Millets have made a wonderful come back across India, with a lot of extensive research now available on the health benefits of various millets, the micro nutrients in the millets, and their satiety factor. It is no wonder that when we ask for diet charts from consumers who come to consult us on skin and hair, we see a preponderance of Millets among consumers who believe in eating healthy.
In most cases, we advice that these consumers cut back on Millets and we are met with major disappointment from the consumers end. Many of these people have been told that regular cereals of choice like rice and wheat are nutritionally poor and Millets are far better, healthier and good for them. Therefore, in their zeal to improve their health and their family’s health, these consumers completely ban conventional cereals in their home and substitute this with Millets.
Why do we advise against excessive consumption of Millets? How is this linked to good health, good skin and good hair? We will examine this in today’s post.
Basic Ayurvedic framework:
We have spoken extensively about the Ayurvedic framework behind health. So I am going to repeat this very briefly. We are all made up of 5 basic elements: these 5 basic elements combine to form 3 doshas (humours) in the body. The combination of these 3 doshas decides our prakriti / constitution.
So if we have a predominance of fire, we would be called a Pitta prakriti. If we had a dominance of air and space, we would be called Vata Prakriti. A predominance of water and earth makes us a Kapha prakriti. We can also be combinations of 2 or even three doshas, with one dosha being more dominant over the other.
The importance of Vata dosha:
Vata dosha is a primary dosha to examine when we have dis-ease. Acharya Sushruta and Acharya Charaka say that 50% (or more) of human illnesses are due to the derangement of Vata dosha. Vata dosha becomes even more important for city dwellers, because the Ayurvedic texts say that cities are already high in Vata dosha. So for a city dweller, where the environment itself is high in vata dosha , it is very easy to have your own body’s vata dosha aggravated when improper food is taken or proper lifestyle practices are not followed.
Whenever vata dosha is deranged, it also quickly helps derange the other 2 doshas as well. Therefore all Ayurvedic preventive healthcare looks at reining in vata dosha through external and internal means.
What happens when Vata dosha is aggravated?
Vata dosha is the dosha that brings in dryness, dullness, brittleness and pain, when it is aggravated. It is also the dosha that governs all movement, physical energy and a positive mental attitude. So whenever Vata dosha is impaired, we see extreme darkening of the skin, dryness and dullness of skin and hair, a tendency of the hair to break and get damaged easily.
We also see joint aches and pains, a lack of energy, a feeling of tiredness, and improper digestion or constipation.
Why does Vata dosha get aggravated in a stressful job?
We have many consumers who work in IT and Finance where the job entails very long hours, being available on the phone for a long time, a long commute and uncertain eating hours. Vata dosha is the dosha that governs all mental activity and mental stimulation.
Typically working with a laptop or a Smartphone excites and energises vata dosha. When this is compounded with a long commute, a cold air conditioned environment and uncertain eating timings, we have all the elements that can over stimulate vata dosha and push it over the edge.
How can my diet help control Vata Dosha?
Vata has 6 properties: roughness, dryness. Lightness, coldness, hardness, coarseness and non-sliminess. Ayurveda says that foods which have the same property as vata dosha are vata promoting in nature. So if your vata dosha is already high, eating vata promoting foods will aggravate vata dosha further.
Example 1: Millets
Ayurveda considers Millets dry, rough, coarse and slightly hard to digest compared to Rice and Wheat. Traditionally, Millets are sprouted, roasted and made into flour to make them easier to digest, or soaked, made into a liquid batter and fermented before eating. These are practices meant to make the millets easier to digest and to not put a strain on the digestion.
Millets are also in many areas consumed in cold season. For example certain kinds of millets are typical winter foods in Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat. This is because Ayurveda teaches us that digestive ability is extremely high in winter. This gives our body the power to digest even difficult to digest Millet preparations.
Specific millets are paired along with fermented foods like buttermilk and drunk in Summer as a porridge in states like Tamilnadu and Karnataka. These millets are Kambu (Pearl Millet) and Ragi (Finger Millet). These millets are prepared as roasted and sprouted flour and then cooked into a thin porridge like consistency and then mixed with fermented buttermilk. The mixture is traditionally considered both satiating, cooling and easy to digest. However, it is always drunk in the morning., which is a time when digestion is much more stronger.
