Nutrition to Balance Your Mind & Emotions
Last blog we looked at the 6 tastes to help balance nutrition through the lense of Ayurveda. The 6 tastes are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent and often the bitter taste is most lacking in Western diets. These tastes can be used to balance the dosha or doshas that are out of balance to move us towards a healthier version of ourselves.
We looked at examples of foods that provide these tastes and started to identify how they affect the body. In today's blog we dive a bit deeper into the 6 tastes and look at how food and the 6 tastes can affect our emotional well-being - taking the ‘you are what you eat’ phrase to an even more significant meaning.
Ayurveda recognises that food can be a tool to bring balance to disturbances of the mind, such as anxiety.
It’s believed that food that’s as close to its natural state as possible is ‘intelligent’ and can provide great nourishment. This would look like favouring fresh fruit and vegetables and other natural products such as honey, nuts, seeds, wholegrain, and pulses. This doesn’t mean that they need to be eaten raw but it’s those foods at the supermarket that is one ingredient - an apple is an apple, rather than processed foods with a list of ingredients on the label. I know for many conveniences can be a high priority, therefore simple swaps and easy recipes are phased in bit by bit, often with a side of accountability I know helps my clients to transition gradually and feel the benefits to mind and body.
When it comes to food, why is it that we crave something sweet when we are missing a loved one? Ayurveda helps us to understand!
Sweet - enhances the emotions of love, compassion, and joy and is calm, nourishing, and nurturing. When we think of someone with a sweet personality they likely have these qualities! Due to its heavy nature, sweet tastes in excess can lead to greed, attachment, cravings, and feeling heavy and sad. You can likely relate to the feeling of over-consuming sweets where the joy and satisfaction turn into feelings of craving and attachment – when you can’t just have one biscuit or scoop of ice cream! When there is a lack of the sweet taste it can lead to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, therefore the sweet taste can be great to pacify anxiety and nervousness and bring grounding.
It’s also hydrating and improves the voice, helping you to speak authentically with more ease rather than worrying about saying the wrong thing! Ayurveda promotes natural sources of sweetness over processed refined products. The sweet taste is one that is often craved the most - a good reflection point here is to recognise if you need more love in your life rather than more sweet treats!
An alternative to turning to something sweet as a big source of comfort in tough times would be to give yourself or receive an oil massage (abhyanga). Both touch and warmth can stimulate the nerves on your skin, which sends a message to your brain to release the chemical oxytocin. Oxytocin is the love hormone, which has an anti-stress impact on your nervous system while enhancing feelings of love and compassion.
Sour - like lemon or grapefruit is sharp and stimulating! Sour helps sharpen understanding and clarity of thought, which can lead to improved concentration and appreciation. However, when there isn’t enough sour taste and the stimulation and zest for life are weakened, it can lead to feelings of dullness - with no passion, spark, or interest for life. Whereas, when too much sourness is present daily, it can lead to a sour nature - someone with a sour face often looks grumpy! This person may feel critical, judgemental, jealous, and hateful. Instead of overdosing on the sour taste, if you need to gain more clarity and direction with a sharp, awake, and aware mind, a breath of joy can give you the uplift you need! A breath of joy always puts a smile on my and many of my clients' faces and gets the blood pumping!
Often we sprinkle salt on food such as potatoes to give them a bit more vibrancy and flavour! Similarly, salt can bring vitality to our emotions, because it is energising and promotes courage, growth, strength, and zest for life. When there’s too little salt - it can lead to feelings of being tired, dull, bland, and lack-lustre because there is a dryness and dullness in the system and therefore salt can be used to rehydrate and refresh our emotions. Salt holds water and too much salt enhances qualities similar to sugar - such as being addictive, possessive, greedy, and overly attached.
Sugar and salt are usually the most consumed tastes in Western society, therefore stepping out of your comfort zone and trying a new class or passion project can bring a new sense of vibrancy and flavour to life that you may need instead! Even some new herbs and spices that promote the other 4 tastes can bring variety you may need to keep life interesting!
Variety is the spice of life so add some spice to your life through the foods that you eat and the herbs and spices that you use, to get you “fired up”. It excites the mind and senses and sparks energy, enthusiasm, passion, and determination. This can lead to an enquiring mind and also a laser-focused mind to achieve goals…think fire element and solar plexus chakra. But in excess the mind can become too agitated and hot and sharp emotions like anger, envy, aggression, criticism irritation, and competitiveness can rise up! Without some spice in your food and life, things may feel lustreless with low motivation. If you want to add a feeling of fire to your life without food, yoga poses such as chair poses and warriors help to fire up some of the biggest muscles in the body, along with the breath of fire.
If you are a coffee or cacao drinker you will be familiar with the bitter taste! Bitter helps the mind and the senses to withdraw from worldly attachments and desires and look inwards to introspection and self- enquiry. When someone feels bitter, they are often resentful and cynical. Too many bitter foods can leave a bitter taste in your mouth - increasing cynicism, separation, isolation and rejection. Too little can lead to a dull mind possibly with brain fog and not seeing things clearly. And when in balance the bitter taste can help to let go of the past you don’t need anymore and only hold onto only what you need - starting to let go of problematic things and not going over and over them again and again can support mental well-being.
Just like a pomegranate or green banana can create a drying effect that we can feel inside the mouth, the astringent taste can create a dry sense of humour and therefore fun emotions. It also gives a supportive structure to the mind helping to bring a sense of calm and order, which is why sipping a cup of tea or red wine can feel stabilising and comforting due to their dry, astringent nature. Being British, my mum has always loved a good cup of tea and I finally started drinking it when I was in my 20s! In excess the astringent taste can be over-drying, a bit like a shrivelled-up raisin it can lead to an inwards contraction, meaning it may be hard to say and express emotions, and someone may keep themselves to themselves. This restriction in the mind may be expressed as feeling rigid and sarcastic in their ways. When there’s not enough astringent in someone's lifestyle, instead of being contained within a supportive and strong structure, it can lead to more nervousness, anxiety, and a scattered mind.
Balanced Tastes For A Balanced Mind
In addition to food, Ayurveda offers many ways to balance emotions, with lifestyle techniques such as oil massage, breath work, and other mind-body practices, with the mental impression being high up on the list - think of the images in your environment that you expose yourself to, such as the news.
While certain foods and drinks have the capacity to create balance in your mind and body, the key to balance is to aim to include all six tastes in the form of whole, real food throughout a meal or throughout the day - with greater emphasis on one some over others depending on imbalances that might be present. I mentioned in the previous blog which tastes help to balance doshas. Over time you can get more in tune with the tastes you need when you are generally well-balanced and a regular yoga practice can help with this. Whereas when you are out of balance you may crave more of the tastes that are throwing you off!
Ayurveda nutrition isn’t about perfection, it’s most importantly about nourishment, moderation, mindfulness, and enjoyment.
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