Intro to Ayurveda

What is Ayurveda?

It seems we’re hearing this term more and more. Is it something you should know about? Something you should also be into? 

We all want to be our best selves and find balance in our lives. That’s what Ayurveda is about.

We’ll get into the basic principles of Ayurveda below to give you a good, general understanding of this healing science.

A Pill or a Lifestyle Change

In Sanskrit, it means “The science of life.” It’s a holistic healing science that originated in India, traditionally passed down orally from masters to disciples. Then eventually, some of this knowledge was written down. Ayurveda’s emphasis is on prevention, whereas Western medicine is on treatment. Allopathic western medicine typically treats your symptoms and traditionally uses drugs and surgery to do this. 

Ayurveda will look at the signs and symptoms and try to find out the origin, the cause of the imbalance. Then the practitioner will look at eliminating or managing the cause of the imbalance, usually in the form of right thinking, diet, use of herbs, lifestyle changes, and possible bodywork. It looks to maintain balance in the mind, body, and consciousness. Therefore, disease and illness are seen as an imbalance in your constitution (explained later in this post). 

It should be said that Ayurveda is not a substitute for Western medicine. There are times when we need Western medicine, pharmaceuticals, and surgery to help us become well again. Ayurveda should be used with Western medicine. Ayurveda can help rebuild the body after being treated with drugs or surgery and to help lower someone’s chance of being afflicted with a disease.

Looking at Imbalances

If you read more into it, you might hear the terms “Prakruti” and “Vikruti.” Prakuti simply means your balanced state of mind, body, and spirit. Vikruti is your imbalanced state of being when disease might be present. We tend to think of people as their diseases or imbalances in the West. This person has back issues, depression, or suffers from the flu. People who practice Ayurveda tend to think of people as their constitutions. 

We all have times when we don’t feel well and feel out of balance. Sometimes, they’ll tell us nothing is wrong when we go to the doctor. They can’t find anything wrong with us. The Ayurvedic perspective will look for an imbalance that’s not yet a disease. If it’s noticeable enough to cause us discomfort, we can listen and help bring our bodies back into balance.

Your Constitution Is Like Your Fingerprint

Ayurveda is not a one size fits all and looks at you individually in the form of your constitution. Your constitution is your unique pattern of energy that’s a combination of your physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. The Ayurvedic Institute and the Ayurvedic Holistic Health Practitioner who I see, say that your constitution is determined at conception and remains the same throughout your life. 

There are three basic types of energy or functional principles in Ayurveda that are present in everyone, called doshas. All people have the qualities of each dosha: vata, pitta, and kapha. But one is usually primary, one secondary, and the third is usually least prominent. These doshas will make up your constitution, with 7 combinations or types of constitutions total. Each dosha has psychological, physical, energetic, and elemental characteristics associated with them. They also have diseases that are more likely to occur based on the element associated with that dosha.

You can discover your constitution by seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner, or you can take this quiz. It won’t be as accurate as seeing a Practitioner who can evaluate you properly. Still, it can help to give you a general idea.

Vata

Energy associated with movement. Composed of ether and air. Vata dominant people have a quick mind, flexibility, and creativity. They mentally grasp concepts quickly and then forget them just as quickly. They are usually not good planners. They tend to have less willpower, confidence, boldness, and tolerance for fluctuation. They are alert, restless, and active but are also easily fatigued. They often feel unstable and not grounded. A vata imbalance brings fear, nervousness, anxiety, and emptiness. 

Some attributes of vata are dry, light, cold, and rough. Any of those qualities in excess can cause imbalance. Some examples that could lead to an excess of these qualities are frequent traveling, especially by plane, loud noises, continual stimulation, drugs, sugar alcohol, exposure to cold in liquids, food, or the environment.  

They’re often attracted to astringent foods, such as salads and raw vegetables. But their constitution is balanced by warm, cooked foods and sweet, sour, and salty tastes. People with excessive vata generally respond most rapidly to warm, moist, slightly oily, and heavy foods. Steam baths, humidifiers, and moisture, in general, are helpful. Daily oil massage before a bath or shower is also recommended.

Vata types need more rest than others, so the recommendation is to go to bed by 10 pm. Routine is difficult but essential if vata is to be lowered and controlled. 

To sum it up, vata types should keep warm and calm. Avoid cold in general and cold, frozen, or raw foods. Eat warm foods and spices. Keep a regular routine. Get plenty of rest.

Pitta

Energy associated with the body’s metabolic system. Made of fire and water. Pitta types tend to be focused, driven, ambitious, hardworking, and insightful. They sweat easily, and their hands and feet stay warm. Pitta people have a lower tolerance for sunlight, heat, and hard physical work. Mentally, pitta types are alert and intelligent and are great at comprehension. However, they are easily agitated and aggressive and tend toward hate, anger, and jealousy when imbalanced. They can become hot and short-tempered. Pitta people like to be leaders and planners and seek material prosperity. 

Since the attributes of pitta are oily, hot, light, mobile, dispersing, and liquid, an excess of any of these qualities aggravates pitta. Summer is a time of heat, the pitta season. Sunburn, poison ivy, prickly heat, and short tempers are common. As the weather gets cooler, these pitta disorders tend to calm down.

They tend to love hot spices and cold drinks. However, their constitution is balanced by sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes. The diet and lifestyle changes emphasize coolness—cool foods, avoidance of chilies and spices, and cool climates. Avoid sour, salty, and spicy foods. People with excessive pitta need to exercise at the coolest part of the day.

To sum it up, pitta types should avoid excessive heat, oil, and steam. Limit salt and spicy foods. Eat cooling, raw foods. Exercise during cooler parts of the day.

Kapha

Energy that forms the body’s structure (bones, muscles, tendons). Formed from earth and water. Kapha types have strength, endurance, and stamina. In balance, they tend to have sweet, loving dispositions compassion and are stable and grounded. When balanced, kapha can bring contentment. Kapha people tend to be calm, tolerant, and forgiving. However, they may become lethargic. They may gain weight easily and have a slow metabolism. They tend to stay away from exercise. While they may be slow to comprehend, their long-term memory is excellent. When out of balance, kapha types tend to experience greed, envy, attachment, and possessiveness. In excess, they tend to have difficulty waking up and have depression. 

The attributes of kapha are cold, wet, heavy, dull, slow, and sticky. Staying away from food or lifestyle choices with these qualities and finding their opposite can help bring balance. In Ayurveda, they say, ‘like increases like,’ so winter time, rain, and ice cream are examples of what can increase kapha and create an imbalance in the form of weight gain, depression, lethargy, lack of motivation, or losing productivity.

Kapha types are attracted to sweet, salty, and oily foods. But, their constitutions are most balanced by bitter, astringent, and pungent tastes. They actually need foods that will invigorate their minds while limiting their overall food consumption.

To sum it up, kapha types need to keep active and get plenty of exercise. Avoid fatty, oily, and heavy foods (red and dark meat and dairy). Avoid iced food or drinks. Eat light and dry food. Try to vary your routine and stay away from daytime naps. (I’m a kapha and not napping on weekends is the hardest for me!)

The Big Picture

Ayurveda may not be for everyone, but we can all use their philosophy. Look to find balance in your life in all areas. If you start to feel off, see where you’re imbalanced. Once we pinpoint the imbalance, we can start to find harmony in our lives again. Before the imbalance manifests into something bigger.

“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.”

The Ayurvedic Institute has a wealth of knowledge, training, and an online store if you want to learn more.

All content and information on this website are for informational and educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider in the area of your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any health, medical, or other related lifestyle, changes, or decisions.

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