Five "Healthy" Habits That May Actually Be Harming You
Dating back thousands of years, ayurveda is an ancient and complete healthcare system, aimed at whole body and mind balance. Through the practice of ayurveda, we can tailor our lives to live in alignment with nature. Empowered with the knowledge of ayurveda, it is possible to live a life in balance, and according to ayurveda we can avert the danger yet to come — a strategy better known in the modern world as preventive medicine. There is actually a sloka, or verse, in ayurveda — Heyam Dukham Anagatam — which, translated, says just this: “Avert the danger yet to come.” If we notice imbalance starting to form in our lives, we can take a step back and look at our routines that may actually be harming us. Shifts in our habits and routines, over time, can begin to realign us to that natural state, where good health, inner calm and balance begin to dominate.
Living a healthy lifestyle is right in line with the practice of ayurveda. However, there may be habits that seem "healthy," but are actually harming us. Read on to learn the reasoning, ayurvedically, why certain habits are harmful and how to make simple changes that will aid our bodies in maintaining balance.
Drinking Cold Water or Large Amounts of Water
Drink a healthy dose of water each day? Yes! Drink it cold? NO! Ayurveda recommends avoiding cold drinks at meals and ice-cold drinks in general. Our digestive fire, agni, burns for us daily, allowing us to digest, process, and transform the nutrients that we put into our bodies. Iced water extinguishes our digestive fire — like putting cold water on burning logs! And we may even notice that cold drinks mixed with warm, cooked foods can cause stomach cramps, bloating, and general discomfort in the stomach area. Iced water is just too cold for our digestion. Instead, we make the simple, digestion-supporting switch to room-temperature (or even warm) water. Let go of the ice! Once we get into the habit of drinking beverages at room temperature, we may notice a dramatic improvement in digestion and the way our bodies feel while eating and after a meal. Modern laws of physics and thermodynamics support this ayurvedic knowledge: as temperature lowers, molecular activity decreases. Putting ice water or cold drinks in our stomach slows the action of the digestive enzymes.
Now, for those who are hot in nature and for whom nothing sounds better that a cold glass of iced water — cool drinks can be taken in between meals… but not with meals. Keep in mind that, although a cold drink may temporarily cool down the heat, agni is being reduced. The result may be incomplete digestion or imbalance.
When we drink a large amount of liquid during a meal, we are actually diluting the digestive enzymes and slowing our digestive process. As mentioned above, putting cold liquid into our stomachs during meals slows the movement of digestive molecules and hampers the digestive process.
Eating Raw Uncooked Foods – Bioavailability!
It's important to preserve the intelligence of the ingredients we eat, but it's also important to make them digestible. Cooking brings the light of agni, the heat/fire element, into our food. This additional space, or softening, of the molecules in food allows our own agni, digestion, to more easily penetrate and break down our food, helping us digest and assimilate properly and fully. Certain foods, of course, such as grains, beans and dhals, should always be eaten cooked. Most vegetables are also more beneficial when lightly cooked, or cooked to taste. Some of them, according to ayurveda, such as spinach, chard, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, should not be eaten raw. If breakfast includes fruits, try a stewed apple or pear to stimulate digestion. During the day, when digestion is at its strongest, is a good time to consider raw juicy fruits. We don't have to cook everything — salads containing juicy vegetables such as cucumber and lettuces can be refreshing for lunch in the summer, but consider avoiding them at night and in the winter. This applies especially to Vata-dominant types, for whom digestion may already be challenged. Listening to our body is the key. Vata-dominant types will be less tolerant of uncooked foods. For those Pitta and Kapha-dominant individuals (hardier digestion), you know what is comfortable to eat and how well your body handles it. Keep in mind that ayurveda’s perspective is a cumulative one, so strict adherence isn’t necessary.
Cutting Out Dairy – Not Necessary
According to ayurveda, dairy products such as milk and fresh yogurt provide special and unique nutrition that cannot be derived from any other type of food. The trick is to consume these foods the proper way.
Digest milk properly: (avoid drinking it cold right out of the refrigerator).
