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ayurveda diet

The Sensual Art of Eating with the Hands

For thousands of years, people across South Asia and the Middle East have eaten with their hands, and not utensils. Even today, the practice has become very common – and to the casual onlooker, it may seem somewhat strange!

However, first of all, we have to understand that eating itself, as also cooking, is somewhat a sensual art, deriving from our creative powers and stimulating our digestions. We now know about the enteric nervous system of “brain/gut” axis, that systems such as Ayurveda have known about since time immemorial.

Touch (sparsha) is, in itself, a sensual and necessary comfort for humans, via love, embrace etc.  Thus also, these “street foods” apart from the Italian pasta fork!

Take for example, every brain impulse, the effects on neurotransmitters; when people ‘tuck in’ to the kebab, to the fried chicken and eat with their hands, the brain is fully stimulated to relish the full taste, unobstructed by the (cold, inorganic) aids to deliver such to the mouth. Half of the subconscious “stress” of eating is aside, due to etiquette being waved. The nerves of the fingers also may touch the lips – such stimuli humans, as sensory organisms, crave!

In India, however, it is the right-hand only used for eating; the left, used for ablutions, is considered ashuddhi or impure/unclean. This has to do also with the right-hand representing the sun, fire and pingala nadi in yoga (thus, better for improving digestion), thus higher and more subtle and masculine. The left hand is considered lunar, watery and feminine, as the ida nadi in yoga runs through it and is hence more dense and earthy – thus relates to wastes (malas), considered of these more watery and earthy elements. Touch is hence more perceptible subtly on the right and is pure (sattwika/shuddhi). The left is akin to leftovers (ucchishtha), relating to the Goddess and impure. Yet, in higher yogic circles, the path of the goddess, especially the taboo, is hence known as Vamamarga or the left-hand path.

Touch itself is related to the element of air or oxygen (vata, vayu), which is connected to the skin, in Ayurveda. Vayu/vata is itself responsible for life in the body as a biological constituent (dhatu) in the body providing movement (gati) of the blood, respiratory system etc. Without it, the heart wouldn’t beat, the brain wouldn’t think and we are but a lifeless corpse! Touch/vayu also relates to the highest form of prana or the breath of life, connected to the soul. Thus, the connection between inner peace, calm and our own soul (Ayurveda tells us we should eat in a quiet, calm place for such a purpose).

The science of eating with the hands also goes deeper. When we eat, the index finger and thumbs are connected, forming the jnana-mudra, the symbol of wisdom via subtle pressure points via nadis or subtle channels across the body, also in the hands. This stimulates our intellect, and also has a reaction on our digestive system and is said to awaken the digestive fire, assisting with metabolising our foods.

Connecting the middle-finger and ring-finger to the thumb, as we do when eating, activates a form of the apanavayu-mudra, a hand symbol where the index-finger is tucked in (similar to apana-mudra where the small and index fingers remain erect), and assists with elimination of wastes in the body (by apanavayu, which takes them out and down, from the body), provides good colonic health in such a manner, etc. When eating with the hands, food is actually being stimulated in such a manner via this.

In the ancient system of palmistry, apart from planets, the system of mudras or hand gestures tells is that the thumb is itself the principle of agni or fire, relating to metabolism at all levels – from digestive metabolism, to that of the bodily tissues. Stimulating it – as we do when eating (as the thumb is required) activates this by pressing on the thumb. It is also believed that such energies are imparted to the food via this also, giving it an “energised” aspect. Of the fingers, the little finger represents water, ring finger represents earth, whilst the middle and index fingers represent ether and air, respectively.

In this way, all of the three biological humors in the body, the doshas, are combined via these combinations. Food may also taste more delicious, since all of the five elements are imbibed it it, at the subtle level of the tanmatras or base atomic levels, viz. ether (sound), air (touch), fire (sight), water (taste) and earth (smell).

Here, we can see that combining the fingers to eat, also sends heightened messages to our brain’s neurotransmitters via the nerves and nadis, the subtle channel systems – and helps us to better appreciate food from a “warm” than a “cold” aspect as we would via utensils. In this way, we relish foods by having a better perception, a more intimate connection via the sounds it makes when we eat it, the touch and texture of it which we perceive via our fingers, as also the warmth, which provides our minds with more nourishment – as well as relishing in the sight of foods, the taste and finally, the smell.

