“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Ayurveda is that the food is all Indian. It’s just not true. As my teacher said to me “where there is life, there is Ayurveda.” And because Ayurveda looks at all foods in terms of taste, quality, heating/cooling effect on the body and post-digestive effect, these principles apply to ALL foods.”
Mairead Moodie is an Ayurvedic diet & lifestyle consultant, Ayurvedic therapist and KRI-certified Kundalini yoga teacher. She also practises reiki, play the crystal sound bowls and has an obsession with essential oils! She lives with her husband and young family in the stunning coastal region of East Lothian, not far from Edinburgh. In her business, The Sacred Space, Mairead offers Ayurvedic consultations, Ayurvedic therapies and reiki, yoga classes and sacred retreats.
“Ayurveda is not about doing every little bit correctly all of the time: it is about doing some of it at least half the time.”
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
Having studied both yogic philosophy and Ayurveda, I view these two ancient sciences in total unison. Together they form the framework within which I live my life (or try to most of the time!). When I am true to them both, they help me live this life consciously, gracefully and as the best possible version of myself. It is through nourishing my mind, body and soul with these ritualistic, daily practices that I am able to better serve those around me. I truly believe in the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and no longer view the time I take for myself in a guilty light, as I know it is the only way I can show up every day in full service to others.
When did you discover it? How long have you been practising it?
I first heard about Ayurveda over twenty years ago. I had spent three years in the buzz of London at university and had moved back to Edinburgh to work for a small up-and-coming Scottish business. I was also working night shifts in a bar as I’d just bought my first flat and needed all the money I could get just to pay the mortgage! Throughout university and these early years back in Scotland, I was battling on and off with undiagnosed stomach problems. I had numerous tests, including cameras looking inside and never really got any answers other than the usual “IBS.” I would also break out in the most angry spots all over my chin and was continuously offered steroid creams or the contraceptive pill as solutions. It all felt so wrong to me as these “solutions” just caused me secondary issues — the steroid creams gave me rosacea and the pill made me continuously nauseous as it played havoc with my hormones. It was all so frustrating! I knew I didn’t want to take medication and eventually decided there had to be another way.
I was convinced these things were being caused by my diet but had no idea where to start. Google wasn’t quite what it is today so I went to the book store and spent hours poring over “alternative health” books. I eventually decided on The Idiot’s Guide to Ayurveda — I had never heard of it, but even the 10 lines on the back immediately resonated with me. That night I literally read it from cover to cover. I couldn’t get enough as it all made so much sense. I ran out the next day and bought Vasant Lad’s Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, which I still use to this day. Over the next few years I completely cured my stomach problems and haven’t really had a spot since — that’s the truth. I quickly realised that it was a combination of my diet and lifestyle which was causing all these issues, so one of the first things I did was ask for a pay rise so I could quit my bar job! Sleeping all day at the weekend and eating when I got home from work at 2 am were no longer going to work for my new Ayurvedic lifestyle.
After 10 years in the corporate world I took a career break with my partner to go travelling, something I hadn’t done when I was younger and was desperate to do. It was when we were away that I finally had time and space to think about what I’d actually like to be doing in my life. I’d always had this underlying feeling that I was meant to be working with people in more of a caring role — I enjoyed the spoils of my corporate life but I didn’t feel spiritually fulfilled. So after some soul searching I decided I wasn’t going to return to the career I’d taken a break from.
I had been living a fairly “Ayurvedic life” for a long time by that point, so I knew there were no practitioners north of the border and suddenly had a light bulb moment that I should be studying this ancient wisdom in a way which would allow me to share the knowledge and healing with others. My research led me to the Ayurveda Pura training academy and Dr. Deepa Apté, whom I am honoured to join in Jasmine’s growing My-Urveda circle of friends. In and amongst having my two beautiful boys, I did my Diet & Lifestyle Consultant course, my yoga teacher training and followed all this with my therapist qualification as I realised there was no one for me to send my clients to for these wonderfully therapeutic treatments! So it has been over 20 years since I picked up my first book on this subject and now I spend my days sharing this stunning ancient wisdom with clients and I feel truly blessed that this has become my reality.
What drew you to Ayurveda?
