The Six Tastes of Ayurveda and Simple Tips for Adapting Your Activities and Your Meals to the Seasons and the Time of Day by Sharon Harvey Alexander, C-IAYT
The ancient science of ayurveda explains how our lifestyle influences our health. It also describes six tastes by which all foods may be categorized.
These tastes are: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent.
When each one of them is present in the meals we consume, the combination of these tastes is what leaves us feeling satisfied.
If, for too long, a certain taste goes missing, we may be left with the feeling of “wanting” or craving more than we really need. This is because of Rasa - our elemental nature – which the ancients trace to what we are (or are not) putting into our bodies.
Seasons call forth specific tastes, too.
While it’s best to consume every taste each day, as mentioned above, in the summer we are called to favor the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes because of their effect in the body. Summer is also a time to enjoy more cool, liquid, even slightly oily foods.
Consuming what’s in season, this is the time of year to partake of sweet berries and luscious green salads. And it’s also wonderful to indulge in the sweet taste of dairy products, if tolerated by your unique constitution. Enjoying an ice cream or gelato on occasion is warranted, because the heat of the season warms up your digestive fire, too, so there may be less trouble with these foods now. The key is to not overindulge. And to seek balance whenever possible.
Too much “fire” and you run the risk of burning things down. Not enough fire – as in a fire that has been put out by heavy, cold, damp food or drink – is equally problematic. It’s wise to pay attention to your digestive fire, as things may go awry as a result of too much or too little heat at this time of the year. I call this the act of cultivating balance, or “the Goldilocks’ Principle”. We want things to be “just right”.
Rasa is the Sanskrit word for taste. It might also be translated as “sap”, “essence”, and “fluid”. Rasa is the most subtle form of our physical being; that which we nourish through food and drink. By virtue of its subtle nature, it is the first of the dhatus, or levels of well-being, to go out of whack. This happens through incongruous lifestyle practices.
On a spiritual level, rasa - or taste - refers to the essence of the human experience; the energy of human emotion that directly affects one’s spiritual and physical health.
It is a generalization to say that foods and drink with heating qualities stimulate rasa, while foods with cooling qualities dull it. But for our purposes, this analogy is o.k. Refer back to the “Goldilock’s principle”. “Rasa”, or taste, influences the essence of who we are. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that the foods we eat, and how we enjoy our meals, has the potential to elevate the quality of our life?
I find this to be a powerful concept. How ‘bout you? The practice of Ayurveda is built upon the theory that we are a part of nature. As such, we are comprised of the elements that are found all around us. They are in our food, too. Just like “nature” does, we benefit from attending to the changing qualities that each season brings.
We may adapt or adjust our diet and lifestyle by consciously preparing and consuming various foods at different times of year. In the summer, the qualities of heat, light, and activity predominate. It is a time of vigorous growth in the plant world, and the longer daylight hours offer us plenty of opportunity to be outdoors, playing under the sun. Summer is considered the pitta season in North America. Due to an Ayurvedic principle that “opposites foster balance”, we are wise to cool things down as the environment around us begins to heat up.
In Colorado, warm summer temperatures and our high altitude combine to heat up the environment around us, and to dry things out. As a result, joint pain, skin irritations, digestion challenges, and irritability - to name just a few of the draw backs of an elevated pitta dosha - may also increase. The good news is that nature provides us with wonderful remedies, too.
For example, Aloe Vera is often used to soothe sunburned skin. Did you know that it is also beneficial in relieving heartburn, deterring the growth of harmful bacteria, and relieving bleeding or swollen gums? It influences blood sugar levels, aids digestion, and may also be used as a laxative. Of course, one would always want to check with their doctor before trying a new or unusual remedy like this for the first time, but this is one example of how we can use natural remedies to soothe seasonal imbalances.
