Modern rapid-fire life is intense: hundreds of red flags in the inbox, lack of sleep, emotional stress, heads abuzz with all the things we might have forgotten. And however much we may fantasise about chucking it all in and heading to the Himalayas, walking away just isn’t a viable option for most of us. Instead, we need a realistic and practical contingency plan, something that balances out the prickliest parts of our moods and characters, that fosters optimism and ease, even when stress is rife.
That something, for me, is Ayurveda. It makes me stronger, and therefore better able to cope with the sleeplessness, stress, worry and workload that comes with being a busy working mother, and it gives me a stable foundation that adjusts ever so subtly beneath life’s shifting goalposts – that helps stabilise and rebalance, even if everything is moving at warp speed.
Here’s how to begin:
- Eat an individualistic diet
Yes, we could be thinner and fitter, but striving for this all the time is exhausting. Ayurveda suggests something completely different. We each have a unique body type or constitution – called our “dosha" – that can be balanced by eating the right tastes and flavours for our type. These flavours, also called “rasas”, are astringent, salty, sweet, sour, bitter and pungent. Eating more of the flavours that naturally balance out your own dosha will get your body humming with health, and also cancel out niggling ailments and unexplained cravings. For example, I’m “pitta”, the dosha that comprises fire and water. That “fire” of mine has meant that I’ve always been prone to eczema, stomach upsets, heat rashes, nervous sweating – but I had never thought to cut down on the “pungent” or “sour” foods that were a mainstay of my diet (think garlic, onions, citrus fruit, tomatoes, black pepper, chilli, vinegar). But within weeks of eating according to my dosha, I had a settled stomach, I was sleeping more peacefully, I’d lost excess weight and my diet had also balanced out all the cravings and ailments that were part and parcel of eating foods that were fighting my body type.
- Have a herbal high
Ayurveda knows a thing or two about the healing power of food, and for every ailment, there’s a potent natural remedy. Oil-pulling aside (swishing a mouthful of oil round your mouth on an empty stomach for 20 minutes), there are three Ayurvedic remedies I rely on to bring increased balance to my life:
– Chyawanprash is a fabled jam that you can eat off the spoon or dilute in warm milk (nut milk works well too). Comprised of nutritious and toxin-expelling amla fruit, and a blend of over 30 Ayurvedic herbs, including stress-relieving ashwagandha (or Indian ginseng) and immunity-boosting cardamom, it can be taken all-year round to ward off illness and promote mental resilience.
– Triphala is a wonderful digestive remedy that promotes gentle cleansing. Made with three Indian fruits (amla, haritaki, bibhitaki) and fennel, linseed, liquorice and psyllium, you take two capsules before bed to settle the stomach and aid the gentle clearing of the gut come morning.
– Shatavari root is available in tablet or powder form, and has been used for many centuries to balance female hormones and the reproductive cycle. I take Pukka Womankind, which contains shatavari, motherwort, red clover and turmeric, and it’s helped balance not just my cycle, but my moods and skin, too.
- Change with the seasons
We are more prone to certain illnesses or discomforts at different times of the year: we crave different foods, our moods alter and behaviour changes, and we may sleep or dream differently. This is because our doshic balance alters season by season. We are more “kapha” (the wet, cold, damp energy) in winter, and more “pitta” in high summer (hot, dry), for example. While we feel the change in our bodies, we have probably not considered adapting our lifestyles to combat the seasonal shift, but in doing so we’ll give our bodies and minds a profound wellbeing boost. How to do this? Start by eating a solely seasonal diet (so no more raw detox salads in January) and tweak your seasonal sleep, bathing, exercise and self-care rituals, too.
- Eat more “peace-giving” foods
“Sattva” is the state we find ourselves when we’re in a great place: calm, content and peaceful. To promote this balanced way of being, Ayurveda suggests that the majority of our diet should consist of sattvic food, which promotes the health of the gut and, in turn, ensures positive mental health. Bear in mind that modern research has only recently identified just how much of our “happy hormone”, serotonin, is manufactured in our gut, and this prophetic notion really packs a punch. Whole foods eaten in season, organically farmed and brimming with enzymes is the key here, but favourites on the list are coconut, mango, peach, pear, pomegranate, basmati rice, blue corn, parsley, coriander, nuts and seeds, yellow squash, mung beans, yellow split lentils and whole, homemade live yoghurt.
- Press the OFF button, every day
In order not to burn out, we need to get better at recognising our limits. Our bodies are incredibly resilient, but this can disadvantage the workaholics among us, who never switch off. A balanced life can only be achieved when we create the time to renew ourselves on a daily basis. Yoga is a wonderful act of renewal. It is also Ayurveda’s sister science. The ancient Ayurvedics suggested that no one take up yoga until they’d mastered Ayurveda – one must, they concluded, balance the body first before they could successfully shape and exercise the mind. But renewal in the 21st century can take many forms: a warm bath, a slow swim, a massage, a chapter of a favourite novel, a favourite album and so on. Schedule one of these things into every single evening and lock that phone in a drawer while you’re at it. We all need to balance our busy lives with moments of simple, perspective-giving pleasure – that really can help us admire the woods, in among those trees and to-do lists.
THE BODY BALANCE DIET PLAN by Eminé Ali Rushton (WATKINS) is available for pre-order at Amazon now. The book is released on April 16.