Ayurveda, “the knowledge of life,” is the ancient healing science of India that teaches we are not separate from nature. As nature, we are in a living relationship with everything around us, thus constantly affected by our physical, psychic and spiritual environment. Our actions, diet, lifestyle, thoughts, relationships, emotions, sleep, spiritual practices, the seasons, the way we breathe, the chai we drink, and everything else we do and do not do, all affect the health of our being — body, mind and soul. The key to sustaining health, according to Ayurvedic principles, is to live in balance with our surroundings guided by the laws of nature. Ayurvedic healing draws from the abundance of natural remedies available to humanity for preventive and curative measures, including balanced diet, self-care practices, deep physical purification, meditation, yoga, therapeutic oils and plant medicines.
Lesson 1: The Karma of a Cup of Chai
Karma simply means “action,” and everything creates karma just by being what it is. The karma of fire is to create warmth, since fire is hot. The karma of meditation is to promote calm, by virtue of its stillness. The karma of winter is to make people chilly because of its cold quality. Likewise, the karma of a cup of chai — the effect it will have on a person — depends on the ingredients we use to make it. If we brew our chai with hot spices, it will warm us up. If we add a generous amount of tea, it will energize. When we imbue our chai with prayer and positive vibes while preparing it, the karma it brings to those who drink it is happiness. Thus, one must consider what it is they want out of their cup of chai, so they can choose what to put in it.
If you want good karma, make good chai.
Lesson 2: The Laws of Nature
Imagine that you are unbearably cold while taking an unheated, second-class sleeper train across northern India in January. A railway chai wallah places a steaming cup of masala chai into your frozen hands. You thankfully drink it up and become comfortably warm. The universal law acting here is that opposites balance: Cold + Hot = Balance. If you had an iced, unspiced chai (we never saw iced chai in India, but just for the sake of an example) you would have become even colder. The principle being, like increases like: Cold + Cold = Colder.
The fundamental teaching of Ayurveda is to do everything you can to create and maintain balance, both internal and external. When one is out of balance, disease can easily take hold. But if one is in a state of equilibrium, the body is well and best equipped to heal itself. Balance is supported by welcoming qualities into our lives that are opposite to our imbalances and refrain- ing from those things that took us out of balance in the first place. For example, if you feel cold: get out of the cold, put on a hat and sweater and drink some hot ginger tea before you get sick. If you have dry skin: drink more water, incorporate healthy oils into your diet, and avoid dry foods. Simple, right?
Masala chai, therefore, can be a healing elixir if it creates a state of balance within our being. During winter, warming spices like ginger, cinnamon and pepper will keep us in harmony with the season. In the sweltering summertime, mint, fennel, coriander, saffron, and the cooling nature of sweet milk, can help us stay cool and balanced.
With this knowledge we can concoct our masala chai by taking into consideration the season, as well as what other qualities are most needed to help balance those who are drinking it. The amount of tea we use, if at all, would depend on whether our guest is tired or anxious, and by what time of day it is. We would not want to fuel the flames of an angry, hot-blooded visitor with a spicy chai, but rather offer him or her a cooling chai and a peaceful environment in which to enjoy it. Asking questions like: “How do I feel?” “What will the weather be like today?” “Who is coming over?” will help guide your formulation as you brew up a restorative chai.
Lesson 3: Keep the Fire Burning
Another cornerstone of Ayurveda is that our well-being is greatly affected by our digestive health. Digestive strength is compared to a fire blazing in our stomachs called our agni, or fire of transformation. Agni digests our meal so we can assimilate the prana, or life force, present in the food. When our agni is burning bright, the life force transmuted from our food allows us to glow with health, longevity, joy, enthusiasm and intelligence. If our fire is weak, however, the food we eat will not be digested properly, and we will miss out on its nourishing prana. And not only do we not gain the full nutrition from our meal, but the undigested food becomes toxic as it sits in our body, considered by Ayurveda to be a primary cause of disease.
We can maintain a vital agni by giving it the fire-starter of spices and the firewood of digest- ible food. If we feed too many logs to our fire, however, we will smother it. For instance, milk is a food that is inherently heavy and cold, like a frozen-solid log, making it challenging to digest. What our agni prefers are warm and light foods that digest easily. What to do? Make masala chai, of course! Milk can be made into a balanced, digestible substance by heating it up, watering it down to make it lighter, infusing it with warming chai spices and sipping a moderate amount in a relaxing setting.