In this manner, the five elements are perceived via eating with the hands as a kind of “meditation”. For this reason since ancient times to the present day – many Indians, of all castes and classes, regions and beliefs share a common goal of eating with the hands – an ancient sensual art, for these reasons!

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ayurveda diet natural cures

Jala Rahasya: The Secret of Water in Ayurveda

“May waters filled with medicinal properties protect my body, so I may have the vision of the Sun!”
-Rig Veda, IX.9.7 (Author’s translation)

According to Ayurveda, the properties of water vary. Different types of water are thus useful for different people, disorders and times.

Unboiled water is said to take 3 hours to digest, boiled and cooled water 1.5 hours to digest and boiled water taken warm takes 48 minutes to digest according to the principles laid out in Ayurveda.

Drinking too much and over-hydrating suppresses the digestive fire and enzymes and hence can lead to disease. Especially drinking cold water can lead to various complications such as hiccups, gas, pains etc. and is thus also contraindicated in such cases (vata-rogas and kapha-rogas).

Warm and hot water helps alleviate these symptoms, especially when taken at night-time as it helps reduce the cooler properties of vata and kapha respectively.

The below isn’t at all a rigid nor exhaustive system, but one merely based on properties and generics alone, relative to jalapana (intake of water).

Note these seasons are based on the western four-season model outside of India, since India has a unique six seasons:

Vata Prakriti / old age / late autumn and early winter:

Warm water baths and warm water taken internally and warm milk with spices (ginger, cardamon etc.). For dryness, warm water taken with a little ghee is useful or castor oil with ginger at bed-time for constipation. Waters from the jungle-regions is better as it is agni-dipana or stimulating to the digestion, as well as water that has been reduced by 75% while boiling, which is good for vata.

Pitta Prakriti / middle-aged / summer, early autumn and men:

Luke-warm and cooler water baths and cool water, milk or coconut milk taken internally or aloe juices. Water that has been reduced by 50% by boiling is suitable for pitta as well.

Kapha Prakriti / young age / late winter, spring and women:

Warm to hot water baths and warm/hot water taken internally as well as honey (except when there are menorrhagia and pitta disorders / artavavahasrota rogas). Jungle-water can be taken as well for kapha. Spiced water can be taken here such as with pippali, dry ginger or trikatu formula to stimulate digestion and alleviate accumulation of phlegm. Water that has been boiled and reduced by 25% is suitable for kapha-types and disorders.

In addition:

Cold water on the face is useful for all types (except kapha) as also is not using excess hot /warm water on the head (especially vata and pitta types) as this causes excess sadhaka-pitta leading to premature balding, dry scalp, grey hairs etc.

*Geographical climates to be considered

*Women should alternate these according to hormonal changes and cycles also.

*Where there is ama or fevers, this also needs to be tweaked accordingly.

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Ritucharya (Seasonal Routines):

[EXCERPT from Up-coming book “Ayurvedic Wellness Tips”]

© Durgadas (Rodney) Lingham/Arogya Ayurvedic Health Ltd.

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form, without direct permission from the author. Quotes may be used in research works, providing proper citations and references are given.

Ayurveda considers the effects of seasons on our lives, due to their constant changes due to exogenous effects, that can affect our daily metabolic functions, both physically and mentally.

We have discussed in the beginning, how Ayurveda correlates various times of the day and correlates them with the doshas and their aggravation. Likewise, as a part of the Ayurvedic circadian clock, Ayurveda also looks at various effects relative to seasons (ritu), which we will now discuss here, as an important topic, relative to the scope of this book.

As a part of its preventative medicine scince, Ayurveda thus looks at the effects of these seasons and the changes they have relaive to affecting us, as individuals.

According to the traditional six-season model in India, vata accumulates in the summer-time and aggravates in the early rainy-season; pitta accumulates in the rainy or monsoon season and aggravates in the autumn and kapha accumulates in pre-winter and aggravates in the spring.

