For British-Filipina wellness expert Jasmine Hemsley, the recipe for modern, holistic health includes ancient Ayurvedic wisdom and Filipino flavors.
Jasmine Hemsley has been on the road to well-being all her life. A chef, restaurateur, best-selling author, and TV personality, much of her health and wellness philosophies can be traced back to Eastern practices and her Filipino heritage.
The 43-year-old British-Filipina has only been to the Philippines twice in her life but you would never imagine it listening to her talk about Filipino food and culture. “We have such a big Filipino community in the UK because of my mom. We’d go to a barrio fiesta at least four times in the summer and you’d be in the Filipino world,” she says, adding that Filipino cooking and “Bahay Kubo” were part of her childhood. “I even used to dance Tinikling when I was young. I would say I grew up with quite a strong Filipino identity.”
Jasmine actually started out as a model. Her long days in front of a camera found her resorting to quick, easy, and cheap food. “I could really feel it impacting my skin, my moods, and my energy levels,” she shares. It was a physical and emotional state that she couldn’t hide from the camera. “I realized how important it was for me to have good sleep, sustained energy levels, and to be vibrant. So, I got really interested in food and cooking. I realized that when I cooked home food, I felt so much better.”
The physical benefits and outward manifestations of her healthy eating were so apparent that friends and colleagues began to ask her not only for tips but to actually cook for them. “I started to make kind of home-cooked, broth-y, soupy meals, like the meals of my childhood, the meals that made me feel really good,” Jasmine shares.
Together with her sister Melissa and long-time partner Nick Hopper, the trio became what Jasmine describes as an underground A-Team, sourcing food of good provenance and creating delicious, healthy meals. “Word spread. Before you know it, we started a little blog so that we could share some of this stuff with our friends and family. That got picked up by British Vogue and then it became TV, a café, books et cetera,” she shares. That initial interest in food and cooking to make herself feel better has evolved into a 20-year career.
Throughout those two decades, Jasmine’s focus on physical well-being naturally expanded to her own spiritual and mental health. She began to adopt practices that she would later recognize as part of Ayurveda. “I definitely think that my Filipino culture has made me very open to the ancient practices of these Eastern wisdoms,” she shares.
Jasmine’s yoga practice began to include meditation. She also began to understand the essential Ayurvedic concept of the agni, which is the body’s internal fire. “Your agni follows the agni of the elements, which is the sun. When the sun is at its highest, you’re at your peak digestive performance,” she explains. This developed to Jasmine following a Dinacharya, which is Sanskrit for daily activities. She describes it as, “a daily rhythm of health practices using the most suitable energies of the day to do certain things, such as eating at certain times when my digestion is at its best, waking early, and sleeping by 10pm.” It’s what we now commonly know as the Circadian Rhythm.
“It felt like the right time to start talking about these things, all the things that had an instant impact on me.” This translated to her cookbook, East by West.
The book does not only champion the Ayurvedic philosophy of eating to nourish, sustain, and repair the body. Jasmine’s third cookbook invariably continues to be influenced by the Filipino dishes that she grew up with and loves. Understanding Jasmine’s enjoyment and inherent talent for cooking, it comes as no shock at all to learn of her Kapampangan roots through her mother Vangie. Jasmine goes on effusively sharing her love for Filipino cooking, especially munggo, pinakbet, tinola, sinigang, and halo-halo.
“It’s funny how the things that I thought were weird growing up and things my friends didn’t eat, later on became part of my cookbooks,” she reflects. “To have beans as something sweet like in halo-halo or my mom making me eat ‘green ice cream,’ which was actually avocado with milk powder and sugar. In time, they became like a foundational recipe for making chocolate avocado mousse and black bean brownies. It was great to have that in my blood somewhere.”
Today, Jasmine leans on ancient Ayurvedic wisdom and eastern tools for her own overall wellbeing, living in a modern, western metropolis.
While following the Ayurvedic wisdom of the body’s agni to physically digest food, Jasmine explains how meditation, on the other hand, helps you process and digest all the experiences that come to you. “I think you become less reactive and a much more proactive person. And when you’re being proactive, you’re doing things from your higher self,” she says.
While being on the go is her natural state with the demands of her career and as a new mother of two, Jasmine shares how Ayurveda has helped her embrace her feminine energy, and allowed her to slow down, be present, and stay in the moment.
Jasmine jokingly says that she’s the only Filipina who can’t sing. Her innate Filipino talent with music is, instead, expressed through sound bathing, with Jasmine using sound bowls and singing bowls to literally create good vibrations. Unlike music that follows a rhythm that you can come to expect, sound bathing keeps one focused on the present.
“With a sound bath, it’s much more random. The idea is that it keeps you in the moment, playfully following along to the sounds coming in,” she says. “The sound is the mantra or your sound vehicle that transports you away from everyday distractions so you can spend time connecting to the peaceful stillness within, allowing you to rest and destress.”
While the sound waves interact with our own vibrations, it can resonate and enhance our own energy. “I started to do proper recordings that people can download for intention setting, for relaxation, focus, or sleep,” Jasmine says, explaining the sound bath recordings that can be found among the East by West tools on her website. For Jasmine, the thousands-year-old practice of Ayurveda is the manual of nature, of which she too is part of nature. Ayurveda, consequently, helps you understand how to flow with life, how everything affects you and how you, in turn, affect everything. Personal wellbeing is, therefore, inextricably connected to the wellbeing of the world around us.
She acknowledges that for some people, the principles of Ayurveda can seem far-fetched. But, as she herself continues to learn more, she realizes how similar many of its tenets are to the traditional teachings and indigenous practices she would hear from her mom and family back in Pampanga.
“I think what’s been the most impressive thing for me about Ayurveda is that I have a better understanding of myself.”