August 13, 2020
The past few months have pushed all of us to reassess how we are practicing self-care. Taking deliberate steps to care for our mental, emotional, and physical health is incredibly important, now more than ever. And while these habits are developing new significance in our own lives, health-boosting practices such as Ayurveda have been integral in human society for millennia. Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine that centers around finding balance in bodily systems through diet, herbalism, and yoga practice.
Today we’re chatting with Kate O’Donnell, a nationally certified Ayurvedic practitioner, Ashtanga yoga teacher, director of The Boston Ayurveda School, and author of “The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook” and “Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind.” She studied in India for 20 years and continues to travel there annually to continue learning about Ayurvedic practices. Read on to hear more about how she’s adapting during the pandemic, how to incorporate Ayurveda into your daily life, and about her new book, “The Everyday Ayurveda Guide to Self-Care.”
I live in Portland, Maine with my partner Rich. We would love to have a puppy but we still travel to India every winter, so it’s just us. I’ve been practicing yoga and Ayurveda for over 20 years and have never had a career other than teaching yoga and Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is the science of observing interactions between human beings and their environment, in the form of food, climate, and associations.
A struggle with parasites in India brought me to the Ayurvedic doctor’s office. Dr. Anil Kumar in Mysore and a rotating cast of local women taught me how to prepare Ayurvedic meals. Once I came back to the states, I went about the work of recreating these qualities in my cooking here, which eventually birthed “The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook.”
That the efficacy of simple changes is quite radical. Even complicated imbalances can shift due to small but strategic changes. For example, hormonal imbalances—which can seem quite overwhelming—often have a stress component. Following a simple dinacharya practice, daily routine, which includes steady, sit-down mealtimes and early-to-bed, early-to-rise sensibility, has been enough to bring things back into balance for my students and clients.
Care of the senses by applying oil to the skin, ears, and nose has been very important in staying grounded. For most people, most of the time, basic body oils that are neither heating nor cooling are almond and sunflower oils. A consistent daily movement routine in the morning has also been key to getting going (when there’s nowhere to go!).
My personal practices have not changed much, but my work definitely has. I was relying on travel workshops which were all canceled. Since then I have launched an online school to teach Ayurveda, and am doing Zoom consults. My online courses range from live cooking classes where we cook together, to a library of prerecorded cooking classes for anytime use, to in-person and prerecorded courses, meal plans, and self-paced and live community cleanses.
I often recommend starting in the kitchen with learning how to prepare a few simple meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that are nutritious and balancing for one’s constitution.
The anatomy of the human system according to Ayurveda is the same understanding that underlies yoga. Many yoga trainings are offering only western views of anatomy and physiology, which is different from the language of yoga and Ayurveda. When we put the two together, their efficacy increases tenfold.
My intent to empower readers to view their own bodies as friends, with unique needs, and to learn how to compassionately meet these needs as they arise.
I was finding that my students and clients were likely to attach to a daily routine or “good and bad” foods list without having the knowledge of how and when a routine, remedy, or food is beneficial. I wrote this book to flesh out the interconnections of how bodies are built, how nutrition is digested and circulated, and how we can understand these processes according to our own unique constitutions. This knowledge then gives us agency in the healing process, as we can choose wisely, and adapt our routines for different seasons and stages of life.
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