"[Ayurveda] has helped me to be forgiving with myself and to follow feeling and intuition over much of the homogenising, over-generalised and commercialised advice we are often exposed to. I focus less on symptoms and moving parts — the headache I am experiencing, my brain letting me down — but rather witness these things and look more to the whole and the root imbalances. It has helped me in my relationships, as a parent and a husband, and simply to be happier, humbler and more compassionate. "
"If something isn’t working with your constitution or affects you negatively, you are best guided by how you feel."
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
Ayurveda is an ancient system of self-healing but is hugely relevant to us today and deeply rich in knowledge and scope.
An understanding of Ayurveda often begins with an understanding of ourselves as unique individuals with distinct dispositions and the interplay between the mind, spirit and the physical and energetic bodies, but it is truly a science of life that unifies the subtlest elements with the most expansive and profound; how we reflect nature and the universe, how physical, mental, spiritual and environmental health are inextricable parts of a larger dance – so working on our individual balance allows us to approach and tap into a greater harmony.
When did you discover it?
I think I have discovered it subtly and gradually over a long time and continue to discover it, from the first time I travelled to India to the several times I have been drawn back. Having lived, moved and worked with people there I have developed a sense of a greater calm, contentment and connection with many of the people with whom I spent time than I knew was possible, even under very difficult circumstances. I was, and continue to be, fascinated by Gandhi, his life and story, I think as a kind of parable of higher consciousness and aspiration versus the material and de-humanising concerns of Imperialism. My wife and I began to delve into books and learning about Ayurveda about 8 years ago when she was pregnant with our first daughter, and were struck by how gentle, forgiving and intuitive a system it is, whilst being incredibly deep and complex; how it chimes on a deeper level than simply the intellectual and how enriching simple practices turned out to be. So we have, more and more, immersed ourselves in it. Through travel and wellbeing writing I have been very privileged to experience some amazing Indian retreats as well as places of great natural beauty and quiet, where slower, subtler, more enduring resonances can be heard. In recent years I have learned to meditate under the Vedic tradition. Each of these elements has deepened my closeness to Ayurveda.
Anything major it’s helped with?
Many things! Some very dark periods of being uncontrollably anxious, fearful and lost in thoughts that reflected the extent to which I was imbalanced. The great over-stimulation that, I think, many of us living in our modern context suffer with, perhaps unknowingly. It has helped me to be forgiving with myself and to follow feeling and intuition over much of the homogenising, over-generalised and commercialised advice we are often exposed to. I focus less on symptoms and moving parts — the headache I am experiencing, my brain letting me down — but rather witness these things and look more to the whole and the root imbalances. It has helped me to incorporate stillness and spiritual practices as tools towards more self-realisation. It has helped me in my relationships, as a parent and a husband, and simply to be happier, humbler and more compassionate. It blurs the lines between individual wellness and what is good for everyone and everything.
Is it part of everyday life or just part of your medicine cabinet/fall-back routine?
It is part of everyday life and informs every part, increasingly so without my thinking so much about it. In slowly waking, in a glass of warm water, in little acknowledgements, setting intentions or attempting to make conscious choices. It is in our medicine cabinet and our cooking pots and it strengthens the foundations for further spiritual practice such as yoga in a unified sense and meditation – it sees us moving slowly but surely away from the duller, more transient touchlines – the pleasures and disappointments that live in things like more ownership and property, physical appearance or individual attainment, towards awareness and happiness in a purer sense – which does not depend on things that we can touch, drive or distract ourselves with, that which Ayurveda might point to as polarisation away from Tamas towards Sattva. I think of it as slowly discovering our true selves.
Top 3 Ayurveda tips that have worked for you?
The understanding that pain does not bring gain. We are not served by pushing ourselves where we feel limits, grasping or suppressing.
Being open to my own advice, my own intuition and innate intelligence. However much of a "superfood" something might be or however compelling the nutritional advice, if something isn’t working with your constitution or affects you negatively, you are best guided by how you feel.
Attempting to attune myself to natural rhythms, seasonality and moving with what is going on. Everything is constantly changing, shifting, adjusting, balancing. Learning to be responsive, as opposed to reactive, and understanding that I can’t do the same things at the height of summer as in the depths of winter and expect the same results. This also brings back the seasons that we have forfeited in many ways — the different, beautiful elements, pursuits, ingredients and natural shifts that spice our lives with variety and keep things interesting.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
The revelatory understanding that there are routes to greater wellness on our own terms; that we can prevent a great deal of ill-health rather than simply treat in a reactive way, and the life-affirming understanding that we already have many of the answers but have lacked the tools to unlock them.
Do your children / family eat like this? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or just homecooking?
At home we have to balance things food-wise and I think with children there is a long game to be played. We talk a lot, cook together and look to tackle little symptoms with our meals, spices, herbs and spiritual practice, teas and tinctures, which just feels like the way of things now. We try to instil that learning and more importantly to fire our daughters’ intuition and ability to draw those links. Equally we are schooled by them in naturality every day. Food is such a pleasure and a plethora – we aim for variety and moderation, seasonality, home-grown vital produce and an understanding of Ayurvedic food-combining principles, but above all enjoyment of natural ingredients prepared with love and good intention. We spread the table and allow them to explore. The girls understand that our home cooking is also pitched at healing but they won’t compromise on enjoyment so we have had to brush up our cooking!
Do you have a favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
My wife and I are both primarily Pitta so can often use some cooling with ingredients like coconut and fresh coriander. I love the transformative potency of spices and adjusting with the seasons and circumstance. I love cardamom and clove. In Ayurveda there is an incredible understanding of how to treat ingredients to improve digestibility and availability and to avoid toxicity, and I love these slow, thoughtful processes. My favourite ingredient is care and good intention. This is essential in Ayurvedic cooking and is the very most nourishing of seasonings.
What do you wish was more readily available in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle simpler?
Time to be slow and still. I think a lot of our time can be spent being extremely busy but ineffective and unhappy a good deal of the time. Time to really step back and feel can be scarce, and when we can we are often depleted as well as mercilessly stimulated and entertained from all sides. We feel it when faced with true quiet; our minds race and we reach for our phones to plug the deficit. It can be very difficult to do more than skim the surface. I believe, though, that dedicated time to really bolster ourselves in accordance with Ayurvedic principles would reveal something of the potential we all have. Culturally speaking, most of us have to carve it out for ourselves and make our lives feel rich. This has very little to do with material wealth. Vedic meditation has been particularly helpful in this way. It has slowed the rest of my time and helped me to find the most meaningful routes.
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try/you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
In terms of food, cutting out all processed products and cooking for ourselves, eating seasonally and buying ingredients daily. Involving ourselves in each step of the process, growing if we can, preparing, choosing and nurturing our relationship with food. When it comes to the eating, being still and putting everything else aside, eating slowly and with thanks. We can’t tune into anything if we are not present.