Living Ayurveda is a mindful approach to how we interact with the world around us—it’s about deciding to make time to pause and reflect on how we feel about each action we take. Ayurveda aligns with yoga, as each brings us closer to how we feel in our bodies; they create a space within to examine why we feel the way we feel in our bodies. Hopefully, as we delve deeper into our practice, we discover ways to shift how we feel through adapting our routine.
Food is one of the most significant contributors to disease; what, how, and when we eat drastically affects our gut health and digestion. To maintain optimal health and interact with the world positively and productively, eating foods that fuel the body and keep stoking the digestive fires is essential. When we don’t eat the right foods, we become sick. Illness may be mental, emotional, or physical, and the desired diet depends on the individual’s constitution and natural environment.
We sat down with fellow yogi and Ayurvedic Counsellor Insiya Rasiwala-Finn to discuss gut health and Ayurveda. Insiya has been an Ayurvedic practitioner for roughly fifteen years. Her roots in Ayurveda extend back to her childhood; born in India, Insiya was raised in a household that promoted Ayurvedic practices and yoga. From a very young age, Insiya was introduced to using food to heal and promote better health.
“Growing up, there were a lot of rules around food. There were lots of things like, oh, we don’t eat this food in this season, it’s not right. We only eat this young garlic, for example, in the winter, because the season allows us to digest the heat of the garlic. Food was always thought about in terms of the properties of that food and the effect it would have on the body during that specific season. When I’m feeling out of sorts, I crave the food of my childhood; perhaps that’s where the term comfort food comes from. The foods that offer us a wave of sustaining and nourishing memories from the past.” – Insiya Rasiwala-Finn.
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Meet Ayurvedic Counselor Insiya Rasiwala-Finn
If you could choose any period, what era would you live in?
IS—Sometimes, I wish I’d been born in a time before technology. Right now, being in Bali, we’re doing so much of our work online, and I’m noticing how much it can wipe me out. A question I’ve been asking, what if we lived in a time before computers? What would that have been like? Do you think we would have related to each other with more presence?
What’s your superpower?
IS—I create a ritual around things and bring beauty into things. It’s usually really simple things, like lighting a candle
when my son goes to bed. I take the time to make little moments precious. This is one reason I love yoga, being in a yoga class, and having this unique offering. Yoga makes time precious; we learn to appreciate the simplicity of ritual.
What are three things you never leave the house without?
IS—Three physical things would be my phone, my lip balm, and jewelry. I always wear some jewelry. It makes me feel protected. Three abstract things would be present. Ever since I got in a motorbike accident a few weeks ago, I try to stay present every time I step out of the house and not replay events of the past. Lightness, because there’s so much heaviness in our world right now. I always look at the things that light me up and see how I might discover beauty here at this moment. The last one is focus. I tend to get pretty airy about a lot of things, so I need a list of what I’m doing and to focus on that task; otherwise, I get distracted.
How has Ayurveda assisted you in your understanding of how to live?
IS—The first step to self-healing is knowledge. People want to know about themselves; it’s exciting for people to learn about themselves. The doshas present a gateway into Ayurveda’s science, but it’s very different in India than in the West.
I grew up in India, and as a child, the doctor would never tell you that you have so much of each dosha, and that you have this sort of an imbalance, and that you need to do these things to heal. It wasn’t like that; there wasn’t as much of a focus on the doshas in that sense. I think there’s a danger in that as well, of people getting stuck on one perspective, of thinking they’re one dosha or a certain way, and then holding onto those tendencies.
Whereas my perspective, in all these years of working with Ayurveda, I would compare my natural tendencies to the environment and the factors that can either exacerbate things or alleviate them. I examine the environment and external factors and say, here’s what I need to do to work with these things, to bring all the conditions into more balance.
At the same time, I have to remind myself that this is not necessarily who I am; there’s an essence of me that is separate and true and deeper and where everything is whole and connected, but life happens. Events occur, and we start to lose little bits of ourselves, and we lose energy. All of the things that we do should be to regain that energy to get it back. I can make choices to help bring myself more into balance.
How did you arrive at Ayurveda?
IS—I studied Ayurvedic at the Mount Madonna Institute, but I was introduced to this practice as a child. I was fortunate to grow up in India in Bombay, and I grew up in a family where there was a real focus on what we ate. My mother was really into preparing hot foods and making foods from scratch, as did my grandmother. My father practiced a lot of yoga, so I was exposed to yoga and using food as a medicine at a very young age.
Growing up, there were a lot of rules around food. There were lots of things like, oh, we don’t eat this food in this season, it’s not right. We only eat this young garlic, for example, in the winter, because the season allows us to digest the heat of the garlic. Food was always thought about in terms of the properties of that food and the effect it would have on the body during that specific season.
My mother used food as medicine; I had sinus issues as a child, and she wouldn’t allow me ice cream on cold days. She’d say, ‘maybe after lunch on a hot day, but not at dinner because it’s going to make you congested at night.’ So even as a young child, I was introduced to these little snippets of knowledge.
