01 Sep Ayurveda 101: An Introduction to Ayurveda
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a comprehensive ancient healing modality stemming from the Vedic culture of India. It was first recorded nearly 5000 years ago by “rishis”, also known as the sages or seers who initially laid the foundations of the Vedic civilization in India.
The main source of this information comes from the Vedas, a large compilation of texts written in Sanskrit, containing a vast number of discussions on topics ranging from mantras, rituals, meditation, philosophy, spiritual knowledge anddifferent healing methodologies.
This information was originally an oral tradition, which was said to have first been passed down from what is described as “the Gods”, which passed on to sages, which was eventually written down and continued to be shared by many doctors and physicians over the past several thousand years.
Ayurveda literally means the science of life, as Ayur = life and Veda = science or knowledge. It combines physiology with intuition and takes into account our mind, body, and spirit when dealing with our physical health.
One of the main principles Ayurveda follows is that the mind and body are deeply interconnected, and one of the most powerful ways to transform the body is through the power of the conscious mind.
It speaks highly of the practice of meditation, and how we can truly begin to change the physical structure of our body through our mental focus.
For example, when we begin to relax and breathe deeply, we release endorphins in our brain like serotonin and dopamine. This physical release initially comes from a mental space, a concentration of thought; this is one of the ways Ayurveda embodies the concept of mind over matter.
Another principle of Ayurveda is to eat a colorful or rainbow diet which includes a wide range of foods and spices. To ensure a balanced diet, it recommends you try include the six tastes; these are sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent.
Depending on your dosha, there are specific tastes that are better suited for your body’s needs. In order to feed your unique body type the most optimal foods, you must first find out what your dosha is!
The 3 Doshas
According to Ayurveda, during the process when a thought becomes a physical manifestation, there are three governing agents called doshas. Dosha’s are the mind-body types, which create a unique blend of physical, emotional, and mental qualities of a person. It is also described as the energetic force behind the creation of physical matter which helps facilitate the communication between our mind and body.
Deepak Chopra describes them as the principles that “govern the flow of intelligence throughout the physiology.”
Each dosha has multiple physical qualities to it and governs different aspects of our bodily functions. These qualities are always in flux and can cause disruptions or disease when out of balance.
The three doshas in the Ayurvedic system are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each dosha is ruled by two of the five “master” elements: Earth, air, fire, water and ether. Depending on your body type, physical qualities, emotional reactions and how you navigate situations, these aspects will all dictate which qualities make up your predominant dosha.
Everyone has a bit of all three within their being, so it’s more about finding out the dosha that is most prominent within you. There are many different tests on the internet to help you determine which dosha you are; here’s a commonly used one if you want to find out.
Vata is the airy dosha, complimented by the element of ether. It holds the qualities of light, cold, dry, moving, quick and changeable.
This dosha governs physical movement in our body such as the vibration of our vocal cords when we speak, the flow of blood, the motion of our limbs, as well as the movement of our very thoughts.
The energy behind Vata is that which allows for inhalation, the circulation of all bodily fluids and the movement of our digestive system. It also governs speech, self expression and controls downward impulses like urination and elimination.
If your dosha is Vata, your predominant characteristic is change.
Physical Characteristics: As this Dosha’s essence is centered around the element of air, those with the prominent quality of Vata usually more thin, lanky or have a light frame of body. They have great agility, flexibility and high energy which comes in bursts, sometimes then followed by fatigue.
Typically, they have drier hair and skin, and can get cold hands and feet due to their skinny stature. They sleep lightly and can waken easily in the night.
Someone with this dosha may find themselves snacking on food throughout the day rather than having larger meals, with the need to take rests often. They are generally more delicate beings, with a desire to always feel warm no matter the temperature.
An out of balance Vata dosha can manifest things like weight loss, arthritis, weakness and digestive sensitivities.
Emotional Characteristics: Vatas are all about change. Something new is very exciting to them and they are always open to exploring different experiences. They are generally high in energy, and have a lot of creativity flowing through them.
When in balance, they can be the initiators of conversations and are quite lively. When out of balance they can be prone to stress, worry, anxiousness and tend to pull away from those around them.
Pitta is the fire dosha, complimented by the element of water. It governs bodily functions related to digestion and metabolism and holds the qualities of hot, intense, sharp, pungent and penetrating. Those who are predominantly pitta have a more intense and fiery nature to them.
Pitta governs the digestive system breaking down foods, helps the formation of red blood cells and aids in our visual perception. It also controls aspects of our emotions, memory, intelligence and the digestion of our thoughts.
Physical Characteristics: Pitta is generally more common in people. Those with a dosha of Pitta are medium size and weight, allowing for a wide range of people to be governed by this dosha.
They are known to have very good digestion which can lead them to believing that they can handle eating anything. They also have a warmer body temperature than those with the Vata dosha.
When in balance they can have a perfect complexion, great digestion, a large amount of energy and a healthy appetite.
If they are out of balance, Pittas may begin to produce skin rashes, have too much body heat, heartburn and indigestion.
Emotional Characteristics: Pittas are known for having a natural ability to concentrate for longer periods of time and draw information from a strong intellect. They are decision makers, leaders, teachers and the speakers of the world. They can be very direct and outspoken, using a keen precision and sharp wit to help navigate the world.