Other delicious ways to handle summer’s heat include crafting soothing beverages including sun tea made with rooibos and mint leaves, or adding cucumber or rose petals to your water. The practice of ayurveda suggests consuming room temperature or cool, but not cold, beverages in order to maintain Agni, an efficient digestive fire. There are many foods and spices that have a cooling effect, too. Some of them include watery fruits like watermelon, cucumbers, and coconuts. Fennel and coriander (or cilantro) are cooling spices, and avocados, jicama, and pomegranates can be delightful to consume now, as well.
If all of this seems a bit overwhelming… yet you’re interested in upping your game, and believe that eating wisely and in tune with the seasons might help, please consider scheduling a private appointment with me. I can determine your unique wellness constitution, and together we can assess what YOU need, as an individual with sublime and beautiful traits.
Taking time now to consider how you might establish a pitta pacifying summer seasonal routine, before the hot weather really settles in for a few months, is wise. Using actions to cool and calm your diet and your lifestyle will pay dividends later. If you want to sleep well, enjoy pleasant interactions with others, and feel comfortable all season long, implementing a few simple changes this summer may help to prevent the over-accumulation of heat in the body, mind, and emotions. The result may be an elevated ability to more comfortably enjoy the wonderful gifts that summertime has to offer.
Thank you for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what I've written here. And any ideas you have for cooling the flames of summer... Please leave a comment below.
May this season, and every season, unfold with increasing levels of joy and harmony for you, and the world around you.
Summarizing the Actions and Sources of the Six Tastes
Taste Primary Actions Common Sources
Sweet Builds tissues, calms nerves. Fruit, grains, natural sugars, milk.
Sour Cleanses tissues, increases absorption of minerals. Sour fruits, yogurt, fermented foods.
Salty Improves taste to food, lubricates tissues, stimulates digestion. Natural salts, sea vegetables.
Bitter Detoxifies and lightens tissues. Dark leafy greens, herbs and spices.
Pungent Stimulates digestion and metabolism. Chili peppers, garlic, herbs and spices.
Astringent Absorbs water, tightens tissues, dries fats. Legumes, raw fruits and vegetables, herbs.
Balancing the Doshas Through Taste
Most Balancing Most Aggravating
Vata Sweet, Sour, Salty Bitter, Pungent, Astringent
Pitta Sweet, Bitter, Astringent Sour, Salty, Pungent
Kapha Pungent, Bitter, Astringent Sweet, Sour, Salty
Learn how to cultivate steadiness, even in tumultuous times.
Join us - a series of five classes over eight weeks. Begins March 23rd, 4-6 pm
In the Mountain Wisdom Wholistic Health studio.
Or virtually via Zoom!
Email to register: firstname.lastname@example.org
From the book:Learning to Breathe, Learning to LiveBy Sharon Harvey Alexander, C-IAYT
Series begins March 23rd
(March 23 – May 18)
What is Mountain’s Rest?
Part book club, part practice – it has roots in ancient wisdom and is backed by modern neuroscience, Mountain's Rest is a program that not only offers you a wonderful opportunity to develop a sense of community, it provides an opportunity to turn in and learn to cultivate steadiness, even when the winds of change are blowing.
Tap into the power of intention and visualization, and be guided to the source of the deepest, most healing presence of inner peace, and you may clear out what stands in the way of living an inspired life.
Explore in a supportive community the science and practice of breathing for relaxation and the process of letting go of stress and strain. Learn to enjoy drawing inward. Access the source of healing and your ultimate potential.
Ayurveda is the “science of life” and is considered to be the medical arm of yoga. Developed by the Rishis, ancient mystics from India, it explains that human beings, like all living things around us, are made up of a specific combination of each of the five basic elements found in nature.
According to Ayurveda, the elements, which include Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space, combine in unique ways to form doshas. A dosha is a description of the way these elements, whose source is life force energy, animates each of us in a specific way. The elements are considered to be the building blocks of life. It is the way in which these elements combine that differentiates the organs, tissues, and cells in our body, and that creates each of us in unique ways.
