My wife’s friend, Jasmine Hemsley, interviewed me for her website recently. The interview is below too, and I hope you find some kernels of inspiration in it – to help weave wonder and feed goodness into your busiest days (just as I do, at home, running around with my daughters). With love, Paul x
What does Ayurveda mean to you?
Ayurveda is an ancient system of self-healing but is hugely relevant to us today and deeply rich in knowledge & scope. An understanding of Ayurveda often begins with an understanding of ourselves as unique individuals with distinct dispositions & the interplay between the mind, spirit and the physical & energetic bodies; but it is truly a science of life which unifies the subtlest elements with the most expansive and profound; how we reflect nature and the universe; how physical, mental, spiritual & environmental health are inextricable parts of a larger dance – so working on our individual balance allows us to approach & tap into a greater harmony.
When did you discover it?
I think I have discovered it subtly & gradually over a long time & continue to discover it. From the first time I travelled to India and the several times I have been drawn back. Having lived, moved & worked with people there I had a sense of a greater calm, contentment & connection from many of the people with whom I spent time than I knew was possible, even in very difficult circumstances. I was, & continue to be, fascinated by Gandhi, his life and story, I think as a kind of parable of higher consciousness and aspiration versus the material and de-humanising concerns of Imperialism. My wife & I began to delve into books & learning about Ayurveda about 8 years ago when she was pregnant with our first daughter & were struck by how gentle, forgiving & intuitive a system it is, whilst being incredibly deep and complex; how it chimes on a deeper level than simply the intellectual & how enriching simple practices turned out to be. So we have, more and more, immersed ourselves in it. Through travel & wellbeing writing I have been very privileged to experience some amazing Indian retreats as well as places of great natural beauty & quiet, where slower, subtler, more enduring resonances can be heard. In recent years I have learned to meditate under the Vedic tradition. Each of these has deepened my closeness to Ayurveda.
Anything major it’s helped with?
Many things! Some very dark periods of being uncontrollably anxious, fearful & lost in thoughts that reflected the extent to which I was imbalanced. The great over-stimulation that, I think, many of us living in our modern context suffer with, perhaps unknowingly. It has helped me to be forgiving with myself and to follow feeling & intuition over much of the homogenising, over-generalised & commercialised advice we are often exposed to. I focus less on symptoms & moving parts; the headache I am experiencing; my brain letting me down, but rather witness these things & look more to the whole and the root imbalances. It has helped me to incorporate stillness & spiritual practices as tools towards more self-realisation. It has helped me in my relationships, as a parent & a husband, & simply to be happier, humbler & more compassionate. It blurs the lines between individual wellness and what is good for everyone and everything.
Is it part of everyday life or merely part of your medicine cabinet / fall back routine?
It is part of everyday life & informs every part; increasingly so without thinking so much about it. In slowly waking, in a glass of warm water, in little acknowledgements, setting intentions or attempting to make conscious choices. It is in our medicine cabinet & our cooking pots and it strengthens the foundations for further spiritual practice such as yoga in a unified sense and meditation – it sees us moving slowly but surely away from the duller, more transient touchlines – the pleasures & disappointments that live in things like more ownership and property, physical appearance or individual attainment, towards awareness and happiness in a purer sense – which does not depend on things that we can touch, drive or distract ourselves with – that which Ayurveda might point to as polarisation away from tamas towards sattva. I think of it as slowly discovering our true selves.
Top 3 Ayurveda tips that have worked for you?
The understanding that pain does not bring gain. We are not served by pushing ourselves where we feel limits, grasping or suppressing.
Being open to my own advice; my own intuition & innate intelligence. However much of a ‘superfood’ something might be or however compelling the nutritional advice, if something isn’t working with your constitution or affects you negatively, we are best guided by how we feel.
Attempting to attune myself to natural rhythms, seasonality and moving with that which is going on. Everything is constantly changing, shifting, adjusting, balancing. Learning to be responsive, as opposed to reactive, and understanding that I can’t do the same things at the height of summer as in the depths of winter and expect the same results. This also brings back the seasons that we have forfeited in many ways – the different, beautiful elements, pursuits, ingredients and natural shifts that spice our lives with variety and keep things interesting.
What surprised you most about Ayurveda?
The revelatory understanding that there are routes to greater wellness on our own terms; that we can prevent a great deal of ill-health rather than simply treat in a reactive way and the life-affirming understanding that we already have many of the answers but have lacked the tools to unlock them.
Do your children / family eat like this? And if they do, do they know it’s Ayurveda or just home cooking?
At home we have to balance things food-wise & I think with children there is a long game to be played. We talk a lot, cook together & look to tackle little symptoms with our meals, spices, herbs & spiritual practice, teas & tinctures which just feels like the way of things now. We try to instil that learning and more importantly to fire our daughters’ intuition & ability to draw those links. Equally we are schooled by them in naturality every day. Food is such a pleasure & a plethora – we aim for variety & moderation, seasonality, home-grown vital produce & an understanding of Ayurvedic food-combining principles, but above all enjoyment of natural ingredients prepared with love & good intention. We spread the table & allow them to explore. The girls understand that our home-cooking is also pitched at healing but they won’t compromise on enjoyment so we have had to brush up our cooking!
Favourite Ayurvedic recipe or go to ingredient?
My wife and I are both primarily pitta so can often use some cooling with ingredients like coconut & fresh coriander. I love the transformative potency of spices & adjusting with the seasons & circumstance. I love cardamom & clove. In Ayurveda there is an incredible understanding of how to treat ingredients to improve digestibility & availability & to avoid toxicity & I love these slow, thoughtful processes. My favourite ingredient is care & good intention. This is essential in Ayurvedic cooking & is the very most nourishing of seasonings.
What do you wish was more available in our society to make an Ayurvedic lifestyle more simple?Time to be slow & still. I think a lot of our time can be spent being extremely busy but ineffective & unhappy a good deal of the time. Time to really step back & feel can be scarce, & when we can we are often depleted as well as mercilessly stimulated and entertained from all sides. We feel it when faced with true quiet; our minds race & we reach for our phones to plug the deficit. It can be very difficult to do more than skim the surface. I believe, though, that dedicated time to really bolster ourselves in accordance with Ayurvedic principles would reveal something of the potential we all have. Culturally speaking, most of us have to carve it out for ourselves & make our lives feel rich. This has very little to do with material wealth. Vedic meditation has been particularly helpful in this way. It has slowed the rest of my time & helped me to find the most meaningful routes.
What’s the one thing you would encourage everyone to try / do you think would benefit the majority of people’s health for the better?
In terms of food, cutting out all processed products & cooking for ourselves, eating seasonally & buying ingredients daily. Involving ourselves in each step of the process; growing if we can, preparing, choosing & nurturing our relationship with food. When it comes to the eating, being still & putting everything else aside; eating slowly & with thanks. We can’t tune in to anything if we are not present.
Paul Rushton is a home cook, food & nature writer & co-founder of the Conscious Living blog, The Balance Plan.
He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters.