One of the most fundamental benefits of incorporating Ayurveda’s principles into our lifestyle is bolstering the immune system, especially when we need it the most when dealing with covid. In a previous interview with Ayurvedic Counselor Insiya Rasiwala-Finn, we discussed protecting and strengthening the body’s aura using food and physical exercise. A person’s aura represents the energy field and vibrancy; as we come into contact with our environment and others, we want our aura to be strong to ward off threats and disease.
When it comes to supporting the immune system and the overall health of the mind, body, and spirit, stimulating the digestive system, known as Agni in Sanskrit, works to keep the body strong, safe, and healthy. Toxins, which are called Ama in Sanskrit, are presented in many forms, such as food, intense emotions, or unnecessary violence we witness in the media. Healthy digestion offers an opportunity to prevent toxins from amassing and causing illness and imbalances.
We welcomed yoga teacher and Ayurvedic Therapist, Maria Garre, to learn more about gut health and how to prevent disease and better digestion through Ayurveda practices.
“Ayurveda treats the body first, and when we follow the basic principles, we take care of ourselves, and in this way, we take care of the environment. We would never hunt or eat a sick animal. We make sure that we’re eating and hunting the proper food. If the plant looks like it’s falling apart, we leave it alone and don’t eat it. That means we’re taking care of the environment; we’re all in it together.” – Maria Garre.
Listen or watch the full episode, or read the highlights from our discussion below.
Take our Living Ayurveda Quiz and discover your dosha
to see how you can implement Ayurveda into your routine.
Introducing Maria Garre
What are the three things you always bring when you leave home?
MG—A tongue scraper. I try to never leave home without my dog Raja. I would never leave home with some form of oil. I can survive without a lot of things, but I can’t survive without oil. Whether it’s something easy, like almond oil or sesame oil, I feel it fixes all things.
I never leave without a sense of the ocean; the ocean is my happy place. The Himalayas live in my heart all the time, and faith is something I always have with me when I leave home.
What’s your superpower?
MG—I believe my superpower is organization. I can take chaos and organize it.
How would you define Ayurveda?
MG—Ayurveda is, first and foremost, a medical science that comes from the great land of India. So it’s an Indian medicine. It was popular in the Himalayan region way back, over 5,000 years ago, and developed into a system of medicine to keep the population healthy. Ayurveda is a system of medicine that translates to the knowledge of life, the wisdom of experience.
Ayurveda’s premise is to understand how to live in balance and recognize how to live in flow with your entire environment. When we’re in flow, we’re in optimal health. When there isn’t health, that means something got out of balance; We identify with that imbalance, and we bring the body back to balance, which means back to health.
How did you discover Ayurveda?
MG—Ayurveda found me through my studies of yoga, but science found me first. My love of science as a university student took me to medical school and led me through a biomedical degree in viruses and virology.
My dad is a famous virologist; it was discussed at my dinner table growing up, discussions about viruses and bacteria.
I medicine never met me where I needed it to meet me in my heart. I love science, but it didn’t meet me in a place where I was fulfilled. I was fulfilled in my head academically, but it wasn’t until Ayurveda that I was fulfilled in my head and heart.
What are three things you would advise listeners to do to stay healthy during covid?
MG—I recommend gargling with salt, warm water, and turmeric. What we know about covid and the virus is that it’s always changing and that it seems to be more bloodborne, but it’s still getting in your juices and rasa, the fluids of the body. It’s also been found to live a long time in your GI tract. The GI tract is a long tube extending from the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus. When I discovered this, immediately I went to the throat and ways to keep the throat and nasal passages to the throat clear. Just take salt and turmeric and make yourself a little concoction to gargle mixed with warm water.
The other thing I recommend is to protect the nasal passages by using oils inside of the nose. Nasya is an Ayurvedic practice of massaging oil inside of the nose. Nasaya also supports mucosal immunity.
The last thing I would say is to keep your digestive fire strong. It’s essential because if your gut is strong, your gut also will kill the virus.
Trikatu is really easy to make it home because it’s equal amounts of dried ginger, black pepper, and long pepper. You combine those three ingredients in equal proportions, and you make a mixture. I made my little Trikatu mixture, and I have it in my tin container. I take a little Trikatu with honey on a spoon during any rainy season and put it in my mouth with a bit of warm weather to wash it down. It’s great to take after you eat as a little dessert, which will burn anything in the GI tract.
A slow-moving hatha yoga class stays low to the ground to bring you closer to the earth element. This class asks that you bring your awareness to your body and envision that you’re tethered to the earth. Vata dosha is associated with faster-paced movement and over-thinking; the poses and visualization in this class work to bring Vata back into the body to create a space and quiet in the mind.
What are the ama (toxins) that create disease?
MG—There’s mental ama and physical ama. If we take care of our Agni and take care of our gut health and digestion, we don’t have to worry about ama. We focus on the positive, on creating strong Agni.
One way to create good Agni is to cleanse; you want to cleanse to get rid of ama twice a year in the fall and the spring. You cleanse and detox when the sun and moon are balanced. You don’t cleanse during other times of the year; you want to cleanse closest to the equinoxes. During detox, you’re purging the physical and also the mental ama. Mental fear comes out during a detox. It can be very emotional and well as physical.
We all accumulate ama throughout the year. Fall is a great time to clear and spring; spring is a time to celebrate renewal. Cleanses are a time to reset our mind, body, and spirit.
Ayurveda treats the body first, and when we follow the basic principles, we take care of ourselves, and in this way, we take care of the environment. We would never hunt or eat a sick animal. We make sure that we’re eating and hunting the proper food. If the plant looks like it’s falling apart, we leave it alone and don’t eat it. That means we’re taking care of the environment; we’re all in it together.
If the planet is sick, we’re going to be sick. When I look at the coronavirus and what it means in terms of hidden messages, if you look at the history of the virus from the SARS family, this is not the first time we’ve been hit. So what was the underlying factor? It’s China; China needs to take responsibility for their practices; we’re here because of human greed. We’re here from human greed of eating exotic animals because greed leads some to think that it’s fancy. The inhumane treatment of living beings because of greed, the Great Mother will teach you a lesson. From an Ayurvedic point of view, we’re here because of greed.
How can we work on greed?
MG— The teachings we know are what we teach is yoga; we keep trying to fill ourselves with everything outside, but the answers come from within. What’s outside is useless; it’s temporary. I love things. I’m a material girl all the way—thank you, Madonna. She’s still like one of my heroines. But the true teaching is to enjoy it, the material possessions, but don’t be attached to it.
Working with greed is realizing when enough is enough. Just be satisfied. Greed is just a substitute for feeling something up. We’re always going to have some greed, but what we need to do is we have to have less greed.
Self-reflection only comes, I believe, when we practice meditation for some time. Meditation can look so many ways; it could be sitting by the ocean or painting or whatever it is for you. Deep clarity comes in, and it teaches you to be mindful of your living place.
Self-reflection at the end of the day, it’s just exercising your mind. If we just worked on exercising our minds, as much as we did our bodies, the world would be in a better place. Anytime we pause and self-reflect, even if it’s something small like not buying too many coconuts or avocados—developing basic awareness around what we are disposing of and what we are consuming. If you control your trash, you control your greed.
How do you cook for a family with varied constitutions?
MG—If you’re living in the same location, this means you’re all living in the same environment. The reality is, the foods you take should be the foods that are available based upon the season. So it would be absurd for anybody in Canada to be eating coconut anything right now, or even cooking with coconut oil.
If you cook seasonally, no matter your constitution or the imbalance, Ayurveda says to eat for what’s the most seasonal; the best seasonal things you can eat based on your constitution will create balance.
What you can do is favor more of those kinds of foods in the meal planning to stay in season, so it’s not going to throw anybody out of balance. Dinner is the most common meal that families eat together, and there’s no way you can drive your family out of balance with just one meal, which is dinner. You can cook your dinner using the fruits and vegetables that serve all the doshas; there are many Tridoshic foods, so you’re essentially cooking for someone who’s Tridoshic.
What you need to do to take care of your imbalances for yourself is mind what you’re eating for your breakfast and lunch. That’s where you should address any imbalances in the diet. You take care of your imbalance with good teas and drink the right herbal teas for your dosha all day long.
What are the teas that each dosha should drink to balance?
MG—For Vata, it’s really good to have some black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, like those kinds of things. Vata is cold, so teas that are spicy and warm serve Vata dosha to address any imbalances.
For Pitta, use fennel and lemongrass, even pomegranate; teas that are cooling are best for Pitta because Pitta has so much heat. Kapha would do well with cinnamon and a licorice tea. So warming teas but also teas that stimulate the digestive fires.