For me, the first thing I understood and loved about this wisdom was that Ayurveda sees everyone as completely unique and individual. So there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, which has never sat right with me anyway. Even as a young child it just didn’t make sense to me that everyone should be educated in the same way or fed in the same way or even dressed in the same way. I just had to look at my sister and me to see that two children, from the same parents, with the same upbringing, were completely and utterly unique. We didn’t look the same or think the same, and the same things didn’t make us tick — we even got sick differently! We are bonded by love but our physical, mental and emotional constitutions are completely unique. This was a child’s view of life of course, and it was only when I delved deeper into the ancient yogic and Ayurvedic sciences that this all made sense. This insight has helped me in so many ways, not least in raising my own children. Yes, it can be a pain to have to feed them slightly differently but with a Pitta/Kapha and a Pitta/Vata, that’s just life (Ayurvedically speaking!).
Has it helped you with anything major?
This year my knowledge and faith have been tested in a way I’ve not had before. My wonderful father had a complete cardiac arrest and had it not been for the early intervention of an amazing GP giving him CPR he wouldn’t be with us as I write this today. So two things have come out of this event for me. First, is that I never underestimate or stop appreciating how lucky we are to live in times where Western science and medicine are so available to us. As a Western doctor and Ayurvedic doctor, my teacher always had the most wonderfully well-rounded view on life and brought this incredible body of knowledge to her training. And let’s not forget, Ayurveda is the “science of life” and the life we live in these times is bountiful enough to allow us to have all these tools at our fingertips. In an ideal world, we use Ayurveda to prevent us becoming sick in the first place, but when something strikes, as it did for my dad, how lucky we are for our doctors and nurses. Secondly, I am eternally grateful for the wisdom I have gained over all these years of integrating Ayurveda into my life because it has allowed me to help bring my dad back to health. And not just to the health he had before his arrest, but to a better place of health. Sometimes severe illness brings you to a more open place, a place where you may be prepared to look at other options and alternatives that may have seemed too “out there” before. In this place, he has accepted this beautiful science and seen it work its wonders. We have used herbs to support his cardiovascular health, his nervous system and his renal system. We’ve looked at his diet and removed some big offenders, which on the face of it seemed “healthy” but were not good for his unique constitution. And we have done the most beautiful heart Bastis and head massages to soothe his heart and nervous system. In under four months, he is walking 3 to 4 miles a day, running around after his two daughters and four grandsons again and has fully regained his amazing sense of humour.
Is Ayurveda part of your everyday life or just for your medicine cabinet or fall-back routine?
It is absolutely, 100 percent part of my everyday life and the lives of those I love, which includes my wonderful clients who are embracing it in their own ways. It influences the start of my day in particular, but it is always somewhere to be found daily. Whether that be the time I get up or go to bed, what, when and how I eat, or what herbal teas I sip at what time of day!
What are your top 3 Ayurvedic tips that have worked for you?
Ah so many to choose from! However, if I could only have three in my day it would be:
1. Rising by 6 a.m. so I don’t get up during the Kapha window of 6 to 10 a.m. and carry all those heavy, sluggish feelings through the day with me (this also means I have time for my daily practice before my people need me);
2. Hot ginger & lemon tea first thing on an empty tummy; and
3. Tongue scraping — the tongue is the biggest portal for toxins come morning, as the body has pushed all the excess Doshas and toxicity to the “exit holes” overnight for removal. Brushing with your toothbrush simply doesn’t cut it! I have clients who say they’ve not had a cold since they got their tongue scrapers. Get one of Jasmine’s Tongue Tinglers now if you don’t already have one!
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
How wonderfully it all makes total sense once you figure out your unique mind/body type. I believe that we all inherently know what we like and don’t like and what makes us feel well and unwell. There is a wonderful Sanskrit word, “Prajnaparadha,” which literally translates as “Crime against Wisdom” — I love this. What it’s saying is we know what makes us ill and yet we do it anyway! And it’s so true.
Even as a practitioner of Ayurveda, I know as a person with high Pitta Dosha that alcohol does not make me feel good, and yet I do occasionally raise a glass of white wine or champagne with friends and loved ones. What is so great about Ayurveda though is it doesn’t say one thing is bad for everyone, like we have become accustomed to in the West. I get frustrated when I read the latest trend on what is apparently good or bad for everyone! In Ayurveda, rather than classifying everything as good or bad, we look at it in terms of its “qualities.” And for some people these qualities will pacify them and for others they will cause imbalance — but there is usually always an option for everyone. So we can use this wisdom to make good, better or best choices. Sticking with alcohol, let’s say that the best choice is not to consume it as it puts undue stress on the liver; however, should we choose to consume it, the better choice is to choose the alcohol we know causes the least imbalance for us, in moderation. So I choose a drink which I know to have more “cool” qualities than “hot” (like red wine) as I know that, in moderation, it will cause me the least amount of dis-ease.
