Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Cosmic Beginning

Sattva, Rajas & Tamas

'Three primordial forces, interweaving to create the five elements, birth the entire creation'.

The principle of stillness, tamas, replenishes the universe and its beings and is the main principle of support within the physical universe. On the physical plane, tamas works closely with the physical functions of the body, bodily humors, tissues and wastes.

The principle of self-organizing activity, rajas, gives motility and co-ordination to the universe and to physical life. Rajas influences the psychic plane of existence and works closely with the psychological functions of the body. It gives us power to transform what is being percieved externally into thoughts, concepts, visions and dreams.

The principle of harmonic and cosmic intelligence, sattva, maintains universal and individual stasis and awareness. Sattva permeates each and every cell of our being. It functions through our existential states of awareness and maintains the cosmic memory of the entire creation - the collective memory of the entire universe from its inception. Sattva also maintains the cognitive memory of every human - each individual's memory accumulated from the beginning of time through each rebirth until the present time - our personal wisdom.

In Ayurveda, all food belongs to one of these three categories. Good quality milk, ghee, wheat and fruits that are aweet and cooling are considered to be calm-inducing, sattvic, by nature. Stimulating and heat-producing foods, such as ginger, pepper and radish, are considered to be activating, rajasic, by nature. Heavy and debilitating foods, heat-producing or cool, such as excess garlic, alcohol and ice-cream, old, processed or canned food, are considered to be mind-dulling, tamasic, by nature.

If we are to develop our capacity to be aware of our cognitive memories, to work toward being in tune with our inner intuition and the deeper rhythm of the universe, an understanding of how certain foods affect our bodies and minds is essential.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Milk and The Holy Cow

The cow is considered by the Vedas to be the most auspicious animal. Called "go" in Sanskrit, the cow bears the same name as the holy scriptures and is reflected in the name of the Lord Krishna, who was called Gopala, the one who protects both the holy scriptures and the cows.

Ayurvedically, milk is considered the most complete food and the first sattvic food. From this wholesome milk, the most healing unctuous substances for the human system are made - buttermilk, butter, yoghurt and ghee.

Unfortunately because of the unwholesome systems of modern-day animal husbandry, the artillery of poisons, chemicals and hormones used in animal feed alongside cruel treatment of the animals often kept in over-crowded and unsanitary cells means damage to this sacred food they produce. Yet thanks to recent efforts by many independent farmers, it is possible to obtain good quality milk and milk products.

Butter, yoghurt and ghee, all made from organic quality milk, are considered to be highly nourishing foods that enhance health and replenish life. They are all mainstays in traditional Indian diet and provide much of the necessary nutrients, especially for the large percentage of vegetarians in India.

Ghee, considered to be the most vital of the dairy medicines, is associated with the element of love in the body. Its subtle action allows it to penetrate deep into tissues, making ghee an excellent vehicle for conveying herbal powders and medicines into the body. Ghee is also said to impart confidence and virility into the body, promoting memory and the vital body essence, ojas. Ghee is made by a special process of boiling butter, thereby ridding it of the live enzymes that encourage bacteria. The quality of the ghee depends on the quality of the butter, as well as the method by which it is made and how it is stored. Generally the older the ghee, the more medicial it becomes.

These photos are of the daily lassi process by mixing freshly made yoghurt with both hot and cold water and mixing it as shown. Lassi is a common Indian breakfast or snack, know for its unctious and nourishing properties and as a digestive aid. The women of the house, and generally the older women, are almost always in control of all the diary products in the traditional Indian household. As cows are a sign of wealth and milk products providing of so much nutrition, the detailed work of making the milk products is seen as very important, it is a daily and ongoing process.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Thou grievest for those whom thou shouldst not grieve for, and yet thou speakest words about wisdom. Wise men do not grieve for the dead or for the living. Never was there a time when I was not, nor thou, nor these lords of men, nor will there ever be a time hereafter when we shall all cease to be."
-Krisna talks to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"A hand filled with sadhana is a hand that will heal yourself and others" - Maya Tiwari

Sadhana is spiritual practice. It is repeated action done with observation, reflection and concentration on a goal. Sadhana is a lifelong process to prevent excess worldliness and to release life from the limitations with which it is bound. Any action can become sadhana with the right intention.

In the Vedas, the hands and the feet are referred to as the "organs of action." By using our organs of action, we engage in the moment-to-moment remembering of the five elements of our nature. Our hands are vital extensions that enable us to touch and be in touch with creation.

A timeless sadhana, eating food with our hands allows us to harmonize with nature. The mere touching of food with the fingertips stimulates the five elements. Each finger is an extension of one of the five elements.

