They say your gut is your second brain. And for anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety (ahem! all of us) it can be even more anxiety-producing to have to figure out what to eat when feeling freaked out.
Fortunately, Ayurveda can offer a bit of relief. Ayur (meaning life) and veda (meaning knowledge) is one of the oldest medical sciences in the world, born from ancient India, and has existed for over 3,000 years. Today, its practices are more relevant than ever, as food has become almost universally accepted as the foundation for health or disease.
Ayurvedic principles were developed through a combination of experimentation and observation to guide people in what to eat, when to eat and how to eat it. Nature systematically aims for balance, and as members of the natural world, our bodies align with this intention: optimal health achieved through internal balance.
However, it’s not quite that simple.
In Ayurveda, the path to reaching this balanced state (peak health) is based on an individual understanding of the unique proportions of three elements, aka: doshas (vata – air, pitta – fire, kapha – earth), that together form their constitution. Knowing your constitution is only as helpful as understanding your imbalances. An additional complexity states that different seasons and times of day are governed by different doshas. Ayurveda is complex, dynamic, specific and expansive — and that makes sense, because we are as well!
I first discovered Ayurveda six years ago when I signed up for a winter vegetarian cooking course at the Open Center in New York City. There, I met Divya Alter, an Ayurvedic chef and instructor who would not only come to teach me everything I’ve ever known about cooking, but who would also become my mentor and dear friend.
Because much of what we experience in the uncertain climate of today is a mixture of anxiety and worry, Divya lists a nourishing and grounding recipe for a calming date milkshake in her new cookbook, What To Eat For How You Feel. In it she writes: “If you’re feeling high-strung and tired but unable to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, try this milkshake (to be consumed on its own). It is a classic SV Ayurvedic recipe to help us pacify the nervous system before bedtime, sleep through the night and wake up energized.”
Consider this a small and simple way Ayurveda can help counter the chaos.
1 cup Whole Milk or Almond Milk
3 Cardamom Pods, slightly crushed and open on one end
1 inch Cinnamon Stick
1 or 2 Medjool Dates, pitted and chopped
¼ teaspoon Vanilla Extract (optional)
1 | In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cardamom and cinnamon.
2 | Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
3 | Take off the heat, remove the cardamom and cinnamon, and let the milk cool down.
4 | Transfer to a blender, adding in the date and vanilla, and blend until smooth.
5 | Drink the milkshake warm, or heat up again and sip hot.
Other Ayurvedic foods and practices that can help ease you through our modern mess of a world are:
1 | Getting a massage with coconut oil. Coconut oil is cooling, which is especially helpful in hot weather when pitta (fire) is seasonally dominant.
2 | Drink warm whole milk at night with cardamom and turmeric. (Turmeric must always be heated to activate the anti-inflammatory, curcumin.)
3 | Add extra healthy fats (like olive oil or ghee) to your meals.
4 | Steep rose petals in hot water and drink as tea. Rose petals are known to calm the mind and relieve emotional symptoms like depression and anxiety.
5 | Eat a boiled pear or apple with cinnamon and cloves first thing in the morning. (This can also be a daily detox.)
6 | Walk barefoot outside in the grass.
7 | Drink plenty of room temperature water (no ice) between meals.
8 | Limit screen time (both television and cell phone, amongst other electronics).
Alyssa D. Benjamin has studied Ayurvedic cooking under Divya Alter since 2011 and lives (mostly) according to Ayurvedic practices. It’s all about balance after all!