When you reach Rock.Bottom.

Last year was one of the worst years I’ve had health-wise. I was basically sick with one thing or another all year, and things all came to a head when I was diagnosed with critical hypertension in July and put on blood pressure meds. Inside I was screaming THIS IS NOT ME!!! I am not the person on blood pressure meds in their 40’s!! It was very depressing but… the medication did make me feel better. Nonetheless,  I am determined to not take meds even though I have a pre-existing heart condition. I was very concerned about the extreme side-effects I experienced, even after I was put on different meds, and the fact my Dr. was very blasé about the fact he could “give me another medication to counteract the side-effects if necessary”. So my tactic has been to wait until my blood pressure stabilised over a longer period, then to wean myself off the meds and step up my yoga and exercise game, reduce my stress, and change my food game all whilst checking my blood pressure consistently (so no need to worry Mandytje 😉). On top of everything, I appear to have become more allergic to my fluffy bundle of joy, Roosje the Cat. But that situation is easily resolved by taking an allergy tab every day. Obviously, she’s not going anywhere ha!

I decided 2017, the year of my 50th birthday, I am going to commit completely to my health because the future looks short and depressing if I carry on like this. Last week I did a two-day Ayurveda course to refresh my knowledge and learned so much, I loved every minute of it! I am inconsistent about my Ayurvedic diet even though it’s the only thing that works for me.

Along with my course last week, I stumbled across a book called The Hot Belly Diet by Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar which appealed to me because it’s based on Ayurveda, and it’s about reigniting your digestive fire by following this diet for 30 days. So the ‘hot’ in the title is not the sexualised use of the word hot which is common now. The basic idea is to rekindle and maintain a balanced digestive fire (‘agni’) beginning with 3-day preparation phase to detoxify and give your digestive system a rest.

In Ayurveda we believe that the digestive system is the most important system in our bodies because it provides our body with the energy we need from birth to death. How well your agni functions determines the quality of your life. I will write more about agni in another post. But for the next 30 days I will be on this program to start feeling better because I do believe food is a medicine.

Here is a short summary of the plan:

  • A 24 hour castor oil cleanse before starting is optional. Do the oil cleanse the Sunday before you begin. Have your last meal on the Saturday night and don’t make it a heavy one.
  • Preparation days 1-3 are about breaking old patterns and not eating or drinking the things that lower your digestive fire. The goal is to lighten the burden on your digestive system.
  • Start day 1 on a Monday because the author thinks it’s easier to have your regular routine, rather than potential social distractions at the weekend (which is the case for me this week)
  • For the next 23-days, you mainly eat kitchari, a nourishing, easy to digest rice/dal  combination which I love anyway and always makes me feel great. Kitchari is the main dish for lunch (and dinner if you want), plus a non-creamy soup and steamed vegetables. Breakfast is a superfood smoothie, or oatmeal, or an egg-veggie scramble.
  • On the final 4-days you can start to reintroduce the other foods suitable for your dosha.

So this is what I’m going to be logging on here and am very interested to see what changes not only in weight, but in energy it will bring me. Will I still have energy to do yoga and go to the gym? Will I sleep well/better, will I stop getting skin rashes and bloating? Will my blood pressure be stable? I am positive I will answer yes to all the above!

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BOOK REVIEW: Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine, by Harish Johari

Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine, 200 Vegetarian Recipes for Health, Balance and Longevity

(1994, 2000) by Harish Johari

The Author

Harish Johari (1934-1999) was a distinguished North Indian author, Tantric scholar, poet, musician, composer, artist, and gemologist who held degrees in philosophy and literature and made it his life’s work to introduce the culture of his homeland to the West.

The Book

Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine by Harish Johari explains the healing qualities of various Indian foods and spices and recommends combinations appropriate for specific conditions of body and mind.

The book is divided into two parts: Part I comprises of sixty-eight pages containing an Introduction to Ayurveda, and Part II is The Recipes, and Appendices.

PART I AN INTRODUCTION TO AYURVEDA.

Chapter 1 Principles of Ayurveda

This section is a description of the five elements, the tridosha theory and individual temperaments. Johari goes on to give a brief explanation of as he terms them, wind dominated individuals (v), bile dominated individuals (p) and mucus dominated individuals (k).

