Dating back over 5000 years, Ayurveda is considered to be the most ancient medical science for body and mind. Ayurvedic medicine aims at preventing serious disease by overcoming unhealthy habits and cultivating a healthy lifestyle.
Ayurveda has developed unique dietary principles in accordance with a person’s body type (Vata, Pitta and Kapha) and the six tastes of food.
Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India. Although suppressed during years of foreign occupation, Ayurveda has been enjoying a major resurgence in both its native land and throughout the world. Tibetan medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine both have their roots in Ayurveda. Early Greek medicine also embraced many concepts originally described in the classical ayurvedic medical texts dating back thousands of years.
More than a mere system of treating illness, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life,Veda = science or knowledge). It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vital while realizing their full human potential. Providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses, Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
Recognizing that human beings are part of nature, Ayurveda describes three fundamental energies that govern our inner and outer environments: movement, transformation, and structure. Known in Sanskrit as Vata (Wind), Pitta (Fire), and Kapha (Earth), these primary forces are responsible for the characteristics of our mind and body. Each of us has a unique proportion of these three forces that shapes our nature. If Vata is dominant in our system, we tend to be thin, light, enthusiastic, energetic, and changeable. If Pitta predominates in our nature, we tend to be intense, intelligent, and goal-oriented and we have a strong appetite for life. When Kapha prevails, we tend to be easy-going, methodical, and nurturing. Although each of us has all three forces, most people have one or two elements that predominate.
For each element, there is a balanced and imbalance expression. When Vata is balanced, a person is lively and creative, but when there is too much movement in the system, a person tends to experience anxiety, insomnia, dry skin, constipation, and difficulty focusing. When Pitta is functioning in a balanced manner, a person is warm, friendly, disciplined, a good leader, and a good speaker. When Pitta is out of balance, a person tends to be compulsive and irritable and may suffer from indigestion or an inflammatory condition. When Kapha is balanced, a person is sweet, supportive, and stable but when Kapha is out of balance, a person may experience sluggishness, weight gain, and sinus congestion.
An important goal of Ayurveda is to identify a person’s ideal state of balance, determine where they are out of balance, and offer interventions using diet, herbs, aromatherapy, massage treatments, music, and meditation to reestablish balance.
The Three Doshas.
Have you ever wondered what actually accounts for differences in people? Why are some people hyperactive and fast moving, while others exude grace and stillness? Why can some people eat a five-course meal with ease, while others can barely finish a salad? Why are some people inherently joyous, while others carry the weight of the world on their shoulders? Modern genetics offers some insight, but what about the characteristics and idiosyncrasies that make every person unique? Ayurveda answers all of these questions with the Three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
The doshas are biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical and mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health and fulfillment.
The doshas derive from the Five Elements and their related properties. Vata is composed of Space and Air, Pitta of Fire and Water, and Kapha of Earth and Water.
A person with a predominantly Vata constitution will have physical and mental qualities that reflect the elemental qualities of Space and Air. That is why Vata types are commonly quick thinking, thin, and fast moving. A Pitta type, on the other hand, will have qualities reflective of Fire and Water, such as a fiery personality and oily skin. A Kapha type will typically have a solid bodily frame and calm temperament, reflecting the underlying elements of Earth and Water. While one dosha predominates in most individuals, a second dosha typically has a strong influence. This is referred to as a dual-doshic constitution.
The doshas are dynamic energies that constantly change in response to our actions, thoughts, emotions, the foods we eat, the seasons, and any other sensory inputs that feed our mind and body. When we live into the fulfillment of our individual natures, we naturally make lifestyle and dietary decisions that foster balance within our doshas. When we live against our intrinsic natures, we support unhealthy patterns that lead to physical and mental imbalances.
If the proportion of doshas in your current state is close to your birth constitution, then your health will be vibrant. A divergence between these states, however, indicates a state of imbalance. Vikruti is the term used to describe this imbalanced deviation away fromprakruti.
In total, there are three primary doshic states:
Balanced: All three doshas are present in their natural proportions; also referred to as “equilibrium.”
Increased: A particular dosha is present in a greater-than-normal proportion; also referred to as an “aggravated” or “excess state.”
Decreased: A particular dosha is present in a less-than-normal proportion; also referred to as a “reduced” or “depleted state.”
Of the three states, the increased or aggravated state leads to the greatest number of imbalances. Such imbalances can arise from any number of influences, including following a dosha-aggravating diet or, more generally, carrying too much stress in life. You can initiate a restoration of balance, however, when you begin to understand both your unique constitutional make-up and how to harmonize your internal environment and its needs with the external world.
We are most susceptible to imbalances related to our predominant dosha. If you’re a Pitta type, for example, you may experience heartburn (a common Pitta disorder) after eating spicy foods. The key to remember is that like increases like, while opposites create balance. By simply choosing cooling or more alkalizing foods, you can avoid heartburn, while also supporting your underlying make-up.
Ayurveda offers specifically tailored recommendations for every individual, ranging from general lifestyle changes to the treatment of dis-ease (literally, an imbalance within our natural state of “ease”). For this reason, Ayurveda can truly be called a system of individualized health care, something remarkably different from the Western model’s “one-pill for all” approach. Since the doshas are used to detect imbalances before the manifestation of dis-ease, Ayurveda is also a complete system of preventative medicine.
Vata derives from the elements of Space and Air and translates as “wind” or “that which moves things.” It is the energy of movement and the force governing all biological activity. Vata is often called the “King of the Doshas,” since it governs the body’s greater life force and gives motion to Pitta and Kapha.
