Ayurveda is a mindful approach to how you interact with the world around you. One way to view Ayurveda is a ritual for self-reflection. Ritual helps you create a system and routine to anchor your day. Ritual may help you make space to become more mindful of how you act and what you eat.
Ayurveda and yoga are both a ritual to establish a relationship with how you feel in your bodies.
Food is one of the most significant contributors to disease; what, how, and when we eat drastically affects our gut health and digestion. Eating foods that fuel the body and keep stoking the digestive fires is essential to maintain optimal health and interact with the world positively and productively. 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 the art of ritual, gut health, and Ayurvedic practices.
Insiya has been an Ayurvedic practitioner for roughly fifteen years. Her roots in Ayurveda extend to childhood; born in India, Insiya was raised in a household that promoted Ayurvedic ritual 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.
Interview with Insiya Rasiwala-Finn
How has Ayurveda and ritual 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.
Ritual I perform every 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.
What is comfort food for you? What are the foods that are nourishing?
IS—In India, family culture is stronger than 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.
Still, the recipes were metamorphosed into the richer, sweeter, more enticing variations, so it wasn’t the simple foods from home. 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. 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, which 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, 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 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 bring 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 your baby are feeling nurtured and nourished.
What is a ritual you honour?
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.
Classes that ground the over-excitement and angst associated with Vata.
Quick Chill – Restorative Yoga
Back Release – Hatha Yoga
Get Ready for Bed – Yin Yoga
Stay Low – Hatha Yoga
Classes to soothe the intensity of Pitta while gently stimulating the inner fire.
Beauty Within & Without – Vinyasa
Fluid Power – Vinyasa
Creative Flow.- Vinyasa
Go with the Flow – Vinyasa
Keep it Moving – Vinyasa
Classes to stimulate the inner flame and digestive fires to clear stagnant energy and lethargy.
Ignite – Vinyasa
Fire Flow – Vinyasa
Space through Strength – Slow Flow
Super Duper Power – Vinyasa
Unfurl Your Peacock Tail – Vinyasa