There are three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They perform different physiological functions in the body. Each of us have all three, in an individual combination. The practice of Ayurveda suggests that by balancing the doshas through lifestyle choices, specifically by how and what we take in to our bodies and minds, we have control over our health. By paying attention to such things as what, where, when, and how we eat; the thoughts we think; how we breathe, act, and exercise; and other things, we can pacify the doshas and enjoy good health on all levels: body, mind, heart, and soul.
How do the elements combine into doshas, and how do we keep the doshas balanced to maintain good health? Here is a brief discussion.
The Vata Dosha is comprised of the Air and Space elements.
It is the energy in the body/mind that manifests as movement. The Vata Dosha influences the workings of our mind and our digestion (movement of food through the intestines). It affects the circulation of blood and lymph, the flow of breath, the blinking of your eyes, and the beating of your heart. And, due to it's light and subtle nature, it is the dosha that becomes most easily unbalanced, which may lead to an imbalance in the other two doshas.
The Pitta Dosha is comprised of the Fire and Water elements.
This energy influences the body's metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, and assimilation. It gives on the drive to achieve and to manifest transformation.
The Kapha Dosha is comprised of the Earth and Water elements. It offers a stability that results in growth. Like mud, the Kapha Dosha holds moisture in the body, nourishing tissues and supporting the immune system.
When you come in to see me for an ayurveda pulse reading and dosha assessment, you may request information about diet and lifestyle choices to support your unique constitution. In general, the Vata Dosha is pacified by eating warm, lightly cooked foods like stews broths, and nourishing teas, especially in the winter months. Using warming spices like cinnamon and ginger, or mustard seed and cumin, may facilitate good digestion. Keeping a regular schedule and including plenty of fluids in the diet is important. When cold, the movement that the Vata Dosha provides slows down. As a result, one may experience constipation, dry skin, anxiety, and insomnia.
The Pitta dosha is balanced through moderation. A predominantly Pitta person will benefit from eating three hearty, well balanced meals a day. This gives them the energy needed to remain happy while making things happen in the world. Exercising adequately, and getting a good night’s sleep helps keep the Pitta person calm and focused, as well. The trick is to not overdo things.
For those of a predominantly Kapha dosha, you will benefit from exercising every day and choosing foods that are light, warm, and spicy in order to boost overall activity levels in body and mind. Avoid heavy, oily, and sugary foods as they lead to the build-up of mucus in the body. Using spices such as black pepper, ginger, cumin, and chili and eating lots of bitter dark greens helps reduce mucus build-up, fostering healthy immunity.
Questions? Schedule an appointment to discuss this in more detail. Or partake of the special that I am currently offering: Valued at $138, you may receive a pulse reading and dosha analysis, breathing assessment, and short reiki energy clearing session for only $47. The offer continues through Valentine's Day.
To summarize, Ayurveda is the Science of Life and the medical arm of yoga. It uses the system of the three doshas, known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, to assess one’s overall health. The doshas are derived from the five elements found in nature. According to Ayurveda, health is defined as the dynamic state of balance between mind, body, and environment. An imbalance in one or more of the doshas leads to dis-ease.
By balancing the doshas we facilitate healing and overall wellness. This is done through specific recommendations for diet, and lifestyle choices. Also known as mind-body types, the doshas express unique blends of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics. When you have a sense of your dosha personality, or how the elements combine in your body/mind to make you unique, you can make choices to support balance.
To quote Deepak Chopra, “Just as every snowflake is unique in shape and form, every human has their own blueprint. It’s like a map of the body that’s made up of an infinite variety of shapes, behaviors, emotions, and appearances.” Learn how the elements express through you, and make choices that support a healthy expression, and you may live a life filled with greater levels of health, wellness, and joy. Begin today by scheduling a consultation with me.
Yours, in health.