Ayurveda is also not about doing every little bit correctly all of the time: it is about doing some of it at least half the time, all of your life, which feels way less onerous than horrible faddy diets and fitness regimes.
Did you integrate it gradually or overnight for any particular reason?
For me it was a gradual integration over many years. And this wasn’t easy as my natural personality (Pitta) is to literally eat the book and start doing everything, like yesterday.
Do your children/family eat an Ayurvedic diet? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or do they just think of it as home cooking?
Frustratingly I weaned my children in a typically Western way, which I must confess I would do very differently if I did it again. In my sleepy haze of feeds and nappies I fell back on what generations of the women in my family had done before — I went straight to the porridge, bananas and stewed apples, which are all good in their own right but sadly their main “taste” is Sweet. In Ayurveda we look at all foods in terms of their taste, of which there are six, and it is believed the ideal meal should contain them all. This is one of the main reasons so much Eastern cooking is quite “one-pot wonder” in nature — this kind of cooking (especially when served with white basmati rice) makes it so easy to get all the tastes into one dish. So now I’m faced with a bit of a problem that the boys’ palates are not that well developed for certain tastes, making one-pot wonder dishes quite tricky (although thankfully my husband loves them so I never make more than two different meals at one time!). So the way I work with them is to quietly introduce some Ayurvedic principles into their lives without talking too much about it — i.e. they never have faulty food combinations (like fruit and dairy, a huge offender in our western diet). I try not to let them eat whilst doing anything else or after 6 p.m. at night, and I make sure I get as many of the tastes in as possible, if not in one meal, then at least throughout the day. Their palates will develop over time and they’ll make their own (hopefully Ayurvedic) choices as they grow up, but for now (as I say to my clients) we just do the best we can.
What is your favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go-to ingredient?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Ayurveda is that the food is all Indian. It’s just not true. As my teacher said to me “where there is life, there is Ayurveda.” And because Ayurveda looks at all foods in terms of taste, quality, heating/cooling effect on the body and post-digestive effect, these principles apply to ALL foods. So dairy is generally contraindicated for people dealing with a Kapha imbalance because it is Sweet to taste, its qualities are cold and heavy, it cools the body and the post-digestive effect of the taste Sweet is to increase Kapha Dosha – Golden Rule of Ayurveda number one: “Like increases Like.” So it is perfect for a hot-headed Pitta type but not for a Kapha type trying to lose weight. So to answer the question, I have hundreds of foods I love to eat which pacify my Pitta/Kapha body type, but my absolute go-to recipe when I’m low on time, energy or feeling unwell is kitchari. It’s an Ayurvedic classic one-pot wonder, rammed with herbs, spices and a complete source of protein in the split yellow mung dal. I add lots of veg to get my fibre intake too — my all-time favourite topping is sweet potato, roasted in coconut oil and cinnamon, which is heaven!
How does Ayurveda fit into your day-to-day routines?
My Dinacharya (daily rituals) and Sadhana (morning practice or discipline) lay the foundations for my day. I learned in my yogic studies that what we give in the early hours will come back to us tenfold throughout the day, and it is so true. The days when I rise late and miss my early morning routine, I feel lethargic all day and have a sense of “chasing my tail” as the day runs further from my grasp. So these daily rituals are now sacred to me and I fight hard not to allow them to be missed! My day starts around 6 a.m. I’m naturally woken by the boys, which is really nice as I hate alarms — they are literally alarming! This gives me around an hour, which may seem a little self-indulgent, but when you consider that after 7 a.m. my time is spent mostly in service to others until bed time again, I now view it as an essential part of my wellbeing. For one hour a day, when I am not sleeping, I am in service to my higher self.
