The Basics of AyurvedaApr 19, 2022
We focus so much on physical health and wellness, and how to balance exercise and nutrition to support our health, that it is easy to forget the importance of the spiritual connection. We have many aspects of our being – including our mental and spiritual health – which influence our physical health.
The Ayurvedic tradition of health comes from the wisdom of the ancient Sages who recognized that true wellness relies on the delicately balanced connection between the body, mind and spirit.
The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit language, ayur for “life” and veda for “science” or “knowledge.” KNOWLEDGE OF LIFE
The goal of Ayurveda is to get to know who you are and recognize when you’re in an imbalanced state so you can function within your limitless potential.
Ayurveda is a whole-body system. It focuses on correcting imbalances and preventing illness. It treats all three parts of you: your mind, body, and soul. They each stand within one another’s support. If you have cohesion between the mind, body, and soul, everything that rests on top of that is in a place of unity and balance. That means that creating and maintaining balance requires harmonizing a person’s five senses with the five elements of nature (space, water, air, fire, earth).
You contain all five universal elements in different proportions within yourself. The elements found most prominently in you is determined by your “constitutional dosha”.
The single most important concept of Ayurveda revolves around creating and maintaining balance between an individual’s doshas. To understand what doshas are, it may be easiest to compare human beings to snowflakes (sounds silly, but stay with me). Science will tell you that while every snowflake is made up of the same universal elements, each individual flake has its own unique constitution that is based upon its shape and the varying levels of chemical compounds found within it.
In the same way, Ayurveda tells us that every person is similarly made up of five universal elements (space, air, fire, water and earth), but that each individual has their own unique constitution based upon shape, size, and the varying degrees of these elements.
The Three Doshas
The doshas represent the framework for your individualized “blueprint” and Ayurveda tells you that you can enjoy good health by focusing your attention on creating and maintaining balance between them. In Ayurveda, it is said that there are three doshas found within each of us, but that each individual will have their own unique dosha constitution that typically favors one or two primary doshas. As you will see, the three dosha types can be described by a wide range of characteristics, including primary elements, bodily responsibilities, body type, personality traits, and typical imbalance symptoms.
- Vata: The Vata dosha represents the elements of space and air. It controls bodily motion and has the characteristics of being dry, light, and cold. Individuals who are predominant Vata types typically are tall and slender. When in balance, a Vata is joyful, enthusiastic, and fun to be around. When the Vata dosha is out of balance, however, you may suffer from anxiety and depression.
- Pitta: The Pitta dosha represents the elements of fire and water and is considered to be hot and intense. It represents your internal fire and takes on the bodily responsibility of regulating your metabolic systems (digestion, body temperature, etc.). Predominant Pitta types tend to have a well-built medium-sized body and are assertive, confident, and competitive. When in balance, Pittas are typically good leaders who possess strong intellectual skills and a drive to succeed. When the Pitta dosha is out of balance, however, you can tend to ‘overheat’ and can become aggressive, angry, or demanding.
- Kapha: The Kapha dosha represents the universal elements of earth and water and is considered to be the most deliberate dosha. It is tasked with regulating growth in the body, moisturizing the skin, and maintaining a healthy immune system. The characteristics of the Kapha dosha are heavy, cold, and dull. Predominant Kapha types tend to be overweight and are known for having a caring disposition and being self-sufficient. When the Kapha dosha is out of balance, you can become depressed or suffer from physical ailments such as congestion, sinus headaches, or asthma.
It is important to remember that each of these three doshas is found within every person, but that each individual’s constitution typically favors one dosha over the others. Ayurvedic practitioners aim to promote balanced health by working with each patient to create and maintain an individualized harmony that is based upon the person’s dosha constitution.
Today, Ayurveda has become more popular in the west as a nourishing alternative medicine. Where western medicine is largely focused on intervention, Ayurvedic medicine is primarily focused on prevention. The goal of many western doctors is to treat their patients for illnesses with pharmaceutical drugs, which greatly differs from the aim of Ayurvedic practitioners who seek to create bodily harmony with natural remedies to prevent imbalances and illnesses from arising. Instead of looking at numerous patients being similarly affected by a particular disease or illness, Ayurvedic doctors prefer to look at each patient as a unique person that requires individualized attention.