~ Sharon Harvey Alexander, C-IAYT
If you're like most car owners, you take your car in for regular oil changes. Doing so keeps it running smoothly and efficiently, and serves to clear out gunk and debris. Believe it or not, doing this to our bodies serves a similar purpose! By taking time to oil your skin before showering, you lubricate joints, organs, and muscles inside - a practice even more beneficial during the cold months when some of us exercise less and many spend more time indoors, often exposed to the drying effects of artificial heat.
The Sanskrit word sneha means both “oil” and “love,” and the effects of lavishly applying oil to the body are similar to being saturated with love. Thus, the ancients tell us that this is a wonderful practice of 'self-love". The experience offers the feeling of stability, warmth and comfort to body, mind, and soul. Sneha—oil and love—is sukshma, or “subtle.” That means that the proper oil for your constitution, like love, easily passes through minute channels in the body to penetrate deep layers of tissue. Doing so, it, soothes and nourishes us, almost from the inside out.
Ayurveda teaches that there are seven dhatus, or layers of tissue in the body. Each is successively more concentrated and life-giving. It is taught that for the effects of sneha to reach to the deepest layer, it should be massaged into the body for 800 matras, roughly five minutes. If we consider that the entire body needs this kind of attention, a 15-minute massage is the suggested minimum amount of time to spend giving yourself this rejuvenating gift of self-love.
There are three classical ayurvedic texts (the Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Hrdayam) and all three reference the benefits of applying oil to the body (abhyanga).
The benefits include:
Herbal oils specific to your constitution or current condition are especially good choices for full body massage. This can be determined by an ayurvedic pulse reading, which may be scheduled throughout the year in the Mountain Wisdom Studio. I craft unique oil mixtures that combine the subtleties of an essential oil (plant essences) with a suitable base oil. Inquire today, and begin the practice of nourishing yourself with the energy of love.
Winter Special: In a visit that may last up to an hour, receive an ayurvedic pulse reading to determine potential imbalances to your dosha, a breathing assessment, a short reiki energy clearing, and one bottle of ayurvedically inspired body oil made expressly for you. $47 (discounted from $132)
Do you, like many people, experience heightened levels of stress during the holidays? With parties, and celebrations added to what may already be a full schedule, it’s no wonder some succumb to a headache, digestive disturbances, colds, or even bouts of anxiety or depression.
The to-do list alone, especially at this time of year, can foster significant levels of overwhelm. And that's all the reason to maintain, or even up-level, your self care. Do your best to pay attention to how you're feeling on any given day. Elevated stress levels may manifest in physical symptoms which you want to address before they get worse by resting, simplifying your diet, hydrating with adequate consumption of fresh, clear water, and even making time to get outdoors for a walk in nature.
How do you handle elevated challenges to your health and well-being?
For additional tips and suggestions from one online resource, click here.
Also, know that the mindfulness practices outlined in my recently published book: Learning to Breathe, Learning to Live: Simple Tools to Alleviate Stress and Invigorate Your Life may help.
How? Well, I'm sure you've experienced how taking a deep breath can calm you almost instantaneously. Doing this a few times each day helps even more. I have written the book to elevate well-being around the world, one breath, one person at a time. And I could use your help...
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from stress, please let them know about this book.
Better yet, considering giving it as a gift. Their health will thank you.
There are many positive ways to address and even reduce the levels of stress you may experience at this time of year, and all throughout the year, for that matter. Taking a time out to up your level of self care is important. Reading my book, and practicing what you find in it, will also help you feel better in body, mind, heart, and soul! Buy it today.
And... if you're interested, I'll be offering three week courses in the new year that use material from the book. Join us!
Wishing you and yours a magical, memorable, and healthy holiday season.
Sharon Harvey Alexander
Certified Stress Management Educator and Professional Yoga Therapist
Tomato Date Chutney
Serve with whole-grain crackers or papad (Indian lentil-flour crisps).
recipe by KATE O’DONNELL for Yoga Journal Magazine, OCT 12, 2016
Ayurvedic Tips for Delightful and Health Promoting Thanksgiving – Add Tomato Chutney to the mix.
Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. It is the practice of considering how what you take in affects what comes out. These considerations influence not only the health of your body and mind, but also of your heart and soul.
According to Ayurveda - or the Science of Life – it is wise practice to have six tastes present in every meal in order to feel satisfied by the end of it. These tastes include: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. According to Ayurveda the Sweet, Bitter, and Astringent tastes have a cooling effect in the body. Sour, Salty, and Pungent tastes are all heating. Each taste exerts a unique influence on us as individuals, depending upon your individual doshic mix. If you know your dosha (which I am happy to help you determine) you may adjust the types of foods you eat to support physical, mental, and emotional balance, even as the seasons and other conditions around you change.
The seasons of the year are represented by a specific combination of the six tastes. In Autumn, when the qualities of nature tend to be dry, rough, windy, erratic, cool, subtle, and clear, you are wise to counter them with specific food choices to promote good health. The qualities of Autumn are shared by the vata dosha. If you have a strong mix of vata in your dosha, you may find that you feel unsettled and unbalanced this time of year. To counter this, and foster balance as a result, add in foods that subdue the dry, light, and erratic nature of the fall. This might include eating more dense, warming, and oily foods. Root vegetables are grounding. Meats, nuts, dairy, and good quality oils can be nourishing (think of yummy stews or fatty side dishes) and calming this time of year. Sweet tastes calm the vata dosha.
Offered below is a wonderful Indian inspired chutney recipe that may help to lighten up the heaviness of the typical Thanksgiving meal while also countering the effects of seasonal weather influences. The delicious condiment or appetizer is sweetened by dates and heated by red chili, mustard seeds, and tomatoes which are considered heating due to their natural acids. The heat of pungent (spicy) foods in small amounts can bolster your digestive fire, which may slow down when ingesting lots of oily and heavy foods.
Enjoy this fall inspired addition to your meal, and the time you spend with family and friends.
Wishing you a graceful, grateful, and gratifying holiday celebration!
Namaste~Sharon Harvey Alexander
Baby, it's hot outside! As the ambient air temperature rises, people's tempers may rise too. If you find yourself feeling irritable, impatient, short tempered, or easy to anger, take care. It is wise to make cooling choices this time of year.
How do we do that? Consider these simple tips:
* Drink cool water frequently throughout the day (but not with meals);
* Add cooling foods, and those with high moisture content, to your diet (fresh fruits and vegetables are great this time of year, especially cucumbers, pomegranate, coconut, watermelon)
* Use ghee and/or coconut oil for cooking, as they are very cooling, on the inside, and outside, too. Try rubbing the oil all over your body before showering.
* Exercise in the cooler hours of early morning and do your best to stay out of the hot afternoon sun.
* Where cotton clothing, as it breathes and cools the best of all fabrics.
* Give yourself (and others) more time to arrive at meetings, etc. in order to remain calm enroute.
* Reduce your to-do list in order to allow for the apathy or sense of tiredness that may set in as the result of the heat. Rest makes everything better.
Other ideas? Please share them in the comment box, below.
For a delightful summer iced tea recipe, read the following post. Enjoy!
Native to Europe and Asia, though now found on five of the world's continents, mint comes in as many as 15-20 variations and are part of a family of herbs that includes basil, oregano, rosemary, and sage. Many of these herbs, and the mints in particular, have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes by people around the world for thousands of years. Peppermint and Spearmint - two of the more well know varieties of mint - vary slightly in the strength of their effect. Peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint, and is the stronger of the two. Spearmint, being the milder of the two, is the one most commonly found in home gardens.
Known to relax the body and mind and cure bad breath, consuming foods and beverages infused with mint may also improve digestion, reduce pain, eliminate inflammation, optimize hormonal levels, aid in weight loss, increase circulation, boost the health of your heart and strengthen your the immune system. This is due to the key ingredients, Carvone in Spearmint, and Menthol in Peppermint, that are obtained from the oils of the mint plant and have local anesthetic and counter irritant properties. They cool down the body on the inside when consumed, thus reducing inflammation , irritation, and discomfort in many bodily systems. This is why drinking mint tea may help to cool and refresh you, even in the hottest months of the year.
