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While the foundations of modern medicine are based on physics, chemistry, botany, and zoology, the ancient practices of Ayurveda are based on the concepts of macrocosm and microcosm—the idea that there is a corresponding similarity in pattern, nature, or structure between human beings and the universe. These beliefs are what has given birth to the fundamental Ayurvedic practices that support our ability to live in wellness.
Daily Routine—The Dinacharya
First and foremost, having a daily routine is an Ayurvedic mainstay. These consistent practices help your body stay attuned to nature’s cycles to promote balance and well-being.
Often, we don’t know why we’re feeling imbalanced. Tracking your daily routine can provide you with information you can use to shine a spotlight on areas that need to be addressed.
For example, you might feel lethargic and spacey or your ability to focus and concentrate has diminished. You may feel gassy, bloated, or have acid reflux. While you may believe your diet consists mainly of nutritious foods, after tracking it for a couple of weeks you may find that improvements are needed. Perhaps you are not eating at consistent times of the day or have been skipping meals altogether—a recipe for anxiousness, attention deficit, lethargy, and digestive issues.
Here is a simple list of things to start tracking if you’re not feeling at your best:
TRACKING YOUR DAILY ROUTINE
- Rising time/quality of sleep (i.e., Did it take long to fall asleep? Was sleep interrupted?)
- Exercise activity/duration/time
- Bowel movements/how many per day/consistency/times
- Socializing/leisure and de-stressing activities
- Stress triggers and emotions that accompany them
- Bed time/how long it takes to fall asleep
Vata, Pitta, Kapha Psychophysiological Profiles
Vata, pitta, and kapha are energetic combinations of elements or “elemental energies.” When they become out of balance, they are known as doshas—which means “that which is out of balance.”
To bring the doshas into balance, we apply OPPOSITE qualities. Vata, pitta, and kapha each have elements, seasons, organs, circadian rhythms, tastes, and traits with which they are associated. Getting to know the “personalities” of the doshas will provide you with a foundation for understanding Ayurvedic principles.
VATA: THAT WHICH MOVES THINGS
Elements: space (ether) & air
Qualities: dry, light, cold, mobile, rough, subtle, erratic
Qualities that balance: stable, heavy, oily, liquid, hot, smooth, gross, unctuous/sticky
Organs: colon, bones, nervous system, ears
Typical digestion: variable (tends to alternate between constipation & diarrhea)
Balanced traits: exuberant, spontaneous, creative, fun to be around
Imbalanced traits: nervous, anxious, fearful, indecisive, depleted (of energy, money, time), constipation, dry skin, cracking joints
Tastes: bitter, astringent, pungent-due to the dry nature of pungency
Tastes that balance: sweet, sour, salty
Vata Balancing Lifestyle
- Vata benefits greatly from regularity and routine, setting boundaries, socializing and creating balance by making time for rest and quiet as well.
- Do not skip meals and drink plenty of room temp or warm water.
- Reduce/avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, as well as pungent, cold, bitter, astringent, dry foods.
- Eat more sweet, sour, salty food, make meals warm, moist, well cooked with the use of kindling spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom.
- Use plenty of good quality oils—ghee, avocado, walnut, macadamia, etc.
- Practice alternate nostril breathing, restorative, gentle or moderate yoga with emphasis on slow, steady movement, tai-chi, Qi-qong, walking in nature.
- Do mantra/japa meditation.
PITTA: THAT WHICH DIGESTS THINGS
Elements: fire & water (mainly fire)
Qualities: hot, sharp, oily, penetrating, mobile, liquid, spreading
Qualities that balance: dry, cool, subtle, slow, steady, dispersing, smooth, soft
Organs: small intestine, liver, gall bladder, spleen, skin
Typical digestion: sharp/strong (can tend toward loose bowel movements)
Balanced traits: perceptive, intelligent, goal oriented, passionate
Imbalanced traits: irritable, judgmental, aggressive, lacking in compassion-especially for one’s self, short tempered, overly driven
Tastes: pungent, sour, salty
Tastes that balance: sweet, bitter, astringent
Pitta Balancing Lifestyle
- Practice moderation in all activities as pitta tends to be intense.
- Make time for rest, relaxation, and meditation, and fun.
- Chill out, practice compassion for yourself and others.
- Drink plenty of room temperature water.
- Avoid pungent spices, salt, fermented, sour foods, fried foods, and reduce/avoid stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol.
- Eat more bitter, astringent, sweet foods.
- Keep cool, avoid saunas and hot baths/showers.
