Written by Dr Mickey Mehta
Festivities are the time of celebrations. It is the time to come together with family, friends and all dear ones to celebrate happiness. That’s why one also tends to indulge in sweets, unhealthy food, late night munching and eating at the wrong time, which eventually may lead to disturbances in the digestive system, hormonal imbalances and show up on the weighing scale and on your waistlines.
But through correct nourishment and yoga for overall body functions, you can prevent severe complications in all the parts of the body.
Through the nine days of the festival, it is important to keep the gut light and healthy by including foods that are nutritious. Those who eat only once a day go a few notches higher in excellence of health. Good health means healing, healing means allowing your body to come back to wholeness again. All this eventually takes care of our bodily issues without thinking about it.
One should include more vegetables as they are the natural cleansers, healing fruits, nuts and seeds (natural fortifiers) and herbs. This is also the best time to avail the benefits of Samak rice, also known as barnyard millet. This is an ancient millet which appears in the form of creamish tiny seeds. Since Samak is not a grain, it is commonly used to prepare food for fasting. Samak rice is high in resistant starch and is packed with fibre, protein and micronutrients like zinc and iron and has an abundance of health benefits.
So what does Samak do? For starters, it is resistant starch, which means it takes time to be broken down in your body, lending a sense of fullness and satiety and preventing you from snacking in between. It kills your urge to overeat or pile up extra calories your body doesn’t need. So, it is good for diabetics in maintaining blood sugar levels as glucose is released slowly over time and there are no spikes or plunges. Samak is gluten-free, high in fibres and protein and low in calories, which means it can help you in weight loss if eaten over a sustained period of time.
Resistant starch adds to the fibre load, which suppresses body inflammation, improves gut health and reduces LDL or bad cholesterol in the body. Iron is key to regulating body temperature and maintaining respiratory health during a change of seasons. Samak rice is low in phytic acid, so enables greater absorption of key minerals like calcium and magnesium. Barnyard millet is rich in alkaloids, tannins, steroids, phenols and flavonoids, which are cancer inhibitors.
Here are my few suggestions for healthy eating during Navratri:
1. Start your day with a glass of lukewarm water with juice of one lemon. Alternatively, have herbal tea or kadha
2. Follow with a big bowl of fresh seasonal fruits.
3. Consume more fluids – vegetable juices, shakes, lassi, soups, herbal teas and coconut water. These liquids help maintain the optimum fluids in the body and also alleviate metabolism.
4. Make healthy salads and consume that as a major part of your meal. Green leafy vegetables – Spinach, bottle gourd, broccoli, peas and tomatoes are some healthy green inclusions. Replace potatoes with sweet potatoes and other root vegetables.
5. Have salads, roasted makhana and roasted dry fruits, nuts and seeds or gud (jaggery)-based chikki as mid-day snacks.
6. Do not eat deep fried foods. Use healthier cooking options like roasting, boiling, steaming, grilling.
7. Instead of whole milk, use A2 cow milk / almond milk.
8. Sendha namak (rock salt) is used in fasting. A tiny amount of roasted peanuts, tamarind, cumin seeds, green cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, nutmeg, cinnamon, coconut, coriander leaves, curry leaves, ginger and green chilli can be used to add flavour to your food.
9. Replace sugar with jaggery. Even better, use natural sweeteners like khajur, raisins, anjeer.
10. Choose healthy fibrous flours like Samak ka atta (barnyard millet), Rajgira (amaranth), singhara atta (water chestnut), kuttu atta (buckwheat).
11. Follow the rule of moderation. Keep portion control. Do not load up your plate.
Navratri, for many, is about fasting for nine days. But fasting can easily become feasting, adding to the waistline bulge and extra kilos without realising it. However, if done correctly, the Navratri fast can give several health benefits. Fasting creates cleansing (shuddhi karan), which is the process of loosening and elimination of toxins (ama). Eliminating the ama is the first step of the body’s restoration. Regulation is preparing the body to let go of the toxins. This leads to purification (sodhana).
Fasting thus, brings alignment of our body with our mind and our mind with our spirit and therefore, alignment with the universe. Fasting has two advantages: first, it has spiritual advantages in that it helps one learn sanyam, or self-control, and second, it gives one more inner power. One’s mindset changes when they fast. An unwavering mind is necessary for this. All jobs can be completed if one has a strong mind. This teaches us to balance, keep in control, take apt decisions, all of which in turn give us the desired health benefits.
It is therefore, about the knowing of oneself, mastering and disciplining ourselves better. It takes you to an extra degree of self-awareness.
Yoga involves movement in grace which creates a kind of fluency within your body. This doesn’t allow anybody to remain constant and helps in weight management. Do asanas like Paschimotanasana (forward bend), Bhujangasana (Cobra pose), Tadasana (mountain pose), Trikonasana (Triangle pose), Vakrasana (Twisting pose), Parivritti trikonasana (Revolved triangle pose), Parshva Konasana (Side angle pose), Virbhadrasana (Warrior pose), Setu Bandhasana (Bridge pose), Pavan muktasana (wind-releasing pose). Other than these, Surya Namaskar works wonders in keeping your body in shape.
The combination of asanas with breath work and pranayama helps one gain mobility, immunity, vitality, energy. Those observing a fast during Navratri must do very gentle exercises.
Praying and meditating in Navratra also nourishes us. These nine days of nourishing nights are very important for us to get into the proximity of divinity; for us to access infinity.
We live in a society of abundance and fasting is self-imposed scarcity. But it brings about so many health and well-being benefits. Supplement the fasting ritual with some deep self-reflection, meditation, yoga and swadhyaya to unravel different layers of our being. Also exposing yourself to sunlight, fresh air and water along with getting good sleep will help the process of fasting better.
Navratri is nine days of spiritual nourishment and spiritual ecstasy. When you dance in celebration, as you move, as you circulate, as you breathe, obviously the anxiety will be released and it will be replaced by the happy feeling of the movements, the happy feeling of the music you are listening to or the happy feeling of the postures you are moving into. Celebrations of life help us to raise the level of consciousness in ourselves. It helps us to move towards heightened awareness of happiness.
(Dr Mehta has trained Bollywood superstars Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta, billionaires, politicians, Miss World/Miss Universe candidates and the Maharashtra Police. A best-selling author, he has been appointed FIT India Movement Champion by the Sports Authority of India).