Here, the six seasons are:

Vasanta
or Spring
Grishma or Summer
Varshaor Monsoon season
Sharada or Early autumn
Hemanta or Late autumn
Shishira or Winter

Today there are many that claim to use the classical six-season system of the classics of Ayurveda (introducing shishira or late-winter / cold season and varsha or rainy / monsoon season) and apply them to western and other environments. Yet, the reality is that that we cannot use the six-season model of Ayurveda as in India, as we don’t have six seasons! Moreover, the seasons also differ in the Northern and Southern hemisphere! In Australasia for example, we celebrate Christmas in the summer-time, not in the cool winter as in the Northern Hemisphere and hence the same regimens and times cannot be superimposed. India is also a tropical nation, whereas others are not and change accordingly.

Moreover, these differ as per nation as per specific climates and cycles also, especially in relation to the North and South pole, which Ayurveda understands well with desha (land or region)etc. which all of this also comes into.

The climates across the US alone can change quite dramatically, especially the South closer to the equator and the North which is closer to the North Pole! This reveals that different models are here required as seasons have different properties even in the North American continent, let alone between continents themselves and localised variations of weather patterns. Land-locked regions of the south are also different in the desert to those bordering coastlines etc.

Even ecologists today employ four-seasonal systems in temperate and sub-polar regions, but employ a six-season system for more temperate or tropical regions. Kerala for example has to be treated as a kind of “rainy season / monsoon” (varsha season) climate due to having the highest rainfall of India. Hence, such issues need to be addressed relative to these sciences, as such again doesn’t apply to the rest of the world – just as the consumption of turkey, chilies, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados etc. native to the Americas[1] is suitable for those habitually used to other foodstuffs in their diets for thousands of years (as Europeans) – whereas such are anti-doted with spices to aid in their digestions in the orient where they were introduced through trade in the past 400 years[2] – what is known as satmya or suitability in Ayurveda, as per cultural and social norms in dietary, lifestyle and other habits that are not always the same. Not all nations eat curries or spiced foods as India does for example and thus may not be able to handle the hotter, more pungent spices (such as Indian long pepper, ginger and garlic) traditionally used in South Asia.

Here we must remember that regions nearer the equator will have different kinds of seasonal effects to those nearer the poles, especially relative to summer and winter. India as a more tropical climate has its system centered more upon this system which differs from many other nations here and thus such properties must be assessed in a more unique manner – just as one should differentiate between predominating doshic factors in a patient, as also their vayas (age) in which doshic predominating factors are high, as also relative to their ethnicity also, as such variations exist. Smaller eyes for example are not always a sign of a vata person, just as a larger nose is not a sign of a kapha person when it comes to race. India possesses various racial types from Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid and Negrito. We have to allow for differences here, just as we do for seasonal changes and changes in climatic factors and properties relative to them.

As such, the following four-season model is adapted to the west and such relative to Ayurveda. We must remember that Ayurveda considered such things as desha (location) and the effects of such regional changes, relative to how it assessed various things and gave such various properties accordingly. We know these by our own regions, once we have understood the gunas or properties of these.


[1] As per Ayurveda, these foods wouldn’t necessarily cause issues to people habitually suited to them, but may for others newly adopting them. Ayurveda often,as Indian cooking, uses spices to “anti-dote” these toxic effects of new foods and those we are unaccustomed to. 

Here, Charaka Samhita, Chikitsasthana, XXX.321-325 gives examples of, just as how the diets of Chinese, Europeans etc. doesn’t affect them, though sometimes contrary to disease, so sometimes like qualities of the doshas can alleviate them, as pitta deep within the tissues can be brought out by heat as in poultices or hot application and that excreta from a fly, though causing vomiting sensations, can also cure it (things which are normally contrary, but in certain cases help the disorder)!

[2] There is evidence to support the use of potatoes, chillies, maize, pumpkins etc. in India and Indian cooking in the pre-Columbian period.  Maize is seen on Hoysala and other sculptures in earlier times, as as early as 100AD (Sorenson, John L & Johannessen,  Carl  L: Scientific Evidence for Pre-Columbian Voyages Sino-Platinoc Papers,  Dept. of  East Asian Languages and Civilisations,  University of Pennsylvania, April 2004.).        Amaranth has also been culyivated since Indus-Valley times (source: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/indus-valley-non-vegetarian-national-museum-6278349/).

Here, we know that India-America relations were possible in the earlier centuries AD, as also as early as the Ramayana and the Chola etc. Empires. Thus, it’s possible we used chilies much earlier!

