What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is the science of life. It provides us with practical ways of connecting ourselves with nature, and namely – to nature’s seasons, as well as the seasons of our lives. Ayurveda is known as yoga’s sister science, and has been the primary healing system of India for thousands and thousands of years. As a result of the breakdown of the health care system in the West, as well as yoga’s rapid emergence into the mainstream, the deep wisdom of Ayurveda is finally making a name for itself in the Western world.
Ayurveda was born in India, thousands of years ago, of the ancient wisdom tradition known as the Vedas. Along with Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, which roughly translates to “the wisdom of life,” is the oldest holistic healing modality known to man. Its essence lies in its belief that we are not separate from Mother Nature, and that when we align ourselves with her, we have the potential to experience profound health and longevity - in body, mind and spirit.
This timeless system of healing teaches us to tap into nature’s elemental wisdom where we can find health and happiness. In nature we have three primary growing seasons – winter, summer and spring. The three body types found in Ayurveda correlate to these three seasons. Ayurveda views the world through the perspective of these three constitutions, known in Ayurveda as doshas. These three doshas are: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
A winter body type is one that holds the qualities of winter – cold, dry, wind – these are the qualities of Vata, which are associated with the elements of space and air. People with a lot of vata tend to get cold easily. They may have dry skin, feel spacey or insecure - even restless and worried at times. Vata types have lots of energy and enthusiasm. They are highly creative people but their energy and creativity come in short, intense bursts, with the need to rest and recover on a regular basis. Vata is the constitution of movement and any activity in the body which requires motion. The nervous system is governed by vata, as are activities such as eating, thinking, elimination and menstruation. If any of these bodily functions are out of balance, most likely – vata is too. Vatas tend to be thin and lanky, with small and active eyes, thin hair, and dry skin.
Pitta is the dosha with all the characteristics of summer – heat, fire, and a predisposition to inflammation, aggravation and irritability. Pitta’s elements are fire and water, which work as alchemists of transformation. As such, pitta is responsible for all changes within the body. These types are known to have fiery aggressive and competitive personalities. They tend to have sharp and focused minds, with an intellectual and curious nature. Pittas are commonly muscular and athletic in their build, with bright eyes and an intense gaze.
Kapha is the dosha of spring, and rules water and earth. The spring time is a rainy, muddy, heavy, congested season, and as such, kaphas tend to be on the heavier side, prone to weight gain and lethargy. Kapha is the dosha that governs lubrication and structure within the body, while maintaining immunity. Kapha people have easy dispositions, and are much loved for their pleasant, calm, and mellow dispositions. Kaphas aren’t big on extreme sports or anything competitive in nature. They take their cues from the tortoise – slow and steady wins the race. When balanced, these types are content individuals, with full lips, lustrous eyes, thick hair and moist skin. They are deeply caring and loving personalities – tranquil, romantic and nurturing.
Everyone has a unique combination of the three doshas. Most people tend towards one or two. Prakriti is the term used to name a person’s individual constitution. Interestingly enough, we were all born with a prakriti, which is formed at the time of conception. Therefore, we don’t have to feel bad about the way we are, for we didn’t choose it, it’s simply what happened when all the elements came together during the time we were conceived. This is a fixed condition, and one that we get to work with as we learn more and more about Ayurveda.
Ayurveda to the Rescue – An Overview of Ayurvedic Solutions
One of the foundations of Ayurveda is eating naturally intelligent foods – organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, herbs and spices, and lassis, (a drink made with yogurt and fresh fruits). Ayurveda also teaches us that we need to eat with the seasons because nature provides us with just the right foods at any given time of year. According to Ayurveda, food is just as important as medicine, if not more so. If we eat the right seasonal foods for our dosha, we will experience less disease and greater vitality.
Herbs and Spices
Herbal medicine is an integral part of the Ayurvedic healing system. Herbs such as holy basil, triphala, ashwaganda, various herbal teas and other remedies are taken to support health and longevity as well as prevent and cure imbalances. One of the most beloved herbs within the pantheon of Ayurvedic medicine is turmeric. Every dosha can benefits from turmeric, as its healing properties are profound. Adding a bit of turmeric in our cooking can do wonders for the body and mind. We also learn to avoid “fad foods” and opt for those that have been around throughout the ages. This not only simplifies our life, it also simplifies the budget.
Yoga and Pranayama
Ayurveda makes use of the potent healing qualities of yoga asana and pranayama breathing techniques. Both yoga and pranayama can be implemented into one’s health regimen to benefit any dosha and can be tailored to fit a particular dosha’s needs given their age and stage in life. For example, a kapha body type needs to stay physically active every day to stay balanced. For them, a vigorous vinyasa yoga sequence is highly beneficial. If someone has too much vata and needs to calm their nerves, a pranayama technique known as nadi shodhana can help to restore balance to the nervous system.
Syncing Your Lifestyle to the Ayurvedic Clock
One of the best ways to stay healthy is to sync your lifestyle and activities to the Ayurvedic clock. Each dosha corresponds to a certain part of the day. Let’s start According to Ayurveda, from 6am to 10am, the Kapha element is strong. Because Kapha is heavy in nature, it needs physical activity to stay in balance. Therefore, we can all benefit by doing our daily exercise between 6am and 10am. From 10am to 2pm, Pitta takes center stage. At this time, the fires of digestion are burning bright. Eating our largest meal of the day during pitta time is smart for all doshas. From 2pm to 6pm is vata time. The nervous system is flowing freely as is mental acuity. Work which requires mental focus and creative production should be done during this time. From 6-10pm is Kapha time again. This means we should be feeling tired and begin winding down for bedtime, enjoying relaxing activities such as reading or taking a bath. Pitta reigns from 10pm-2am and is the best time to be sleeping, as detoxification and restoration is at its best. From 2am-6am, vata emerges again. Ideally we want to be sleeping soundly during this time and wake when the sun rises. Following the natural rhythms of the Ayurvedic clock is a simple solution for promoting balance and vitality for all doshas.