In today’s upside-down world, there’s nothing more important than authentic connections with people who can help us cultivate self-care. For the next 3 months, I’m interviewing three amazing women in wellness who will all be joining us on our September Restore & Reboot Big Sky Yoga Retreat in Montana, and inspiring us with their teaching gifts.
Q: For the newbies, what is Ayurveda in a nut shell?
Ayurveda is the indigenous medical system of India that views health through an all-encompassing lens, looking at the body-mind-spirit in relationship to nature.
Ayurveda means “the knowledge of life and longevity,” or another translation I enjoy, “the art of living.”
It teaches us how to gracefully care for ourselves through the many seasons and stages of life.
Q: How did you discover Ayurveda, and what rang so true that you were led to make it your life’s work?
I was in my teens when I first discovered it, flipping through the pages of Dr. Vasant Lad’s primer, Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Having struggled with digestive challenges since I was a young girl, I started to look to food first to heal my body.
Yet for years, I jumped from one diet, cleanse, superfood and supplement to the next, seeking the answers outside of myself and always feeling like something was missing.
I was in the cycle many of us are in the modern world, sampling everything like a buffet, but never going deep into one topic. The metaphor of digging one well deep until you find water really came to life for me in my early twenties, and that’s when I decided to not only study Ayurveda as a theory, but to actually live and embody it in daily practice and devote my work to this path. From there, I began to feel better, trust myself and experience what health really means.
I’ve been practicing Yoga and Ayurveda since 2009, and working professionally on this path for the past decade.
Q: Many yoginis haven’t heard of Ayurveda. Why is “yoga’s sister science” a must-have in a daily self-care system? How can incorporating Ayurveda enhance your yoga practice? What is the connection between Ayurveda and asana?
Yoga is considered to be Ayurveda’s sister science, with a similar timeline of development. Many know yoga in the modern West as a physical practice, a workout for staying in shape.
However, until recently, yoga was primarily a practice for spiritual liberation, only outlining a handful of postures for meditation. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that yoga became a more embodied practice and started to merge with Ayurveda as a means of supporting the body, mind, and spirit as an interconnected whole.
Yoga can be used as a therapy (Cikitsā) to prevent and treat disease. Because the mind influences the body, yoga’s aim is not only to bring strength and vitality back to the physical body but also to restore the mind back to its sattvic state. Yoga as a therapy is not a one-size-fits-all or all-the-time approach.
Rather, yoga can be practiced in accordance with your unique type and needs, a therapeutic tool to balance the doshas and work with different postures and breath through the seasons. So if you’re experiencing certain imbalances, like too much heat or hot flashes, digestive upsets or anxiety, you can learn how to use different postures and breathing techniques to heal those ailments and shift your internal state.
Q: Ayurveda can be a bit intimidating. I was always drawn to it in my yoga teacher trainings, but it was your beautiful book Living Ayurveda that really drew me in. What is the essence of Ayurveda that is most appealing to women today?
What I love about Ayurveda is that it is not a fad or a trend; it’s a time-tested science that applies to all cultures, places, and stages of life. It’s knowledge we can take with us no matter where we come from or where we are, and it can equip us with greater self-knowledge to guide us to where we want to go.
If we slow down enough and learn how to listen, the answers to vibrant health can be found all around us.
I find this very empowering. And in a time where we don’t know who to trust in regards to our health, what an incredible tool to care for ourselves and our families.
It’s so easy to lose touch with what foods are in season when, since we can get almost any food, any time at our modern groceries.
Q: Why is eating seasonally one of the pillars of Ayurveda?
An Ayurvedic diet focuses on unprocessed, whole food ingredients, cooked with digestive supporting spices, and prepared and eaten with an attitude of love. An Ayurvedic meal includes the six tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent—to nourish all the tissue layers of the body and promote satisfaction.
Eating seasonally is an essential practice, because it yokes us with our environment and present moment needs.
As the seasons shift, we select foods and tastes that balance the dominant elements of that season. For example, the pungent, salty and sour tastes are composed of the fire element, so their effect is heating to the body. In summertime, we limit the amount of heating substances we consume to balance the already present heat in the environment. Because like increases like, we want to eat foods that will calm and cool excess fire in summer rather than increase it.
Similarly, if you are experiencing an imbalance of heat in your body, no matter the season, you want to eat a diet that will reduce this excess heat, not provoke it.
We are always trying to use food intentionally to nurture balance within ourselves. Ayurvedic principles can be applied to any style of cuisine. While Ayurveda’s roots trace back to India, the concepts can be applied cross-culturally. We use the knowledge of a food’s properties (whether it is heating or cooling, building or lightening), to create dishes with balanced tastes and desired effects.
There is no one diet or menu plan that can fit everyone, as each person has a unique body type, digestive capacity, and needs, depending on their constitution, stage of life, and environment.
Sometimes, this may include meat or other animal products. An Ayurvedic diet doesn’t exclusively mean a vegetarian diet, though many of the dishes incorporate plants as the foundational components (legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables) cooked in a variety of delightful ways.
If you had to pick only one Ayurvedic practice that you can’t live without, what would it be?
Abhyanga. Hands down.
Claire Ragozzino is a certified yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner with a background in holistic nutrition and natural cooking. Her work is dedicated to bringing yoga, Ayurveda, and nutrition to a modern lifestyle. She is the author of the popular site, Vidya Living, and also writes and photographs for online and print publications surrounding topics of food, culture, and our relationship to nature. Her first book, Living Ayurveda, offers a comprehensive Ayurvedic cookbook and lifestyle guide. Claire works with clients around the globe and leads immersive workshops and retreats.
Photography from Living Ayurveda: Nourishing Body & Mind through Seasonal Recipes,
Rituals and Yoga © Claire Ragozzino, 2020. Copyright © Claire Ragozzino. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Roost Books. www.roostbooks.com.