According to the Asian Scientist magazine (June 1, 2018), sweet potatoes have have first been cultivated in India itself, and not the Americas as history tells us., due to fossils of leaves around 57 million years ago (Source: https://www.asianscientist.com/2018/06/in-the-lab/fossil-sweet-potatoes-asia-india/ ).


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ayurveda diet

India’s Curry Influence

Today we see many curries across the globe, from the Indonesian and Thai to the classic India, as well as other influences. Many ask how this came to be?

Curries originated in the Indus Valley civilisation, which began as early as 7,000BCE in Northern India, however, many spices came from India to the West, notably cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and condiments such as sugar. Aubergines and cucumbers were also natives to India.

Across SE Asia, from the Khmer people of Cambodia, to the people of Thailand, was a great influence from Hindu and Buddhist India – including why such people use adaptations of the ancient Indian (Brahmi) scripts, via Southern India, where Buddhist and Hindu Monks, as also kings spread their influence of these religions to Japan to SE Asia. Ancient universities at Nalanda (northern India) and Takshashila (ancient Gandhara) attracted students from Greece, Rome as well as the Arab world to Japan, SE Asia and beyond to learn Indian sciences such as Ayurveda (medicine – out surgery came from India, transmitted west by Arabs), mathematics (out decimal system, zero and numerals came from India, as also algebra, trigonometry etc.), Astronomy, Politics etc.

With the height of southern empires as the Chola Dynasty came more influence in the Austronesian world; Austronesians include the Malays, Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese as well as Polynesians (Hawaiians, Maori etc.). These people originated from Taiwan and then to the Northern Philippines, where they dispersed. From early times, the influence of India, including culinary was strong – the use of banana leaves, South-Indian inspired cocnut-based curries with tamarind and black pepper (before tomatoes and chillies were introduced) and various preparations became the norm in these areas, as we see today.

The South Indian influences of various breads (parottas etc.) have worked their way into Malay cuisine, such as Roti Cenai etc., as well as numerous other dishes. In Thailand, red, green and yellow curries with their galangal and ginger, tamarind and coconut milk and creams are strong with south Indian influence to this day, as also their use of Sanskrit (Hindu) place names, names of their Kings, art, dress, writing and architecture, as across the Khmer and Austronesian world also.

In the ancient Indus-Valley culture around 3,000BCE, Indians consumed curries with garlic, ginger, turmeric and other spices and condiments. Aubergines, chickens and others were eaten, and the existence of tandoor ovens for making breads and the classical “tandoori-chicken” are thus the same today in northern India as they were some 5,000 years ago! Not much here has changed, nor in SE Asia.

The genius Piper longum or Indian Long Pepper (Pippali) is the hotter of peppers, originally used to give curries their pungent flavours and fiery tastes, prior to chillies. By contrast, Piper nigrum or Indian Black Pepper (Maricha) was imported by the Romans from India, who, it seems, confused the names (Piper from Pippali – Indian Long Pepper, as opposed to Black Pepper).

India’s influence in areas more traditional still stands, especially in Bali in Indonesia. The influence of Japan also, via Buddhism, martial arts and the Siddha script (derived via Devanagari), as also on China and SE Asia via Indian Vegetarianism has shaped many countries to this day. Here, it has influenced the numerous vegetarian options such as tofu and soy-based faux meats in curries and other dishes across China.

Likewise, India also received various “Manchurian” dishes via trade and influences with Chinese sailors, traders and monks visiting, as Indo-Chinese, blending both worlds.

From 600BCE onwards, Indian universities were homes to various cuisines. Nalanda around 500AD – 1200AD boasted over 10,000 students at a time from, as noted, as vast of Greece, Rome, Egypt to Persia, Central Asia and the Arab world to as east as Japan, and across SE Asia from Thailand to Indonesia, Malaysia etc. This is also how much came to cross-over.

Even the pilaf, which also spurned the Paella and other dishes, originated in the Indian world from the dish of Pilau, which was first seen the Indo-Bactrian and Sindhi world by Alexander the Great and his people, which was taken back to Europe. This rice-dish is mentioned in many Indian classics as well as other literatures.

Thus, let us savour some ancient Indian tastes and contemplate the variations of curries originating in India across the Asiatic world when we next sit down, or chow down on our Thai green curries!


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