25 Jan A taste for Ayurveda in Sri Lanka
Yesterday’s full moon in Leo signals a time to come out & shine. My way of shining, aka my New Year’s resolution, is to adopt a more Ayurvedic approach to eating.
Normally I eat too fast. I eat when I’m sad; when I’m bored… and for pleasure; give me a box of Pierre Hermé macaroons & I can eat the lot in an afternoon.
Ayurveda is Sanskrit for ‘science of life’. In a very simple, small nutshell, it’s based on the principle of balance between the 3 energies, or doshas, that make up our bodies, as well as all living things:
• Vata (derived from the elements of air & ether/space)
• Kapha (water & earth)
• Pitta (fire & water)
Over Christmas and New Year, I took part in the first holistic nine-day retreat at Sen Wellness Sanctuary, on Rekawa Beach, west of Galle, in Sri Lanka. The resident Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Sampath, is one of 6,500 Ayurvedic doctors in Sri Lanka, all of whom train for 7 years to qualify.
Within 24 hours of arriving at the Sanctuary, I had my consultation with Dr Sampath. The verdict: I had too much pitta.
“We need the right balance of ‘good’ fire to burn the toxins, or ama, in the digestive system,” Dr Sampath told me, after tapping my back, looking at my tongue & eyes, & asking me lots of questions. Damm it, I’d only just done a two-week detox diet before I’d left London.
Too much fire meant cutting back on seafood & pineapple. Thank goodness I managed to pack in my last dose of prawns, freshly caught by the local fishermen, before my consultation.
‘Cutting back’ is the key to an Ayurvedic diet, we were told, rather than ‘denial’. It’s about listening to the body; being sympathetic to the body. So wine is OK, but not too much, or, as I always insist, only very good quality.
Ayurveda, as I was beginning to see, was not only about living longer, but also about staying away from hospitals & creating beauty from within.
How I’ve nearly become vegetarian
Before leaving for Sri Lanka, I’d tucked into a massive rump steak, knowing that for the next 9 days there would be no meat, no chicken, a bit of fish, & a lot of vegetables. “I need to eat red meat,” I would always say.
Nine days of 3 meals a day of a variety of vegetables & fruit that I never even knew had existed has turned me almost into a vegetarian. Each day, the cooks would visit the local market, where the villagers sold the surplus produce from their gardens.
For the first 3 days at Sen Wellness, the diet was about cleansing; the next 3 about balancing; & the final 3 increasing body strength & immunity.
What did we eat? Most of the time, I didn’t know, but it made me feel good, feel whole. The fruits were more familiar than the vegetables & herbs. They included the likes of mango, passion fruit, jack fruit, & then of course King Coconut milk on tap. One of my favourite discoveries was wood apple, which made a fabulous juice.
The 7 or 8 different dishes served buffet style in big terracotta dishes also included Sri Lankan dishes found in the West. These included the likes of kothu (finely chopped roti cooked with vegetables), hoppers (fermented rice & coconut milk pancake), dosa (crisp fermented lentil & rice crepe) & pol roti (grilled coconut roti). All were delicious.
And white rice is not a patch on the traditional, local Madathawalu red rice that we were served, said in Ayurvedic treatments to strengthen the immune system.
Fresh is key for Ayurveda
The freshness of the food is so important, I was learning. A day after vegetables are picked, the textures & natural balances start to decompose, and after a week the flavour changes, says Ayurveda. It makes me wonder why we in the West eat so much ‘decomposed’ food?
My Ayurvedic plan for 2016
• Eat what’s really fresh – with as little time as possible passing between when it comes out of the soil & when it goes into my mouth.
• Drink 2 glasses of water on waking – excellent for balancing the doshas.
• Choose a plentiful & varied supply of seasonal vegetables – in tropical Sri Lanka we must have eaten about 30 different varieties over our 9-day stay.
• To complement this with a bit of fish, chicken, veal or venison, rather than beef, lamb & pork (given that I’ve too much pitta).
• Add more spices – again, excellent for balancing the doshas. My favourite soup at Breath of Life was a spice soup containing ginger, cumin, black pepper & the rind of goraka fruit, used to add a sour taste.
Back at home, out have gone the tinned tuna, the smoked salmon, the bulk buying of meat from the butcher’s across London in Notting Hill & the chicken pieces (only whole chickens now).
Will I be digging up my lawn at home to create a potager? I did think about it, but then a friend pointed out the strong likelihood of such a potager being ravaged by the local fox population. Maybe I’ll stick to my once a week fruit & veg box delivery instead.