Everything you need to know about ayurveda and more. Ever wonder about the oldest health practice in the world? The holistic health practice that is sister science to yoga? The practice that centers around how you interact with your environment and the energies around you? Read on!
I’ve briefly referenced ayurveda in a few Mindful Monday posts like this one and this one but I’ve never gone into depth about what ayurveda is and if it’s a practice worth following. If you’re at all interested in alternative medicine practices or holistic health, read on!
I learned (briefly) about ayurveda during my yoga teacher training. And I got the four-hour-short-and sweet-version so full disclosure, I am by no means a certified ayurvedic practitioner (which takes 650 hours!), but I’m happy to share what I learned from Larissa Carlson, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is considered the sister science to yoga – it stems from the vedas – ancient Indian texts that serve as the foundation of yoga. It originated in India over 5,000 years ago and is the oldest health-care system practice that’s still used today.
This preventative practice is centered around five elements – ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth, and focuses on living in harmony with the rhythms of nature, primarily through proper diet and lifestyle routines. This practice focuses on the energies that make up the universe and how we connect with them. It’s based on understanding one’s makeup and how the outer world and environment affect one’s daily life. The goal is to teach people how to attain optimal health through a deeper understanding of themselves and their own nature in relationship to the world around them.
If you’re thinking this sounds a little hippy, dippy, stay with me. Because yes, its foundation is a little yogi woo-woo, talking about energies of the universe and what not, but as you get deeper into the practice and its recommendations, you realize it makes a lot of sense.
I mentioned the practice is centered around those five elements so the idea is that each element has a different energy attached to it. We, as humans within this universe, are made up of all these energies but each person has slightly different proportions of the elements, making everyone unique in their constitutional makeup. These constitutions are called “doshas” in sanskrit and they are:
- Vata (made up of ether and air)
- Pitta (made up of fire and water)
- Kapha (made up of water and earth)
Now most ayurvedia practitioners will spend 60 minutes with you to get an accurate assessment of what your primary dosha is. However, if you’re curious about which dosha is your dominant, there are short questionnaires available online you can fill out to see how you stack up. The assessment is holistic, examining your physical build and lifestyle traits.
What are the differences between the doshas?
Vata: Composed of air and space, vata’s quality is dry, cold, light, rough, mobile, subtle and hard. This dosha controls any movement and communication in the body, including digestion, urination, menstruation, bowel movements, breathing, and the nervous system. Vata’s good constitution (when it’s not spoiled/deranged) is tall or short, lean bones, thin muscles, dainty facial characteristics, move fast, light on feet, talk fast, creative, social, always on the move, enthusiastic, energetic, and sensitive.
Pitta: Composed of fire and water, pitta’s qualities are hot, sharp, penetrating, oily, light, liquid and spreading. Pitta governs digestion and transformation: grey matter of the brain, small intestine, and body temperature of skin, epiphanies/transformations. Pitta’s constitution is medium-framed build, warm and oily skin, freckles, redness in complexion, bald easily, pink/red pointy tongue, sharp jaw, intense gaze or colorful eyes, naturally competitive, sharp, quick, witty, bright, concise speech, organized, multitasks well, manage and directs well, and gets work done.
Kapha: Composed of water and earth, kapha’s qualities are heavy, dull, cold, oily, smooth, dense, soft, sticky, thick, stable/steady. Kapha controls stability structure and lubrication: salivation, cerebrospinal fluid, mucus, memory, mood, stability, and stamina. When kapha is out of balance, it leads to a heaviness or excess in the body. Kapha good constitution (also known as prakriti) is big bones, thick muscles, cool and moist skin, low/booming voices, rounder faces, lush hair, big lips, smooth skin, good complexion, short/stubby fingers/toes, move and talk slowly, content, chill, kind, generous, giving, jolly, loving, caring, reliable, dependable and steady.
Not only is it good to understand your primary constitution, but it’s arguably more important to identify any imbalances in your doshas. Because this is where the work comes in. This is where the lifestyle recommendations stem from – the goal is to correct any imbalances.
