Ol’ Betsy was the sweetest, gentlest animal on the farm. She would often wander up to the front door and poke her head in, just to say "hi." I enjoyed taking twilight walks with Dad or Grandpa to walk Betsy home from the neighbours', several miles away. I marvelled at how she, a cow, knew the quickest route home better than I, a human, did. I remember when we first got her, how I marvelled at her horns and how huge she seemed to me, as an eight-year-old. Our parents took the time to show us how to feed her food from our hand by showing us how gentle Ol' Betsy was. As children we discovered how much animals enjoy being petted and how lovable they are, for they wish only to be of service.
On the front cover is my youngest brother, Donnie, taking his turn at churning the cream by hand. Usually we all got a turn, as making butter without electricity is very time-consuming. Today, with my electric mix master, I can turn one gallon of cream into two quarts of ghee and two quarts of the sweetest buttermilk in about two hours. I am learning to cook the Ayurvedic way and ghee is one of the main ingredients. Ghee is cooked butter which is regarded as one of the most valuable foods and medicines known. Ghee does not cause an increase in cholesterol and keeps without refrigeration. It is also easy to make. If you want to try it out the recipe is on p. 30.
After 25 years of city living I still enjoy and need the freshness of food that country living produces. So I take the time to find various farms and to visit them, which is much more fun than the supermarket. As I have said in many of the Musing columns, my health is very fragile, which started me on my eternal search to understand my body. People with relatively good health seldom appreciate what a precious commodity they have, till it is lost through neglect and ignorance. I spend a lot of my time finding quality food sources, reading books on health and experimenting with my own body since I do not have a strong digestive system.
I am now beginning to understand how the body obtains energy from food. I have been exploring the Science of Ayurveda for the past four years and I think I have finally found a system that makes sense and is relatively easy to understand. So often I have felt intuitively that some food theory or other didn't make sense when I read it, but it was written by some expert who has done enormous amounts of research, so I figured I should try it. I would experiment with various food combinations, or eat brown rice instead of converted rice because it's healthier, only to find out that my body couldn’t digest it. What was so frustrating was not being able to understand why I had problems. Why me? How could people around me eat burgers and french fries and feel just fine, while I would eat much healthier foods and feel just wasted. I tried drinking a cup of coffee once and my stomach protested for most of the day. Pain is a good teacher. But I still wanted to know WHY my system needed such care. Ayurveda finally provided an answer.
Ayurveda means Science of Life, and its 5,000-year-old recipes for health and well-being have helped me to understand my constitution and keep my insides happy by following the advice of Ayurvedic practitioners, I can even eat a few unbalanced meals and not lose all my energy. Ayurveda has helped me to understand the controversy around so many of the food products we eat, including milk, and provided me with the understanding I need to choose my food by learning what is really true rather than following what has been programmed into us because society wants cheap food.
Ayurveda understands the laws of nature and its five elements, earth, water, air, fire and ether. The various combinations of these elements give each person a particular constitution: Vata, Pitta or Kapha.
Vata, which consists mainly of the element air, is basically cold, dry, light and mobile in attribute. Therefore, it is treated by a therapy which is warming, moistening and promotes weight gain. Pitta, which consists mainly of the element of fire, is primarily hot in attribute. Therefore, it is treated with a cooling or heat-dispelling therapy. Kapha, in which the element of water predominates, is cold, moist, slow and heavy in attribute. Therefore, it is treated by therapy which is warming, drying, lightening and stimulating.
Ayurveda views the health of the body as fluctuations with the functioning of a biological fire which governs metabolism. This fire is called Agni. Agni is not simply a symbol for the power of digestion. In a broader sense, it is the creative flame that works behind all life. Agni is present not only in human beings but in all nature. It has a special abode in plants, which contain the agni of photosynthesis.
When agni is strong, food is digested properly. When it is weakened, toxins of various kinds, largely from undigested food particles (called ama in Ayurveda), accumulate and breed disease. Ama and Agni, are opposite in properties. Ama is cold, wet, heavy, cloudy, malodorous, and impure. Agni is hot, dry, light, clear, fragrant and pure. To treat Ama, it is necessary to increase Agni.
Food plants contain agni, through which they digest sunlight and produce life. Medicinal and culinary herbs can also transmit their agni to us, their capacity to digest and transform, which may augment our own power of digestion and regeneration. The agni of plants can feed our agni. Through this interconnection, we join ourselves with the cosmic agni, the creative force of life and healing.
The agni from plants is magnetically attracted by its opposite, the negative life-force of the ama, or the various toxic accumulations in our body. The result is their neutralization and a restoration of harmony. Herbs can be used to supplement agni and thereby restore our auto-immune system. In turn this restores the power of our aura, which is nothing more than the glow of our agni.
By their very nature the right herbs and spices can feed agni, directly strengthening the basic energy of body-mind, allowing for the right digestion, not only of food but also of experience.
I know my constitution is Vata and since I've began to eat accordingly, I sense that my agni is increasing in strength. Recently I purchased a new publication, The Ayurvedic Cookbook, it contains simple recipes based on the Ayurvedic principles. I use this cookbook every day and I recommend it as a good way to start understanding the principles and workings of Ayurveda. If the "Science of Life" intrigues you attend one of the upcoming seminars on Ayurveda.