The Knowledge of Life
Ayurveda, a natural system of healing wisdom, originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. This Sanskrit word Ayurveda translates as “the knowledge of life” (ayur means life, while veda means science or knowledge). Ayurvedic medicine is practiced widely today in modern India and now also extends its influence worldwide, including the practice of following an Ayurvedic diet.
As one of the oldest medicinal systems in history, Ayurvedic principles and foods work with the body’s innate intelligence in order to promote natural self-healing. Ayurvedic diets are customized depending on someone’s specific body type (or “constitution”), called a dosha. Because Ayurveda is based on rhythmic changes found in nature — including the rise and fall of the sun each day, the changing seasons, and the phases of life (birth, aging and death) — foods included in an Ayurvedic diet change throughout the year and can also fluctuate throughout someone’s lifetime.
In Ayurvedic medicine, health is defined as a state of equilibrium with one’s self (svasthya) and is also closely linked to one’s environment. While following a nutrient-dense, personalized diet is very important in Ayurvedic medicine, there are also other Ayurvedic lifestyle practices that help prevent disease and optimize well-being, both physically and mentally. Ayurveda is said to address the whole person — the body, mind and spirit — which means that diet, stress management, sleep, use of herbs and/or supplements and movement all come together to support overall health.
Today, Ayurvedic medicine is considered a type of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which means it can be used along with conventional “Western” medicine practices and/or also incorporate various other CAM treatments, such as use of homeopathy, massage, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and exercise.
What is the Ayurvedic Diet?
Ayurvedic diets are based on ancient medicinal practices that promote “holistic” balance in the physical body and mind in order to manage or treat various health problems.
Some of the main benefits associated with Ayurvedic diets include:
- Improved digestive and metabolic processes
- Improved heath of the gut/microbiome
- Weight management
- Enhanced detoxification
- Less anxiety and more inner calm
- Improved fertility and sexual/reproductive health
- Improved efficiency in the excretion process (help passing bowel movements)
- Improved functionality and range of motion due to decreased inflammation
What are the Ayurvedic body types?
According to the NIH’s National Center of Complementary and Integrative Health, “Ayurvedic medicine has several key foundations that pertain to health and disease. These concepts have to do with universal interconnectedness, the body’s constitution (prakriti), and the life forces (doshas).”
In Ayurveda, the three doshas are vata, pitta and kapha. The doshas correspond to different body types, tendencies, personality traits and nutritional needs. Each dosha is made up of five basic elements — ether (the upper regions of space), air, fire, water and earth — and each person has a unique combination of the three doshas that determines his or her physical and psychological characteristics. The goal of Ayurvedic practices, including following an appropriate Ayurvedic diet, is to prevent imbalances in the doshas. Imbalances can be due to any combination of an unhealthy lifestyle, nutrient deficiencies, too much or too little physical activity, chronic stress, seasonal fluctuations and toxin exposure.
What makes each Dosha unique
Vata — Tend to be thin, have smaller bones, not to put weight on easily and struggle with digestion. Known to be creative, open-minded, curious and energetic but also fearful, stressed and “scatter-brained” at times. Vata energy plays a role in essential functions, including mobility, motion, circulation and breathing. Vatas are susceptible to mental obstacles, including fear and grief, and health problems, like neurological disorders, insomnia, arthritis and heart disease.
Pitta — Tend to have a medium, athletic build and be versatile in terms of putting on weight or muscle. Pitta types are often smart, hard-working, ambitious/driven, competitive but angry and aggressive at times. Pitta energy plays a strong role in metabolic functions, digestion, absorption of nutrients, body temperature and energy expenditure. Pittas are considered vulnerable to problems like overexertion, hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases and digestive conditions.
Kapha — Tend to struggle with weight gain and have a bigger, solid build. Known to be grounded, supportive, loving and forgiving but lazy, insecure, envious and sad at times. Kapha energy plays a role in lubrication, fluid balance, nourishment, rest, relaxation, caring for others, reproduction and building strong immune system. Health problems that kapahas may deal with more often include diabetes, cancer, obesity, fluid retention and respiratory illnesses.
For more information on Ayurvedic food and recipes follow our blog or sign up to one of our retreats in September and October in Gorkana or Rishikesh.