Celebrity Health - Jasmine Hemsley

Jasmine Hemsley talks about her love of the ancient health system Ayurveda and offers her top tips for remaining healthy over the festive season.

Image of Jasmine Hemsley courtesy of Nick Hopper

As co-founder of the Hemsley + Hemsley brand, alongside her sister Melissa, and partner Nick Hopper, Jasmine Hemsley is one of the biggest names in the healthy eating and wellness movement. Together the sisters have produced two bestselling cookery books, a TV show and a London café. But now, 37-year-old Jasmine is branching out with her first solo cookbook, East by West, which is inspired by the ancient healing system of Ayurveda. Here she tells us more about her passion for Ayurveda and leading a healthy lifestyle.

I first came across Ayurveda in 2001 and for the last 10 to 12 years it’s been really growing on me at a steady rate. I ended up incorporating all the things that made sense to me – about sleeping and eating and living in time with nature – into my own life. In the West we call it circadian rhythm. That all went into the Hemsley philosophy and then, bit by bit, before you know it, it became second nature to me.

Ayurveda is known as the science of life and it has benefited my own health in so many ways. One of the key benefits I’ve found is the difference in the quality of my sleep. I now eat earlier in the evening and I wake up feeling so much more energised because my body has had time to digest my food properly and can spend more time in repair mode.

I love my sleep but I’ve learned that waking up really early is a much better way to start the day. You have more time to yourself before the emails land and before anyone’s demanding anything of you – you can ease your way into the day. Waking up, smashing the alarm, downing a coffee and running out the door feeling rushed is a bit of a cruel way to start your day! It’s pretty hard waking up in the dark in the winter but my energy levels and my state of mind are so much better for it.

I like to ease myself into the day with a Golden milk, eggs or a bowl of porridge for breakfast, made with quinoa, buckwheat or oats. Lunch is my biggest meal of the day and dinner is always something quite light. I’ve got go-to recipes which I love, such as my kitchari (a rice and lentil dish) or my rasta dal or lentil hot pot. They are three really easy, cheap dishes that I can knock together in 20 to 30 minutes with pretty much zero culinary skill. But then I’ve also got this knockout roast chicken lunch with sesame seeds, a tomato and ginger gravy, loads of root vegetables and Savoy cabbage, which is my favourite. One of my favourite dessert recipes is for a saffron cardomom cheesecake made from cottage cheese or ricotta and a biscuit base made from toasted gram flour.

In Ayurveda, the digestion is known as digestive fire, so the aim is to have a lively digestion, which leaves you feeling energised rather than sluggish after a meal. I always try not to drink too much water during a meal because you’re putting out your digestive fire. Here in the West we are just starting to grasp the importance of gut health, whereas the East has always known about this. We're also waking up to the idea that the gut is like the second brain.

The principles of Ayurveda are based on the three doshas, which represent certain characteristics that are in nature and in ourselves. You can take a test to find out which dosha best describes you: Vata, Pitta or Kapha. Each dosha takes into account your physical characteristics, your energy levels, your nature and your mental traits. We are all born with aspects of all three doshas, but some aspects are much more pronounced than others, so we need to balance ourselves out. For example, I’m very much a Vata type – creative, head in the clouds, a million miles per hour – so if I don’t take on more grounding practices like meditation and hatha yoga I could become extremely over-stimulated and prone to anxiety.

The more I look into Ayurveda the more I realise that it’s such a beautiful way of looking at life. It’s based on intuition rather than eating by numbers. Rather than thinking, “Oh, I’m supposed to have a certain amount of protein a day,” it’s more like: “I feel I need to eat something richer and warming right now because I’m feeling very light from too many salads and greens” or “I feel like my porridge needs some coconut oil or ghee today for something grounding, oily and unctuous because my skin’s feeling very dry.”

We all tend to overindulge a little at Christmas time, but there are some key tips to bear in mind. Try to eat a lighter breakfast on Christmas Day but don’t overdo it. There is nothing worse than sitting down to Christmas Day lunch and realising that you’ve already eaten too much. Allowing your hunger to build I think is a really important way of enjoying your meal and improving digestion. Also, drink plenty of water (hot or warm water is best!) throughout the Christmas period as things like the cold weather, central heating and alcohol can leave you feeling dehydrated.

There are many other ways to enhance your digestion naturally, which is great coming into Christmas when you might be worrying about eating too much. Whenever my digestion isn’t feeling too lively I’ll have a slice of fresh ginger and after 15 minutes my digestion will peak and I’ll feel hungry. Another way of getting the digestive juices flowing is to serve some greens as part of your starter because their bitter flavour helps to promote the digestion. Ginger tea is great for combating nausea and fennel tea helps with any bloating. You just get some fennel seeds and boil them up with some water and strain.

I love both yoga and meditation but meditation has had the bigger impact on me. I took up both practices in 2000, but it wasn’t until I turned 30 that I properly studied Vedic meditation, which is similar to Transcendental Meditation. It’s where you’re given a mantra and you just sit and repeat it in your head. It becomes your focus and takes you away from all the millions of thoughts in your mind. For me it was a bit like clearing your desktop at regular intervals so that your laptop runs faster.

I live in London and I love it, but my life is very busy, very hectic. Ayurveda has taught me how to eat healthily, to nourish my body and soul, and to cope with my busy city life. It’s helped me in so many positive ways and I just want to share that knowledge with others.

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