I didn’t think much of it until I moved to the US for university, and then I started to eat food that didn’t feel so good in my system. I would write to my mother and say things like, ‘I don’t feel so good,’ and ‘I’m kind of stressed out,’ and ‘I’m up all night working or studying.’ As a result, I would fall sick. This pattern repeated post-college when I moved to Chicago and took a job in advertising with intense hours and deadlines. I would stay up late and fall sick, and I knew something wasn’t right.
This is how I started doing yoga, and yoga was helping, but it wasn’t enough. So I started looking at food as a healing source, and that was what really took me down the path to Ayurveda.
When I’m feeling out of sorts, I crave the food of my childhood; perhaps that’s where the term comfort food comes from. The foods that offer us a wave of sustaining and nourishing memories from the past.
A fluid and flowy class keep you moving through a Prana Flow style sequence to pacify Pitta dosha. This class offers a rhythmic and smooth vinyasa sequence to focus on the water element to balance Pitta’s fire. You’ll move through Sun Salutations, twists, lunges, dancing warriors, and hamstring lengthening as you build heat and release tension in the mind and body by focusing on deep breath that links to each movement.
What is comfort food for you? What are the foods that are nourishing?
IS—In India, family culture is more strong than it is in North America; the connections and ties are stronger, and things have passed down from generation to generation. India has more history that way. The contrast in North America is a feeling of liberation and freedom because you throw so much of what came before you out. This is what genuine sons of immigrants have done.
And what happened when you think about comfort food in North America was a lot of the foods that came from the old countries that came to North America. Still, the recipes were metamorphosed into the richer, sweeter, more enticing variations, so it wasn’t the simple foods from home. Because there isn’t this emphasis on tradition, the wisdom that went with the food from those countries gets lost, and it gets muddy. For me, when I think of comfort food, I think of the foods I ate growing up and eating the foods at my mother’s table. The nourishment is the love of coming to the table and sitting with others.
The other thing that I speak a lot about is how we should not cook when we’re unhappy. Don’t cook when you’re angry because you’re going to put that emotion into the food. It reminds me of a book, Like Water for Chocolate. It’s such a great book, the author, she talks about how you should put love into whatever you are doing. This is especially powerful when we’re preparing meals as we’re putting the emotions we have literally into the food we’re preparing and serving to eat.
What Ayurveda tips do you have for healing postpartum?
IS—The body changes a lot during pregnancy as you’re gaining more of the earth element, and more water and some more fluid in the body to keep the baby safe. Kapha dosha is earth and water, so Kapha grows, and that’s what allows the baby to be sustained and nourished because Kapha is love.
It’s a big journey to come out into the world away from this watery, fluid, soft, protective space for the mama and the baby. Once the baby comes out, there’s this emptiness; there’s all this space. Whenever there are any quick changes, we shift into the ether element and Vata dosha. The feeling is more anxious, and the mind and nerves are tense, and the mental chatter starts. Postpartum is the body trying to process this transition, the new normal, and Ayurveda helps to safeguard and sustain the body.
Postpartum depression and that anxiety that you feel is very normal in the transition. To keep the body and mind feeling warm, grounded, and nurtured, here are some things I recommend:
- Abhyanga is perfect for postpartum. Using sesame oil would be nice in a colder climate, especially if you have colder hands and feet.
- Eat nourishing foods like soups and stews.
- Make a cocoon for yourself. Be mindful of what you allow into your life. Distill all the people, conversations, smells, everything; be clear about what you are bringing into your life.
The first six weeks after the baby is born are sacred. You want to be mindful as you regain your strength so that you and baby are feeling nurtured and nourished.
What is a ritual you honor?
IS— A word comes to mind for me, Dinacharya. It means to be or to have mastery over the day. It’s this really beautiful idea that in every single day that you live, you have the opportunity to live your best self and to master that day.
What are some of the Ayurveda practices you do each day?
IS— The biggest thing you need in life is your health, and you need your health so that you can be here for whatever purpose you were put on earth to achieve and fulfill. If you don’t have good health, you’re going to be struggling all the time to try to achieve your goals.
The formula is really simple. It’s very practical. Your physical body is here to help you manifest your ideas and wishes and goals. If your body isn’t working at its optimal level, you’re just going to create all sorts of different imbalances. So all these practices are ways of keeping the physiology functioning well. I also think of it, especially in these times now, is to strengthen your aura. Your aura is your first line of immunity.
When I talk about boundaries and protection, I’m really talking about how I can make sure that every energy field I carry around me is strengthened and happy. Even if I bumped into things, I don’t become fractured or lost. Learn more about my 300 hour yoga teacher training or 200 hour yoga teacher training courses.
Things that I do every single morning:
- I wake up and slash cool water in my eyes.
- I scrape my tongue as it takes away the previous day’s accumulation of toxins from the tongue and stimulates the digestive system.
- I have a cup of warm water with lemon.
- Light abhyanga with sesame oil.
- Yoga practice, even if it’s five sun salutations or seated poses, twists, something to get the energy moving.