By Advocate Contributors
Originally published on Advocate.com December 31 2010 3:00 PM ET
Famed for his appearance in Madonna's "Express Yourself" video and dubbed the "first male supermodel" following popular fashion campaigns with Gautier, Valentino, and Versace, Yogi Cameron is now one of the world’s preeminent yoga and ayurvedic practitioners. In the following excerpt from his book The Guru In You, Cameron shares advice on ayurveda/yoga tools necessary for a complete mind, body, and spirit makeover.
Living the Ayurveda Way
If you were to consult with an Ayurvedic therapist, you would likely receive a diagnosis of your doshic imbalances based on the tools described above. The practitioner would then provide you with a list of food types that you should and shouldn’t eat, possibly prescribe medicinal herbs for you to take, prescribe treatments, and provide a series of other lifestyle modifications and routines such as yoga postures for you to practice.
Ayurvedic science calls upon us to live our lives in a particular way with the intention of bringing as much balance to our doshas as possible. Much of this lifestyle centers on how and what we eat and drink, as one of the most fundamental components of Ayurvedic science states that a strong digestion leads to a healthy body. While we can make sophisticated modifications of diet and lifestyle to resolve imbalances of our doshas, it is more important to understand the attributes of food (hot-cold, dry-oily, heavy-light, and so forth) and what effect they will have on our systems in the moment. In this section I will share with you general measures we can all take that can be practiced regardless of how our doshas are imbalanced, and the following section will provide very basic and simple ways to resolve issues specific to each dosha.
Regulate Your Time and Frequency of Eating
In the Western culture, eating has become a way not just to sustain life and metabolize energy, but also to build social contacts and dampen or heighten our more difficult emotions. We may spend hours having dinner with friends, and because the event lasts for hours our food intake lasts for hours. When we’re home alone, we may not feel particularly hungry on any given evening, but because we’re bored while we’re zoning out in front of the TV, we just feed ourselves to keep our mouths busy.
Keeping ourselves in balance, according to Ayurveda, centers on how and what we eat. This is because the food we eat becomes us, and balancing our doshas can begin with eating food for the sake of living rather than for the sake of our emotions or our social calendars. An Ayurvedic eating schedule is determined by what time it is best to digest food and what dosha we need to balance or avoid aggravating.
This schedule begins with not eating anything when we first wake up but instead waiting several hours for the digestive fire to build itself up, although people with a lot of Vata energy can tolerate a little food at that time. Rather than eating small amounts frequently, eat no more than two or three times during the day, with the final meal in the late afternoon or early evening. As Ayurvedic medicine believes that good health is based on strong digestion, it sees constantly eating as the root of most modern diseases. This habit makes the system work overtime and therefore creates an excess of toxic waste. In turn, cleaning out this waste requires more energy and at the same time creates an imbalance in the blood and all other organs. As it can take as much as ten hours to completely digest some foods, eating later than 5 or 6 p.m. means that the food will sit in the stomach while you sleep and will go to waste or turn to fat. Foods with little water content, like meat, will take even longer to digest and are best avoided in the latter half of the day. When you follow this routine, you will wake up less stiff in the morning, have more energy throughout the day, and crave more satisfying natural experiences in each and every moment with people who enhance your life.
Eat Foods Grown Locally and in Season
If you were to go into the produce section of a supermarket, you would likely see an immense variety of fruits and vegetables. You might get strawberries from Chile in February or have year-round access to bananas from who knows what tropical environment. It has become a staple of our culture to have access to many different types of fruits and vegetables at all times. How, though, do these items find their way to our local supermarket? Between the time they have been grown in another part of the country or world and the time they arrive at your local supermarket, they have been harvested, packaged, shipped by boat or plane, transported by truck or train, and delivered on a flat along with other items. This arduous process subjects the foods to many different kinds of environments and makes it less nutritionally potent. As produce has to arrive on our plates looking good, it is picked prematurely, before it has ripened, and does not contain the potency of fresh products. It is like taking a baby away from its mother before it has all it needs to take care of itself. Hence, we have to overeat to receive the proper amount of nutrition from food.
Eating this type of food is toxic to the body, as our systems are not acclimated to the weather in the region where the food originated. For example, eating tropical fruits in the dead of winter puts unnecessary pressure on the digestive power. If, in addition to that pressure, we were to also have the flu, then the body’s inability to support the ailment while also digesting difficult foods would lead to disease.
Visit local farmers’ markets and other organic venues to buy your produce and other types of foods. This means that you might not have the same variety of foods at your disposal year-round, but you will ensure that the foods you do put in your body don’t build up toxins and increase the risk of serious illnesses like cancer.
Avoid Processed Foods
For thousands of years, humanity lived on fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and various animal proteins. People hunted, gathered, and grew everything they ate. Many survived on only fruits. They ate what they needed to survive and spent much of their time procuring that food. Humanity developed technology to aid the growing and harvesting of the various foods that were eaten and found ways to minimize the amount of time required to grow enough sustenance for all.
Then, humanity invented cheese doodles.
