For students of any age, there are more distractions today than ever before, and finding stability in the chaos is difficult. Between sports, studying, moving to a new city for college and meeting new friends, it can be easy to throw healthy eating habits out the window.
It is no secret that munching on sugar-laden treats or deep-fried potatoes will not inspire you to hit the books. Bottomless iced coffee and Unicorn Frappuccinos are not going to help much, either, especially after you crash and burn from that initial caffeine rush.
As you prepare to return to school after the summer, consider that there are a slew of foods that have long been known to cure pretest jitters, calm your anxiety and help you tap into your intellectual side.
In a very, very, non-traditional nutritional approach to cleansing the body and preparing the mind for that mid-term crunch time, there are alternative approaches that focus on preventing a total burn-out. How so?
According to ancient eastern cultures (think the 5,000-year-old yogic culture in India), there are three energies called doshas that circulate throughout the body at any given time. The belief is that a person may have one or two energies that are stronger than the other, or all three of them could be equally present. Each of these energies have their own unique set of characteristics. When in balance, these energies help people operate at maximum level. When out of whack, a person may feel lethargic, anxious or angry.
Food and drinks are known to have nurturing, energy efficient properties that coincide with your dosha, which, “comes from a Sanskrit word meaning, ‘that which can become polluted or imbalanced, or fall into disrepair’,” said William Courson, dean of academic affairs and institutional development at the Sai Ayurvedic College of Miami.
It is an ancient Ayurvedic belief (Ayurveda is also known to be a 5,000-year-old medicinal practice) in which people have three main energy centers in the body — Pitta, Kapha and Vata — fire, earth and water. Or, to put it simply, some food is bad for you and will make you feel drained, while other foods will keep you light and focused.
At the end of the day, he said, it is all about balance.
“In each person, one, sometimes two, of these doshas is most intensely active and most emphatically present,” said Courson, who has a bachelor’s degree in Vedic studies (Ayurveda) from the Sai Ayurvedic College of Miami. “That presence impacts on bodily shape, appearance, psychological traits, nutritional and fitness needs. They will respond to one's environment, and they reveal the types of diseases and health issues one is most vulnerable to.”
Trying to balance the inner-dosha may seem like a tall order for students, who constantly lack time and a breadth of money, but Courson strongly believes that the reason Ayurveda works so well is because it’s preventative.
Courson said that his experience working with patients has repeatedly supported one of his main messages - that committing to preventing health problems is more cost effective than waiting for a problem to become too big to manage.
Here is a short primer on determining your dosha:
Pitta — Fire
Are you someone who runs hot, even when it is technically cold outside? Are you intense about your work and passionate about your hobbies? Do you eat fast, talk fast and sweat easily? Do you have an insatiable appetite? You have a strong presence of Pitta.
Foods to eat to help you remain balanced: cold, sweet and astringent (drier) include cucumbers, sunflower oil, sweet fruits, kale, dandelion leaves and ghee (clarified butter). According to Courson, “Pitta body types are encouraged to eat cooling, slightly dense foods, plentiful in the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes.”
Minimize your intake of spicy, salty and sour foods (stay away from that hot sauce and sharp cheddar cheese).
Also, try to give yourself a daily massage, since Pitta oriented people have a tendency to store the intensity in their neck and shoulders.
Kapha — Earth
Are you a naturally mellow person who likes to stay in your comfort zone? Are you friendly and love bear hugs and see the goodness in everything? Do you enjoy nightly doses of Netflix? Is it difficult for you to motivate when your bed seems like such a better option? You are one with the earth.
For the nurturing Kapha types, Courson encourages eating warming, lighter and drier foods.
Foods to eat to help you energize and feel the surge of spontaneity include spices, beans, cloves, barley, apples, pears, pomegranates and cranberries.
Try a liquid fast once a week.
Stay away from heavier foods that will further increase the laziness.
Push yourself to get on a solid workout routine and be an early riser.
Vata — Air
Are you a project person who takes on tons of tasks but then bores easily and quickly moves on? Do you have an irregular sleep cycle and a tendency to over-think and then panic? Are you a social butterfly but also a bit more on the anxious side? Are you always on the move, chasing adventure and pursuing creative outlets? You are an airhead (not literally, metaphorically).
Foods to help you remain grounded, focused and calm include cinnamon, legumes, lemons, mangoes, pineapple, grapes and sharp cheese. Courson suggests airy Vatas stick to sweet, salty and sour tastes.
Stay away from caffeine, which only induces panic. Vatas are high-strung enough as it is without the added caffeine boost.
Try to schedule times to eat, since Vatas tend to skip meals, which causes more anxiety and less grounding.
Herald Writer Alexandria Bordas is a certified yoga instructor.