Just as the wind in balance provides movement and expression to the natural world, the balanced Vata individual is active, creative, and gifted with a natural ability to express and communicate. When the wind in a Vata type rages like a hurricane, negative qualities quickly overshadow these positive attributes. Common signs of Vata imbalance include anxiety and bodily disorders related to dryness, such as dry skin and constipation.
The qualities of Vata are dry, rough, light, cold, subtle, and mobile. A Vata individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and an imbalanced state.
The main locations of Vata in the body are the colon, thighs, bones, joints, ears, skin, brain, and nerve tissues. Physiologically, Vata governs anything related to movement, such as breathing, talking, nerve impulses, movements in the muscles and tissues, circulation, assimilation of food, elimination, urination, and menstruation. Psychologically, Vata governs communication, creativity, flexibility, and quickness of thought.
Key Words to remember: Grounding, Warming, Routine
(Note: Many of the following suggestions will be explained in greater detail throughout the book.)
-Eat a Vata-balancing diet.
-Eat in a peaceful environment.
-Engage in wholesome and contemplative activities (like spending time in nature).
-Follow a regular daily routine.
-Go to bed early.
-Do gentle physical exercise like yoga, swimming, tai chi, or walking.
Ways Vata Becomes Imbalanced
-Eating Vata-aggravating foods
-Eating while anxious or depressed
-Eating on the run
-Drinking alcohol, coffee, or black tea
-Following an irregular daily routine
-Going to bed late at night
(Note: For more extensive information on all three doshas, please see Eat-Taste-Heal)
Pitta derives from the elements of Fire and Water and translates as “that which cooks.”
It is the energy of digestion and metabolism in the body that functions through carrier substances such as organic acids, hormones, enzymes, and bile. While Pitta is most closely related to the element of Fire, it is the liquid nature of these substances that accounts for the element of Water in Pitta’s make-up.
The qualities of Pitta are oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid, and acidic. A Pitta individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and imbalanced state.
The main locations of Pitta in the body are the small intestine, stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, blood, eyes, and sweat. Physiologically, Pitta provides the body with heat and energy through the breakdown of complex food molecules. It governs all processes related to conversion and transformation throughout the mind and body. Psychologically, Pitta governs joy, courage, willpower, anger, jealousy, and mental perception. It also provides the radiant light of the intellect.
When a person has a tendency to “overheat,” excess Pitta is usually the culprit. Just as a campfire may turn into a forest fire without proper care, the internal fire of the mind and body must be kept in check.
The balanced Pitta individual is blessed with a joyful disposition, a sharp intellect, and tremendous courage and drive. As the fire of the mind and body becomes unruly, however, the laughing Pitta quickly becomes the yelling Pitta. Anger, rage, and ego replace Pitta’s positive attributes, leaving an individual who is bitter with life and overbearing towards others. There is a saying that imbalanced Pitta individuals don’t go to hell; they simply create it wherever they go! Pitta imbalances commonly manifest in the body as infection, inflammation, rashes, ulcers, heartburn, and fever.
Ways to Balance Pitta
Key Words to Remember: Cooling, Calming, Moderation
-Eat a Pitta-balancing diet.
-Eat in a peaceful environment.
-Avoid artificial stimulants.
-Engage in calming activities, like spending time in nature.
-Do calming physical exercise, such as yoga, swimming, tai chi, or walking.
Ways Pitta Becomes Imbalanced
-Eating Pitta-aggravating food
-Eating while angry
-Drinking coffee, black tea, or alcohol
-Being overly competitive
Kapha derives from the elements of Earth and Water and translates as “that which sticks.” It is the energy of building and lubrication that provides the body with physical form, structure, and the smooth functioning of all its parts. Kapha can be thought of as the essential cement, glue, and lubrication of the body in one.
The qualities of Kapha are moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky, and static. A Kapha individual will display physical and mental characteristics that reflect these qualities in both a balanced and imbalanced state.
The main locations of Kapha in the body are the chest, throat, lungs, head, lymph, fatty tissue, connective tissue, ligaments, and tendons. Physiologically, Kapha moistens food, gives bulk to our tissues, lubricates joints, stores energy, and relates to cool bodily fluids such as water, mucous, and lymph. Psychologically, Kapha governs love, patience, forgiveness, greed, attachment, and mental inertia. With its earthly makeup, Kapha grounds Vata and Pitta and helps offset imbalances related to these doshas.
Just as a nourishing rainstorm may turn into a rampant flood, the fluids of the body may flood the bodily tissues, contributing to a heavy dampness that weighs down the body and clouds the mind. This dense, cold, and swampy environment becomes the breeding ground for a number of bodily disorders such as obesity, sinus congestion, and anything related to mucous. Mentally, the loving and calm disposition of the Kapha individual may transform into lethargy, attachment, and depression.
Ways to Balance Kapha
Key words to remember: Drying, Stimulating, and Expression
-Eat a Kapha-balancing diet.
-Eat in a loving environment.
-Avoid a luxurious, leisurely lifestyle
-Focus on non-attachment in daily life.
-Do emotional housekeeping regularly.
-Make time for introspective activities, like meditation and writing.
-Make a distinction between being nice and being taken advantage of.
-Go to bed early and rise early, with no daytime naps.
Ways Kapha Becomes Imbalanced
-Eating Kapha-aggravating food
-Eating to offset emotions (like indulging in sweets when depressed)
-Spending too much time in cool, damp climates
-Not engaging in physical activity
-Spending most of one’s time indoors (especially on the couch watching TV!)
-Avoiding intellectual challenges