One morning at a bistro near my home I ordered the steel-cut oatmeal. When ready the server placed a steaming, creamy bowl of oats made with yogurt and topped with banana slices, cinnamon and honey in front of me. This dish became the inspiration for the Ayurvedic prescription that made a huge positive impact on my life.
I saw an Ayurvedic doctor for the first time about 15 years after first experiencing symptoms of neurocardiogenic syncope. By then allopathic medicine had failed me and I was looking for something new. The something I found was Ayurveda: an ancient medical system which classifies everything by qualities related to five “elements”: earth, water, ether, wind, & fire which are combined into three doshas.
In my case I had a Vata (elements ether & wind) imbalance (a Vata Vikriti). This imbalance resulted from my body and mind being irregular, dry, cold, spaced out, restless, and over-stimulated. Along with a set of herbal powders, I was prescribed several lifestyle changes including eating a warm & hydrating breakfast. In a word: oatmeal.
After trying several oatmeal recipes I found one which approximated my heavenly experience at the Bistro. This recipe I played with and adapted until I could make a single perfect portion of oatmeal.
Then I had oatmeal for breakfast every morning. I was absolutely astounded at the results: I had energy in the morning for the first time in years. Not only that but I stopped passing out. Curious to test how effective this was I did an experiment. For one week I ate my morning oatmeal but I didn’t take my herbal powders. I didn’t feel amazing, but I felt pretty good. Two weeks later (after being back on herbals & oatmeal for a week) I reversed the experiment: I ate my previous breakfast, milk & cereal, but took my herbal powders. I felt awful. By the end of the week I was passing out again. Over the ensuing months I performed this self-experiment a number of times and the end result was always the same: a warm & moist breakfast made a huge positive impact on my health. In fact, my milk & cereal combo was so bad for me that I did better going without any breakfast at all.
Curious about the Ayurvedic explanation for this I did some research on the doshas. The first thing I discovered is that the doshas are used to describe not just our bodies or foods but also climates, activities, and even time of day. The Vata dosha governs dawn and late afternoon, what translates to roughly 2-6am & 2-6pm. Vata time is followed by Kapha time 6-10am/pm and lastly Pitta time 10-2 am/pm. Both Vata & Kapha are cold doshas, heat doesn’t enter the day until about 10am. Night sleep tends to leave the body in a Vata state: dehydrated & cool. All people waking up in the morning experience an increase of their Vata dosha, however, when someone like me -with a Vata imbalance- experiences that increase it just makes the imbalance, in my case the neurocardiogenic syncope, more pronounced. Enter breakfast. When breakfast is a bowl of oatmeal with milk and spices, heat and hydration are brought into the body and the Vata dosha is brought back into balance. On the other hand, when breakfast is a bowl of milk and cereal, cold and dryness -Vata qualities- increases the Vata imbalance even more. Thus making the morning one of the worst times of day for someone with NCS.
Personally, I prefer the oatmeal.
1/3 cup steel cut oats or mixture of steel cut and scottish/irish oats
1 cup milk or 1/2 cup cream & 1/2 cup water
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sweet cinnamon
1/4 tsp Vietnamese cinnamon
1/2 tsp dried ginger
banana or medjool dates
- Soak oats in milk or water overnight. This makes the oats more tender and cook faster. When I forget to soak them overnight I will use more of the Scottish oats because they have a creamier texture when cooked and so don’t need the overnight soak as much.
- Place oats & milk/water in small saucepan. Add a dash of salt. Add cream if using. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Turn heat down to a medium-low or low, so that the oats are just simmering. Cook 4 minutes.
- While cooking slice up a banana or 3-4 medjool dates.
- Place oats in bowl. Add brown sugar. Mix well.
- Add cinnamon, ginger, and fruit. Mix until just incorporated. (If you don’t have Vietnamese Cinnamon use all Sweet Cinnamon).
The Vata-balancing effects are best with whole milk or cream. If you find it too heavy replace some of the milk with water. Cinnamon and ginger are particularly warming spices and so are very good for balancing Vata. If you prefer you can use fresh ginger, let a few slivers cook with the oats to flavor the milk. Other Vata-balancing spice options: cardamom, cloves, nutmeg. Sweet and juicy fruits, such as peaches, berries and pears, are best to balance Vata.
Play around with the amounts of oats, milk and spices until you find your perfect bowl of oatmeal.