Q&A: Ayurveda 101 with a Guru

| Diet & Nutrition

Ayurveda cooking is catching on with its raw and disciplined approach to food that ties the mind and body together. To truly understand what it's about and how you can incorporate it into your life, it's time to talk to an expert. Founder of Wild Vedic Living, Jenny Griffith, 27 years young, provides answers that encompass the culinary and spiritual practice. Learn more about her at the bottom. For now, take advantage of her experienced insight so you can bring Ayurveda into your kitchen.

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Skinny Mom (SM): What is Ayurveda?

Jenny Griffith (JG): Ayurveda is a system of healing that is derived from ancient India. It is said to be the oldest healing system in the world. Ayuh means life and veda means knowledge. It is a medicinal science and its purpose is to maintain the quality and longevity of life. It consists of daily regimen practices, cooking/eating for your own constitution, routine eating and sleeping schedules and specific physical activity. Ayurveda explains that everyone has their own unique constitution, mind and consciousness that is the foundation of health and happiness. There is no concept of specialization. Ayurveda treats the whole person, not just the organ or system involved. We are all made up of the elements: air, space, water, fire and earth. We each have a primary constitution in us known as the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is air and space. Pitta is fire and water. Kapha is earth and water.

>> Read more: What Is Ayurvedic Cooking?


SM: What sets Ayurvedic cooking apart from other styles?

JG: The Ayurvedic diet includes eating organic foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, some dairy and meat, and legumes. It does not include any processed foods,  and advises to let meat be just 10 percent of the diet. Nothing is off limits,  but Ayurveda places emphasis on listening to your body and knowing that it needs healthy foods. That is why I love Ayurveda because you are not restricted from anything. As far as the cooking goes, most Ayurvedic recipes you look up online will resemble Indian food. I enjoy teaching people the original Indian recipes, but now you can take just about any recipe and alter it to be Ayurvedic. Click here for the secret to decoding organic produce labels.

Most food we eat should be cooked. In Ayurveda, you must cook the food so it is warm and easier for the stomach to digest. This is includes steering away from leftovers. The food should be cooked fresh and eaten as soon as possible. Anything that comes in a bag, can or box is considered “tamasic” which means dead; it holds no real life force.

(Photo: ayurveda
Photo by Wild Vedic Living)

Fruit is an exception if eaten by itself. Most raw foods and drinking cold ice water are to be avoided because it literally shocks the digestive system and it is hard for the stomach to break down those foods without putting stress on the entire body.

In my cooking classes I teach people the beauty of using spices. They have wonderful healing properties that are so important to include in our diet. Since Ayurveda is derived from India, a few examples of spices that are used include: turmeric, ginger, cardamom, hing and fenugreek. Combining more than one spice is beneficial for healing. The spices work together to help with different issues like bloating, insomnia, migraines and anxiety — you name it, there’s a cure. Most people like to start with salt, pepper, and olive oil. In Ayurveda you would start with the whole spices in the pan with some ghee (clarified butter) and let those start popping to get the flavor going, then you would cook your food and near the end add the powdered spices.

>> Spice it up: 5 Seasonings You Should Make, Not Buy


SM: Is it possible to practice Ayurveda a little bit, or do you need to be “all in”?

JG: It is totally possible to practice a little bit. One could choose any of the recommended daily routine practices and see a difference in their health.


SM: What attracted you to Ayurveda?

JG: I was introduced to Ayurveda in my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. My instructor, Will Braham, taught a short introduction to the science at the Cincinnati Yoga School in Pleasant Ridge. I really enjoyed it because I’ve always been interested  health. I’ve gone through a lot of diets, bodybuilding diet (eating tuna and chicken five times a day), eating clean, paleo, vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian. I did a 21-day Ayurvedic cleanse at The Elemental Om in Montgomery, Ohio. I really enjoyed the way it treated my body. I began meditating and eating in this pure and gentle manor. It changed my life. Ayurveda inspired me to move to San Diego and go to school for it.


SM: Why is digestion so important in Ayurveda?

JG: Digestion is important because we have something inside of our belly called the agni (metabolic fire), which maintains one’s lifespan, strength, natural resistance, vigor and vitality. The agni governs our digestion, absorption, assimilation and the transformation of our food into bodily tissues. We want to keep our agni burning strong. Things like, wrong diet or lifestyle, incompatible food combinations, stress or ingested food that is improperly digested will cause the agni to be low, creating internal metabolic waste that we call ama. Ama is a morbid substance that becomes toxic to the system. The more ama we build up inside, the more health problems we have. By choosing proper diet and lifestyle we can kindle this digestive fire making our immunity strong.

