The Ayurveda way
Ayurveda’s holistic approach to health is the way forward – for your diet, fitness and overall wellbeing – as web editor Debra Waters discovered after a startlingly revealing Ayurvedic consultation. Take our advice, don’t diet until you tried it.
How do you deal with stress? Usually, I favour a couple of Nurofen and a glass of Merlot over a chamomile tea and some yoga stretches, but after reading Anjum Anand’s ‘Eat Right For Your Body Type’, a healthy eating plan inspired by Ayurveda, I decided to take a leaf out of Anjum’s cookbook to see if the Ayurveda way is the right way to health and happiness.
Ayurveda (meaning life science), an ancient Eastern healthcare system with origins in India that consists of two parts – preventative and curative – teaches that the mind, body and soul are inextricably linked. Patients are treated with natural medicine, dietary changes, the right form of exercise, and relaxation techniques.
Curious to see if there was another road to take aside from the well-trodden wine and caffeine route, I met with Ayurvedic practitioner Dr Rohan Nogar for a consultation at the super-stylish and blissfully serene Shymala Spa in London’s Holland Park. To my bemusement, Dr Rohan took a pulse diagnosis using three of his fingers, which he alternated while pressing my fingertips. The tip squeezing, he explained, was because each finger relates to an element – air, fire, earth, water and space (ether) – when these are out of whack it can cause illness.
Dr Rohan then asked a couple of predictable questions: “How much do you drink?” Too much. “How much exercise do you take?” Too little. But stranger questions followed: “Do you find that energetic exercise makes you feel stressed and angry?” Er, weirdly, yes, I even tried to Google it. “Do you crave spicy and salty food?” I’m a chilli-eating champion who dips a finger in salt like it’s sherbet. “Do you suffer from migraines?” Yes. “Dryness… poor circulation in your lower body… stress”. Yes!
How did the good doctor hone in on my ailments so accurately by taking my pulse? From working out my dosha. There are three energies known as doshas that are made up of the five elements: Vata (controls metabolism); Pitta (controls movement); and Kapha (controls the body’s structure). Once you know your dosha (or doshas, you can have more than one), you follow the appropriate diet, exercise and lifestyle plan to put you on the hallowed path to wellness.
I’m Vata-Pitta – too much air and fire – and an extreme case apparently, with the body organs of a person five years my senior (oh, hurrah). A lot of women juggling home and work are the same, it being a malaise that busy females often bear. Rohan quickly reassured me that our doshas can be balanced with the right plan, and doshas can change seasonally as the environment has a marked effect on us. The optimum is balanced dosha(s); this is true even in the womb, he added, and mums-to-be should eat kapha-increasing foods such as bananas, avocados and milk to give their bambinos a head start.
Rohan advised that I cut out red meat, white bread, caffeine, alcohol, and – another surprise – raw salad, then gave me a list of foods I should eat, have occasionally, or avoid. Good: milk, honey, olive oil, porridge, rice, potatoes, chicken, berries and a variety of spices. Bad: peanuts, seafood, chocolate, chillies, cereals and hard cheeses.
The cinnamon and nutmeg massage I’d planned was quickly dismissed as too heat-inducing for my doshas. Instead I was given a traditional Ayurvedic marma massage in one of the luxurious treatment rooms, where Ingrid, the friendly and unobtrusive therapist, focused on vital body parts where stress is concentrated to stimulate the immune, circulatory and nervous systems.
Even though ill health has a notoriously knock-on effect, we often dismiss alternative medicine when popping a pill is so convenient, regardless of the obvious benefits of approaching wellbeing in a holistic way. Yet Dr Rohan’s spooky diagnosis and Anjum’s book gave me the final reluctant push I needed to admit that the only way to feel healthy is to be healthy. The restrictions of an Ayurvedic diet aren’t overwhelming; Ayurveda is not militant, avoiding certain foods doesn’t mean rejecting them forever. And since when did massage and relaxing become chores?
A full Ayurvedic consultation costs £80; massages start from £75; The 2½ hour Royal Raj Retreat costs £175 and includes a consultation, facial, head and body massage, and steam and sauna. The Panchakarma Detox Programme costs £1950 for a week.