Try this great recipe for making mint tea:
Mint Iced Tea - Cooling and Refreshing and Oh So Simple to Prepare.
Take a handful of fresh mint leaves (or use three herbal tea bags instead). Rinse and pat the leaves dry, then twist gently to release the delightfully minty oils from the leaves.
Place in pitcher and cover with filtered water. Let stand in refrigerator until cool. The water will have a slight color to it. Serve by pouring into glasses with filled with several ice cubes and enjoy.
The pitcher may be refilled several times before you discard the mint leaves.
Drink as desired to calm, cool, and refresh. Please note that some may have allergic reactions.
Health Promoting Properties Associated with Peppermint tea include:
Analgesic - meaning it decreases pain, which may help lessen the severity of arthritic symptoms and digestive upset.
Antibacterial - meaning that it may assist you in staying strong and healthy, even through seasonal changes.
Anti-inflammatory - may reduce symptoms of swelling in joints and irritation in many of the body's systems, including the throat and chest which may tighten due to allergies or cold and flu symptoms.
Antispasmodic - meaning that it may lessen the chances of nausea and vomiting, even in cases of motion sickness.
Calming - to body and mind. By calming the smooth muscles of the digestive tract it may improve the quality of bowel movements, including issues associated with IBS.
Carminative - meaning that it reduces flatulence by moving gas through the body, thus minimizing bloating and cramping.
Spring Time in the Rockies Heralds Subtle Changes:
March is that intermediary month, where spring is on the way, yet we may still be experiencing signs of winter in Colorado. In order to be healthy and happy as you navigate these seasonal changes, which can pose challenges to our overall health and well-being, I offer some lifestyle tips from the ancient science of Ayurveda to help you feel, do and be your very best.
As spring unfolds near the end of March, let your health blossom along with the bulbs you may have planted last fall, and the buds on the trees. Flowing with the seasons is easy when we follow a few basic principles.
Right now, the variable weather and damper conditions that come with the spring snows signal a change from those conditions that are inherent in the Late Fall and Early Winter. As spring approaches, we are moving out of what is referred to in Ayurveda as the Vata time of year (typically cold and dry) and into a Kapha Climate - one that is cool and damp. This is "spring time in the Rockies."
These changes suggest that we make minor modifications to diet, as well as to our movement (yoga) practices and even to the way we breathe in order to feel our very best! Easing into the spring season by taking care to clean out the accumulation from the winter season (in our bodies and perhaps also in our homes) will foster greater health on many levels. As a result, we may flourish all through the summer and into fall!
Simple Ways to Modify Your Diet:
According to the Science of Ayurveda, we want to incorporate more bitter, pungent/spicy, and astringent tastes in our diet as the weather warms up. Find these in raw fruits and vegetables, especially lettuces and herbs such as dandelion, fresh ginger root (makes a great herbal tea) and garlic, as well as pulses, and legumes.
These tastes open the body's channels of elimination, clearing excess mucus and moisture. As we move into the spring season, you are wise to reduce your consumption of kapha-aggravating tastes including sweet, sour and salty foods which tend to cause water retention, something we don't need at this time of year.
As March is a transition month – one that sits between the seasons – we want to tread lightly as we make these diet modifications. Until it's warmer, continue to minimize your consumption of raw and cold foods. Eating warm, lightly cooked meals, especially in the morning and evening, is wise. A salad at lunch may be a nice way to change up the routine a bit, and add in some of the spring tastes. Using lighter grains now including quinoa, millet and barley are also great ways to add in Kapha reducing foods in the springtime.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Spring:
Email me at email@example.com. Or come to class for support along the wellness path.
Namaste, Sharon Alexander, RYI 500 hr.