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Season’s eatings: Ayurveda brings a healthy warmth to the holidays

Jessica Mascle likes to throw one more ingredient into the mix of mind, body and spirit that many embrace with their holistic approach to good health.

Nature.

What does that mean as we slip into holiday season in Western New York?

“The best word I can use to describe the energy outside is frenetic,” Mascle said. “It's kind of a wild energy out there when the wind gets to whipping and it's bitter cold – and that's sort of what's going on in our mind and body as well.

“If nature's doing that, and we're doing that, we're going to run into some imbalances, usually issues with anxiety, insomnia, feeling scattered, so we want to pacify that energy.”

Mascle seeks better balance, regardless of the season, through Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, forged in India as many as 10,000 years ago.

Ayurveda (pronounced Ire-veda) translates to “life wisdom.” It instructs diet, routine and exercise.

“It’s about healing and health” that complements Western medicine, said Mascle, owner of Root and Rise Yoga and Ayurveda in North Buffalo.

It helps those who practice it to sleep better, move better and maintain a healthier weight, as well as to better manage chronic illness and live more intentionally and spiritually – regardless of religion.

Mascle, 42, a married mother of one who teaches middle school health at Tapestry Charter School, also has found that its nutritional teachings come in handy during the holidays.

On average, Americans gain one to two pounds between Halloween and New Year’s Day – and research shows these pounds tend to stick around, and add up, over the years.

“Just starting to eat seasonally, is really, really, really helpful,” Mascle said.

Three Ayurvedic recipes fit for the winter holidays

A healthy Ayurvedic spring diet focuses on leafy greens, and early vegetables like peas and green beans dusted with shavings from the first young shoots of turmeric and ginger. Berry season soon adds to the natural bounty.

The heat of summer should keep spicy foods on the shelf in favor of cooling fruits and vegetables, including cucumbers, green peppers, sweet grapes and watermelon; herbs like mint and dill; healthy fats, including avocado; and complex carbs that can be burned for more energy.

Winter is savory season.

“We need to ground down,” Mascle said, “so we want root vegetables: the sweet potatoes, the squash, zucchini – though zucchini is a good one for summer, too.”

Nuts, soups and stews, and warm teas and other drinks should replace salads and cold beverages for most sustenance, she said.

While some who follow Ayurvedic teachings eat a largely plant-based diet, this isn’t necessary, Mascle said, particularly this time of year, when lean meat can add a healthy balance to seasonal living.

Year-round, she said, we should build awareness around our diet.

What foods am I eating? How do those foods make me feel – better or worse? These are the key questions.

“As Americans, we're horrible at that awareness because we're so distracted all the time,” Mascle said. “Our ancestors were very close to nature and we've come so far away from it.”

“This isn't the time [of year] to eat raw foods and salads, and drink ice water,” says Jessica Mascle, owner of Root and Rise Yoga and Ayurveda in North Buffalo. Warm water with lemon, teas, soups and stews (like Sweet Potato Mung Dahl Stew, above) that are easily digestible are better ways to go. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Mascle was born in Rochester, grew up in a broken home in Medina, and ended up in foster care as a teen. She did well academically, however, which gave her an opportunity to attend Rochester Institute of Technology in the mid-1990s.

She left school with two friends a year later for an “intentional community” in Fairfield, Iowa, established decades earlier by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had previously been a spiritual adviser for the Beatles. Meditation became a twice-daily practice. Ayurvedic food staples, including basmati rice, dal (legumes made with dried lentils, peas and beans), vegetables and beloved Indian spices, became her mainstays.

Three years later, she moved to the West Coast, where she got a bachelor’s degree in sustainable living from the New College of California, then moved to Buffalo in 2001 to get her teaching degree from SUNY Buffalo State.

Mascle began to struggle with sleep, and anxiety, when she landed a job 15 years ago at Tapestry Charter School, enrolled in an online master's program through SUNY Albany, and was raising her infant son. A doctor recommended Xanax, a prescription benzodiazepine that can become addictive with long-term use.

Instead, she returned to better habits, began regularly practicing yoga, and visited a regional Ayurvedic practitioner, who recommended a nutritional cleanse, along with two herbal supplements, triphala, as a digestive aid, ashwagandha, to calm her nervous system.

“I started to learn quickly this idea that you have to not only digest your food, but your traumas, your emotions, your thoughts, your day,” she said. “And so that's what I had to do. And I do that regularly. I also cleanse with the seasons. One of Mascle's passions is helping others find complementary practices like yoga and Ayurveda to reduce the need for prescription sleep aids.”

