Ayurveda is a holistic science of health, focusing on maintaining a physically and emotionally balanced state. Ayurveda began about 5,000 - 6,000 years ago when Indian monks were looking for new ways to be healthy. Revering their bodies like temples, the monks believed that preserving their health would help them meditate and develop spiritually. Over thousands of years of observations, they gathered all their conclusions and advice and preserved it for future generations. This collection of knowledge came to be known as the "science or knowledge of life" - Ayurveda.
How is Ayurveda different from modern medicine?
In Ayurveda, every individual is unique and there is no diet or lifestyle routine that works for everyone.
Prevention is key. Ayurveda focuses on providing specific advice and guidance on how to maintain physical and emotional health.
Food and lifestyle routines are considered the most important medicine. If you come to an Ayurvedic doctor with a complaint, you are more likely to leave with a recipe than with a prescription for pills.
How does Ayurveda work?
Ayurveda is based on the principles of three doshas. Doshas are the energies that make up every individual, which perform different physiological functions in the body:
The 3 Dosha types:
1. Vata Dosha -- Energy that controls bodily functions associated with motion, including blood circulation, breathing, blinking, and your heartbeat.
In balance: There is creativity and vitality.
Out of balance: Can produce fear and anxiety.
2. Pitta Dosha -- Energy that controls the body's metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition, and your body's temperature.
3. Kapha Dosha -- Energy that controls growth in the body. It supplies water to all body parts, moisturises the skin, and maintains the immune system.
Each person has all three Doshas, but usually one or two dominate. Various Dosha proportions determine one's physiological and personality traits, as well as general likes and dislikes. For example Vata types will prefer hot weather to cold and Kapha types are more likely to crave spicy foods than other types. Generally these are considered to be characteristics of each mind/body type:
Characteristics for Vata predominant types: Creative; Quick to learn and grasp new knowledge, but also quick to forget, Slender; Tall and a fast-walker; Tendency toward cold hands and feet, discomfort in cold climates; Excitable, lively, fun personality; Changeable moods; Irregular daily routine; High energy in short bursts; Tendency to tire easily and to overexert; Full of joy and enthusiasm when in balance; Responds to stress with fear, worry, and anxiety, especially when out of balance; Tendency to act on impulse; Often have racing, disjointed thoughts; Generally have dry skin and dry hair and don't perspire much.
Characteristics for Pitta Predominant Types: Medium physique, strong, well-built; Sharp mind, good concentration powers; Orderly, focused; Assertive, self-confident, and entrepreneurial at their best; Aggressive, demanding, pushy when out of balance; Competitive, enjoy challenges; Passionate and romantic; Strong digestion, strong appetite, get irritated if they have to miss or wait for a meal; When under stress, Pittas become irritated and angry; Skin fair or reddish, often with freckles; sunburns easily; Uncomfortable in sun or hot weather, heat makes them very tired; Perspire a lot; Good public speakers; Generally good management and leadership ability, but can become authoritarian; Subject to temper tantrums, impatience, and anger; Typical physical problems include rashes or inflammations of the skin, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, heartburn, acid stomach, insomnia, dry or burning eyes.
Characteristics for Kapha Predominant Types: Easygoing, relaxed, slow-paced; Affectionate and loving; Forgiving, compassionate, nonjudgmental nature; Stable and reliable; faithful; Physically strong and with a sturdy, heavier build; Have the most energy of all constitutions, but it is steady and enduring; Slow speech, reflecting a deliberate thought process; Slower to learn, but outstanding long-term memory; Soft hair and skin; tendency to have large "soft" eyes and a low, soft voice; Tend toward being overweight; may also suffer from sluggish digestion; Prone to depression; More self-sufficient; Gentle, and essentially undemanding approach to life; Excellent health, good immune system; Very calm; strive to maintain harmony and peace in their surroundings; Not easily upset and can be a point of stability for others; Tend to be possessive and hold on to things. Don't like cold, damp weather; Physical problems include colds and congestion, sinus headaches, respiratory problems including asthma, allergies, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
How do I determine my type?
Most books and websites on Ayurveda will offer questionnaires that can be used to determine your mind/body constitution. My favourite one is offered by Holistic Online, which is very detailed and thorough. Most questionnaires are very similar and will provide similar results. Please keep in mind that shorter questionnaires will give a more generalised and approximate result. Also, your body changes with age, seasons, and life situations so the results will change as well. Taking a few different questionnaires will give you a more definite result for your Dosha type.
I know my Dosha type, now what?
Now you should try to follow the diet and lifestyle routine that fits your mind/body constitution. For example, if you are predominantly Vata, you should include more cooked, warm foods, stay away from icy drinks, and add more warming spices like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger to your food. This will prevent any digestion issues that Vata types tend to get, as well, as anxiety, dry skin, or insomnia. Here are some general guidelines for each type:
General Health Tips for Vata Types: Maintain regular habits, try to eat and sleep at the same time every night. Get enough rest and choose foods that are warm, cooked, nourishing, and easy to digest. Sweet berries, fruits, small beans, rice, and all nuts and dairy products are good choices for Vata types. Exercise intensity should be moderate. A more meditative yoga, Tai chi, walking, and swimming are all good. Avoid strenuous and frantic activities.
General Health Tips for Pitta Types: It's important for Pittas to keep cool by avoiding overexposure to direct sunlight and fried and spicy foods. Avoid alcohol and tobacco, overworking, and overheating. When aggravated, susceptible to feeling negative emotions like hostility, hatred, intolerance, and jealousy. Choose fresh vegetables and fruits that are watery and sweet, especially cherries, mangoes, cucumbers, water melon, and avocado. Have lots of salads with dark greens such as arugula, dandelions, and kale. Avoid conflicts. Cultivate the virtues of honesty, morality, kindness, generosity, and self-control.
General Health Tips for Kapha Types: It's important to be active on a daily basis as Kapha types are prone to sluggishness, depression, and being overweight. Getting out of the house and actively seeking new experiences is also recommended. Be receptive to useful change, be intentional in implementing life-enhancing actions. Choose foods that are light, warm, and spicy. Tea with dried ginger and lemon is a great pick-me-up for Kaphas. Avoid heavy oily and processed sugars, which are detrimental to Kaphas. Use lots of spices such as black pepper, ginger, cumin, chilli and lots of bitter dark greens.