Those that don’t have time to practice a healthy lifestyle will need to make time for sickness later.
My colleague and co-teacher Ayurvedic Clinician Melissa Spamer tells me that the most common reason that women come to her for consultation is that they “want more energy”. Poor digestion, insomnia, high stress levels, and dramatic hormonal and metabolic shifts with accompanying weight gain, are all conditions that respond well to simple Ayurvedic practices. In this, the first of three articles, learn how implementing one of the golden rules of Ayurveda can radically improve your energy levels.
As some of you know I’ve been an enthusiastic advocate of Ayurveda as a common sense approach to good health and well-being. This has strongly influenced the direction of my Yoga retreats in that I believe a retreat can be an opportunity to install seemingly simple habits that can have remarkable effects. I don’t believe that “suspended reality” vacations where people lay around having caviar slathered on their faces, or endless beauty treatments lasts much beyond the flight home. Yet living a practical routine during a retreat that can be replicated when you get home can be life transforming.
What I want to share in this little article is very simple and in some ways not. It has to do with the subject of freshness. In Ayurvedic philosophy preparing fresh food daily is considered the best practice for ensuring preservation of both maximum nutrients and maximum prana, or life force. What’s this esoteric thing called prana you ask? Well, it’s something that your grandmother and anyone who still shops daily for their produce will know about. It’s fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that have been recently harvested with minimum transportation, refrigeration time, and shelf storage. Ideally, it’s food that came out of your own garden.
Here on the farm my partner and I have an extensive vegetable garden and small orchard and we never cease to be amazed at the vitality of fresh-picked produce. Guests to the farm often ooh and aah over simple fare like roasted beets or shaved fennel salad because there are so many flavors packed into every bite. Potatoes harvested straight from the rich earth glow like opals; juicy strawberries picked while the dew is still on the ground appear to be lit like neon signs behind their thick foliage, and lettuces cut ten minutes before they appear in a salad bowl brim with crunch and juiciness. And might I proudly add the photographs accompanying this missive are of produce lovingly grown by yours truly. Check out the apples on steroids!
Now I know not everyone has the resources or time to have a garden. But consider this: prana is what gives food its vitality and this vital life force begins to diminish the moment a vegetable is removed from the ground or the longer a prepared dish is left to take up residence in your fridge. Yes, that Thai takeaway that has been in the fridge for three days is . . . fermenting and decaying. So whenever possible, Ayurveda tells us to avoid leftovers, and at most to eat for lunch what you made for dinner the night before. Unfortunately, this simple common sense approach to eating has gone the wayside with most of our supermarkets filled with packaged, processed, canned, frozen and prepared food. Ditto that for a plethora of takeaway options and you have a recipe for a prana deficient diet.
Here are some ways you can incorporate the wisdom of eating fresh into your daily life:
- Avoid buying from buffet counters and delis Just because it’s at a “health” food store doesn’t take away the fact that some of that stuff has been sitting there for hours if not days. Make your lunch in the morning and bring it to work with you in a container. On tour I make a salad for lunch but wait until right before eating to cut up the vegetables. A simple dressing of flax seed oil, lemon juice and Ume boshe vinegar can be stored in a small bottle. Add protein such as nuts, seeds, a boiled egg, goat cheese, olives, hummus or a small piece of chicken or fish and you have a protein rich yet light meal. You’ll be surprised how much money you save.
- Stop buying prepackaged vegetables Those lettuce greens and salad mixes in plastic bags are often going moldy and rusted even before you open the bag. Why not buy your greens fresh and whole then wash and dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner? You will be amazed at the difference in flavor.
- Shop for fresh food often rather than a big shop once a week Whenever possible incorporate your trip to the market as part of your fitness regimen – walk or bike and take your own carry bags. I like to use bags that are lined with insulating fabric to preserve nutrients.
- Start a garden If you don’t have much space consider a small raised bed or even several pots on a verandah or kitchen ledge. You’ll be amazed how many salad fixings, herbs and greens you can fit into a small area.
- Invest in Good Kitchen Equipment Having a good blender, food processor and sharp knives that are a pleasure to use can radically speed up food preparation time and open up your options. With a blender alone you can make smoothies, pesto, hummus, bliss ball mixes . . .. the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I’ve recently invested in a Vitamix (the Rolls Royce of blenders) and it has been worth its weight in gold for opening up ultra fresh options (think freshly made rice or quinoa cereal, ground seeds for tacos . . .and even raspberry sorbet!). When you have efficient gear you’ll want to . . .
- Spend more time in the kitchen Preparing food can be a wonderful way of settling and grounding yourself at the end of a long day. If you don’t have lots of energy after work see if you can do a little prep work the night before, or in the morning before you go to work. Putting a bowl of mung dal to soak in water takes a minute in the morning but can reduce cooking time by half in the evening. Being organized by having the ingredients you need and thinking through your menu plan for the next few days is half the battle.
- Change your way of thinking It really doesn’t take much time to make a fresh pot of creamy delicious porridge versus the microwaved packages of oat gunk. For that matter, it can take minutes to whip up a batch of guacamole in the blender, or to throw together a batter for buckwheat pancakes. Once you commit to fresh you’ll find you become faster and more efficient in producing what you need for each meal.
- Share Meals Don’t have time to prepare a fresh meal each evening? Join forces with a few friends who would like to get fresh with you! Commit to one night a week or every fortnight when each of you makes dinner to share. Or make some new agreements with your partner or housemates to share in the preparation of meals.
- Prepare your food with love Be fully present when you prepare your meals. Take time to enjoy the colors, texture, and fragrance of the ingredients. Then present the food with care and love. It makes a difference.
And the next time you say you don’t have time to prepare food, just remember the old adage: “Those that don’t have time to practice a healthy lifestyle will need to make time for sickness later.”
P.S. Sacred Self-Care: A Women’s Yoga & Ayurveda Retreat, May 25-June 1, 2019, is now open for registration. Ayurvedic clinician, Melissa Spamer and I will be sharing simple and accessible Ayurvedic practices that foster good health combined with gentle, nourishing Yoga practice. We chose the Suryalila Yoga Retreat center, not just because it is in beautiful Andalusia, Spain. The team at Suryalila source as many of their foods from local organic farms, or from their own permaculture garden. The food is not only wonderfully fresh, it glows with the love that prepared it.