Stewed Apple Ayurveda
It's early morning, and the nutty aroma of hot cereal wafts through Ayurvedic doctor David Frawley's kitchen in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he's director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies. He drinks a cup of soothing chai, then enjoys a traditional Indian breakfast of upper, or toasted farina. Cooked with vibrant orange carrots and bright green peas, the cereal is flavored with ghee (clarified butter) and spices like cumin, ginger, and turmeric.
"This kind of breakfast keeps my mind clear and gives me an even release of energy, " he says. But before Frawley eats his breakfast, he typically follows various morning rituals to stimulate his agni (digestive fires): rinsing his sinuses with a neti pot, scraping his tongue to remove ama or toxic buildup, practicing Pranayama (yogic breathwork) and a few gentle yoga postures, and drinking spiced breakfast tea. According to Ayurveda (India's 5, 000-year-old approach to health), agni is the metabolic energy that helps the body assimilate nutrients, eliminate what it doesn't need, generate warmth, and transform physical matter into the subtler forms of energy that the body requires for vitality.
At the start of the day, sometime between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., agni is quite low, and it's not easy for most bodies to digest a big breakfast. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend an easily digestible meal that nourishes the body by giving it the fuel it needs, without overwhelming it.
"If you eat breakfast according to Ayurvedic principles, you will have more energy throughout the day, " says Marc Halpern, founder and director of the California College of Ayurveda, located in Grass Valley, California. "As a result, you'll be more productive at work and have healthier relationships."
Think of it this way: Your metabolism is like a wood-burning furnace that needs careful tending so it can heat the house (your whole body) and support all of the activities going on inside. In the morning, there may be warm embers left over from the previous day, but to have a healthy fire, you need to gently rekindle the flame.
Haphazardly throwing a lot of fuel (like a rich piece of quiche) into your digestive furnace upon awakening could suffocate the embers. And filling it with quick-burning food (like a sweet pastry) will make it burn furiously for a bit, but then the flames will die out. Without a strong fire, your body might make it through the day, but it's likely to surge and crash, or to tap into its precious fuel reserves, which can leave you feeling, well, burned out.
"If agni is healthy, you have tremendous energy throughout the day, " says Ayurvedic physician Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "But if agni is not healthy, you cannot go so fast. The energy is agni, and agni is energy. "
So, in addition to self-care morning rituals that aim to ignite agni, Frawley follows some basic Ayurvedic dietary guidelines to ensure that his first meal of the day gently stokes his fires throughout the morning. This means eating warm, well-spiced, easy-to-digest foods, with an emphasis on hot cereals and cooked fruits, rather than cold cereals and raw fruits or heavy meals like the classic American bacon and fried eggs with toast and a plate of hash browns. The Ayurvedic approach both feeds the body and helps the mind achieve a sharp but calm sense of focus.