Jasmine Hemsley is a wellbeing and food expert based in London. In addition to being one half Hemsley + Hemsley, she has branched out in her own right to follow her passion and interest in all things Ayurveda, which also forms the foundation of her new cookbook, East By West.
JASMINE, HOW AND WHEN DID YOU BECOME PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD, HEALTH, AND WELLBEING? DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE A SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SPACE?
I guess I’ve always been passionate about food — simply because I love to eat it, but also because of the nostalgia of food, the memories it evokes, especially of family time. I was brought up to eat everything and have proper meals: mum always wanted us to have nutritious food, not in the way you might talk about it today in wellbeing terms, but in the more old-fashioned way of eating a good freshly prepared hot dinner at home with the family. This was what she and dad knew — there weren’t really ready meals or processed alternatives when they were growing up, so it was simply a continuation of traditional ways.
Watching the rise of the supermarket and convenience food, I noticed how our eating habits at home changed, then when I left home I realised how these processed ready meals and foods didn’t make me feel so great. It was then, as I was cooking for myself, that I really started to pay attention to food and how it affected me. I worked as a model for years, which made me naturally much more aware of the connection between food and mood and energy levels, as well as physical appearance. When I really started to research between traditional philosophies and the then-current mainstream understanding of what it was to eat healthy, I was pretty confused, and later pretty shocked.
I didn’t want to become a spokesperson necessarily, but as it turns out I’ve got a bit of a big mouth and when I am really passionate about something I can’t keep it closed. Over the past 15 years, the more I read and researched the more I realised it’s so important to get this message out there as the world of food and wellbeing can be so confusing. I told anyone who wanted to listen that low-fat, low-calorie refined “health foods” and an attitude of “eat what you want as long as you burn it off with exercise” was not the way to determine what foods you should be putting into your body! As I got more involved, I realised that to completely look after our health is to approach it from a holistic point of view — the whole 360. It’s about so much more than just the food, and has everything to do with when and how you eat, as well as managing other aspects of your wellbeing.
HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN AYURVEDA TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE?
Ayurveda (the sister science to yoga) is based on a holistic, 360-degree view of health — the delicate balance of mind, body and spirit – quite different to how we usually view health in the West. It’s founded on the premise that we’re all made up of a unique ratio of elements, and are therefore nourished by different things. As opposed to viewing health in a linear way, and as simply being free of disease, Ayurveda defines wellness as understanding, adjusting and recognising our own unique balance, which is naturally in constant flux, and teaches us how to make the right choices to support a healthy lifestyle. Because we are all individuals, Ayurveda works on the idea that no single diet or lifestyle works for everyone (one man’s food is another man’s poison so to speak), but that food, daily routines and how you connect to your environment are essential to maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state.
There are three Doshas (or forces): Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, loosely translated as Air, Fire and Earth, respectively. Each of us, from birth, have our own unique blend of all three Doshas, making up our individual constitution, with usually one dominant Dosha (which we refer to as our dosha type) and ideally an equal (though often fluctuating) balance between the other two. In Ayurvedic philosophy, when our Doshas are balanced, i.e. at our original constitution (your true nature, or Prakriti), we are healthy; when they are unbalanced due to diet, social pressures and environment, for example, we are more prone to irritations, typically in the form of skin issues, poor digestion, insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. Having a strong digestion (Agni) and good gut health is key to Ayurveda — something we are only just accepting now in the West. Creating good habits to fire up our digestive fire at the right times is the first point of action.
“As my commitment to this field grows, I grow more and more convinced that the new health rules are actually the old ones — 5,000 years old, in fact.”
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY FROM HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY TO YOU OWN PROJECT AND THE EAST BY WEST BOOK.
These are the basic principles that informed my lifestyle overhaul. In 2010 I became a food and wellbeing coach and a chef for private clients who were looking for something more to life than calorie-counting, calorie-burning workouts and fat-free meals. Using emerging new science combined with traditional wisdom, the Hemsley + Hemsley philosophy was born of a passion to distil the best health advice. As my commitment to this field grows, I grow more and more convinced that the new health rules are actually the old ones — 5,000 years old, in fact. As you’ll see from my love and appreciation of food in this cookbook, every meal is an opportunity to fortify your body and boost energy, but at the same time the food you eat is by no means the whole 360. Beyond food there are so many ways we can help our bodies and minds to find balance. If you’re stressed and not sleeping well, you will find it hard to digest and get the most out of even the most nutritious food.