Then he goes on to explain the dhatus, the three doshas and their subcategories. The six tastes and their characteristics with examples are also explained and there is a chart explaining the composition, qualities and effects of the six tastes, and a list of foods and spices according to their attributes.

Chapter 2 Balanced Nutrition

Johari writes that most diseases are the result of wrong eating habits and/or of eating antagonistic foods. He explains that we need to understand the qualities of foods and how they interact with each other, in order to prevent disease.

The chapter contains quite detailed information about proteins, carbohydrates, fibres, sugar, starches, vitamins and minerals, water, and salt. He compares and contrasts western and Ayurvedic principles such as the fact that in Ayurveda there is no mention of vitamins because the ancients combined their food so skilfully that they created a fully balanced diet.

Chapter 3 Foods And Their Healing Properties

A significant chapter is dedicated to cow’s milk and its qualities. Its religious and cultural relevance, nutritional value, and its curative qualities. Some claims I find a bit controversial such as the fact he mentions milk fats can even cure tuberculosis and cancer as long as the milk is fresh and the cow is not fed with formula foods.

Chapter 3 also contains information on grains, wheat, wheat flour, and rice. It lists all fruits according to their characteristics and their effect on the doshas and the uses of various fruits.  He writes about various ways to fast such as a forty day milk fast and a three day grapefruit juice fast, followed by a forty to sixty day milk fast (!)

The chapter continues with a description of some common vegetables, and goes through a description of each vegetable’s properties, taste and effect on the body.

He does the same in the chapter on flavourings and spices. He even gives a recipe to counteract foods that “taint the breath”. There is a list of sattvic, rajasic and tamasic spices, that I found very handy. I learnt a lot from the descriptions about the properties for example on turmeric. There is a chapter on sweeteners, which is limited to honey and raw cane sugar then descriptions of various nut types.

Chapter 4 Guidelines For Preparing And Eating Foods

The chapter starts with an explanation of vibrations. He explains that food picks up the vibrations of the cook. He suggests not tasting food while cooking but to cook by feeling. Also, to eat only after the food has been offered to god first.

Then a list of incompatible foods and what to do to promote healthy eating. The list is exhaustive, from what to have in the room to what to wear, whom to serve first, second and third. He recommends washing the hands, face and feet before eating. Also, to only eat when the right nostril dominates and drink only when the left nostril dominates. Only eat when hungry, and preferably six hours after the previous meal. Washing ones hands, face, mouths and eyes after meals is also good for the digestive system. Rest after lunch but do not sleep. If one cannot walk outside, one can take 108 steps indoors. Take no solid food before a bowel movement. Do not face south when eating as it drains energy. Avoid laughter while eating, silence is preferable. It is preferable not to defecate for two or three hours after eating.

The chapter ends with a list of cures for indigestion caused by a particular food and how it can be cured by eating another type food.

Chapter 5 Food and the Cycles of Nature

The chapter starts with a description of food according to the seasons. He explains the characteristics of each season and the importance of eating foods that are in season. The author even goes so far to write about food for each day of the week. There is a chart, illustrating which foods to eat of a specific colour on the day that corresponds astrologically to that colour or quality. For example, on a Wednesday, one should eat coriander leaves, spinach, mung beans, broccoli and other green food because Wednesday is ruled by mercury and its colour is pear green.

Chapter 6 Food And Consciousness

In this chapter, the author describes Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in detail and the purpose of the gunas.

PART II THE RECIPES.

Introduction To The Recipes

In this chapter, tips are given there about the utensils one could use in the kitchen, with a description of each utensil and what its purpose is.

Appendices.

In the last section, you will find meal combination ideas, recipes for the sick and elderly and again, a section on milk.

Conclusion

I cooked several recipes from this book and was underwhelmed by all of them. Despite the use of spices, I found them bland. What I found missing was a clear instruction with each recipe as to which dosha it was suitable for.

Overall, I think this book does have an excellent introduction to Ayurveda. The author is clearly a scholar of Ayurveda, but I think it might be too much detail for someone who is just learning about Ayurveda. It is not a beginners guide, and I think it does assume you already have a basic knowledge of Ayurveda. I missed most a note next to each recipe about the dosha it is suitable for. Then again, because that information was not given, you had to think for yourself!