(Photo: wildvedicliving
Photo by Wild Vedic Living)

SM: How can someone begin to practice Ayurveda and adopt its cooking and eating methods?

JG: If you're just starting out I would advocate eating on a routine schedule, eating only organic and cutting out all processed foods. Another small step would be to drink a hot ginger and lemon water every morning to soothe your digestive system preparing it for the day. It would be beneficial to find out your constitution from an Ayurvedic Practitioner or take a quiz online. This way, you could start eating foods that have the opposing elements in them to balance your primary dosha. For example, if one is a Pitta, this means they have too much fire in the body, so they would want to eat cooling foods like coriander, cucumber and melons. You can look online or on my website to get a list of foods to eat pertaining to your dosha. I am also available for Skype assessments as well.


SM: What are the big do’s and don’ts?

JG: The word don’t is a little harsh. That is why we eat Ayurvedically so we can have some flexibility in our diet, and not being to hard on ourself when we have a piece of cheesecake at dinner. I’m going to change the word "don't" to avoid, but it’s not the end of the world if you break these once in a blue moon. Click here for more reasons why you shouldn't be hard on yourself for breaking a food "rule."

Do’s

  • Eat organic and unprocessed foods
  • Eat in a peaceful environment and be mindful with each bite
  • Listen to your body, eat according to your dosha
  • Cook your own food as much as possible
  • Eat on a routine schedule

Avoid

  • Eating meat more than once a day
  • Eating in front of the TV, computer, phone, in the car
  • Iced beverages, smoothies, juices and cold foods
  • Eating when not hungry
  • Eating four hours before bed

(Photo: wildvedivliving
Photo by Wild Vedic Living)

SM: How does Ayurvedic cooking compare to traditional western food prep in terms of cost?

JG: Ayurvedic cooking is much cheaper. I would suggest buying  beans and grains in bulk. Buying less meat will cut costs drastically. Even better if you grow some veggies and fruit at home! I would say that setting up your Ayurvedic kitchen would be the most expensive part. Once you have all the spices, ghee and oils, its cheap after that.

Don’t be scared to adopt any of the practices. Starting small is the best way to go. Some of my favorite books are Textbook of Ayurveda, Vol. 1 by Dr. Vasant Lad and Yoga and Ayurveda by David Frawley.


SM: Discuss how yoga and Ayurveda are intertwined.

JG: The fifth philosophy of Ayurveda is Yoga. It is important to understand that both systems are separate but related healing forms from India. Yoga overlaps into Ayurveda on various levels. Ayurveda recommends that one of the best forms of exercise is asana, which is the physical practice of yoga. Asana can be an adjunct for physical therapy for the treatment of diseases that may be prescribed by an Ayurveda practitioner. We must bring Yoga into Ayurveda to add a spiritual and physical dimension to Ayurvedic treatments. Ayurveda prescribes the daily regimen and health guidelines for an optimal yogic practice. Yoga provides the spiritual basis to receive the optimal benefits for an Ayurvedic practice. When practicing a daily regimen of cleansing, meditation, ayurvedic diet, and asana on a routine schedule in congruence with the sun, moon and cosmic force you will see how yoga and Ayurveda go hand in hand.

>> Read more: What Does Yoga Do?


SM: Do you think this way of eating food is a prediction for future mainstream cooking?

JG: I think that more and more people are interested in learning about Ayurveda. As far as mainstream cooking, I don’ t think a lot of people want to put the time into cooking. Most people are looking for quick ways to cook. Ayurveda is about putting healing vibrations into the food you are preparing. You can’t really grab a quick Ayurvedic meal on the go, unless you are eating some nuts or fruit as a snack, but snacking isn’t advised.

There must be intention and love in the action of making the food. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if a lot of people are into that in America. Especially the food cooked in restaurants usually comes from a box in a freezer and the person cooking it may or may not give a hoot about the person eating it. We live in such a fast-paced environment. There are a lot of health food spots popping up now but I haven’t seen any Ayurveda restaurants. I think that people are keen to picking up the small practices of Ayurveda and looking up recipes on Pinterest. As far as mainstream, we’ve got a lot of work to do.


Jenny is 27 and lives in San Diego, California. She is certified in Ayurvedic Food is Medicine, Ayurvedic Nutrition, 200-hour Yoga Teacher, Reiki Level 2 and received her Bachelor's  in Tourism Management at the University of Cincinnati. She is the photographer, recipe developer and Ayurvedic enthusiast of her business, Wild Vedic Living. She teaches Ayurvedic workshops, classes and retreats. She currently attends the San Diego College of Ayurveda to receive her Ayurvedic Practitioners License. In her free time she loves to garden, do yoga, hang out at the beach, and be with friends and family.