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Here’s a question for you before you proceed to read the rest of this article—would you rather fall ill, go through pain and discomfort, pop pills, undergo surgeries, etc., or would you rather take small practical steps and prevent illnesses from manifesting in your body-temple? Ayurveda has tools to support your health and help you gracefully—full of vitality and glow.
Much like our cars, homes, and gadgets that require regular cleanup and maintenance, our bodies and minds demand tuning up from time to time in order to stay fit, healthy, and vibrant. Good health ensures that you are productive, happy, able to work towards your goals, and still have the energy to socialize and spend quality time with your loved ones. But what is health?
Art of Living founder and spiritual leader, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, defines health more holistically as, “a disease-free body, quiver-free breath, stress-free mind, inhibition-free intellect, obsession-free memory, an ego that includes all, and soul which is free from sorrow.”
Ayurveda, which is a timeless body of knowledge for healing and wellness, offers a holistic, self-care approach to living a healthy life, in addition to regular check-ups with a physician. What makes Ayurveda appealing to those who care about their health is its emphasis on preventative healing. Ayurveda teaches it is more effective to deal with health problems that you may be predisposed to—even before these have manifested in the body temple.
According to Ayurveda, there are six stages of ill health,
- Accumulation of the doshas
- Aggravation or vitiation of the dosha
- Dissemination or spread of the dosha
- Localization when the vitiation spreads and localizes around another tissue away from its original location
- When the disease manifests in the body
- And finally, the stage when the disease turns chronic.
Like weeding, Ayurveda emphasizes clearing the flower bed before the weeds take over. The preventative Ayurvedic system of healing is built on the four pillars of food, lifestyle, rejuvenators, and supplements.
Ayurveda offers a time-tested and much more deeply evaluative tool in the form of Nadi Pariksha (pulse assessment) to examine a person’s health status, imbalances in doshas, or bioenergies, and diseases one is predisposed to. It is far deeper and more detailed in terms of its inferences than the technique used in western medicine. Skilled practitioners of Ayurveda use pulse assessment to determine which specific supplements, food, and lifestyle practices will restore the balance of doshas in an individual. This balance through Ayurveda can improve a person’s health, energy, and youthful vitality.
Ayurveda works on the principle of opposites. For example, to balance vata dosha, you are encouraged to eat the type of foods or adopt a lifestyle that is opposite in nature. For example, vata constitution can be dry and cold. So you balance these qualities by having foods and practices that are warm and nourishing.
What’s your Ayurvedic body type? Take the quiz here.
Unlike many other diets, the Ayurvedic diet provides personalized recommendations on which foods to eat and avoid based on your body type. This elaborate knowledge of the diet based on an individual’s dosha constitution takes into account not just physical health but also the vitality of the mind.
Vata, pitta, or kapha—no matter what your dosha is, the most important part is following the diet that is appropriate for you. A healthy person who knows his natural constitution will be able to follow a diet best suited for maintaining balance. A person in poor health can learn what sort of dietary changes will help restore this delicate balance.
What we eat goes to our stomach, which is like the root of our system. Like a tree, which derives its nutrients and energy from its root system, humans derive their nutrients and energy from what is put into the stomach. From our stomach, our entire body is nourished. As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Finding the right diet, based on our constitution, is the first and most important step in attaining a healthy lifestyle.
Your dosha determines which foods you should eat to promote inner balance. For example, the ideal diet for pitta dosha focuses on cooling, energizing foods and restrains the use of spices, nuts, and seeds. Meanwhile, the vata dosha favors warm, moist, and grounding foods while restricting dried fruits, bitter herbs, and raw veggies. Finally, the kapha dosha limits heavy foods like nuts, seeds, and oils in favor of fruits, veggies, and legumes.
Red meat, artificial sweeteners, and processed ingredients are limited / not advisable for all three doshas. Instead, the Ayurvedic diet encourages eating healthy wholesome foods. A diet that is aligned with the principles of Ayurveda keeps the body free of toxins and disease-free, nourishes it, keeps the digestive fire alive. It also helps in weight loss, increases stamina, and has a positive impact on the mind too.
Here is a brief guide to the foods recommended for each Dosha.
Since vata is defined by dry and cold qualities, the foods to balance vata must be warm, nourishing, moderately heavy, and unctuous. The foods can be salty, sweet, and soothing to one’s taste buds. Nut butters, warm milk, cream, stews, hot cereals, herbal teas, sweet fruits (not over-ripe), and freshly baked breads are all good for vata dosha.
Spices and Herbs
Vata people can have cinnamon, cumin, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and garlic. They must avoid bitter and astringent herbs and spices like parsley, thyme, or coriander seeds. Saffron and turmeric can be moderately used.