How to Balance Your Doshas:
Vata: When vata is imbalanced/deranged/increased, you might lose weight, experience nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, fear, twitches or spasms, dry/chapped skin, constipation, gas, light/interrupted sleep, scattered thinking, excess thinking, and forgetfulness. Things that can derange vata include: travel, fast/intense exercise, lack of routine around sleeping and eating, listening to loud music, loss of job or relationship, trauma, abuse, multitasking, looking at your computer/phone. To decrease vata, you have to focus on routine and grounding.
- Enjoy foods that are sweet, sour and salty
- Choose foods that are wet and warm (think fall/winter foods like roasted root vegetables)
- Focus on warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, pepper and cumin.
- Drink warm or room temperature liquids
- Routine times for meals and sleep
- Enjoying meals in peaceful environments
- Avoid foods that are bitter, astringent or sweet
- Avoid cold, dry, and light foods (salads, popcorn, crackers)
- Avoid beans, alcohol, refined sugar, and caffeine
- Move at a gentle pace with awareness
- Implement a regular daily routine
- Gentle/calm exercise (yoga, tai chi, walking, swimming)
- Soothing music
Pitta: When pitta is increased/out of balance, you might feel hot, irritated, angry, critical, impatient, and experience loose stools, acid reflux, nausea or discomfort upon missing meals, excessive perfectionist tendencies, acute inflammation in body/joints, rashes, or cold sores. Things that can lead to deranged pitta include: too much multitasking, no time to cool down, irritating music, seeing violence in movies or on the news, being overly competitive. To decrease pitta, you have to focus on cooling the body:
- Focus on cooling herbs like cilantro, corriander, fennel and cardamom
- Eating cooling and refreshing foods like salads
- Focus on foods that are sweet, bitter, and astringent
- Have routine times for your meals and eat in a peaceful environment
- Enjoy surrendering rather than controlling
- Incorporate time for play and relaxation into your day
- Listening to soothing, calming music
- Moderate, non-competitive forms of exercise – avoid hot yoga or exercising during hot times of the day
- Try cool foot baths
- Practice active generosity like volunteering
- Avoid hot, spicy foods
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Kapha: When kapha is increased, you may experience increased mucus, congestion, thick/white coat on the tongue, slow bowel movements, water retention, puffiness, weight gain, difficulty rising in the morning, feeling slow/lethargic, easily attached, stubborn, complacent, sluggishness, foggy thinking, dullness in mind, depression, lack of motivation, and overly sentimental. To correct a kapha imbalance, you’ll focus on stimulation, exercise, warming, lightning and drying:
- Enjoy light, simple, dry and warm foods (lots of veggies and beans, quinoa, millet, light vegetable soups)
- Choose heating spices like chili and cayenne pepper
- Enjoy bitter, astringent, and pungent foods
- Minimal amount of oil in diet
- Room temperature and warm drinks
- Avoid cooling and heavy/oily foods (cake, cheese, nuts)
- Focus on an energetic routine, stimulating the mind and body daily
- Hot vigorous exercise routine with emphasis on cardio
- Keeping warm and dry
- Lively music and company
Wondering how I stack up? My primary dosha is vata-pitta. So I guess I’m a creative and a hard-worker :). Can you see how this practice makes sense even though its foundation is a little out there? It makes sense to me that when I’m feeling hot or critical or judgmental (pitta imbalance) that I should take steps to focus on cooling down whether that be eating cooling foods or listening to soothing music. And when I’m feeling lazy or sluggish (kapha imbalance), I should go take a hot yoga class to perk me up. And lastly, when I’m feeling scatter-brained and nervous (vata imbalance), I should practice some grounding, restorative yoga to center me. The recommendations for the imbalances seem very intuitive to me.
Tell me, what’s your primary dosha? Which dosha is out of balance for you? Do any of these recommendations strike a chord with you? What’s your overall thought on this practice? Are you buying it? Interested to learn more? Tell me below! I’d love to hear from you.