- Walk in nature, do non-competitive activities, swimming, hiking, moderate yoga, tai-chi, moon bathe, take easy walks at night, yoga practice should be moderate but interesting, practice lunar breathing—chandra bhedana.
KAPHA: THAT WHICH HOLDS THINGS TOGETHER
Elements: water & earth
Qualities: heavy, gross/solid, hard, cool, inert, wet, dull, sticky, soft
Qualities that balance: dry, light, mobile, hot, clear, subtle, spreading sharp
Organs: stomach, lungs, pancreas, head, chest
Typical digestion: slow/sluggish (may have bowel movements later in the morning or afternoon and can tend toward heavy well formed stools and mucous in stools)
Balanced Traits: sweet, trustworthy, intelligent, loyal
Imbalanced traits: overweight, apathetic, sedentary, depressed, greedy, attached
Tastes: sweet, sour, salty
Tastes that balance: bitter, astringent, pungent
Kapha Balancing Lifestyle
- Stay stimulated and be open to new experiences. Push towards your edge more!
- Drink moderate amounts of room temp water; drink more if you sweat a lot.
- Favor pungent, bitter, astringent foods.
- Reduce or avoid sweet, sour, salty foods.
- Drink ginger tea.
- Eating two meals a day instead of three is beneficial (lunch & dinner).
- Fasting one day per week may be appropriate—contraindications may apply, consult with your Ayurvedic Practitioner.
- Take saunas, get deep massages.
- Dry brush the body from bottom to top, towards the heart.
- Daily, strong aerobic exercise that promotes sweating is beneficial. Yoga practice can be vigorous. Practice kapalabhati breathing. Do walking meditation. Keep moving.
Sunrise, sunset, menstruation, and the hibernation of animals are examples of circadian rhythms. Our bodies and the universe have internal “clocks” that are set for different activities to be performed at different times of the day, week, month, and year.
However, modern technology and hectic lifestyles throw us off of our natural schedule. Studies have been done with people who said they were “night people.” When placed in an environment without computers, television, lights, and other technology, these people fell asleep naturally at sundown and rose naturally at sunrise.
The elemental energies of vata, pitta, and kapha have the following cycles.
VATA Vata is active between 2:00–6:00 am and 2:00–6:00 pm. We typically sleep between 2:00–6:00 am. 2:00–6:00 pm is the mind time, the time for study, work, or performing other mental tasks.
PITTA Pitta time is 10:00 am–2:00 pm and 10:00 pm–2:00 am. This is when the digestive fire (agni) is strongest, therefore the biggest meal should be eaten between 10:00 am–2:00 pm. From 10:00 pm–2:00 am, the body is doing its job of detoxifying and fat burning. We should not eat late to give our bodies a chance to fully digest our last meal before bed. Then, we can perform the task of detoxing and fat burning while sleeping.
KAPHA Kapha time is 6:00–10:00 pm and 6:00–10:00 am. Going to bed before 10:00 pm helps us fall asleep more easily and stay asleep, due to kapha’s heavy, still, stable qualities. Rising by 6:00 am, before kapha’s heavy qualities set in again, will provide us with the ability to rise with more lightness and energy.
Tips for Digestion
Honoring our digestive fire (agni) is one of the main tenets of Ayurveda. Whether or not we have good health is largely predicated upon the quality of our digestion—good health requires good digestion.
While these tips are simple, they should not be underestimated in their ability to support optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients. We know that long “to do” lists can be intimidating. Pick one or two suggestions at a time and become comfortable incorporating them into your lifestyle and then, keep going! 🙂
- Eat in a calm and settled environment.
- Never eat and run—allow several minutes after eating to relax or take a gentle walk.
- Eat foods appropriate for the current season.
- Sip warm water with lemon or lime throughout the day and with your meals, but do not drink too much while eating.
- Eat a slice of ginger with lime and a pinch of salt to enkindle digestion before a meal.
- Drink ginger tea with lemon or lime upon rising.
- Reduce or avoid coffee as it is very acidic, drying, and creates mucous in the intestines. Drinking coffee on an empty stomach activates the sympathetic nervous system, AKA fight or flight. This stress response creates anxiety and exhaustion. We get a brief energy boost and then, crash.
- Eat freshly cooked meals. Ayurveda recommends not eating food that is more than 24 hours old.
- Avoid canned food, frozen food, microwaved food.
- Chew your food well and be mindful of its tastes, smells, and textures.
- Focus on eating, not on conversation, TV, computer, reading, etc.