Humanity also invented chocolate chip cookies. And ice cream. And chocolate bars. And macaroni and cheese that can be microwaved in under a minute. And yogurt that fits into a tube so that a child can eat it while running off to a friend’s house to try out the latest video game console. The list goes on. Since the industrial revolution, we have developed new and different ways to process our foods to make them more immediately gratifying and easier to prepare regardless of their nutritional value. Instead of following natural habits, we are making artificial and convenient junk food so we can continue living our ego-driven excessive lifestyles. We are bringing children into the world and feeding them this junk and wondering why they have behavioral problems. Many snacks can have up to twenty ingredients that are hard to pronounce, and some bags of potato chips don’t even list potatoes as the first ingredient. As so many books and magazine articles have already stated, processed foods are detrimental to our health and should be avoided as much as possible.
This is not to say that junk food is evil. It simply isn’t food. It is only a gap filler, lacking the nutrition to sustain a natural and healthy life. Because it is devoid of natural nutrition, we need to eat a lot more of it to survive. If we eat in excess, then we tax our systems and can’t live in balance. We must therefore work toward eating foods with no more than four or five ingredients, as having more than that increases the chance that the food isn’t natural. Also, avoid frozen food, leftovers, food prepared in the microwave, canned food, and other foods that have a diminished or nonexistent nutritional value. Food should be eaten not just for survival but for living a healthy and prosperous life.
Avoid Cooking in Oil
In our culture it is popular to fry, sauté, or roast foods in oil. Why wouldn’t it be? Many people find food cooked in oil to be very tasty. However, cooking food in oil heats the food to a point that destroys its nutritional value and builds up carcinogens that have been found in the Western world to cause cancer and add to obesity. Ayurvedic science shares this view and attributes many of the imbalances that have developed in the West to the abundance of foods cooked in oil.
However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t consume oil. Quite the contrary. Oil is an important part of keeping the body well lubricated for proper digestion and elimination. Instead of cooking foods in oil, though, it is good to cook with water (steam) and then add the oil after the food is cooked. There are many beneficial oils, but a few more potent ones are: sesame oil (for Vata), coconut oil (for Pitta), and mustard oil (for Kapha). Olive, flaxseed, and sunflower are also good oils.
Drink Hot Water
Another staple of modern life is to drink icy cold beverages throughout the day. The body, as we all know, maintains a temperature of nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The digestive fire must exist at a comparable level of heat to be able to function well. When we consume these icy beverages, be it water or another item like soda or beer, the digestive fire not only must perform its normal duties, it must also assimilate the beverage into the body’s overall temperature. This weakens the fire, which means that food is not completely digested. With this weaker fire, we experience gastrointestinal issues like indigestion, constipation, acidity, and headaches.
The best way to avoid diluting the digestive fire is to favor hot or room temperature water as the primary beverage of choice over soft drinks, alcohol, or ice water. Even people with an abundance of heat in the body because of a Pitta imbalance would benefit from favoring hot water over cold, as the extra work involved in consuming the cold beverages exacerbates the issues related to excessive heat.
Avoid Drinking Too Much During Meals
We often like to wash our food down with a nice beverage. Consuming too much liquid while eating, however, puts out the digestive fire, much as water puts out a fire in the outside world and hampers it from burning as efficiently as it should. This leads to problems in a similar way that drinking cold beverages does. If you are inclined to drink beverages while eating, favor hot water or ginger tea over other choices as much as possible. During the meal, sip on your water and drink only enough to help digestion. If you feel full or bloated, however, you have drunk too much. Excess Vata energy will require more water, Pitta a little less, and Kapha very little.
Regulate Your Sleep
Ayurveda assigns doshic energy qualities not only to our bodies and minds, but also to certain times of the day. Each time of day is thought to be of a quality of either Pitta, Kapha, or Vata. Between about 2 and 6 in the morning tends to be Vata, between 6 and 10 a.m. is Kapha, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is Pitta. The cycle then repeats, with 2 p.m. beginning the next Vata cycle, and so on.
Why is this significant? If we wake up at 4 or 5 a.m. during the Vata cycle, we are ensuring the greatest chance for activity and motion for the rest of the day. The evening Kapha cycle lasts from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., so it is suggested that we go to bed by 10 p.m. when the more relaxing and calming Kapha energy is most prominent and will aid in sleep. If we regulate our sleep to wake up and go to sleep at consistent times and also to use these doshic guidelines, then we create a greater opportunity for balance and peace in our bodies and minds.
Avoid Heating the Head
Whenever we go into saunas and other environments of extremely high temperature, we’re creating a lot of heat in the head. Given that our bodies exist at a certain temperature, applying such large amounts of heat to the head creates an excess of Pitta energy and thus adds anger and fear to the mind. It is best to avoid such extreme forms of heat like saunas, hot sunshine, and exercises like Bikram yoga so as to ensure balance, calm, and peace as we go through the day. As noted above in our discussion of violence, any extreme environmental condition challenges our bodies to maintain equilibrium and causes disharmony. Extreme heat also challenges our bodies to maintain the proper amount of digestive fire.
For more information on Yogi Cameron, log onto YogiCameron.com
To purchase a copy of The Guru in You, click here.