5 Questions for Nandita Godbole
Ayurveda and finding self care in a teacup
Today, on International Women’s Day, I’m excited to introduce you to fellow food writer Nandita Godbole. She has a new book about tea, and she’s going to share a little bit about Ayurveda and how tea can fit into your daily self care rituals.
But first, I have two micro activism opportunities:
March 16: Join the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice and New Hour for a virtual advocacy day in support of women, mothers, and gender non-conforming people behind bars.
The For the People Act of 2021 passed the House on March 3. It’s intended to make it easier to vote in federal elections and to curtail gerrymandering, among other things, and will go to the Senate next. Contact your senators if you support this bill.
And now for Nandita!
Nandita Godbole is an Atlanta based, Indian origin food writer and author of several cookbooks, including her latest, “Seven Pots of Tea: an Ayurvedic approach to sips & nosh."
In addition to being an accomplished food writer, you have a background in botany and ethnobotany and you’ve been studying Ayurveda. The latter informs the teas, tisanes and snacks in your latest book. Tell us how Ayurveda has supported your health and wellbeing in your 40s.
I have been an Ayurveda student all my life – paying more attention to it now than I did in my youth. I have struggled with life stresses – sometimes openly, more often quietly. Ayurveda nudged me to focus on the little things, and most importantly, how easy it is to engage in self-care. Through Ayurveda, I have been incrementally building a keen awareness of my body, as well as my relationship to my overall environment. It has taught me to recognize that what I eat and drink will influence my physical, emotional, and mental health. It has made me feel confident about sharing with others – in books, in (now-virtual) classes. We are what we eat, and drink.
What's the biggest misconception people have about Ayurveda?
Ayurveda seems esoteric at first. Many of the terminologies are in Sanskrit, and difficult to pronounce – they hinder clarity of concept. When we don’t understand, we think it is difficult.
Another misconception is that it is a religious practice (!) owing to its Sanskrit text. Ayurveda originated in ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. Of all the beliefs and practices included in the Vedas, Ayurveda is the most secular. Practicing the principles of Ayurveda will not influence your religious beliefs.
These 3 fundamentals of Ayurveda make it very special:
We are all different based on our ‘composition’.
What works for one person won’t work for another.
Even small and incremental changes are helpful.
If someone is interested in learning more about Ayurveda, how is the best way to get started? Can you self-assess your own dosha?
If we think of Ayurveda as an accessory to prioritizing personal health and wellbeing, as customized self-care, the rest will be easy.
Before committing to an in-depth book about Ayurveda (and there are many good ones), starting an Ayurvedic regimen, or planning an Ayurvedic retreat when it becomes safer, I recommend doing a few self-assessments via different websites to understand one's dosha. By completing several of them, one can arrive at a general understanding of your own dosha. These won’t be perfect – only a licensed practitioner can do that. However, with this information, one can begin to adjust eating habits.
After that, any good Ayurvedic literature will begin to make a lot of sense. One must also remember that Ayurveda is only an assistive practice, is holistic medicine, and supplementary to all other conventional medical advice and help.
Your book trailer invites us to "rethink chai." What do you mean by that?
There are two parts to the “rethink chai” catch phrase.
The first part is about the pop-culture associations surrounding tea and chai. There were many Ayurvedic beverages in India before chai came to the scene and yet masala chai (and mango lassi) rose in popularity. In Seven Pots of Tea, I showcased just a small sampling of India’s many complex preparations – from compotes, and infusions, cold brews, tisanes, green and black teas, as well as milk-based brews. Only a third of these recipes use tea leaves! In addition, I have included several regional chais hoping readers will explore past their barista blends of masala chai.
The second part is about the socio-cultural aspect of chai and tea, for the history buff. I don’t believe we can fully appreciate something without understanding context. In India, tea has a strong, dark colonial past and a multifaceted history that explains its rise as a popular beverage. Much of it was astute marketing that came at the cost of religious sentiment, political unrest, or gender bias. We don’t often think of chai as the product of socio-political strategies, or even as a tool for creating biases. But it was. I urge folks who love any kind of tea to familiarize themselves to chai’s history, for an equitable society. We can’t always support every cause – but knowing how our tea comes to us, and then making better choices – will offer a path to effortless armchair / teacup social activism.
What tea rituals are currently part of your self-care?
I make several different preparations through the day, making sure I listen to my body and addressing what it needs. These needs change daily and seasonally, particularly as a post-menopausal woman.
My morning cup is most crucial, and I call it my quiet hour. As rushed as we all are, and everyone has been home this past year – this is important to me. I will make time to start earlier than my family, sometimes walking up before anyone else. My family now fully recognizes that I need that time to focus and center. I prefer to make my first cup in total and utter silence.
After a lifetime of different kinds of chai made by different people, and as a mostly-Vata person I have finally settled on a spice-blend, a tri-dosha balancing chai masala. I eyeball just enough fresh tap water in a dedicated saucepan, dust in the chai masala, measure in the sugar and tea leaves. I never use teabags, but prefer loose leaf teas from tea estates in India. Large leaf black teas are a treasure. They really bring a richness to my brew.
I actively engage in the transformation, watching the color change from transparent to amber, and take in the aroma as the flavors emerge. The better the tea leaves, the deeper the color, and a reminder – I need to spend my day doing good. When it has reached a first boil, I add dairy, and let it boil again and strain my chai into my cup. The meditative and rejuvenating aspect of making my own cup of chai and engaging all senses is unparalleled.
If it is predawn, I will often step outside onto my deck, and take in the sounds of nature with a warm cup of chai in my hands, before the hum of suburbia begins, and the demands of life take over. I take in the crisp morning air in deep breaths, filling my lungs with its dewy freshness, allowing the aromas of my chai to mix in. I focus on feeling the warmth transfer from the cup into my fingers. Even before my first sip, I feel centered, awake, and know I can give the day my best.
In the post lunch-hour, I take a few minutes to make another brew based on how the day has progressed. I will spend a few minutes at my desk and take stock of my emotions, my heart rate, my breathing. If it has been a stressful work day, I will make a loose-leaf green tea, or even an herbal tisane, and add a few dried slices of fresh turmeric into it. If a stress-induced hot-flash is rearing up, I will make a Kahwa or a Kashmiri Green Tea with cardamom and homemade rose petal jam, to calm and cool the body. If my work stress has not subsided, and the weather is good, I will take an hour long walk (often with some devotional, centering music, no podcasts/audiobooks). When I return, I make a different kind of tea, a chai with cardamom and fresh lemongrass leaves if I have any. Both herbs are aromatic, cooling to the body, and calming to the nerves. I cut the caffeine down to half, just enough to balance the flavors, for a warm, relaxing tea.
Every cup – tea, tisane, chai, or brew has self-care is at its core. It is in the little things.
Follow Nandita at @currycravings on any social media platform of your choice.