourself ayurvedic food? The tester of Ananda went to clear the matter.
Many of the yogis have heard about ayurveda, the Indian holistic health care system, which is still part of the everyday life of Indian people. Yoga and ayurveda are often considered as complementary but complete separate studies and ayurveda has begun to achieve popularity like yoga also in western countries. In the last decades the state of India has promoted consciously the studies of ayurveda, the availabilities of treatments and appreciation of national heritage.
The word ayurveda is sanskrit and ayus means (longlasting) life or health and veda means knowledge. So ayurveda means the knowledge of longlasting life or health.
Sometimes ayurveda is considered as attachment of veda literature or even as the
fifth veda. Some references can be found already in Atharvaveda (about 1500-1000 B.C.), in which one can find material about anatomy, medication with herbs and classification of deseases, and there are also stories about travelling medical healers.
The literature of ayurveda is concentrated a lot in symptoms, diagnosis and treatments, like the western medicine. However, in the backround of ayurveda is the indian way of looking at things. In mythology the first medical healer was Brahma himself, the person who created everything. The biggest influences intelectually are in samkhya- and vaishesika philosophies, but terms and understandings have also been borrowed from vedanta, nyaya, yoga, buddhism and jainism. According to the use of terms it is clear that early medicine healers knew and understood about classical philosophical thoughts, the darshanas, in all of their technical details. They however used the formalities of the indian philosophy for their own use, although it meant stretching many of the philosophical concepts.
The importance of flavours
In ayurveda, digestion is the most important vital. Nutrition liquid (rasa) that is produced in digestion is considered as the life force or the juice of life.
The emphasis of the food and tastes is vital for the health of the whole organism. It is essential that the balance of flavours is followed: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and pungent. Every flavour consists of two elements and that is how they either reduce or increase the vata, pitta and kapha. For example sweet is earth and water, it reduces vata and pitta and increases kapha which itself is water and earth. Every person is vata, pitta or kapha or mix of those of their character nature.
When vata, pitta or kapha are in balance (tri-dhatu) people are healthy. When they are imbalanced (tri-dosa) deseases will occur. Balance is influenced by numerous different factors: diet and its amount and timing, the time of the day and year, weather, direction of the wind, age, behaviour, rest, accidents, exercise, the state of mind etc.
People are constantly in state of change. Health is just an optimal state of balance. Neglecting the natural needs and abuse of senses, body, mind and speech cause deseases. In ayurveda the maintanace of health is more stressed than healing deseases that already are there.
Food, how to prepare it and enjoy it, has an important role.
My own experience - Happy, hyper, heavy
In May I participated in the ayurvedic cooking course arranged by Shankara EU, Art of Living and Happy Way (NL) together. The teachers were initially Caribbean Wayne Featherstone from Holland and Eva Aminoff from Finland. The course was held in Eva's gorgeous kitchen in Pieni Roobertinkatu for the sixth time. We gathered together from Tuesday to Sunday for three or four hours at a time. We were lucky because the course was a little bit longer this time.
The description of the course promised fresh, colourful and energizing meals and knowledge about our own body type, which meals make us happy, hyper or heavy, how to rise our energy level, the characters of the spices and the right way to cook.
Wayne often kept saying "happy, hyper or heavy". The subject was approached not only with the body types vata, pitta and kapha but also sattva, rajas and tamas qualities of the food.
On the first night we got to know eachother a little bit by learnig what kind of day we all had had and how did we feel about the course. In ayurvedic cooking the cook's state of mind is especially important, because his or her energy and emotions go to the eaters through food. That's why always before going to the kitchen we had a small breathing exercise or meditation so everybody would be present with hundred percent and with a clear mind. It was actually quite nice and when repeated every day it forced to clear the troubles of the day before coming to the course venue so that they wouldn’t disturb the common spirit.
Wayne and Eva created the nice atmosphere with noticing everyone equally and serving also ayurvedic snack in the beginning of the meeting and during the theory part: pitta types become easily angry when they are hungry and also I really enjoyed the snacks. Roasted seeds with soy sauce and raisins served with ayurvedic tea would be healthier and more ayurvedic than normal tea with bread.
Local, ayurvedic food
The theory part beginned quite softly with the talks about presence, relaxing and being in the moment for instance through breathing. Wayne stressed also naturalness and going back to the nature, how to be in harmony with the nature. It would be good to eat the food that has been growing close because it has experienced the same circle of the seasons as the eater.
I noticed that during the course Wayne encouraged us to make spontaneous, positive solutions during the days. He also said that satsangs are the natural protection of positivity and the company of like-minded people will lift the positivity up.
Day after day the theory was going deeper in to the qualities of vata, pitta and kapha, methods of preparing food, timing, digesting and its effects in different types. Behind everyhting was the idea of increasing happiness, living life to the fullest. Wayne also challenged us to think our normal eating habits by serving breakfast with fruits and as sattvik food as possible through out the day.
In the kitchen everybody had to participate in cooking with setting the table, chopping, stirring and exploring and smelling the spices and their effects in the food. That was especially inspiring and engaging.
The food was delicious, rich, colourfull and totally different each time. Ayurvedic kitchen is often identified incorrectly with Indian kitchen: in ayurveda almost the same spices are used, but significantly more moderate and more balanced. However the food doesn’t necessarily have to taste indian. When you use the principals of the ayurvedic cooking, the sky is only limit.
Maintaining the vitality
The prana level must be increased in the body. Freezing and making food in the microwave kills prana and not even frozen berries are an exception. Deep frying and using the oven are also quite violent ways to prepare food. Drying and steaming are the least destroying ways. Raw food is the richest, but using raw food only is not recommendable for everyone.
In the course we learned how you can use steaming more with your cooking and how to fool your taste a little with healthier choices. In the last days Wayne reminded us, that there is no big ayurvdic rule book: it is good to follow the rules as well as possible, but it is also important to let yourself make exceptions and then go back to the healthier habits. Stiff mind is not ayurvedic.
The course was as good as promised. It also changed my relationship with ayurvedic cooking and brought it much closer, even to be used in my own kitchen. Theory and practise were in good balance: every day you had the opportunity to make tastefull dishes and learn a lot of new information about the subject.
Vata, pitta and kapha started to get more familiar in a sensible way which encouraged to go deeper in studies. My desire to learn more increased a lot, thanks to the course.
Wayne seemed to be a very perceptive judge of character and group. Eva's enthusiasm made everyone in a good mood. I recommend the course to everybody who is interested in the subject.
More information about the courses:
www.artofliving.fi or phone 040-5629424 (Eva Aminoff)