Foods to Avoid
Cold foods such as salads, icy drinks, raw vegetables and raw greens are not ideal for those with vata imbalance (i.e., where vata is dominant). Avoid drinks with too much caffeine, unripe fruits, and sugary candy since they disturb the Vata balance.
Food choices for pitta people can be cool or warm but not steaming hot. In terms of taste, they can be bitter, sweet and astringent. Teas like licorice root tea, chamomile or mint tea can pacify pitta dosha. Pitta people should stick to vegetarian diets as much as possible since meats can be pitta aggravating.
Spices and Herbs
For pittas, the use of spices, in general, should be kept to a minimum since they produce heat, which is already a pitta quality. They can have these spices in very small quantities- cilantro, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, dill, fennel, and mint.
Foods to Avoid
Pitta people can do with less fat, pickles, sour cream, vinegar or cheese. Also avoid alcohol-based, caffeinated drinks or fermented foods. Stay away from very oily, hot, heavy, or fried foods, egg yolk, hot spices, and nuts.
For kapha people, the foods should be warm, light, and on drier side. They can have lightly cooked meals and even raw fruits and vegetables. They can also have spicy foods, which can help balance excess kapha. They can also go for cooking methods that are dry like baking, grilling, etc against steaming.
Spices and Herbs
Kapha people can have sesame, ginger, fenugreek, cumin and turmeric.
Foods to Avoid
They need to stay away from sweets, salts and fatty foods, more than other arch types. They will do well by avoiding deep-fried foods, dairy, and refrigerated foods. They need to control the tendency to overeat.
Finding a recommended lifestyle routine is vital to maintaining balance and correcting disparity. After food, lifestyle comes as the most important way to stay in balance. A healthy lifestyle includes
- A healthy daily routine
- Waking and sleeping at regular times
- Regular exercise, according to your constitution
- Self-massage with suitable oils
- Centering yourself with a few minutes of stillness and meditation daily
- Light yoga
Dosha Specific Lifestyle
Ayurveda is unique because it prescribes personalized dosha-specific lifestyle practices. For example, it is generally known that running is a good activity, but it may not be the right fit for every dosha archetype. So it is important to know the lifestyle changes you need to make so it aligns with your dosha constitution.
Vata people need to plan their workouts during the Kapha hours, that is, 6:00–10:00 am and 6:00–10:00 pm. This is the time when the vata qualities of restlessness will get balanced out with earthier, calming and grounding qualities.
- Might be an ask, but vata archetypes should wake up between 3:00–6:00 am. Regardless of when you wake up, balancing vata, consistency, and routine is more important.
- Clean your tongue and mouth using oil pulling techniques.
- Have a warm glass of water. Warm water balances the drying quality and cleanses the digestive system, hydrates you and encourages a positive bowel movement since vata people can have issues of constipation or indigestion.
- Go for self-abhyanga, a deeply rejuvenating massage every morning. It calms the nervous system, oleates the body tissues and improves blood circulation. The use of vata pacifying oils can induce warmth, moisture, slight heaviness, balancing the excess vata dosha. Practices like oiling the nasal passages (nasya), shirobhyanga (head massage), foot massage can all be helpful in taming vata.
- You can practice yoga during kapha hours. Make sure the asanas or any activity that you choose is slow, gentle, and grounding.
- Among the pranayamas or deep breathing techniques, you can practice alternate nostril breathing and the bumble bee technique for balancing vata.
Managing pitta excesses involves having a pitta-balancing diet as a big part of managing pitta, apart from other lifestyle practices and tips.
- Slowing down: Pitta people need to pace themselves to avoid burnout.
- Adopt practices that help you delve deeper than just chasing some goals.
- Get more of the cooling moonlight and avoid the sun. Meditation in the evening can be ideal.
- Meditate daily for at least 20 minutes.
- Give yourself the gift of downtime. Create something, play or engage in something enjoyable and not goal-driven. In other words, lighten up!
- Manage the stress and heat with stress-relieving techniques like controlled breathing, Sudarshan kriya, and Ayurveda—including panchakarma therapies, abhyanga, Shirodhara, among others.
- For pittas, the form of workout they pick is very important. They should not be too intense or heat-producing. You can exercise when the atmosphere is cooler, perhaps during the Kapha hours.
- The pranayama practices for pitta can be shitali and sitkari pranayams.
Kapha folks need to work their bodies regularly and do so with commitment. Even intense forms of workouts can be done by Kapha people. This is the most powerful way to balance excess kapha. Kapha people tend to enjoy routine or repetitive work. So doing the opposite- being spontaneous and out of the box, can help manage kapha. Unlike Vata, they can change their routines from time to time.
Some lifestyle tips for the kapha archetype include,
- Move the body as much as you can.
- Avoid fried and heavy foods.
- Stay away from sugar and dairy products that can slow down metabolism.
- Keep changing your routine. Be dynamic.