For these same reasons are activities such as gardening or simply sitting with our spine up against the trunk of a tree are known to be calming, harmonizing and healing exercises. Kneading the earth with our hands, we connect with nature on the most basic level. With our spine aligned with mother nature's, we are able to more easily feel her breath and breathe together with her.

Ayurveda encourages us to use our body as a ruler and measuring cup for all our needs. We are born with all the tools needed to exercise our gifts for sadhanas, including those needed to feel and measure foods as we prepare them.

Your hands should be fully involved in all food preparation. Knead your energy into the dough, mash potatoes with your hands, tear leafy greens gently with your fingers. Measure your spices with the pinch of your fingers. The term anjali refers to the volume that can be held by your tow hands cupped together, two anjalis of food from your own hands are designed by nature to fill your own stomach.

When the hands need a tool to help, use the grinding stone or mortar and pestle. The closer to nature each utensil, the more connected and therefore healing the prepared food will be.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fresh is best!

Happy customers at the farmers market


Prana is the Sanskrit word for "vital life".

It is one of the five organs of vitality or sensation: prana "breath", vac, "speech", caksus "sight", shrotra "hearing", and manas "thought" (nose, mouth, eyes, ears and mind. Upanishads).

In Vedantic philosophy, prana is the life-sustaining forces of all living things and is the central concept of Ayurveda, as is Qi (Chi) in Chinese philosophy.

Sun and sunshine are major sources of prana and the coconut is said to be the food which holds the most concentrated amount of prana as it is the food which grows closest to the sun. Food which has been cooked more than 24 hours before has very little or no prana left in it. The same goes for canned, frozen or processed food.

To change something, we must alter the energy which creates it. This quantum fact relates to the practice of yoga. To facilitate positive changes in the body and mind we must understand the energy through which they work.

The five pranas

In Ayurveda, Prana is further classified into subcategories, referred to as prana vayus. According to Hindu philosophy these are the vital principles of basic energy and subtle faculties of an individual that sustain physiological processes.

  1. Prana : Responsible for the beating of the heart and breathing. Prana enters the body through the breath and is sent to every cell through the circularatory system.
  2. Apana : Responsible for the elimination of waste products from the body through the lungs and excretory systems.
  3. Udana : Responsible for producing sounds through the vocal apparatus, as in speaking, singing, laughing, and crying. Also it represents the conscious energy required to produce the vocal sounds corresponding to the intent of the being. Hence udana gives the higher centers total control over the body.
  4. Samana : Responsible for the digestion of food and cell metabolism (i.e. the repair and manufacture of new cells and growth). Samana also includes the heat regulating processes of the body. Auras are projections of this current. By meditational practices one can see auras of light around every being. Yogis who do special practise on samana can produce a blazing aura at will.
  5. Vyana : Responsible for the expansion and contraction processes of the body, e.g. the voluntary muscular system.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Home-made chutney

Sacred food

Everything is connected. For food to become ojas (essential energy), we have to prepare it with attention, a positive attitude, and love. Many traditions hold the acts of cooking and eating as sacred. In the Vedic tradition, the chef bathes and offers thanks to agni (the fire God) before beginning the task of preparing the first meal of the day for the family. Do not prepare meals (or eat) when you are upset or stressed, because your liver and digestion are adversely affected by negative emotions and will not digest that meal efficiently.

Eating is always worship in the sense that the body is our instrument of work and we must take care of it in terms of diet. We should not eat simply for filling the belly. Food should have some taste and give rise to love and life.

The body is a temple: the individual consciousness that dwells within the body is part of the supreme consciousness. Every effort to make our body pure and help its proper growth and development is a form of "worship." So it is with eating as well as cooking. Food that is cooked by someone who does not want to cook, who is not in the proper consciousness, will not be healthy food despite the ingredients. You may not get sick from it, but it is not health producing. We do not eat only the food that is cooked, but the consciousness of the cook as well.

Cooking should be done as an offering to God. Before eating one should first offer a portion on a separate plate to God in meditation. It should be done slowly and deliberately since meditation cannot be done in a hurry. In India, one who has not taken bath and put on clean clothes will not be allowed in the kitchen. One must be clean, and the kitchen also must be clean before starting. One cooking should be in a happy mood, as should be the one who serves the food. Food cooked by one who really likes to cook tastes quite different from that food which is cooked merely out of obligation.

Bathing before cooking has a twofold effect: preparing to bathe makes the cook more conscious of his or her work; in this way it prepares one's mind. It also cleans, purifies, relaxes, and removes fatigue and depression.

The art of cooking involves an emotional relationship between the food and the cook. Cleaning, cutting, chopping food - all these activities can be performed with a sense of rhythm and in a relaxed manner. Cooking should be enjoyed as much as any other art. It becomes a creative art when the person cooking does so with complete emotional involvement. In this way, like a clairvoyant, he or she will receive messages through intuition, creating new tastes and evolving new recipes.

