Cooking Together for Yogis: Integrating Ayurveda

My journey connecting food and yoga has been an unexpected one. Growing up, I never would have imagined myself teaching plant-based, health-supportive cooking and Ayurveda to yoga practitioners. My family was a middle-of-the-spectrum American family and it wasn’t until I went to college that I even began to hear of yoga. Of course, at the time, I held the common misconception that yoga is all about exercising and becoming more flexible. But, one of the things we find through Yoga and Ayurveda is that everything is personal.

It was after a 5 A.M. morning kirtan practice, with a bunch of Hare Krishnas I was hanging out with in New York City, that I had my first asana experience. (I had originally come to their ashram the free vegan food they served, but their kindness and knowledge was icing on the cake!) They had exposed me to Bhakti Yoga before, but not asana. I can’t recall what exactly we did but I do remember being very tight in my muscles. I knew this about myself already, yet it wasn’t until this moment that I understood I have the ability to tap into my body to recognize how I feel. At the time, I didn’t take this any further. And, honestly, I saw the whole morning as my one-time “now I’ve tried it” yoga experience.

However, in December a few years later, that all changed. A good friend of mine was completing a yoga teacher training in New York and the hosting studio was having a holiday special for beginners: $10 for 10 days of unlimited classes. I thought, “sure, I’ll do it, just so I can maybe understanding this thing he talks about all the time.” I can still clearly recall one of the things he said during this discussion: “Dude, I don’t do yoga to become more flexible, but to be calmer. You need it, too.” I wound up hooked. I know I’m not alone in saying that it just felt so good. And, yes, I was calmer, too.

All of this led me to enroll in the 900 hour Professional Culinary Program at the Natural Epicurean in 2012. After ordering all the required textbooks, I was skimming through the one on Ayurveda, eager to learn more. I came across the pages on the three doshas and felt compelled to call up my aforementioned friend to ask him which one he thought I was (even though it’s more complex than just being or having a dosha). When I asked, he said, “Pitta dominant with vata out of balance.” He was, of course, spot on.

Doshas, if you’re unfamiliar with the sanskrit term, are the three different types of dispositions that make up one’s personal constitution. While learning about Ayurveda in my culinary training, I had a similar feeling as that during my first asana experience. With just a meal or two tailored to my personal constitution (my dosha), I quickly began to feel and understand that the food I eat can truly help tap into the internal body.

So, what do these anecdotes from my life have to do with yours? My story, like yours, is just some of the billions of stories out there and none of us have the same journey. Which is precisely why I bring it up. Yoga and Ayurveda are very intimate and personal experiences. I may be nothing like you but there are shared tools, skills, and techniques that can be utilized by all of us. And we’ve finally created the perfect program to teach them.

Cooking Together For Yogis is a program that combines Yoga and Ayurveda to bring greater balance into our lives. We hear Ayurveda spoken of as the ancient medicinal practice from India. The word itself is actually Sanskrit for “science of life,” and many times it’s paired with yoga as a “sister science,” but the truth is they really are one. We all come to yoga for different reasons: whether it’s to gain flexibility, stabilize emotions, find mental clarity, or, for the most devoted, achieve enlightenment. To do this, Ayurvedic practices will inherently become part of one’s yoga practice.

While Ayurveda is a holistic science, cooking is an important component. Actually, a majority of what Ayurveda looks at is what we consume, whether it’s food, drink, emotions, ideas, etc. And since we are all different, Ayurvedic cooking prepares food for our unique selves. Think of your yoga practice: do any of our bodies look the same in a pose? Absolutely not! Especially when we start to bring in blocks, bolsters, blankets, and straps. Ayurvedic cooking is the same. Some of us are slow-moving and might require warmer and more stimulating foods to arouse the body. Others might already be active and fiery and require more cooling and grounding foods. We use these descriptions in both a physical and mental sense. After all, one of the common definitions or goals of yoga that we hear is the unification of mind and body.

In the Ayurvedic kitchen, we find many key yogic concepts carrying over. As we start to gain experience cooking, making meals for ourselves and others becomes a practice. There is intention towards what and how these meals are prepared. We become mindful of our ingredients and cooking methods. Our unique constitutions lead to modifications. We balance our tastes to bring stability into our lives. And, of course, we can start to relax and feel good.

I invite you to join us on the mat and in the kitchen to gain a deeper understand of yourself. Whether you’ve been practicing yoga for 10 days or 10 years, there is knowledge and skill to be gained. Each of us is unique, and I hope we can foster this uniqueness to learn, grow, and cook together.

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