HOW DO YOU IMPLEMENT A HOLISTIC HEALTHY LIFESTYLE INTO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE? WHAT ASPECTS ARE MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I aim to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day… although between international events and book tours, that can feel impossible, but I know it’s even critical at these times! If I don’t manage one of the sessions, I try to take a moment, catch my breath, close my eyes and reset. In fact, just thinking about meditation I can feel my nervous system start to calm. When I make meditation part of my daily life, it helps me to make clearer, more level-headed decisions and helps me to go with the flow during the trickier moments in life.
Yoga is also absolutely central to my wellbeing, without a doubt. I do the 12 classic yoga postures every morning – it’s a 10-15-minute practice I can’t talk myself out of and it compensates for sitting at laptops and powering around a busy city all day. Yoga also requires your undivided attention, so it’s a brain trainer and helps to calm your nervous system.
In terms of sustainable living, I’m well known for my thrifty secondhand shopping habit! I love to find furniture, paintings, vases and even clothing at London’s brilliant car boot sales. There is incredible treasure to be found if you’re only willing to take a look. Recycling and upcycling in my life is complemented by making conscious decisions to purchase more sustainable products both for myself and as gifts for others.
“This kind of [wellbeing-driven] choice has a growing impact on our awareness of ourselves, our loved ones, our immediate environment, people around the world and the planet. Although it might seem superficial and unnecessary for some people, it is actually a more meaningful and necessary approach.”
WHY DO YOU THINK SUSTAINABILITY IN FASHION IS IMPORTANT?
The world of fashion is changing for the better! A revolution is underway – we can no longer ignore that our planet’s resources are finite and are currently witnessing the true cost of our choices, as such we are now forced to assess our buying habits to move with this new awareness. Conscious and sustainable fashion is a statement and now we have choice, we can use our money to vote for fashion that does not harm the environment or the people creating our clothing whilst still following trends and supporting creativity. When it comes to doing our bit for the environment, nobody is perfect but it’s important we all try, in our own way, to do what we can. For me, sustainability in fashion doesn’t just mean buying from brands that have an ethical footprint but it also means, when purchasing items that don’t have these credentials, thinking about whether you really need that item or whether it’s just to get a ‘buyer’s high’. I love Livia Firth’s ’30 Wears’ initiative which is – ask yourself if you think you will wear something 30 times or more before buying something. If the answer is yes, then go ahead, if it’s no, then put that items back on the rack. I’m also a big thrifter – second-hand shopping is a great way to be environmentally friendly but is also cost effective so accessible to us all.
WHAT DIRECTION DO YOU SEE THE HEALTH AND WELLBEING SPEHRE OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY GOING? WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO DRIVE THE INDUSTRY, AND CONSUMERS, IN THAT DIRECTION?
In recent years, there has been a definite trend towards a more holistic approach to wellbeing — with a focus on disease prevention through lifestyle choices rather than just disease management or treatment. The point of today’s wellbeing approach is less about the healthy physical “ideals” and markers which initially drove the health industry, such as fitness, weight, body shape and calorie control, and more about people nourishing their mind and spirit as well as their body.
With this wider understanding of looking after ourselves, we can take more responsibility for our choices. As the wellbeing trend grows, our environment can support us with more natural and a wider selection available to us, making healthy, supportive choices easier in a busy modern world. This kind of choice has a growing impact on our awareness of ourselves, our loved ones, our immediate environment, people around the world and the planet. Although it might seem superficial and unnecessary for some people, it is actually a more meaningful and necessary approach.
As a holistic system for health and wellbeing that has been tried and tested for 5,000 years, Ayurveda is in a privileged position to help people achieve these new goals (which are actually a return to the old ones). With the rise of yoga and meditation practices, as well as a fashion for foods like “turmeric lattes” and “energy balls,” both inspired by traditional Ayurvedic recipes, the groundwork is already laid down for Ayurveda to take the West by storm — and it has so much to offer us.
LASTLY, WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE RECIPES FROM THE BOOK?
Goldenspoon – this was the cult hit at my pop-up café. It’s a bright yellow sweet turmeric paste with coconut oil, raw honey and the all-important black pepper to help absorb the benefits of the turmeric. You can spoon out and lick like a lollipop as a pick-me-up, or stir into your hot drink or porridge. Everyone loved it, including the slightly nervous businessmen who were game for trying it!