Let's start with you.
Do this. Have an experience - whether it's going to work, making love, having coffee with your buddy or doing your weekly tap dancing class. Check yourself in the mirror thereafter. Or you can just do it right now just so you're with me.
What do you see? Ever had the feeling your insides don't match your outside or vice versa?
By that I mean, have you ever done something you were challenged by and yet people you knew complimented you on your new presence, asked if you had lost weight or changed your hair style, you know something looks different about you, what is it? Have you ever followed a step-toe fancy to the whistling tunes of the pied piper only to realise that you're on your lunch break and find yourself zipping over to have a quick look at the Macy's cosmetic counter because you saw a poster at the train station that morning of a 15 year old modelling some eye make up thing that might help highlight your sunken jewels?
Do for yourself what we do for you as practitioners. Observe yourself with the objective intent of discovering the post digestive effect of your choices.
What do you see?
Vipaka - the Ayurvedic post digestive effect of eating
After digestion of food, the six tastes of sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent eventually become condensed into 3 main tastes - sweet, sour and pungent to describe the long term effect of your choices. Vipaka has an effect on the last stage of digestion in your colon via feces, urine and sweat, but also on your tissues. It's what lingers on after all is said and done.
The Sweet taste is responsible for the anabolic function (tissue growth) of the body. The dosha increases Kapha dosha and pacifies Vata and Pitta. Sugar and salt are included in this definition even though Salt is comprised of Fire and Water, the explanation being that the Fire component gets utilised in the Fire enhancing digestive process leaving the Water component to continue the journey to the end. The Sweet taste is nourishing, building, stabilising and improves resistance. It works against decay and withering, it upholds integrity, steadfastness and fortitude. It makes your skin thicker and your muscles strong. I think of the idea of sweetness when it comes to building the body to procreate, build juices to have sexual and menstrual fluid, build the mind to be able to tackle your old habits with a therapist (talk therpists take note - an excellent collaboration in my opinion), build stamina to be able to work through your new business idea, build fortitude so others know where you stand. Too much can lead to stubbornness, lethargy, inertia, sluggishness, over sentimentality, possessiveness and lack of passion. In the body it can translate as obesity, water retention, diabetes, hypertension. An excess is really an overeating of your capacity. We are not camels, we cannot hoard without it affecting us long time. We will gather moss if we sit too long.
The Sour taste increases the metabolism of the body and generally aids the digestive enzymes due to the fire aspect. Sour has a small amount of water to it which gives it a mildly tonifying effect and the earth element keeps it weighted so the fire doesn't burn too brightly. Sour can not only improve digestion of the body but also the mind, enhancing discrimination or the ability to separate the personality experience from what is. I like to think of the sour post digestive effect as keeping things appropriate to your natural physiology, it neither takes from your personality or adds on too much. It's that little bit of pickle on the side, it is quiet in the background, making a cameo appearance with just enough effect to make sure the star players are kept in check. Having your warm lemon water in the morning is a nice mild way to start the day metabolising, helping to break down yesterday's debris and assist with elimination to make room for new experiences.
The Pungent taste is purifying and reduces the tissues of the body. One aspect is hot and light and will reduce Kapha and Vata to an extent until the dryness of it starts to make Vata feel like a crumbly and discarded snake skin. Vata will enjoy the heat, however, and it's a great boost to the circulation. Wet and damp Kapha, the natural hoarder of the three doshas could do with some letting go and the pungent taste is about reducing tissues of the body. You will urinate less, have less chubby, not feel like you're filing the toilet bowl (omg), and ideally any extra tissue growth that impedes natural movement in the body. Pungent also incorporates the bitter and astringent tastes, which are naturally cool. These tastes are good for Pitta dosha when they need to "chill out" to reduce the inflammation physically or contract their outspoken ways. Since there is no soothing to the pungent taste, you will need to watch for any increase in Vata dosha via gas and constipation, too much reduction in body mass or an increase in Pitta via sharpness in the tongue and looseness of stools. The pungent taste can feel like a snatching away and those that have ever been on any fad diet that has ever been created, too much reducing will just force the body to try and overcompensate to make you even chubbier than before. It's about respecting ALL the doshas of the body, lest they take revenge on you. (I write this last part with emphasis, PLEASE don't go eating only reducing foods in an attempt to lose weight, it's not sustainable. Your Ayurvedic practitioner will design something unique and life changing for you).
A gallery of life choices -
What are you in relationship with?
The concept of the Ayurvedic diet or Ayurvedic recipes seems to have confused people. I know my clients get confused on how to really get the most out of Ayurvedic cook books. They see it the same way they see any kind of recipe book except they hold onto a label of dohsa for themselves and then proceed to only focus on recipes that reduce that dosha without cultivating a relationship with food, meaning they don't understand how to shift gears when the seasons change (unless they have seen an Ayurvedic practitioner over the course of a year and observed how they change with guidance).