- Ayurveda prefers that milk be heated to a low boil before consuming. (Moms, during the day it is better that your child drinks milk rather than denying it just because it is not boiled. Most children have very strong digestion.)
- Allow the milk to foam up, and then bring the heat down so the milk is on a slow boil for about 5 to 10 minutes. If time is a consideration, just bringing it to a boil will suffice.
- While heating the milk, try adding a pinch of ground turmeric, a pinch of ground black pepper, a cinnamon stick, or a few pinches of ginger to reduce the heaviness of the milk and reduce any mucus-causing side effect. For a relaxing, sweet treat, try boiling our Organic Vata Tea with your milk. Either put the bag in the heating milk, or break it open and strain it after the milk has boiled.
Milk, when digested properly, nourishes all the tissues and helps to balance all the doshas. Therefore, it is an important food to include in our daily diet, especially for vegetarians. Milk promotes ojas, a refined substance our body produces from the most subtle level of proper digestion. Ojas brings strength, strong immunity, happiness, and contentment. Milk is an essential food for a growing body and has been shown to support the growth of nerve tissue in children.
Note: Ayurveda recommends that milk should not be mixed or eaten with sour, bitter, salty, astringent, or pungent tastes. When combined with these incompatible tastes, milk may become harder to digest and may cause the build-up of harmful toxins (ama) in the body.
Digesting yogurt properly:
- Try it fresh! Have you ever made fresh yogurt? It’s not hard to do. Fresh, homemade yogurt, made the night before, contains the active bacteria that store-bought yogurt does not.
- Trouble digesting milk or yogurt? You may find that following these suggestions of boiling milk and making fresh yogurt solves your sensitivity. Ayurveda is all about digestion, and these hints make digestion of these products much easier and actually aid digestion.
- Make Fresh Ayurvedic Yogurt with this recipe!
Freshly-made yogurt is filled with countless numbers of beneficial bacteria that help digestion and may kill harmful viruses. Fresh yogurt is especially beneficial for vegetarians, since yogurt adds about 13 grams of protein (1 cup yogurt) as well as B complex, calcium (450 milligrams), potassium, phosphorus, and folic acid.
Eating a "Light" Lunch
The idea of eating a light lunch may sound like a great way to watch weight and stay healthy. Many restaurants even offer a lunch menu of lighter or small proportions, while the dinner menu is packed with heavy foods and larger portions! However, ayurveda recommends that we have our largest meal at lunch. Yes, lunch! During the early afternoon hours when the sun is highest in the sky, our digestive agni is working at its maximum potency. And as the sun goes down, so does our agni. So to burn our largest meal of the day, we eat it at lunch — we add it to our strong digestive fire at noon. It just makes sense.
Rigorously Working Out
Remember the old adage "no pain, no gain?" Well, ayurveda actually encourages us to avoid strain. Not only can it be damaging, but it won't necessarily help us achieve our fitness goals. Exercise has been an important part of the ayurvedic routine for thousands of years before it became a modern fad. It creates balance when suitable for our body type and the season. Exercise has the potential to dissolve impurities in our tissues, enhance immunity, banish fatigue, and even prevent us from being overweight.
But too much exercise can be damaging. Ayurveda encourages us to exercise to 50% of our total capacity. And that capacity depends on daily fluctuations of energy, change of the seasons, age, and body type. Remember that ayurveda’s baseline for all activities — whether work, eating, exercise, play, etc. — is that they contribute to the experience of the subtle state of awareness experienced during meditation (in the case of vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda – Transcendental Meditation®). If our activity overwhelms this subtle experience, then we are not achieving the goal of ayurveda.
Vata types need less exercise; Pitta types need moderate amounts; and Kapha types need more intense exercise in order to stay in balance. The seasons follow another pattern: if we want to increase our exercise, winter and spring are the best times to do so.
Exercise should feel energizing and blissful. So if signs of overexertion, such as difficulty breathing, appear — that is our cue to slow it down.
Check out these Yoga Asanas to balance each dosha:
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