Ayurveda is an ancient healing system that orginated in India. It can be traced back to pre-historic healing scripts (the Vedas) to somwhere between 3,000 – 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda talks about how to care and look after your body and how to maintain balance and great health. Ayurveda is still very widely practised and used today, with an ever growing popularity. Ayurveda is also the medical branch of yoga. It offers profound diet, herb, and lifestyle recommendations based on your individual constitution also called the ‘doshic-type’.
The beauty of Ayurveda is that it is not difficult to understand. I’m always baffled again and again as to how easily Ayurveda can help us understand most health conditions that modern medicine still struggles to find the answers to most of today. I am amazed how wise men and women clearly understood the energies of food and our bodies so clearly back then, and with so much ease and clarity. And to put it simply: with a good dollop of pure common sense. A common sense that is clearly lacking from our computerized & ‘one pill for every need’ society that we are living in today.
So I hear you, you ask, but how does it work then?
To put it simply: Ayurveda doesn’t look at us humans as one and the same, but recognizes that we are all individuals that have different body types, different needs, different metabolisms, and to put it simply: different kind of energies.
Ayurveda is based on the principles of the three doshas: Vata, Pitta & Kapha. Doshas are the energies that make up every one of us human beings, and are derived from the elements (air, ether, fire, water, earth).
To give you an example:
Imagine a very skinny, slightly bony looking man. Let’s say he has an erratic kind of temperament and a very creative mind. His hair is bolding and he is prone to dry and flaky skin conditions. Let’s call him our ‘mad professor’ type.
Then imagine a sweet middle-aged lady, she looks gorgeous with voluptious hair and full lips. She has nice rounded hips and a very ‘curvy’ body type. She has beautiful thick dark hair, her skin is slightly on the oily side, and she complaints often that she puts on weight so easily but struggles to loose it. We wouldn’t call her overweight but she’s definitely a well rounded, beautiful lady. Let’s call her our ‘earth mama’.
So simply by looking at these two very different body types, I guess you would agree that it seems obvious that both people would need a very different appoach to their diet, with foods to suits their differing body types, right?
Our skinny professor would probably be suited more to a heavier kind of diet, consisting of grounding root vegetables and potatoes, plus some oily foods would be ok here. As the poor guy is complaining about dry skin conditions (think of dry, what do you need: something oily to lubricate), healthy fats and oils such as avocados could be a winner here. We would probably also tell him to eat bigger meals at regular times in the day, as lets face it: he’s a mad professor with his head in the clouds and he probably forgets to eat most days (as he’s so busy coming up with the next ‘big thing’).
This light and airy energy that can get scattered sometimes and that is manifesting here in our ‘mad-professor’, is described in Ayurveda as the ‘Vata’ energy.
Now, to our earth mama, we would probably prescribe foods that are more ‘light’ in nature, slightly drying (opposite to oily), and some more ‘fiery’ foods and warming spices such as cayenne, cinnamon, ginger. The lighter foods will help her balance some of that heaviness, the dry foods will balance out the oily skin, and the spicy foods will help to kick start the digestive fire and get that slightly sluggish metabolism going for longer.
This loving, grounded, earthly mothering nature would be described by Ayurveda as the ‘Kapha’ energy.
Last but not least, there’s the ‘Pitta’ energy. Let’s describe our typical Pitta person like this: do you know that guy from the office that needs to have his lunch at 12 o’clock on the dot every day or they get cranky? The boss that often gets red-headed when he talks himself into a rage? The girl next to you that drinks three coffees in a row and talks really, really fast? Probably a ‘Pitta Person’. Pittas are fast thinkers, born communicators and often work in busy career jobs such as in sales.
Pittas are prone to inflammation, red skin conditions, and often have a fast (sometimes too fast) metabolism. We balance Pitta’s hot, fiery energy with cooling drinks such as Aloe Vera Juice and bitter foods such as lots of leafy greens and legumes.
So this was a VERY SIMPLE introduction to how Ayurveda & the doshas work .
Of course there’s more depths to it, once you start studying Ayurveda further, but the basic pricinple works indeed around looking at the energy of a food (hot, cold,dry, light, etc.) and matching these up with your predominant body type (dosha).
Its important to know that we all carry all three doshas in us, and that we are always a mix of all three, with one or two dosha’s being the most prominent ones. Therefor most people would be classsified as a Vata-Pitta, Pitta-Vata, or Pitta-Kapha etc. type, with the third dosha being the least dominant one.
Note: there’s always an exception to the rule! Some people have all three dosha’s in them in more or less equal proportions, rather than having one dosha as their predominant type. This is called being ‘tri-doshic’.