When out of balance they can become irritable and more argumentative, tending to get short-tempered when pushed to their limits.
Kapha is the water dosha, complimented by the element of Earth. It controls the body’s natural lubrication and it’s structure and physical strength. Kapha governs liquefying the foods for digestion and lubrication for the joints, heart and lungs. It provides strength to the chest, back and heart as well as creating emotional calmness and stability.
It holds the quality of slow, heavy, cold, solid, soft and steady.
Physical Characteristics: Those with a Kapha dosha have a stronger build, and are usually stockier and more heavy set. They are known for having great stamina, larger eyes and thicker hair.
When in balance they have regular digestion and are generally quite “smooth sailing” in their health. When out of balance, it is easier for them to gain weight, develop asthma and diabetes.
Emotional Characteristics: Kaphas are very calm, stable and loving creatures. They can be very emotionally balanced in their life and enjoy things easily. They have an inherent ability to get comfortable with routine and are generally very patient and supportive.
They are just like their element – water, being able to flow through life with relative ease.
When out of balance, the manifestation of too much Kapha can look like holding onto things that no longer serve them, becoming resistant to change and stubbornness.
We all have elements of each dosha within us. Most tests which determine what dosha you are will have a percentage, for example many people who are Vata might be something like 60% Vata and 40% Pitta.
It’s important to balance all of the dosha aspects within us, for they are all interconnected and work off one another. With this understanding, you can treat disruptions and disease in the body from the perspective of your dosha.
This Ayurvedic knowledge allows us to tap deeper into the real causes of the issue, and not just treat the symptom on the surface. Ultimately, Ayurveda recognizes the sheer power of the mind, and how it is the true root in which all diseases stem from. All physical manifestations initially stem from an etheric root, and it is in this transition from energy to matter that Ayurveda can help bring light to the cause of the problem before it keeps manifesting.
The Six Tastes
The Six Tastes, also known as the Six Rasas are another way to help keep your dosha in balance. Each individual taste either increases or decreases a certain dosha, and can help maintain a feeling of satisfaction while eating food.
Sweet: Decreases Vata/Pitta – Increases Kapha
The sweet taste is made up of Earth and water and helps to balance Vata and Pitta. It brings a grounding energy which is necessary when experiencing too much of the airy Vata dosha. When enjoyed in moderation, the sweet taste can help slow digestion and calm the body.
Some sweet foods include rice, dates and dried fruit, licorice root and different cereals.
Sour: Decreases Vata – Increases Pitta/Kapha
The sour taste is comprised of fire and water – the same elements that make up the Pitta dosha. Naturally, it stimulates saliva production and helps to create an appetite. When eaten in moderation, it can act as a jump start to the nervous system, helping us wake up and stay alert.
Sour foods are lemon, lime, vinegars and various pickles and fermented foods.
Salty: Decreases Vata – Increases Pitta/Kapha
The salty taste consists of Earth and fire. It is helpful for balancing Vata because it is grounding and hydrating. It’s easy to add to different foods as most meals have some added salt already. When eaten in moderation it can assist in stimulating digestion and creates a balance with our levels of electrolytes.
Salty foods include black olives, plants from the sea, tamari and himalayan, rock and sea salt.
Pungent: Increases Vata/Pitta – Decreases Kapha
The Pungent taste, also known as the spicy taste, is made up of fire and air. Naturally, they are the hottest of the foods and can drastically help increase appetite, digestion, clear sinuses and heighten the senses. This type of food can help you think more clearly when dealing with complex analytical matters.
The pungent taste can help balance Kapha but may aggravate Pitta if eaten without moderation. Vata handles this taste best in combination with the other tastes.
Some pungent foods include ginger, garlic, onion, cumin, hot peppers and mustard.
Bitter: Increases Vata – Decreases Pitta/Kapha
The bitter taste consists of air and ether and is known to be the most light of all the tastes. The food within this category are generally considered to be very detoxifying for both the body and mind. It is more beneficial for Pitta and Kapha, and less so for Vata.
Some bitter foods include raw green vegetables like kale, swiss chard and other dark leafy greens, as well as turmeric and most herbal teas.
Astringent: Increases Vata – Decreases Pitta/Kapha
The astringent taste is made up of air and Earth. It’s generally more cool, dry and firm foods, such as beans and legumes. When eaten out of moderation, these foods can cause gas and should be eaten carefully by Vata doshas. Pitta benefits most from this food and it’s light and cooling nature can help balance the warm energy of Kapha.
Some astringent foods are green grapes, cranberries, pomegranates, unripe bananas, green beans and okra.
With this understanding of the correlation between food, mind, body and spirit, we can begin to fully incorporate all of the various aspects of Ayurveda into our understanding of health. Through mindfulness, meditation, balanced eating and balanced emotions, we can come to a space of pure clarity and deep connection with our bodies.
From this place, tapping into the core of a physical problem will be much more intuitive and focuses on the reason for it’s existence in the first place, rather than the symptom of it.
Incorporating Ayurvedic methods of healing into your life can truly help balance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of your life and bring you to a space of centered connectivity to yourself.
Ultimately, Ayurveda is an absolutely massive body of information, and this is just the basics! If this knowledge interests you, continuing your exploration of Ayurveda will help you experience many profound benefits mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually!