Lucia Vimercati Infuses Ayurveda and Yoga into Mediterranean Living

Lucia was 10 when she got introduced to Yoga by her physical education teacher, who was also a Yoga practitioner. Ever since then, Yoga remained with her in some form or the other. She started to practice Yoga only in 2004 and in 2012 Lucia left her job and started teaching Yoga full time. “I was going through a stressful situation at work. That is when I felt a call to go back to my practice in a serious way and explore more of what Yoga had to offer in addition to asanas. She found a small studio – Yoga Lila, where the teachers not only taught Yoga asanas but also brought attention to the benefits of meditation, mantra chanting and the study of sacred texts.

“I loved that so much that I was attending every class and workshop they offered and this prompted me to train and share all these practices myself.” Lucia eventually left her corporate career to become a Yoga teacher. She also started studying Vedic chanting with Shantala Sriramaiah of Veda Studies in Belgium. Lucia is now back in Italy, where she teaches online, due to the pandemic. Her courses include Hatha Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra and Hormone Yoga for Women – a dynamic asana sequence aimed at helping women with hormonal imbalances, especially those going through menopause. Along with her Yoga teaching, Lucia has also excelled the art of plant-based and Ayurvedic cooking.

You have been in a corporate career in the past and also taught Yoga to many office-going professionals. In your experience, how does Yoga help in balancing work and health?

I worked in the corporate world for over 30 years. My last job as Director of Sales and Marketing Southern Europe for an international hotel chain was very rewarding, but also very stressful. I was travelling most of my time. Multitasking and over-performing were considered the minimum standards. Yoga helped me to stay balanced, disciplined and healthy, both physically and mentally. Through Pranayama, I learnt to control my breath which not only helped me stay calm but also enhanced my focus. I could now use my voice more effectively and in a focused way when I had to give a speech in front of many people.

During my stay in Brussels, I also had the opportunity to teach the staff of one of the European Union departments during lunch time. In this short time period, I could mainly teach asanas. Despite that, I saw the difference in the students from the beginning to the end of the class: some students came in totally stressed or crunched from sitting all morning in front of a computer and after a moment of total silence or a few breathing awareness exercises, they would completely change their gaze and posture. I could feel that they were much more centered and focused. By the end of the class, they all had a sparkle in their eyes. For many, it was the only opportunity to discover and practice Yoga.

Many of them continue to practice with me online since I moved back to Italy. Stress is such a major cause of diseases and offering Yoga in the office not only contributes to the employees' physical and mental health, but also keeps them disciplined and focused, so there are tremendous benefits for corporate professionals if they practice Yoga.

What led to your interest in Ayurvedic cooking?

After we practice Yoga for some time, we naturally feel the need to change things in our lives. And food is one of them. Cooking had always been a passion and when I started to explore ways that I could make my food even healthier, Ayurveda was a natural choice as a sister science to Yoga. During my stay in Germany, I took a course on Ayurvedic cooking where I learnt the basics of an Ayurvedic diet with many recipes and how to better integrate spices in dishes.

What I mainly like about Ayurveda is that it is not a “one-size-fits-all” system. It’s tailored to each individual according to their constitution and health conditions and it can be adapted to local ingredients and seasonal patterns. If you don’t like an ingredient there are always plenty of others to obtain the same benefit.

How do you personally approach the idea of eating healthy and right?

We often hear “we are what we eat” but I would add “we should eat what we are” and harmonize our diets with the nature that surrounds us using local ingredients and according to the climate we are in. We are part of nature and we are made of the same substance of nature.  Food is a gift from nature for which we can only be grateful. Whether we are cooking for our family or for ourselves, we have an opportunity three times a day to bring ourselves in harmony with nature and improve our physical wellbeing.

What is outside (Macro-cosmos) is also inside us (Micro-cosmos) and in order to be well we should try to harmonize with nature. For example, if we live in a very cold climate, eating raw food will make our digestion worse as our Agni (digestive fire) will be impacted. Ayurveda mentions that some ingredients naturally have cooling or warming properties so people need to investigate that through research or consult with an Ayurveda therapist or doctor to know what is best for them. Similarly, eating a plant-based diet also gives us a chance to practice Ahimsa, non-harming, one of the Yamas (restraints) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

How does your course ‘Yoga in the Kitchen” and your two e-books titled ‘Yogalicious’ bring the above principles into practice?