Once the cooking starts, one should not taste the food. If it is enjoyed first by ourselves, it is no longer fit as an offering to God. Once we have offered our food to God, it has become sacred food. We then no longer eat just for ourselves but for the health and sustanence of the divinity that unities all things.

Amma (Radhe's mumma) splitting mung dal

The six tastes of Ayurveda

In ayurveda, foods are classified into six tastes (rasas) - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. Many foods have more than one taste - Amla, the Indian Gooseberry, contains five of the six tastes, and turmeric contains three - bitter, pungent and astringent. Ayurvedic healers recommend that you include all of these six tastes at each main meal. Each taste has a balancing ability, and including some of each provides complete nutrition, minimizes cravings and balances the appetite and digestion. The general North American diet tendes to have too much of the sweet, sour and salty tastes, and not enough of the bitter, pungent and astringent.

Within the broad principle of including all six tastes, you can customize your food choices to the doshas you are trying to balance at a given time. If you are trying to keep Pitta dosha in balance, for instance, you would choose more foods that are sweet, bitter and astringent and fewer foods that are salty, pungent or sour. To keep Vata balanced, choose more from salty, sour or sweet foods and fewer bitter, pungent or astringent foods. To keep Kapha in balance, eat more bitter, pungent or astringent foods and fewer salty, sour or sweet foods.

Choose health-giving foods in each taste group over foods that offer less nourishment or balance--fresh seasonal fruits are better choices for the sweet taste than cake made with refined flour and white sugar. Pick foods within groups that match your digestive fire and taste: smaller lentils (part of the astringent taste group) are easier to digest than large beans, and daikon radish, black pepper and ginger are gentler pungent foods than cayenne or chili peppers. With the wide variety of wholesome foods of every kind available, you can mix and match as much as you like.

Here is a sampling of foods in each of the taste groups:

Sweet (madhura): Milk, butter, sweet cream, wheat, ghee (clarified butter), rice, honey, raw sugar, ripe fruits of many kinds
Sour (amla): Limes and lemons, citrus fruits, many kinds of immature fruits, yogurt, mango powder, pomegranate seeds, tamarind
Salty (lavana): Salt (ayurveda recommends rock salt)
Bitter (katu): Bitter gourd (Kerela), greens of many kinds, turmeric, fenugreek
Pungent (tikta): Chili peppers, ginger, black pepper, clove, mustard, radish, white daikon
Astringent (kashaya): Beans, lentils (dhals), turmeric, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage, corriander

When you are in a hurry, a simple fruit-spice chutney or a well-chosen spice-mixture can deliver at least a little of each of the six tastes.

Here are some suggested spice mixes to help balance each of the three doshas. Mix the dry spices well and store them in clean airtight jars. To use, sauté spices in a little ghee or oil and pour over cooked dishes. Or add to dishes such as dhals and soups as they are simmering.

Vata-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 3 parts fennel, 1 part turmeric, 1 part cumin, 1 part dried ginger, 1 part black pepper, 1 part cardamom, 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1 part fenugreek, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)

Pitta-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 6 parts fennel, 2 parts coriander, 2 parts cumin, 1 part turmeric, 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)

Kapha-balancing Six Taste Spice Mix: 2 parts dried ginger, 2 parts black pepper, 2 parts turmeric, 1 part coriander, 1 part cumin, 1 part sweet paprika, 1 part salt, 1 part turbinado sugar, 1 part dried mango powder (all powdered)

Traditional Indian cooking station


Ayurveda teaches that health is maintained through balancing the three subtle energies in our bodies - Doshas, which are made up of different combinations of the five elements. The Ayurvedic system is about the maintenance and protection of the whole person (body, mind and soul) rather than focus and treatment of disease. The doshas are important for health because when they are in balance, the body is healthy, when imbalanced, the body has diseases. Each human holds a unique combination of Doshas. Correct lifestyle and food choices creates a healthy metabolic system, good digestion and excretion, which leads to health and vitality.

The five elements:
  1. space
  2. air
  3. earth
  4. fire
  5. water

The three Doshas:

Vatha is a combination of air and space.

Pitta is mostly fire with some water.

Kapha is mostly water with some earth.

There are various tests available in books and online to find out which Dosha you are.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The farmers market

For what can't be self-grown requires a weekly trip to the local farmers market where produce has been picked that same morning, where you get to buy from the man or woman who tended to the plants with their own hands, where your vegetables are still beaming with prana - energy and life. And where you have the pleasure of meeting characters like this who have true love for their produce and a sense of humour too!

From the fields to the fire...

Plant the seed, give it water, watch it grow.

These photos are from a freshly harvested crop of urad dal. Urad is a bean that can be used to make dal either whole or split, it is also used extensively to make dosa, idli, vada and papadam.