It is ideal to form a relationship with ingredients. Get to know ones that work and ones you think don't work - or may not work in the current situation. I cannot drink coffee where I currently live because I become a lunatic, but in Bali, no worries at all. In fact if I didn't have a coffee in Bali I may just not leave my villa and lounge around until I left an imprint. So ingredients - it really is ideal to eat as simply as possible when starting to cultivate the relationship with food items. Choose a veggie and make a simple side dish. Have a curry with a couple of ingredients. Create a focus - what does coconut do for me, how do I feel afterwards, when does it serve me best, when I'm feeling dry and thin and feel like I need more juice in my system? What happens if I just eat coconut without some form of digestive aid? Do I need to spice it up even more in Winter than Summer because it is so cooling?
How do I use spices? Is there a range of cold to warm to hot spices? Can I moderate my food over the course of a year by the kind of spices I use?
I will stop asking questions as it can get annoying. :)
My point is this. There is no such thing as Ayurvedic cooking. There is you, knowing the qualities you have present at a point of time, and there is the ingredient, and you're both in the boxing ring. Depending on a bunch of conditions like the weather, your digestive strength, in general the qualities you have hanging around - you will either fight it out and one of you will lose, or you might decide to shake hands and have a beer together instead. The point is this - take the time to know what effect a food has on your body and mind. Once you get your mind around a couple of ingredients, your sense of awareness can extend to more complicated recipes. Look at the post digestive effect, and whether it had the desired effect of getting your closer to your true nature (Prakruti).
You can use the above example with any activity of your life.
I went on this date many moons ago and my date wanted to cook for me, which I thought was nice of him. And what he cooked, from memory, was nothing out of the ordinary. I didn't think any ingredient would upset me. There were no beans or broccoli. it was a pretty good meal. That night after the date, in bed, I had the most excruciating bloated pains. The pains were like someone was stabbing a knife into me. I couldn't even get up to take a digestive as I was doubled over in pain and relied on trying to calm my breath until it subsided.
The next morning I wracked my brain as to what the hell happened. I ran through the list of items and was bamboozled. Then it occurred to me - this was our 4th date and my body was trying to tell me something - the situation wasn't for me, I knew it. I couldn't digest the experience. Another classic link is UIT's - I have seen that time and again, when a relationship is not ideal in friends/clients. But really it can occur in any way, not only in the classic lovers situation that we think of as relationships.
I had a part time day job to help pay the bills with my Ayurvedic practise. The nature of the area I set up practise in means my biz operated in a boom or bust mentality - it was crazy busy or crickets. Anyways I had this job, and there were many things about it that wasn't working for me. I tried to talk myself out of my thoughts and get on the Elizabeth Gilbert shit eating sandwich theory (her book Big Magic is an excellent and funny read) and get over myself and be grateful and breathe and coach myself Rocky Balboa style (c'mon!)......but it wasn't working. I found myself, in the last 3 weeks of this experience, sitting in the parking lot of a supermarket eating an entire packet of ginger snaps in my lunch hour and thinking - what have I just done?
Oh the irony of an Ayurvedic practitioner eating a shit sandwich in order to be an Ayurvedic Practitioner!
I did this more than once. Each time I tried to bring my lunch I would seem to forget it on the kitchen bench and end up at that damn parking lot eating something unwholesome because it just all seemed to go together. I was miserable. So, after three months of it, I quit. I quit because I saw myself heading down a place where shitty decisions would be made in the spirit of fear of not being able to support myself.
And in all honesty, I'm just too far gone down this path. My health is so much more worth it.
Do you really observe your face in the mirror?
The face reveals a lot - I have a saying that sounds a little nasty but meant to be taken in the spirit of Ayurveda - you get the face you deserve - meaning, as we get older our skin loses it's ability to hide away our discretion's. We can see if we have a habit of worrying or being angry or pouting or sarcasm by the turn of our mouths. We can see where the liver might leave it's sarcastic mark and where the spleen is tired from overcleaning. We can see if there is clarity in the eyes and mind and which side of your brain functions more efficiently. We can basically see the leftovers of a lifetime of habits.
And we can see the brightness of the eyes. I find the eyes one of those parts of our body that can actually become more vibrant and enigmatic as they age. When you are younger, they are about colour and eyelashes and getting rid of dark lines under eyes. But as you age, through life choices, getting through down-on-your-luck situations, meditation, being curious and always learning, and smiling, eating slowly and not too much, sleeping well and not too much, trusting yourself and following your booming heart song... something happens that seems to add depth to the eyes, they take on a kaleidoscope effect of many mirrors. When you meet someone like this, the light that shines forth is magnetic. It's what I imagine the light feels like in near death experiences, it's comforting and certain and full of possibility.
When in doubt - sleep on it
You hear in yoga studies and breathwork the very important work of allowing a pause between actions, explaining that in this pause everything can be revealed. In this pause we get a moment to let activity settle down so that we can better assess the next step. I like the idea of sleeping on it, when faced with a new decision that I'm unsure of it's consequences. I have also gotten into the habit of using my morning routine of observing the vitals via our tongue, feces, urine, and the state of sleep on my mood in connection with my recent life choices. A journal of sorts is a great idea to be able to see the connection between what you did and how you feel.
Let your body boss you around. It knows stuff. It's on your side unless you ignore it so much it starts retaliating and forming it's own posse (see cancer, auto immune). Observe cause and effect. It's this little trick that starts the process of realising yourself as a creator and not a victim. And be open to change - each decision you make might just be perfect for here and now. Nothing is good or bad in Ayurveda, it's all about the post digestive effect.
You get the face you deserve.