Ayurveda translates as “The Knowledge of Life and Longevity” in Sanskirt, but what exactly is it? How easy is it to bring bit of Ayurvedic medicine into your life? Is it another woo-woo wellbeing trend? I’d say no. Ayurveda is over 300 years old and aims to balance the delicate mind, body and spirit equilibrium. This system of well-being promotes good health as prevention, instead of fighting disease after the fact. Here are some of the Ayurveda basics to get you started.
First of the Ayurveda basics- practicing Ayurveda includes food, movement, hygiene and meditation. Each of these is specific to each individual’s mind-body type. Dosha’s in Ayurveda these mind-body types and are made up of six different elements- space, air, fire, water, earth. How these elements combine determine our balances and imbalances. Ayurvedic practitioners base what we should eat, how we should move and even includes lifestyle choices on these doshas!
For instance someone with a lot of the air element might be a little spacey and need to do grounding activities like earthing or just walking around barefoot. The combinations of elements are divided into three Doshas, here they are at a glance.
Ayurveda basics two- The Doshas, or ‘life energies’, are Vatta, Pitta and Kapha. These life energies influence how your mind and body works. It’s possible to have a different mind Dosha to a body Dosha. When we balance the doshas we function as our best selves. This makes sense from the persepctive that the spirit, mind and body are connected and when they are balanced, we become balanced. The basic Ayurvedic theory says that when these things are out of balance we can get sick. Things that affect this are our environment, our sleep cycles, our emotions, age, any injuries and seasonal changes too.
Vatta is a combination of ether (or space) and air, Pitta is fire and water, Kapha combines water and earth. I’ve put a link at the bottom of this article with a great online Dosha test by Sahara-Rose!
Vatta = Ether + Air.
Vata is said to represent movement, like the wind and space. Physicaly it’s someone with a typically lean body, cold hands and feet and who may have dry skin. Their joints might click and crack frequently because of gas or air in the body. When balanced they are energetic, a sign of inbalance is they might not have the easiest time digesting food and become prone to constipation.
If you’re a Vata mind type you are a dreamer, typically full of ideas and might multitask frequently. Vata minds are enthusiatic and alert but when imbalanced they become anxious and easily distracted. Things that disturb this balance are lack of sleep, grief, travel and an irregular daily routine. Vata should look towards grounding foods grown in the earth like root vegetables. Slower paced movement like Hatha yoga and walking in nature to keep them connected.
Pitta = Water + Fire
Pitta is said to represent transformation, as fire itself changes the states of objects it comes in contact with. Pitta bodies are typically of medium build, with a reddish complexion and good digestion. When they are balanced they are content with a steady mind, a sign of imbalance is a hot temper and irritability. Pitta mind types are competitive and might get worn out by overtalking, either by them or those around them.
Things that disturb this dosha are overheating, alcohol and caffine, hot and spicy foods. Fiery by nature, Pitta enjoy challenging gym classes to let off steam like HIIT, spinning, or even marathons but it’s important not to overheat. So yoga, swimming or being active near bodies of water are recommended. Staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and cooling down after activity with a swim or shower is advised. It’s said that they could even try cooling coconut oil for a message after exercise.
Kapha = Earth + Water
Kapha is said to represent cohesion, like how water and earth mix together smoothly. Physically, Kapha may have a tendancy towards heavier builds and easily become lethargic and congested. When they are balanced they are nuturing and calm, a sign of imbalance is depression. If you’re a Kapha mind type you’re patient and couragous, typically creative. Imbalanced Kapha minds may procastinate and need upliftment.
Things that disturb this dosha are lack of exercise or mental stimulation, over eating and over sleeping. The opposite of Kapha is lightness and movement, so learning new things, rigorous daily exercise and transcedental meditation are recommended for them.
Next on the Ayuvedic basics is food! Eating is big part of Ayurvedic lifestyle and the doshas help factor in what one should eat. It’s also one of the easiest ways to begin incorporating Ayurvedic into your life.
Vata is naturaly cool and light, so grounding, warm and oily foods will help any imbalances. Examples are things grown in the earth like root vegetables. Sweet, salty and sour foods, favouring cooked foods over raw. Vata should avoid light and dry foods like bread, popcorn, crisps, raw salads. Vegetables that cause gas (cruciforus veggies like brocolli, kale and cauliflower) should be taken in moderation.
Pitta is elementally hot and acidic it needs cooling, oily influences. For Pitas it’s best to have cooling foods without too many heating spices, opting to have fennel, turmeric and coriander and cardamom. Pitta should take time to eat a really big lunch, keeping other meals small. If you’re a Pitta try to reduce all nuts opting for sunflower seed, pumpkin seed and coconut when you can.
Kapha is earthy and cool with a stable and steady nature that’s balanced by lightness and heat. Kapha needs spices to heat it’s digestive fire, like ginger, in food that is warm, dry and astringent. Edamame beans are ok, but the processing of tofu is to be avoided. Leafy green are good for kapha but they should avoid heavy root vegetables. Eating large meals in the evening isn’t the best thing for a Kapha consituition.
This webpage is an amazing resource for eating for your Dosha, it’s just a general start though. Add seasonal changes to the basic Dosha dietary advice and things get even more interesting.
Current Research & Effiacy
Knowing a basic outline of Ayurveda is all good and well, but does it work?
Ayurveda is one of the few ancient medicinal developments that is still followed in modern times. It’s origins can be traced back to as far as 6000 BCE and most of this knowledge was passed down orally before being transcribed. Currently, Ayurveda is deemed a pysdoscience because of links to the metaphysical. Scientific results to back claims are still being worked on to add modern validity to these ancient practices.
India’s Ministry of AYUSH- or Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy- is currently researching all these areas. In Nepal, testing is underway on traditional medicinal herbs, many of which are used in Ayurveda. There is also research happening in Sri Lanka under their Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine.
Studies and trials have been done to investigate Ayurveda treatments in both cancer and cardiovascular disease patients. Most trials done so far have been criticised for the quality of research. There is evidence which supports that parts of Ayurveda can assist in relaxing patients but no concrete evidence shows the practice as a whole to be curative.
Many people vouch for Ayurveda being the lifestyle that heps them feel their best. A combination of eating to suit your body, intelligent hygiene practices, mindful movement and meditation that flows with the rhythm of the day just makes sense. Personally I enjoy living in a modern world and many of it’s benefits, the more the I learn from these ancient systems the more sense I can find in daily life.
Would you like to know more about Ayurvedic living? Let me know any questions you have or topics you’d like to delve into and I’ll get on writing and sharing about it.