Here is a short summary of the three doshas and what you can do to balance them.
Can you recognise your type?
The Vata energy is that of the Air and the Ether (something that permeates space). Qualities of Vata are therefor: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear. These energies express themselves in the physical, mental and health sphere of a Vata person as follows.
Physical: Usually people with a slender frame, thin build, and often find it difficult to put on weight. They are often prone to dry skin and scalp conditions. Vata’s often have problem sleeping and are ‘light sleepers’. They have energy and like to be energetic, however this energy often comes in bursts and if not managed properly, Vata’s can fluctuate from lots of to very little energy. Overall they are athelctic and enjoy speed, motion and aerobic activity.
Mental: Vata’s types are quick to the mark, but their minds tend to wander.
Fear and anxiety are emotions that can come to often and too easily to Vata and thus they can be often prone to worry and anxiety. They often like to think of themselves as rebels.
Health Concerns: The light and windy energy of Vata tends to express itself in the digestive tract. If out of balance, constipation and bloating can manifest, such as are general aches, pains and inflammation.
General diet guidelines: To combat the cold, dry and airy nature of Vata, stick to freshly prepared cooked and warmed foods, rather than raw, unripe or cold foods. Avoid foods that are too spicy, bitter and astringent tastes, as these tastes can aggravate the light Vata nature even further. Instead favour sweet, sour and salty foods. Opt for hot beverages such as herbal tea rather than cold or aerated drinks.
Tastes to pacify Vata: sweet, sour, salty.
Optimal Balance: wonderfully creative and balanced enthusiasm is a great sign of the Vata dosha being in balance.
The Pitta energy is that of the Fire and Water. Qualities of Pitta are therefor: hot, sharp,light, liquid,spreading, and oily. These energies express themselves like this in the physical, mental and health sphere of a Pitta person as follows.
Physical: Pitta types have a strong constitution with an average height and build and develop muscles easily. Their weak spot is their skin, being prone to rashes, sensitive skin, reddening skin, or sometimes also acne, freckles or moles. More senstive to sunlight and heat, these types often grey or bald early. Pittas have very strong appetites, and get easily cranky when missing a meal. They usually don’t have troubles with weight gain but are prone to hyperacidity and heartburn. They sweat easily.
Mental: Pittas are intelligent, perceptive and like to communicate fast, yet they may often end up opinionated and judgmental. Competition is in their nature, and they are usually very goal oriented. Pittas are often found in managerial positions, and can have a tendency to be aggressive and dominating.
Health Concerns: Pittas are often prone to acidity, hypertension, inflammations, skin conditions and hormonal imbalances.
General diet guidelines: To cool down the hot, fiery nature of Pitta, use the sweet, bitter and astringent tastes, and cooling and refreshing foods (such as leafy greens, aloe vera juice, etc.). Avoid spicy and hot foods if possible.
Tastes to pacify Pitta: sweet, bitter, astringent
Optimal State: A self-confident personality without arrogance and an entrepreneurial spirit are a great sign of a balanced Pitta.
The Kapha energy is that of Water and Earth. Qualities of Kapha are therefor: Heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, cloudy (sticky). These energies express themselves in the physical, mental and health sphere of a Kapha person as follows:
Physical: Kapha types are usually strong builds with well-developed muscle and usually normal to short in stature. Kapha types hold onto energy better out of all the dosha’s and therefor usually have a larger, stronger frame and can often struggle with excess weight. Loosing weight is not as easy for Kapha’s as it is for Vata or Pitta and types. Complexion is fair and bright, usually great, radiant skin, small pores and lucious, thick hair that can be abundant and wavy. They sometimes have a slow but constant appetite.
Mental: Kapha’s are usually grounded, with a great capacity for love, devotion and loyalty, sometimes with a little emotional temperament. New things and subjects often stick better after a lot of repetition, but great mastery when they do.
Better at completing things but sometimes slow to start off. Kapha’s can be romantic and sentimental and are slow to change.
Health concerns: Kapha’s are prone to diseases that relate to excess weight and water retention including obesity, asthma, edema and congestive disorders.
General diet guidelines: To combat the heavy, slow and dense nature of Kapha types, favour foods and energies that are pungent, bitter and astringent. Warm freshly prepared foods are best, gently cooked, and a predominantly vegetarian or vegan diet is best suited for Kapah’s. Kapha’s should avoid the sweet, sour and salty tastes as much as possible.
Tastes to pacify Kapha: bitter, pungent, astringent.
Optimal State: A calm and caring nature, being sweet, loving and grounded, are great signs of a balanced Kapha.