I see many people wanting to improve the way they eat, but often have no idea how to do that. They think that eating a plant-based diet will be boring and tasteless. Or they would like to use alternative ingredients like tofu for instance, but don’t know how to cook it. Or they are not aware of the variety of vegetables, grains and beans that exists and keep using the same ingredients.

For this reason, knowing my passion for cooking and my studies in Ayurveda and Macrobiotics, the small studio where I was practicing and studying in Italy asked me to start this course. It was very much appreciated by students and some of them made their entire family change their diets and solved some of their health issues thanks to that.

My cooking is mainly a mix of Ayurveda, Macrobiotics, raw food principles applied to Mediterranean plant-based recipes. I like to work with different colors, shapes and textures but as I am terrible at arts, cooking is my own way to express my creativity.

My books are an extension of these principles applied to Mediterranean cuisine. I have worked with some of the traditional recipes making them plant-based and healthier. I try and recommend the use of ingredients that are organic, seasonal and local as much as possible. More importantly, my dishes contain no ingredients of animal origin, industrial products or sugar.

The reason why I write sugar here is, because of the increasing awareness of sugar as the main cause of many diseases–obesity, diabetes, heart and circulation problems, skin problems, hormonal disturbances and many others. Ayurveda prescribes that each meal should include 6 tastes (rasa), one of them is sweet. However, when they say sweet, they don’t mean sugar or any replacement for it (except for honey). They mean ingredients that are naturally sweet like rice for example. This is healthy sugar and it is okay to consume.

Do you have any particular favorite Ayurvedic preparation or ingredients?

One of my favourite ingredients is ginger, I put it everywhere….my tea, my smoothies, my juices, my vegetables and even my spaghetti! The other favourite is chickpeas, I love them as they are or blend as hummus or as flour to replace eggs in an omelet for example.

While Veganism is comparatively a recent trend, how does Ayurveda approach a non-dairy diet?

Milk is considered sattvic (pure) in Yoga and Ayurveda. However nowadays, especially in the West, cows are subject to intensive farming and are full of antibiotics. From this point of view, I don’t think cows’ milk can still be considered sattvic. I personally never digested dairy well, for this reason, I am very grateful for the possibility of using alternative products or making my own almond milk for example. On the other end, I have used ghee on the recommendation of my Ayurvedic doctor some time ago and it did not cause any problems at all.

My advice is “listen to your body”, if you feel that you don’t digest dairy or any other ingredient or it makes you feel bloated or not well, then stop using it and replace it with something else. After all Ayurveda claims that “we are what we digest”.

Are there many eat-outs and restaurants that offer plant-based and Ayurvedic meals in Italy?

There are more and more restaurants that offer exclusively plant-based menus or vegetarian/vegan alternatives to their clients. There are also quite a few organizations that train Ayurveda Therapists and offer Ayurvedic treatments, however, up to my knowledge, there are no purely Ayurvedic restaurants in Italy. I believe Ayurvedic food is still considered more as a niche for people who practice Yoga or for those interested in alternative treatments.

Based on your observations and practice of Yog Nidra, would you say there is a particular connection between food and sleep?

The way we eat influences the way we think and act. In addition to improving our immune system, it also impacts our nervous systems and therefore also our sleep and it affects our Yoga and meditation practices. Eating a Sattvic (pure) diet allows us to nourish our souls and, combined with the other Yoga practices, it allows us to evolve spiritually.

When we practice Yoga Nidra regularly and we are spiritually evolved we can enter a status that allows us to burn our samskaras (the impressions which affect Karma), our habits and tendencies, so that our whole personality can be improved. Being more relaxed and less anxious are the benefits accessible to almost everybody, but they are only the tip of the iceberg of a regular Yoga Nidra practice.

I am happy to share some of my recipes with you.