I will never be a size zero. I have wide, child-baring hips that I love and appreciate. It took time to get here mentally, but I know that my body is close to what it should be… for me. Putting effort into eating well (self-love) has helped me get here. Family, friends, and yoga have played a part also.

One of my favorite yoga teachers is Patricia Milder. In addition to teaching yoga, she is trained in Ayurveda and gives consults for cleansing and general wellness. She was kind enough to sit down with me for a long conversation about Ayurveda and her personal wellness.

Patricia demonstrating upward-facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).

Too many diets claim that the key to losing weight and achieving wellness exists in a one-size-fits-all answer. Eff the body image/food funk and improve your life by listening to your body and learning what you need*.

The science of Ayurveda, like the science of Yoga, was inspired and developed… [in] India. Ayurveda is, perhaps, the oldest science of life, a system of diet, healing, and health maintenance… it evaluates the complete body-mind of the individual. Ayurveda sees medicine and diet as complementary rather than separate. Ancient seers described the human body and the body of the universe as composed of prana- the primal energy, the vital life force which manifests in the form of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Any imbalance of these elements in our body is experienced as illness, discomfort, or pain. (“The Ayurvedic Cookbook” by Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai)

Q: How did you become interested in Ayurveda?

A: I was raised in a household that paid attention to food. My Mom was the food editor at the LA Times for years. My Dad’s brother passed away from heart complications at age forty so my Dad changed our eating habits and he himself became vegan. Both of my parents did yoga. When I was in college I ate poorly but eventually I found my way back to a healthy lifestyle thanks in part, to my upbringing. I’m not completely Ayurvedic all the time but I follow most of the principles.

Q: When you first start learning about Ayurveda there are many terms that might be foreign to the average American and make the concepts seem more abstract than they need to be. How do you help your students break it down?

A: It’s just like yoga. The intention is to create awareness. Even Weight Watchers is Ayurvedic in the basic sense because you are completely aware about the food and the calories you are consuming.

Part of the distinction between Ayurveda and Western medicine is that Ayurveda is low-impact and low-dosage.

Ayurveda is a guide for your regular day-to-day. It’s the science of life. It’s preventative medicine. There are three doshas, or body-mind-spirit types and everyone has some mixture of them: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. They are described by their elemental makeup, as in how much earth, air, fire, water and space they represent. Health comes from working toward your unique ideal balance of these elements. You, for example, already have a lot of fire in your dosha so you would benefit physically and mentally from staying away from spicy foods. And you probably have already learned that through trial and error, right? Ayurveda is really the built up knowledge based on thousands of years of human trial and error, with that knowledge passed down and tweaked for each generation.

Q: There are many principles in Ayurveda. Do you have a few favorites?

A: -“Know what is in your food.” This is connected to the Ayurveda principle of being in touch with nature.

-“Don’t eat after dark” is impossible in the strictest sense for most of us in reality, but the idea is you need to let your food digest before sleeping.

-“Love is the most important ingredient.” Or we can say good intention as well. Cooking at home is always preferred since many restaurants have only the intention of making money and not nourishing. The negative affects of this on the health of our society are obvious.

-“Do not overeat.” Even healthy food will become poisonous to your body.

Q: Do Ayurvedic principles condone meat eating?

A: Traditional Ayurveda is a vegetarian diet but the science was developed all over India and some regions and castes eat meat, and others are vegetarian. Depending on your constitution, you might not need meat. If you are mostly earth, Kapha, (see an explanation of the doshas), then meat is too heavy for you. I’m mostly Kapha and so I feel comfortable being vegetarian but I don’t tell all others to be. There is no right answer that applies to all people.

Q: Does food dictate more than your waistline?

A: There is a huge connection between the emotional body and the physical body. For example, it’s common to binge on sugar when your emotional body is in distress, which affects your physical body. You can reverse that connection and become more emotionally healthy by maintaining a healthy physical body.

Q: What does “cleanse” mean in the Ayurvedic-sense?

A: Pancha karma is an intense form of Ayurvedic cleanse that must have intention behind it. The goal is to cleanse all aspects: mental/emotional, spiritual, breath, food and conscience (intuition). You can’t just cleanse to lose weight and expect anything positive to come of it. Mentally and emotionally, that bad energy (ama) behind your poor eating habits will remain if it isn’t addressed. Also, cleansing requires relaxation so that your body can register the changes. I wouldn’t recommend you cleanse while working a regular job.

Q: Do you cleanse often?

A: I don’t do the “just juice” cleanses anymore really. If I did do one then I would take the week off from work. I learned all of this the hard way myself. The first cleanse I ever did was the Master Cleanse (not Ayurvedic) and my regular diet was unhealthy at the time. I lost a lot of weight and my ego was elated but then I got pneumonia and was in bed for two weeks. I believe the usefulness in the cleanse comes from making your own juices, getting fresh veggies and doing the physical work of preparing them. With Ayurveda, the process of making the food becomes a fully integrative activity. As opposed to this thing we’re seeing ads for everywhere now, which is a packaged crash diet marketed with yoga-talk that fits into the lifestyle you already lead.

Q: Is there a spiritual aspect to your Ayurvedic practice?

A: Absolutely, that’s what is meant by terms like “integrative health.” For me, the spiritual aspect is really all about humility. When you get underneath the ego and then find the right intention, you’re acting from a really clean and focused place and there’s less confusion about what is the right thing to do. It’s hard, because it doesn’t let you off the hook for making decisions, but instead reminds you that you have the ability to keep yourself healthy and it’s up to you to decide to do so every day.

Q: What is the best way to deal with an unhealthy craving?

A: As I mentioned, we often crave sugar as a way to deal with emotional pain. You need to retrain the system to deal with pain in other ways – yoga class is amazing for this, talking to someone about how you are feeling, addressing the problem head-on, making art or reading a book. Everyone has many ways to feel better and Ayurveda is just encouraging those that have less harmful side-affects.

If you feel you just have to have something sweet, they claim the tastes bitter and sweet are two sides of the same coin, so if you eat a small amount of bitter dark chocolate (or bitter greens if you’re hardcore anti-sugar) then the craving should subside.

Q: What is your advice to someone who is ready to change their day-to-day diet?

A: Underneath it all, make it about loving yourself and being healthy as a result. And the practical starting point? It’s back to basics: Eat fresh seasonal food, learn to love the process of making it, eat slower, meditate, practice yoga, visit a farm, don’t overeat, don’t stress about what others are eating to make them skinny, walk often, calm down, smell the flowers. Seriously.

People are initially frustrated that there isn’t a quicker answer but in the long run they feel empowered by figuring out their own complicated and amazing systems. People that stick with it, it shifts their awareness.

You have to just be open to trying it. If you don’t know who you are at your core, it’s hard to see that you could be making food choices based on what others (corporations, peers) are offering you. Your choices will be much healthier when you realize your intent behind eating. In our culture, no one wants to be responsible but the truth is that you’re the only one who knows your body and can work to keep yourself healthy.

*Please note that the purpose of this article is to introduce a concept for eating with intention at a macro-level. We will not fully explain Ayurveda as it’s easy to find resources on the topic in digital and print format.

If you would like to consult with Patricia about finding the right Ayurvedic diet or cleanse for you please email her at Patricia.milder@gmail.com. To learn more about her many talents visit www.patriciamilder.com.

Recommended reading: “The Ayurvedic Cookbook” by Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai

Patricia demonstrating downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).