Updated: Jan 4, 2020
On Mar 21, 2015, I gave a talk to seniors in partnership with Ananta Ripa Ajmera to a group of 15 seniors organized by Bhupen Mehta in Cupertino. The audience was mostly South Asian with a few exceptions.
We designed it as an experience and started the evening with an explanation of Ayurvedic digestion, immediately followed by an Ayurvedic dinner prepared by volunteers from Vedika. Ayurveda is a science of life and food is a very important aspect of our health. One evening of a change in food may not sound significant, but when you have been eating without having a relationship with your food for decades, even a single wholesome meal can open you up in a different way.
The process of eating itself is a sacred act, where we are literally sustaining our life. We invited participants to do this mindfully by chewing each bite 30 times with their eyes closed. One participant shared, "The taste of the food was enhanced significantly and the experience of eating was much more focused than ever before. This opened up my mind to another way of relating to food and (the) full scope of nourishment." Another participant noted that she was happy learn about seasonal foods and their preparation, and that food should be eaten fresh and not too late in the evening.
As people started eating, we shared deeper fundamentals around the food they were eating, so that practice walked hand-in-hand with theory. We had chosen a specific meal and a special way to cook it such that it would be easy to digest. Not every oil is the right one for every season. For instance, mustard oil is quite heating and is reserved for winter and spring. Ghee in moderation is good in all seasons and it aids in digestion while also lubricating the stomach walls. Our meal was cooked in mustard oil and ghee. One participant wrote to us afterward, "I learned about using the right oil in the right season. I felt so light in my stomach - no gas, no bloating (and) had a good night's sleep."
The content of the dinner was barley and rice, whole wheat chapatis, pumpkin cooked with herbs and lentil soup (dal). Even though most participants were of Indian origin, they reported never having eaten such a delicious preparation and were surprised that it was all Ayurvedic, for the common myth about an Ayurvedic meal is that it is healthy but not delicious.
Post-dinner, we passed around a digestive mix that had roasted fennel seeds (sounf) and a proportional amount of roasted fenugreek seed (methi) powder. We asked participants to reflect on the taste that they experienced on their tongue. They all noticed the slightly bitter taste which was contributed by fenugreek. This taste was chosen by design as a slightly bitter taste aids digestion.
After fifteen minutes, we circulated warm water with bishop's weed (ajwain) mixed in it for drinking. This was the first time some participants experienced drinking warm water with their meals instead of the usual cold water that we get served at restaurants. Warm water aids digestion (it depends on your constitution and the season) and this intervention is known in Ayurveda as Ushna-udaka (Ushna = warm/hot, Udaka = water). Adding bishop's weed reduces bloating (used only when there is a stomach discomfort), but no participant experienced bloating as our meal was designed to be easily digestible.
We then entered Ayurvedic geriatrics theory, where deep observation led to the classification of age and organs that are likely to fail and need more attention. One of the big challenges of aging is dealing with sleep loss, and we offered a tool to improve sleep. This was not a pill, but a foot massage using warm sesame oil. We asked them to hit the sack early as this also aids digestion. After some interactions, we ended with a Yoga exercise that can be done at any time of the day to calm down the chatter of the mind. The exercise is called "brahmari" which literally translates to the buzzing of the busy bee, and it involves closing the gates of the senses and creating resonance using the breath. If done correctly, you will feel and hear an amplified sound internally, quite different from what other people will hear you do. This exercise immediately calms the mind. Hatha Yoga comes under Ayurveda, and while beneficial by itself, when practiced with Ayurvedic knowldege, it becomes a powerful tool for therapeutic purposes.
We enjoyed sharing Ayurvedic knowledge in an experiential learning format and it was doubly rewarding to feel the blessings from a relaxed and glowing group of seniors. I feel deeply connected to seniors because I was very close to my late grandfather, and it is a privilege to have the opportunity to serve them.