A Not-So-Ayurvedic Thanksgiving with My Family
You know your constitution, have a daily routine, and you’re fresh off your first fall cleanse. You clean your tongue in the morning, do yoga in the evening, and your skin is radiant from the oils you massage yourself with on a regular basis. You haven’t been at it long, but after a year or so of incorporating Ayurveda into your daily life, you feel like an Ayurveda superstar who takes health into their own hands.
Good luck trying to talk to your family about it when you go home for Thanksgiving!
Everyone’s family is different. Some families go on meditation retreats together, do yoga as a unit, and undertake simultaneous cleanses. But for the rest of us, who discovered Ayurveda long after leaving the nest, an Ayurvedic lifestyle can be tricky to discuss with our Western families who don’t know the difference between kitchari and curry! And the holidays, when your whole family comes together, can be the trickiest time of all to talk about your health, especially when your family is being unhealthy in your very presence!
As the aroma of that slow-roasting store-bought turkey wafts in from the kitchen, you make small-talk with your grandmother, an 89-year-old woman who permeates every other word with a hacking cough—no doubt caused by a lifetime of cigarettes. Do you tell her about the benefits of tulsi or leave her be?
Occasionally your uncle, who rolls his eyes at any mention of something “organic” and pushes vegetables to the side of his plate, chimes in to talk about sports. What on earth could you tell him about Ayurveda? The only oil he knows about is the kind he changes in his truck!
Soon you’re joined by your teen cousins, slurping on sugary soft drinks and belching as what is probably excess vata from their snack food habit escapes their systems. You can’t help but think they could do with replacing those soft drinks with some warm water, and that maybe if they read the Soothe Your Skin Guide they might have fewer manifestations of excess pitta showing up on their faces.
When your chardonnay-sipping aunt asks if she can get you anything to drink, she looks bewildered when you ask if there’s any herbal tea. After all she was a bartender for twenty years and was excited at the prospect of making you a cocktail! How rude of you to refuse.
And what do you do when your mom and dad bring out heaps and loads of heavy foods that directly clash with the kapha-pacifying diet you’ve been faithfully following ever since the last time you took your Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz?
Yikes! What a predicament! But before the vata in your mind goes haywire, here are some things to remember:
The “perfect Ayurvedic person” is a myth.
Even the most balanced, centered, in-control yogi you aspire to be has had their hang-ups in the past. In fact, sometimes those slip-ups are how we discover things about ourselves and our values, and reaffirm our goals! It’s okay to indulge every once in a while, especially on the holidays. (After all, they’re called “the holidays” for a reason!) The world will not end if you decide to have some potatoes and gravy just this once. Take a break, relax, and stop striving for perfection! (That’ll aggravate your pitta, after all!)
Try not to judge.
Your family’s habits are theirs, and it is ultimately up to them as to whether or not they want to continue them. While you can discuss the benefits of certain healthy lifestyle choices, like stopping smoking, avoiding certain foods and drinks, and going to bed at night instead of staying up till two in the morning playing video games, no one wants to be the preachy intolerant know-it-all at the Thanksgiving table. Save that role for the strange guy your sister brought who’s trying to convert the family into his cult religion that worships shoelaces. (And OK, maybe if that happens you can pull your sister aside later and ask if she’s all right…)
There are little ways to incorporate Ayurvedic teachings.
If your grandpa has been in the bathroom for half an hour, it might not be the best time to bring up the agni-strengthening benefits of triphala. That could potentially embarrass both of you. Besides, who wants to talk about elimination at the dinner table?
Instead, you might try finding common interests with your family members that could potentially lead to the Ayurvedic aspects that most interest you. Perhaps your brother’s girlfriend has some back pain. You could mention that you heard of some fantastic things that might help her with that, such as yoga poses like Cat-Cow, and how relaxing and invigorating self-massage can be. Perhaps your uncle is complaining of thinning hair? A great time to bring up scalp massaging and hair oil. Starting with some common ground will definitely help ease into the topic of health and wellness without coming across as a lecture!
If they ask, tell them!
It finally happens. Your dad mentions you’ve lost some weight, or that your skin has cleared up, or that you aren’t slouching like you used to. Now is the perfect time to bring up Ayurveda! But go easy. If your family is not familiar with Sanskrit terms, they might get lost pretty easily if you launch into the doshas.
You could simply tell them that you started following a diet and incorporating some lifestyle tips based on an ancient healing system from India. Bam! You’re already way more interesting than Shoelace Guy over there. If you can get a discussion going, you’re golden. Maybe you won’t be signing your cousins up for yoga class or taking your uncle to the farmer’s market anytime soon, but you’ll at least have opened their minds to the wonders of Ayurveda, and given them something to think about by showing them how happy and healthy you are.
The most important part of the whole event! Appreciate your family for who they are, and be open to what they’re doing. Maybe you can have your aunt make you a virgin cocktail, try playing a video game with your cousins, and listen to one of your grandma’s stories from back in the day.
We only have so much time together on this earth, so we should spend it treating each other kindly.
(To which my grandmother would probably have said “WHAT?”)
*The family depicted in this article are fictional characters and are not based on any real individuals. Except for the Shoelace Guy. He’s totally real, but he dumped my sister when she wore boots with zippers once. It’s okay—she’s better off!