Ayurveda is the Indian equivalent to natural or holistic medicine as we know it in the west and it is the sister science to Yoga. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word meaning the science of life. It is a traditional Indian health and lifestyle practice over 5000 years old, but is now appreciated all over the world. Ayurveda is strongly rooted in the idea that everything is composed of a combination of five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Human beings are included in this model and from that comes three types, or doshas, which each person is classified under. Dependant on your dosha, Ayurveda tells you what and when to eat, what kind of yoga to practice or activity to undertake, when and how much to sleep, among many other things, in order to keep your elements in balance, and your health and happiness in an optimal state.
People with dominant earth and fire elements are pitta, earth and water are kapha, air and ether are vata. Most people are not strictly one, but a combination of two, or even all three. Although an Ayurvedic doctor goes through an extensive testing and interview process to determine your dosha, there are a few general rules that can give you an idea of which you fall under. Please don’t use the following to “diagnose” yourself!
Pitta dominant people tend to be very active, energetic, ambitious and fiery in temperament. They have strong metabolism and large appetites, are very perceptive, aggressive and intelligent and are prone to feel anger, hatred, irritation and jealousy. Their bodies are of moderate build; their skin is soft and warm but prone to rashes and acne. Pitta people make good leaders and appreciate luxury.
Kapha people are generally stable and grounded and find themselves easily attached. Their bodies produce a lot of oil and their digestion is slow, often resulting in extra weight being carried. They are tolerant and forgiving in nature and they are able to easily acquire and accumulate what they need in life, but also tend to be possessive and even greedy. Kapha dominant people tend to be strong, happy and peaceful.
Vata governed people usually have light, underdeveloped bodies prone to impulsive, flighty movement and have fast respiration and heart rates. Their digestion and hunger are variable and they tend not to be or feel grounded, having restless minds, short memories and common forgetfulness. They often experience anxiety, fear and emptiness. Vata people earn money with ease, but also spend it with ease. They talk and walk quickly, but are easily fatigued.
As far as food goes, Pitta dominant people should avoid heating or spicy foods (salt, oil, alcohol, tomatoes, garlic, refined flour and sugar, corn, egg yolk, vinegar, nuts). Kapha people should eat less cooling foods (cold drinks, dairy, oils, nuts, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, cooked oats, rice, wheat, sweet and juicy veggies). One with too much Vata should try to avoid dry and high protein foods (dry fruit, raw veggies, potatoes, barley, dry oats, pork). Not following these guidelines (they are much more extensive than these few examples!) will result in an aggravated dosha, an imbalanced bodily make up and ultimately poor health.
Along with these eating and health guidelines, Ayurveda tells each person, depending on their dosha, when to sleep and on which side of the body, what kind of personal and mental hygiene to focus on, what sort of daily routine to follow and for all types, to practice yoga. Ayurveda holds that yogic exercises cleanse the body, mind and consciousness in order to remove toxins and disease causing energy. There is a very lengthy chart of recommendations for each dosha of which asanas and breathing techniques are best, but here are some of the main ones.
Pitta people should practice yoga with deep, even breathing. The best poses are shoulder stand, fish, locust, bow, boat, and headstand for not more than one minute. Kapha Yogis should practice headstand, forward and backward bends, plough, lion’s breath and breath of fire (Bhastrika) and cobra. The best asanas for Vata are child’s pose, corpse pose, lotus, tree, yoga mudra, half wheel and knees-to-chest, all with deep, quiet breathing.
What I have blogged about here is just the most basic of introductions. As mentioned before, we are all a combination of all doshas, not strictly one or two. Our basic constitution or nature (prakrti) does not change, but can fluctuate throughout the lifetime. The key is keeping the three doshas in balance. Following the food, daily routine, yoga and lifestyle guidelines can help you stay in balance and in optimal health, giving you increased vitality and longevity. For more information or a proper determination of your constitution, contact an Ayurvedic practitioner or to learn more, pick up one of many books on Ayurveda.