Ayurvedic Tongue Diagnosis

I’m always wary of class situations as I get so annoyed by people who talk or constantly demand attention during class. Especially when it’s a class I’ve paid for. Although there is still a little too much chit-chat for my liking sometimes (says the girl with the school reports that all stated ‘talks too much in class’), basically the class I am in is mature and engaged.

Today’s most memorable part was when we all had to do a tongue diagnosis for the person sitting next to us. I know I’m not the only person in the room who thought ‘Dang it! I should have brushed my teeth after lunch!’ I had had a turmeric heavy dhal which I’d taken with me, so immediately started swirling my tongue around trying desperately to ‘clean’ any nastiness which might be on it. Everyone there felt so self-conscious. It was almost like showing a stranger your lady-parts! I observed in fascination all my colleagues tongues; pink, mottled, grooved, cracked, thin, thick, long, short, coated and clean. One girl even had a beautiful tongue!

As in other  traditional medicines, Ayurveda believes the tongue represents every part of your body. All ailments, past and present,  can be seen there. It is therefore one of the main organs used in diagnosis in Ayurveda. Tongue diagnosis is a vast science that is so specialised I’m only going to give a very superficial overview of what we learned today.

Tongue-Zones
From: http://ayurvedaelements.com/resources/Tongue-Zones-Rama-Prasad.png

As it turned out there was no yellowness on my tongue. When I stuck my tongue out I noticed for the first time ever it’s thick, it’s wide and it’s floppy. A textbook Kapha tongue according to the teacher. There was also a white coating at the back and my colleague said I have teeth marks, which I cannot see, and a slight groove down the middle.

Referring to the chart below, as a person with a severely imbalanced Kapha dosha, my tongue would indeed have a white coating especially toward the back, reflecting my slow intestinal and colon energy and the ama, or toxins, in the colon. The teeth marks on my tongue relate to unabsorbed nutrients and a vertical groove down the middle of the tongue reflects physical back pain (also true). I also have tiny red bumps between my kidney and liver area but I’ll have to research that more.

The front one-third of the tongue relates to the lungs, heart, chest, and neck. That amazed me as apparently, mine is red and mottled, and as a person with a partial history of heart disease, it would again make sense for it to show in my tongue. Froth in the middle of this area is often a sign of low lung energy with damp and cold lungs and may translate as a cold, bronchitis, asthma, or respiratory allergy. If there is a small depression in the heart area (check), it often relates to intense grief, sadness, or depression.

The central third of the tongue relates to the liver, spleen, stomach, and pancreas. Small ulcers on the tongue in the stomach area may reflect gastritis or peptic ulcer.

Cleansing the Tongue
One of the best ways to keep the tongue healthy is by scraping it daily. This removes overnight build-up of bacteria and toxins on the tongue. Rather than brushing the tongue, which will only push bacteria and toxins into the tongue, this is done with a tongue scraper or spoon. To do this, extend the tongue and place the scraper as far back on the tongue as comfortable. Using one long stroke, gently pull the scraper forward so that it removes the unwanted coating on the tongue. Rinse the scraper and begin again if necessary. Ayurveda says that scraping the tongue should only be done in the morning on an empty stomach. Scraping the tongue is a good way to start to observe the tongue and as a result, the health of the internal organs.

As anyone who’s shared a bathroom with me knows, I use a tongue scraper every day, usually morning and night. I used to use a plastic one until Dr. Vasant Lad said at a seminar to use a copper one. I also often brush my tongue with my toothbrush if I don’t have my scrape with me (like at work). I learnt today that brushing your tongue with a toothbrush actually is detrimental to your taste buds and brushing your tongue only pushes bacteria and toxins into the tongue. Ayurveda says that scraping the tongue should only be done in the morning on an empty stomach. Scraping the tongue is a good way to start to observe the tongue and as a result, the health of the internal organs.

I will update this post as I learn more because I think all the ancients in all the cultures in the world who believed the importance of the tongue as a reflection of one’s health, were probably not all wrong.

So have a look at your tongue more often, keep track of the changes if any and see where it corresponds to in your body; and feel free to tell me what your tongue looks like today 🙂