The more you deepen into the study of yoga and ayurveda, the more questions arise. For example, how are these two sciences related? What products should you have in your kitchen in the first place, if you want to replace the first-aid kit with spices and "live food"? And how can Ayurveda save us from the stress of a big city? We continue to talk on this topic with Cody Rogowski, a certified teacher of Ayurveda and the author of the blog My Tiny Brooklyn Kitchen from New York.
Stress is the predecessor to so much illness. People have a hard time understanding how disease could stem from the mind, but in Ayurveda, this correlation is second nature: the brain is a powerful tool. There isn’t a thought that passes through our minds that isn’t met with a chemical reaction in the body. But how, might you ask, does this end up as acid indigestion? Or constipation? Or stiff joints?
When we are stressed, the body interprets those thoughts as though there were an immediate threat in our surroundings. This goes back to an evolutionary standpoint of fight or flight, when we were protecting ourselves from those pesky wild animals that wanted us for dinner. But today we’re mainly protecting our egos. Sadly, the body knows no difference. Digestion is interrupted, cardiovascular functioning skyrockets, our breathing patterns shift, and stress hormones like cortisol pulse through our bodies. Fight or flight is a good thing, we need it to survive as a species. But back in the cavemen era, when we escaped the threat, our stress went away and our bodies could then relax back into normal, restorative mode. Today, we can be caught thinking the same stressful thought for hours, days, months, years at a time, keeping fight or flight stress hormones in constant circulation throughout our bodies. Stress hormones in large doses become toxic, and can wreak havoc on our organs and tissues, slowly weakening our capability to heal.
All of us deal with stress differently, Vata body types more in the form of anxious thoughts, Pittas more in the sense of agitation and anger, and Kaphas in the sense of lethargy and depression. What’s great to do first is analyze your stress. Separate the things you are stressed about into two categories: things you can do something about, and the things you can’t. If you can do something about it, get cooking and hop to it my friend. And if you can’t do anything about it, take a deep breath and lean into the feeling of surrender. Allow your mind to accept it. Meditate on that surrendering. By doing so, there can be a deep sense of peace and relief.
The list of natural ways to lower stress is vast, but in a nutshell, breathing exercises like Ujjayi pranayama, mantra meditation, stimulating massage (especially for Kaphas), aromatherapy, yoga. These all are ways in which you can shift your focus from your stressful thoughts, into your body, senses, and the present moment. Ashwagandha is a great medicinal herb that helps to lower cortisol levels in the body, reducing stress and anxiety. (I take a 1/2 tsp with my morning tea). And a stewed apple with a couple cloves is a fabulous way, especially for Vatas, to start the day feeling grounded and calm.
1/ THE SIX POWERHOUSE SPICES. Spices are helpful in several ways. First because they act as vehicles that help to carry the nutrition of the food to where it needs to go. They also can help to balance the qualities of the food you are eating. For instance, if you are eating a very heavy, rich meal, certain spices and herbs can be used to help ignite digestive fire more, so that the food is more readily and easily digested. Also, herbs and spices provide flavor: a flavorful meal helps to better whet the appetite, getting the digestive system more excited and prepped for the food it is about to eat. A fired-up belly can much more easily digest food than one that is turned off by bland flavor and lack of spices.
It's good for everyone to know Ayurveda’s top six, which are black pepper, coriander, fennel, cumin, turmeric, and cloves. All of these spices are tri-doshic, which means they are beneficial for any dosha type. Having these six in your kitchen as a base will give you a great head start toward incorporating Ayurvedic healing techniques into your cooking. When buying, always opt for whole spices that you can grind yourself (of course there exceptions to this rule with spices like turmeric or ginger which aren’t seeds) and invest in a good spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Nothing beats the smell and flavor of freshly ground spices in your kitchen. Promise.