In lifestyle diseases like Diabetes, Ayurveda says that the body is very high in kapha dosha (earth and water). Therefore foods given in this disease are mean to be light, rough and drying in order to balance the Kapha dosha. So here, Millets are a very good dietary substitute to conventional cereals.
If you do not fall into any of the above categories, and have simply substituted rice with millets, then you may be aggravating your vata dosha further. If you already have hair and skin dryness, brittleness and lack of healthy growth, then you should be consuming less millets and not more.
The safe way to include Millets in your diet is in moderation. Do not consume more than twice a week. Try and make millet preparations using flours or the fermentation technique to avoid straining your digestive system. Ensure that you eat Millets only as a warm preparation with plenty of ghee to reduce its vata aggravating properties.
Example 2: Dry breakfasts like Cereal, granola bars and Bread
Most of us have moved to the system of 3 meals a day with breakfast being the first meal of the day. A well cooked, well planned breakfast can give us a good jump start to the day. Similarly, a breakfast that aggravates one dosha can worsen its effects and make us feel worse.
Most working people opt for an instant, ready to eat breakfast as it saves times. However, breakfast foods like instant cereal, cornflakes, granola bars or even bread are considered very high in Vata dosha. This is because all these foods have the same property as Vata dosha: they are rough, cold, crisp, brittle, light and bind water (reducing its availability in the system).
Again, if you are already suffering from the effects of aggravated Vata dosha, it is far better to go for a freshly cooked, traditional Indian breakfast (upma, poha, idly, cheela, etc). If eating cereal, cornflakes, granola or breads are unavoidable, always follow these suggestions:
- Eat vata aggravating foods warm. This somewhat brings down their Vata nature. Eating cereal with cold milk will only aggravate Vata.
- Eat vata aggravating foods after making them soft in some manner. For example, bread can be buttered well and warmed, or ghee can be added. Cereal can be soaked for sometime in warm milk until it becomes slightly soggy before eating. Making the food soft brings down its Vata nature slightly.
- Reduce the particle size of the food to make it easier to digest. So you can crumble the granola bar well and soak it in warm milk. Mashed and soft food is kinder on the stomach.
- Add warm ghee to all vata aggravating food – this helps make it easier to digest and reduces its vata aggravating nature slightly.
- Avoid making vata aggravating foods harder or crisper – so dry toast, crisps, or fried bread is not advised.
External oil application: the other Key to controlling Vata dosha
Apart from diet control, an Abhyanga is a key practice to controlling excess vata dosha. Regular Abhyanga atleast twice a week physically restrains vata dosha, brings all 3 doshas to the right balance and promotes harmony and good health.
With this practice, you will see visible effects of vata in balance: your skin and hair will be healthy, supple and well moisturised. Your energy levels will be high and consistent, your digestive ability will be good, and your physical fatigue will reduce dramatically.
Vata dosha’s primary seat is your skin. This is why external oil application is so helpful in controlling Vata dosha. Even if your vata aggravation is felt elsewhere (for example dry, brittle hair), an abhyanga on the body will help control the overall vata dosha and bring your hair back to health.
The Abhyanga is such a key health giving practice that the Acharyas have put the abhyanga in our Dinacharya list. A practice that can be followed by anyone, irrespective of age or gender, every day for health and well being. Tuesdays and Fridays are prescribed Abhyanga days for Women and Wednesdays and Saturdays are prescribed Abhyanga days for Men. These days are prescribed if you are unable to find the time to do an Abhyanga every single day.
An abhyanga must be done in a sesame based oil for the face and body. The oil should preferably use Vata reducing herbs that help balance Vata dosha and bring all 3 doshas back to balance.
We hope this post on controlling vata Dosha was both enlightening and useful for you. With the fragmentation and splintering of knowledge, we are often bombarded from all directions with health and wellness advice. Some of this may not be appropriate or right for us.
Ayurveda gives us a fantastic framework to understand both our constitution and determine what foods, practices and behaviours can give us health and well being. As a part of our work at Krya, we try and disseminate this information in an interesting and engaging manner. We continue to hold firmly onto our belief that the principles of Ayurveda are both timeless and relevant. We believe that Ayurveda alone holds the key to giving us a life of holistic health, harmony and well being.
We hope this post gave you a glimpse into the relevance that Ayurveda continues to hold for us. We also hope that the post gives you a new lens to look at your health and inspires you to take charge of your own health.