Diet & Exercise
To promote a healthy internal balance, Ayurveda doctors say that you need to focus your attention on creating and maintaining a lifestyle that induces dosha equilibrium. There are a wide variety of behaviors that one can either begin to practice or stop practicing to help promote harmony amongst the doshas, and two of the most important activities that help create dosha balance are diet and exercise. Depending upon your dosha constitution, a number of different dietary and exercise routines may be prescribed.
There are a number of universal Ayurveda dietary principles, as well as dosha-specific dietary recommendations that can be used to promote healthy digestion and balance. Agni, which is probably the single most important Ayurveda dietary concept, describes your digestive fire. By eating the right type of foods, an individual can enjoy a strong agni, which means that they enjoy strong and healthy digestion. When agni is weak, however, an individual will suffer from unhealthy digestion which results in the production of toxins in the body. Ayurvedic practitioners tell us that regardless of an individual’s dosha, there are a number of important guidelines that we can follow to strengthen our agni:
- Eat the six recognized Ayurveda tastes at every meal (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent).
- Eat a colorful and flavorful diet that consists of freshly cooked foods.
- Eat your largest meal at lunch.
- Eat only until you are 3/4th full.
In addition to these guidelines, there are specific dietary recommendations for each of the three dosha types. Vatas benefit from warm, heavy, and oily foods such as soups, stews, and root vegetables. To keep the fiery pitta dosha in balance, an individual would want to eat cold, heavy, and dry foods such as salads, cold cereal, and lentils. If you are more of a Kapha type you are best off eating light and airy foods such as warm buckwheat, leafy greens, and sprouts.
Similar to dietary recommendations, there are a variety of physical fitness activities that can be beneficial for all three dosha types but also specific suggestions for vatas, pittas, and kaphas. Ayurvedic principles tell us that it is important to find physical fitness activities that stir excitement in us and leave us feeling invigorated when we are finished. The western fitness mentality of pushing yourself to the limit goes starkly against the Ayurveda mentality of finding activities that you thoroughly enjoy. Brisk walking, hiking, and yoga seem to be suitable exercises for all three dosha types, but there are also dosha specific activities that you may want to try. Vatas are known for having short burst of energy and typically respond well to activities such as biking, leisurely walking, and dancing. Pittas are known for having a strong desire to succeed and typically favor more challenging sports such as tennis or mountain biking. Lastly, it is important for kaphas, who tend to be lethargic, to find fitness activities that result in a sweat, and most types of aerobic activities help keep the Kapha dosha in balance.
Naturally Healing Practices
Beyond incorporating a dosha-specific diet and exercise routine into one’s life, there are a number of naturally healing Ayurveda practices that are recommended for everyone to follow. Within the past 20 years, many of these exercises have grown in popularity, in the western world.
- Meditation: Meditation is an important Ayurveda practice that is used to cleanse the mind. Since Ayurveda is largely based upon the concept of the mind-body connection, creating and maintaining good mental health is believed to be as important as promoting physical well-being.
- Neti Pot: The Neti Pot is a Ayurvedic tool that is used to cleanse an individual’s sinuses and nasal passages. You can breathe easier and combat allergies by using the Neti Pot to filter saline enhanced water through one nostril and out of the other.
- Tongue Scraper & Oil Pulling: In Ayurveda, it is believed that the health of an individual’s mouth tells a lot about their overall well-being. Ayurvedic practitioners tell us that by taking the time to cleanse the mouth that individuals can actually work to cleanse their entire body. A tongue scraper is an Ayurvedic tool that helps to remove toxins from the tongue and oil pulling is a practice that helps to kill harmful bacteria found within the mouth.
- Aromatherapy: Essential oils are widely used in various Ayurvedic practices to promote health and create internal balance. One way that essential oils are used is through the practice of aromatherapy. In the west, aromatherapy diffusers are now popular and can be used to induce particular mental states and help promote good internal and external health.
- Massages: There are a variety of daily and seasonal massages that are considered to be a vital part of any Ayurveda treatment program. By using essential oils to massage various parts of the body, you can promote physical well-being, nourish your bodily tissues, and overcome fatigue. It is recommended to regularly see an Ayurvedic professional for some massages, but there are also a number of massages therapies that can be practiced alone.