2/ WHITE BASMATI RICE. Ayurveda thinks of white basmati rice as the best grain to cook (and heal) with — because it's super easy to digest. Hard-to-digest foods can lead to a sluggish GI tract, leaving it to hang out in your gut, ferment and rot. It doesn’t sound good because it isn’t. Ayurveda calls this undigested substance AMA, and it can lead to a whole slew of problems, including inflammation and toxicity throughout your body. Therefore, the easier the food is to digest, the better. People often shy away from white rice because they fear the starch or subsequent bloat. It turns out, however, that there are many ways to prep rice so that you experience none of these issues. White basmati, when prepared properly and consumed in moderation based on your dosha, can be sweet, cooling, and extremely pacifying to the body. (See attached Cody’s Best Rice recipe!)
3/ ALMOND MILK. Here we are not talking about the one you find in the box at the grocery store — that almond milk has long lost its healing intelligence due to the fact that it is loaded with additives that make it shelf stable and thicker in texture to appease the masses. We’re talking about almond milk done the old fashioned way. With almonds. And water. In your own kitchen. Try it out and taste the difference. Thank us later.
Soaking the almonds overnight helps make these tasty nuts far easier to digest, and when blended and strained, the result is a sweet, milky treat that pairs with so many great Ayurvedic dishes. It’s fabulous as a base for creamy sauces and chia puddings, and pairs perfectly with warm breakfast grains, fruit smoothies, soups, and even as a relaxing evening tonic before bed, warmed with a little ghee, cardamom and cinnamon. Almond milk calms anxiety, restores energy, and nourishes the brain.
For anybody that has ever intended or has already taken a yoga training class, it is crazy to see how much overlap there is between yoga philosophy and the energetics of Ayurveda. They are indeed sister sciences: both carry the same goal at their root, which is to alleviate human pain and misery, thereby connecting us with the blissful state of who we truly are. Ayurveda and Yoga call this state Samadhi, others call it enlightenment, self-actualization, or pure bliss. At the end of the day, both these sister sciences aim to free us of our mental and physical suffering in order to connect us with our highest, most divine warrior goddess selves.
Not a bad goal if you ask me.
In my own experience, Yoga tends to focus more on the mind, by pulling energy away from our negative thought patterns and bringing it into the body and present moment. This can be done through asana, pranayama breathwork, chanting and meditation to name a few. But Ayurveda is more focused on the vitality of the body itself. A healthy body is much more capable of finding happiness, peace and higher awareness when it is balanced and thriving. This is done mainly by means of diet and daily routine.
SOAK TIME: 15 minutes.
PREP TIME: 2 minutes.
COOK TIME: 20 minutes.
1 cup long grain white basmati rice (I prefer extra long grain if you can find it)
2 cups water
1 tsp cultured ghee (can substitute cooking fat of your choice)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 tbsp fresh dill, coarsely chopped
Salt / Fresh Cracked Pepper to taste
1/ Pour rice into fine mesh strainer. Rinse under cool water, really stirring around the rice with your fingers to start to get the excess starch to release. Transfer rice to a bowl and fill bowl with water so that rice is fully submerged. Soak for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes are up - place the rice back in the strainer and rinse through a few times until the water becomes clear. Heat the water in a medium sized saucepan. As soon as it starts to boil, add the strained rice, as well as the ghee, salt, fennel, cumin, and the cinnamon stick. Give it a good stir. Once the water begins to boil again, lower heat to low, cover, and set your timer for 15 minutes. (This is important- don’t just wing the timing. Over cooked rice is no good.) Lastly, don’t peek at the rice! Keep the lid on and trust that magic is happening in there.
2/ After 15 minutes are up, turn off the heat. If you are adding pecans, quickly throw the pecans on top of the rice (don’t stir). Close the lid and let the rice and nuts sit and steam for 5 minutes.Take off lid and add chopped dill. Take a large fork and lightly fluff the rice to incorporate the herbs and nuts. Note: Don’t over-fluff!! It will start to loose its bouncy texture and get sticky. Yuck.
3/ Season with a bunch of fresh cracked pepper and any additional salt you might like to taste. This rice also pairs perfectly with a spoonful of my Cooling Cilantro Coconut Chutney. There you have it. The best rice rice. I hope you agree with my boyfriend.