As with all the Vedic sciences the science of medicine relies on awareness, precision, and clarity. It is a path of developing the discrimination to determine what is self-healing and what is self-destructive.
To this end Ayurveda has developed a system of categorization and of understanding the effects of foods. Although the taste of an apple may vary slightly depending on where and when it was picked, for the most part the energetics of food are stable and consistent. Animals are similar to food; they have characteristics that are common to all species within a genus.
For example in general rodents tend to have a sensitive nervous system which allows them to avoid being eaten by larger animals. They are fast moving, anxious, and quick to act. Naturally there is variation among rodents. Squirrels are different than hamsters and there are differences between an assertive mouse and a shy one. In general though, the tendencies of an animal can be understood based on what general category of animals they are. Dr. Tillotson has related Vata to rodents, Pitta to carnivores, and Kapha to ungulates. Yes I reiterate here that we are all individuals, but in order to promote self-awareness this systemization of traits and tendencies can lead to self understanding.
Honesty is an extremely important trait in the process of self-healing. If we are unwilling to start where we are then we will often not be able to cultivate the precision and gentleness that is necessary for true awakening. That is the ultimate goal of healing through Ayurveda, healing is a means to self-realization. It is a practice of being able to find gentleness and forgiveness for ourselves so that we don’t continue to commit these acts of subtle aggression through our diet.
A strict diet that does not allow for flexibility and joy is as detrimental as a diet full of sugar and overeating. The true test of eating guidelines is to build a relationship with ones Agni. Agni is the fire of digestion that governs the transformation of food into tissues. It is this process that reminds us of our interconnectedness with all things. When we realize that we truly are what we eat, then it is simple to recognize, even if for only a moment, the underlying unity of all creation. Through practice and consistency in determining how different foods effect an individual, one becomes aware of who they are. As the qualities of food and humans have been determined through the Ayurvedic system an individual’s qualities can be more fully understood through the effect of foods with certain qualities upon the individual.
Eventually the effect of foods can be predicted, and one can predict whether the food they are eating will make them skinny, fat, enthusiastic, lethargic, sad, shy, energized, etc. If you understand that water is wet and dirt is solid and dry and you add the two together you can predict that you will have mud, a combination of the respective qualities. It should always be remembered that along with the precision, the knowledge of the qualities of food and the clarity that comes with understanding their effect on oneself, gentleness and openness must also be cultivated. Otherwise one may fall prey to the subtle aggression and self-destructiveness that can be part of a dietary program that does not include compassion. It is this love of oneself and self understanding that is the primary purpose of the Ayurvedic diet. Self-healing through healthy food creates harmony within the body so that life can be lived with curiosity and unity.