by Victoria Moran
posted Oct 06, 2020
I went to The Raj, an Ayurvedic spa in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1994. That started a love affair with this ancient healthcare and healthy living system from India. I’ve periodically departed from it over the years, but Ayurveda never fails, when I return to it, to bless me with vitality, balance, and calm. With autumn upon us — and some unique stressors active in many people’s lives — comforting practices and foods are especially attractive, and Ayurveda has been serving these up for at least 3,000 years.
The basics of Ayurveda state that our physical and mental wellbeing is intimately connected to nature and her cycles — daily, seasonally, and through the seasons of our lives. The closer we align with these cycles, the healthier we’ll be. To that end, Ayurveda recommends:
- An early, light supper that will be fully digested before an early bedtime — ideally, 9:30 or 10 pm.
- Oiling our feet before going to bed to promote sleeping peacefully through the night. To do this, heat sesame oil (Ayurveda loves sesame, but olive or almond oil is fine too) in a tea-light burner or by placing a small bottle of oil in a mug of hot water. Then massage each foot and ankle for a minute or two, put on cotton socks, and call it a night — a good one.
- Awakening early: just before the sun is the classic teaching, but 6 a.m. is a reasonable goal
- Cleaning your tongue upon arising with a silver, copper, or stainless steel tongue scraper (this removes the ama, metabolic debris, that’s collected overnight)
- And then drinking 16 ounces of so of warm or hot water; adding a little lemon or lime juice is another option, or having a soothing herbal tea, such as ginger, works also. Done consistently over time, this should ensure a morning bowel movement and make regularity, well, a regular thing.
There are Ayurvedic prescriptions for every aspect of self-care, and there are also dietary suggestions to keep the calm and healing going. A couple that I’m loving this fall are:
Health-Enhancing Morning Chai
1/2 cup water, boiling
1 bag black tea (substitute Roobois to be caffeine-free)
1 cup non-dairy milk
10 almonds, soaked overnight, with the skins popped off
2 whole dates, soaked overnight, pitted and chopped
1/4 tsp. each: powered ginger, cinnamon, cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground clove
Steep the black tea in a large mug using only 1/2 cup boiling water. Bring all other ingredients to a low boil in a pot on the stove. Blend the milk-and-spice mixture. (Be extremely careful whenever blending hot liquids; be sure the blender lid is secure, and for added protection hold it on, covering the lid with a dish towel.) Add frothy milk mixture to the strong tea. Having this in the morning is like waking up to heaven.
Kitchari for One or Two
Kitchari is Ayurvedic porridge designed to be easy on the digestion. Ayurvedic doctors will sometimes prescribe a 3-to-5-day kitchari cleanse — stewed apples for breakfast, kitchari by itself for lunch and dinner. Use of white rice is advised in cases of noticeable digestive imbalance, brown rice otherwise.
1/4 cup white or brown basmati rice
1/4 cup split mung dal or split lentils
2-3 cups vegetable broth or water (depending on whether you’re looking more for soup or stew)
1 teaspoon avocado oil
1/2 teaspoon grated or finely chopped ginger
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Vegetables of your choice (optional): add chopped sweet potato, winter squash, carrot, cauliflower, or string beans at start of cooking; add greens near the end
Salt to taste
Black pepper (don’t leave this out: it will help with the assimilation of the antioxidants in the turmeric)
Chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)
Rinse the rice and mung dal or lentils, and place in small slow cooker, along with any vegetables you’re using, except for quick-cooking greens. Add broth or water. Gently saute the spices until the seeds start to pop, and add spice mixture to other ingredients. Add greens, if you’re incuding them, in the last half hour or so, depending on which greens you’ve chosen (mature kale will need 30 minutes; baby spinach can be added at, literally, the last minute), and top with cilantro if desired. In my slow-cooker, this kitchari reaches perfection when cooked on high for 3 hours, or on low for 6. I start it when I do the breakfast dishes so it will be ready for the midday meal. Ayurveda recommends a bigger lunch and smaller dinner since agni, digestive fire, is hottest at midday. (Note: If you don’t want to make your kitchari in a slow cooker, you can use the same recipe for regular stovetop preparation.)
If you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda, I recommend the following books:
The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook, by Sarah Kucera (there a couple of non-vegan mentions here — traditional Ayurveda has a fondness for ghee — but there’s lots and lots of helpful, practical information in this book that focuses on Ayurvedic self-care routines)
The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen, by Talya Lutzker (Ayurvedic specialities with the dairy removed so you don’t have to worry about it)
Eat Feel Fresh, by Sahara Rose Ketabi (a fully plant-based cookbook and intro to Ayurveda from a young vegan)
Perfect Health, by Deepak Chopra, MD (not all food recommendations are vegan but food is small part of the book which is, overall, extremely informative and easy to digest — no pun intended!)
Victoria Moran is the founder and director of Main Street Vegan Academy, host of the Main Street Vegan Podcast, a yoga practitioner for over 50 years and a newly minted Yoga Instructor (RYT-200), having completed her training via Zoom at Ayurvedic Health Retreat. She is shown below (left) with the legendary Sharon Gannon, cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga and author of Yoga and Veganism.