Upon rising I make a cup of ginger and lemon tea. I then scrape my tongue, brush my teeth, wash my eyes and do Jala Neti. I drink my tea and then I oil pull for the time it takes to dry body brush and shower, then I put a little oil in my nose and ears. I wish I had time for a full Abhyanga every day but I save this for the weekend and switch my shower for a warm bath after a full oiling of the body. All in all I’m at around 25 minutes now and, hopefully, at some point in that window I’ve had a poo! I know it’s not a nice subject but I think that’s half the problem with people’s bowel movements: we don’t like to talk about it. I loved Jasmine’s Instagram post about not taking our poo to work with us — in Ayurveda there is HUGE importance placed on a healthy GI tract and bowel. The rest of my hour is then spent on my physical and spiritual practice — for me that’s usually tuning in, 3 minutes of breath work, 5 to 7 rounds of sun salutations, short relax and then a 3-minute meditation before closing the space. If I’m short on time or running late I’ve been known to simply light a candle, breathe, give thanks and set an intention for the day. It’s enough, I promise. I usually don’t eat before 10 a.m. as my Kapha allows me to do this, but I always drink my three herbal teas a day. I use the Ayurveda Pura Dosha teas and have my Kapha between 6 and 10 a.m., my Pitta between 10 and 2 p.m. and my Vata between 2 and 6 p.m. Dinner is as early as I can possibly manage, but I always wait for my husband (even though I’m trying not to scrape the kids’ food into my mouth as I’m so hungry!). I always leave three hours between eating and bed and the only thing I’ll have in that time is my golden milk, which is up there with kitchari for me.
What do you wish was easier in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more accessible?
I wish we could better integrate these principles into the western medical system, so it didn’t feel so “us and them.” Ultimately, we are all about getting people to live longer, better quality lives and if we empower people to make choices more suitable for them, some of the most common ailments would start to dwindle out. Where Ayurveda differs so hugely from western medicine is that it looks for the “root cause” of the dis-ease rather than treating the symptom and, by default, lots of people are taking medication to deal with the symptom rather than taking the time to figure out what is causing the dis-ease in the first place. For example, I see people who are on long-term acid reflux medication, because “it’s only one little tablet a day,” and it’s worrying that they would rather take that little pill than look deeply at what food and lifestyle choices are creating all this heat and acid in the body in the first place. But this is a message that has to come out from all health professionals to really hit home.
I’d also love to see herbs more widely understood and used. I don’t think people realise how incredibly powerful they are and with very little, if any, side effects. There are herbs for almost everything!
Do people around you/in your circle of friends know about Ayurveda?
Yes, they are probably so sick of me! Actually, joking aside, I think they genuinely find it really interesting, although very few have actually come for a consultation. I think as with most things in life, people only come when they are ready and when they come I can only make suggestions, I can’t do it for them. Sometimes people just need space from the everyday stress and pulls of life to really give time to themselves and their health and, particularly with women, I find we put ourselves last amongst those who we serve, be it our children, partners, parents or colleagues. I run retreats and I’ve really seen a huge difference between clients that come for a single consultation and those who can gift themselves a few days to immerse themselves. There is a deeper understanding afforded by the fact that there are no other pulls on their time and they have nowhere else to be.
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try or you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
Establish a really solid morning routine that feels manageable for life (give or take the odd slip-up!). I know this can encompass lots of things, but the very idea that this is your “routine” will make it something you do consistently. And once you have carved out that time, it’s up to you how you fill it and over time you can add in more and more “rituals,” but if you don’t make the time and space you can’t integrate any changes. My number one thing I would ask everyone to do is start the day with either hot water or hot ginger and lemon — it’s the only way to clean the pipes in the morning and will get everything moving.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am really passionate about cleansing in Ayurveda. Anything from a 3-day gentle rest and cleanse to a full-blown Panchakarma. Our bodies and minds are exposed to so much toxic overload in this day and age and even the healthiest person can benefit from helping the body to get clean. When I moved out of the city we bought a run-down old farmhouse with some land and outbuildings, and my dream of setting up a dedicated wellness centre in Scotland is finally coming true, so it’s not just a yoga retreat but a sacred space where people can come to cleanse and heal. If you are interested in this, I’d love people to follow my blogs, Instagram and Facebook as we begin to build the centre which we hope to open at the end of 2020. It won’t just be me running things here; we have lined up some incredibly talented and well-qualified practitioners and doctors who will come and do specialised Ayurvedic detoxification. There will also be lots of lovely yoga retreats running through the year too. In the meantime, I’m running my retreats in Andalusia and Scotland — I’d love to see some of you there!