Five years ago, Mascle decided to get her Ayurvedic practitioner certification, through the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo, which included training to teach yoga.

Ayurveda starts with the premise that five elements make up nature: space (or ether), air, fire, water and earth.

The way those elements combine in the world, and in our bodies, can bring balance or turbulence, depending on how we tune into them, Mascle said.

Ayurvedic practice, she said, “is about transformation and it's about healing.”

The Ayurvedic diet should include six tastes: spicy, salty, sweet, sour, astringent and bitter. “When you have all six of those tastes, your body is satisfied,” Mascle said.

“Learning to breathe properly in a yoga practice helps your body to feel like it's not in emergency mode all the time,” she added, “so your body can come down and burn fat instead of just carbs. Yoga is a foundational exercise. Its goal is to realize your self, with a capital ‘S.’ ”

A healthier diet, greater movement and flexibility, and a measured routine that cultivates sacred observances helps Ayurveda “get to the root of illnesses instead of focus on symptoms,” she said.

Its practices are meant to be coupled with healing that includes Western medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture and other forms of healing, Mascle said, though “what you may find is that your need for Western medicines diminishes.”

Prime yourself for winter

Yoga, meditation and journaling can be particularly meaningful this time of year, Jessica Mascle says. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Here are five suggestions based on Ayurvedic principles to help you more easily navigate winter in Western New York, provided by Jessica Mascle, owner of Root and Rise Yoga and Ayurveda.

1. Stay warm: Even if you’re just running out to the car for a minute, put on a coat, hat and gloves. Dress in layers while inside and outside. “When it’s cold, you don’t want to add more cold,” Mascle said. It brings you out of balance.

2. Eat and drink warm: “This isn't the time to eat raw foods and salads, and drink ice water,” she said. Warm water with lemon, teas, soups and stews that are easily digestible are better ways to go.

3. Stay moisturized: Winter is dry season, reflected in the brittle leaves that remain. “We want to stay moisturized through the foods we eat,” Mascle said, “so making sure we have plenty of healthy fats and oils in our food is important, but also making sure we moisturize our skin.” Nasya oil, which contains healing herbs, can be rubbed lightly into your ears and nostrils, a natural chap stick applied to your lips and sesame oil swished in your mouth. These are available in the gift shop at the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo, 841 Delaware Ave., and online at banyanbotanicals.com.

4. Keep set routines: This relaxes our nervous system in what can become a chaotic time of year. Eat meals daily at the same times – smaller ones at breakfast and dinner, the biggest at lunchtime – and go to bed and wake up about the same time each day, including weekends.

5. Value stillness: “All summer, we're putting our ideas out there, going and getting things, doing things,” Mascle said. “This is a time to turn inward. If you have the opportunity to go out on the town or stay home with a good book and cuddle up by the fireplace, stay home, cuddle up, read a book. It doesn’t mean avoiding holiday celebrations but limiting them, with plenty of quiet, restful, healing periods in between.

6. Take time to reflect: Yoga, meditation and journaling can be particularly meaningful this time of year, Mascle said. It fits the tenor of a season designed for giving and gratitude.

Ayurvedic resources

Root and Rise Yoga and Ayurveda: Owner Jessica Mascle provides consultations, will host a community cooking event on Dec. 30 and from Dec. 25 to Jan. 10 will lead a winter self-study challenge; from the new moon  until the first full moon of the new year, receive a daily email that shares wisdom and  prompts you to reflect, explore, practice and then share your insights and experiences. Weekly live master classes will provide a forum to dig deeper and to connect with one another. For more info and to register, visit rootandriseayurveda.com.

Himalayan Institute of Buffalo: Related yoga classes and Ayurvedic training certifications are held here. Learn more at hibuffalo.org.

Harisa Wellness Center: 6161 Transit Road, Suite 6, Clarence. Owner Shanthy Jayakumar received her diploma in Ayurvedic Medicine in Sri Lanka, where Ayurvedic and alternative health care are the primary platform of medicine. She has become a licensed massage therapist since coming to the U.S. Her practice blends Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle, herbal healing, nutrition and preventative strategies, with a special focus on women’s health and wellness therapies. Learn more at harisa.co/ayurveda or by calling 691-5738.

Helpful books

Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide,” by Dr. Deepak Chopra

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine,” by Drs. David Frawley and Vasant Lad

The Three Season Diet,” by John Douillard

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