- Do not eat until you are full to the point of discomfort.
- Avoid cold food and drinks.
- Eat only when you feel hungry.
- Eat at a moderate pace.
- Allow a few hours between your last meal and bedtime.
- Do not snack in between meals. (Certain circumstances may call for eating between meals.)
- Eat your largest meal at mid-day.
- Give thanks before you eat.
Ayurvedic Body Rituals
These basic rituals are key factors in maintaining wellness. They balance the physical, mental, emotional, and energetic bodies.
The tongue is a great diagnostic tool. Gray, brown, or black coating on the tongue indicates vata imbalance. Yellow coating indicates pitta imbalance. White coating indicates kapha imbalance.
Locations on the tongue correspond to the organs. The left and right sides of the tongue in the front correspond to the lungs. Behind the lungs are the spleen on the left, liver on the right, and then, the kidneys behind the liver and spleen. The center front of the tongue corresponds to the heart. Behind the heart in consecutive succession are the stomach, pancreas, and intestines.
Tongue scraping can help release negative emotions. You can look at your tongue before you scrape it each morning to see what type of coating you have and where it is located. Consider documenting this in your daily routine log.
After brushing your teeth, using a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper, scrape your tongue from back to front 14 times. Then, rinse your mouth well.
Warm Oil Self-Massage (Abhyanga)
Abhyanga is a very necessary ritual with a multitude of benefits. It reduces anxiety, fatigue, depression and insomnia. It stimulates digestion, increases immunity, soothes the nervous system, and deeply moisturizes. DO NOT perform abhyanga during menstruation.
Oil is known as sneha. Sneha means love. When you practice abhyanga, you are practicing self love. Oil is the antidote to dryness. Dryness creates loneliness and separateness. Always use unrefined, organic oil when possible. Warm the oil in an oil warmer or submerge the bottle of oil in a container of hot water for a few minutes. Room temperature oil is acceptable in summer.
Apply oil to the body in long strokes, except for the joints. Apply oil in circular motions on the joints and use circular, clockwise motions on the abdomen.
Yes, apply oil to the face as well! Oiling the scalp is excellent too. If you need to shower after abhyanga, leave the oil on for at least 20 minutes before showering, but do not wash the oil off with soap!
Generally speaking, sesame oil (not toasted sesame oil) is used in winter (Beware, as it stains white clothes). In spring, you can continue with sesame or switch to a lighter oil, such as sunflower or jojoba. Or, dry brush the body instead of oiling. In summer, favor coconut oil.
Oil pulling kills harmful bacteria; some of which correspond to cardiovascular disease. So, oil pulling is good for the heart. It also improves the health of the gums, benefits the sinuses, freshens breath, and whitens teeth.
After brushing your teeth and scraping the tongue, swish up to a tablespoon of unrefined, organic sesame oil or coconut oil. Build up to 15 minutes of swishing per day. If you are pressed for time, get creative with your time management by doing it in the shower or while performing abhyanga, etc. One hour before breakfast is a good time for it.
Dry Brushing (Garshana)
Dry brushing the body benefits circulation, immunity, is anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, energizing, and calming. A body brush or garshana gloves can be used. Garshana gloves have the added benefit of alkalizing the blood. Dry brush the body in addition to abhyanga or as a substitute for abhyanga if your skin is feeling oily. Brush from the bottom of the body to the top. Starting at the feet, brush the bottom and tops of the feet, use long strokes on the limbs and stomach and circular strokes on the joints; always brushing toward the heart.
Nasal Irrigation (Jala Neti)
Benefits of jala neti: Clears the sinuses, relieves congestion, balances the nervous system, increases mental clarity and awareness. Improves allergies, asthma, headaches, colds. Because the nostrils are also the gateway to the mind, it is beneficial for anxiety, depression and other mental imbalances.
Wait one hour before or after eating to perform jala neti. Fill a neti pot with 1/4 teaspon of un-iodized salt and warm filtered water. Allow the salt to dissolve in the water. Turn your head to the side so that your nostrils are stacked parallel to the sink basin. If your head is tilted and not completely sideways, you are likely to experience water going down the throat. Begin slowly pouring the water into the RIGHT nostril. As you begin pouring into the right nostril, it will drain out of the left nostril. You can blow your nose gently to encourage the process if the water does not drain at first. Repeat again by refilling the pot with another 1/4 teaspoon un-iodized salt and warm, filtered water. Pour it into the LEFT nostril and allow it to come out of the right nostril. Lubricate the nostrils with unrefined, organic sesame oil afterwards.