- Avoid afternoon naps—at all costs!
Just when you think the science of Ayurveda has aced itself with this elaborate dosha-based knowledge of diet, you discover another vast component of Rasayana or herbal formulations that work as rejuvenators, being mentioned in Ayurvedic texts. Rasayanas are one of the eight clinical elements of Ayurveda.
Life is not just about living without illnesses it must also be full of vitality, rejuvenation, youth, and energy. And that is exactly what rasayanas, or rejuvenators, give you. Rejuvenators are not simply food, they are powerful solutions to problems that ail many of us in the form of lifestyle disorders. Concerning the many factors that upset balance and health, there are equally as many rejuvenators to combat these problems.
What rejuvenators do is improve the availability of vital fluids in the body by improving the quality of rasa. Rejuvenators help increase longevity, improve memory, improve the quality of blood, prevent illnesses, bring back youthfulness, bring luster, improve skin complexion, rejuvenate the body and organs, and produce overall brilliance. They are loaded with antioxidants that slow down aging.
Rejuvenators are usually recommended by Ayurveda practitioners when the body and mind enter the degenerative period of aging, around 45 years. The rejuvenators are of two kinds, one that generally boosts energy and improves immunity and overall health, and the other has more specific applications of staving off specific diseases or infections. Let’s see some of the popular rejuvenators below.
This metabolic turbocharger is named after an ancient Indian seer Rishi Chyawan, also meaning degenerative change. Prasham is a drug or medicine in Ayurveda. The story is that Chyawanprash was first prepared by twins-Ashwini Kumars, believed to be the royal physicians to Gods themselves. The preparation was made to make the aging Rishi Chyawan stay young and live longer. The meta-herbal formulation since then has been passed down for generations as a health tonic, commercially marketed since the 1950s.
In many Asian households, grandmothers insist their children and grandchildren finish off their dinners with a spoon of Chyawanprash. Children love it for the blast of flavors—sweet, slightly spicy and sour—in the mouth. Health AND taste? How rare! If you wanted a health tonic or supplement that gives you vitality, more energy, stamina, longevity, anti-inflammatory benefits, freedom from cough and cold, then Chyawanrpash’s blend of 40 odd herbs is your answer.
An herbal concoction that is a powerhouse of nutrition and immunity, Triphala has been in use for thousands of years, combining the healing powers of three super ingredients-gooseberries (amlaki), Black myrobalan (haritaki) and Beleric myrobalan (Bibhitaki).
Pancha Karma—or five actions—is the most sought-after five-part detoxification therapy in Ayurveda. In an effort to direct toxins (ama) into the gastrointestinal tract for elimination, an individual will experience these five Ayurvedic therapies, along with ingesting certain herbs. A common herbal formula used is Triphala. As the name suggests, the “tri” in triphala stands for the number three and “phala” means fruit. Here’s everything you need to know about triphala benefits.
This one regulates hormones and enhances immunity. It works on the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system. It is known to reduce ulcers too.
Rejuvenators for the Brain
Ayurveda mentions rejuvenative polyherbal formulations called rasayana that come with specific benefits to delay aging, and increase vitality. The herbs that specifically support brain and cognitive functions involving intellect, memory, learning, and neurological health are called Medhya Rasayana. Medhya connotes intellectual or mental vigor in Ayurveda. These herbs and herbal formulations help delay aging, support regeneration of neural tissues, reduce stress, have adaptogenic properties and improve memory and learning.
Read more about brain herbs like brahmi, mandukaparni, ashwagandha, among others, here.
There are many traditional Ayurvedic herbal supplements that are used in a variety of ways. They include spices in our food and herbs that promote detoxification of the body. Choosing the right herbal supplements is a matter of understanding both one’s constitution and one’s imbalance. Whether in need of detoxification or wanting to combat stress, lethargy, or poor digestion, Ayurveda has numerous herbal supplements to help promote longevity and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Some important natural supplements that you need in your diet every day include cumin, gooseberries, turmeric, licorice root, ashwagandha, and ginger.
This is an Ayurvedic spice that helps manage blood pressure; freshens your breath; helps heal stomach ulcers, among other benefits.
This one reduces inflammation; cools down the system; has anti-septic properties; helps heal digestive and skin-related conditions.
It boasts of curcumin that helps reduce inflammation; has anti-cancer properties; improves brain and heart health; is great for immunity, among other benefits. Here’s a turmeric-based vegan golden milk recipe that you must try!
This one lowers blood sugar levels; boosts insulin secretion; and reduces bad cholesterol.
This not just adds to the flavor but is a blessing for your digestive system; immunity; sugar levels and heart conditions.
Now that you’re familiar with the four pillars of of Ayurveda healing, these tools can be used with a knowledge of your nature to make choices that lead to greater balance and health.