Ayurvedic wellness is a time tested tradition that excels at guiding individuals toward greater well-being through lifestyle habits, individualized diet recommendations, and mind-body practices.
How to cultivate health and well-being in a busy, complicated world
These days health and well-being can be hard to come by. There is so much information out there about diet, exercise and lifestyle. You may wonder what diet you should be eating. Vegetarian, paleo, raw, vegan? Should you go gluten free? Should you cut out dairy? Caffeine? What is the best exercise for you? Yoga, pilates? Cross fit? Running? And what can you do to get better sleep, more energy and manage stress?
Ayurveda can help! In this post, I am going to give you an introduction to Ayurveda and the Ayurvedic dosha model, a time-tested model that can help you understand your own unique mind-body so you can make choices to optimize your wellness.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda means the “knowledge or wisdom of life.” Ayurveda is a holistic system of health and well-being that originated in the ancient Indian Vedic system of knowledge and is considered the sister sciences of yoga as it shares with yoga the goals of optimal physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Ayurveda offers a holistic lifestyle approach to health including lifestyle habits and guidelines, specific body practices, individual diet recommendations, and herbal remedies.
A central concept in Ayurveda is the tridoshic system. Health is considered to be the balance of three basic energetic forces or principles called doshas. When these doshas are in a normal state in terms of quality and quantity, there is a balance. When the quality or quantity of a particular dosha shifts, there is an imbalance.
In this post I give an overview of Ayurveda’s 3 dosha model. This knowledge can help you understand how to choose an appropriate diet, movement and lifestyle. Stepping into an understanding of Ayurveda allows you to align to your bio-rhythms and to the larger rhythm of nature.
When it comes to health, there is no one size fits all.
Each of us is unique. Our mind-body is unique. Not understanding your body and constitution can lead to suffering. When you don’t know how to eat, move and care for your unique mind-body, you may make choices that don’t serve your body-mind and can cause problems in the short and long term such as:
How I discovered Ayurveda
I’ve had a life- long interest in healthy living. I come from a family that engaged in regular exercise and a love of the outdoors. I have always loved to cook and became interested early on in whole foods cooking. In college, I worked at a vegetarian collectively run restaurant and in college, I also discovered yoga. Through yoga, I began to learn more and more about my unique body mind, and I began to discover my innate strengths and limitations. I became more and more curious about how to build a healthy life for myself.
Nearly twenty years ago I was on retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs and picked up the book Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra. It was in this book that I first was introduced to the ideas of Ayurveda. Chopra writes:
“Everywhere you look, your body is doing something unique with every molecule of air, water, and food you take in, guided by its innate tendencies. You have the choice to follow these tendencies or to modify them, but to recklessly oppose them is unnatural. In Ayurveda, living in tune with nature – easily comfortably and without strain – means respecting your uniqueness…
The Ayurvedic body type is a blueprint outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system….. By knowing your body type, an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities and medical therapies should help you and which might do no good and even cause harm.”
This was so intriguing to me that I devoured the book over the weekend I was there and I purchased my own copy of the book later. This was my own first intro into Ayurveda and it was compelling. And it was comforting. I could see through the lens of Ayurveda more clearly my innate physical, mental and emotional tendencies.
Through learning Ayurveda, I have learned to understand and respect my body-mind and to live in sync with it. Even though I had many healthy living habits such as a whole foods diet, regular exercise, yoga, and meditation, prior to adopting Ayurvedic guidelines and habits, I tended to suffer in my life from worry, anxiety, sleep issues, irregular or poor digestion and stress. With the Ayurvedic living principles, I now enjoy a diet, physical activity and a daily routine that are right for my constitution. As a result, I get deep rest, feel naturally exuberant, grounded and well nourished.
I’m excited to share the Ayurvedic body-mind constitution model with you.
5 Elements and 3 Doshas
According to Ayurveda, the entire universe is an interplay of the five elements - Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Ayurveda groups the five elements into three basic energetic forces or principles called doshas that are present in all bodies and in all things. The literal meaning of dosha is “fault” or “impurity”, but this idea is misleading. I believe doshas can be better understood as organizing principles or influences. When these doshas are in a normal state in terms of quality and quantity, there is a balance. When the quality or quantity of a particular dosha shifts, there is an imbalance.
The Three Doshas are:
The Doshas and their Attributes
Ayurveda describes 20 attributes or gunas that exist in our bodies and in the natural world. They are:
Vata: air + ether has the following attributes:
Pitta: fire + water has the following attributes:
Kapha: water + earth has the following attributes:
Doshas at a glance
Vata Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Vata is governed by the elements of air and space. Vata people are enthusiastic, mentally quick, alert, creative, flexible, and may speak quickly. Vata people tend to have lankier, slighter builds, and less stable joints. Vata eating patterns and digestion can tend to be irregular. When a vata person is out of balance, she may feel over-stimulated, ungrounded, restless, and suffer from anxiety and insomnia. Vata individuals are aggravated by dry, cold windy weather, overstimulation, travel, lack of routine, and too much change. Those with vata constitutions benefit from a consistent daily routine for rising, eating and sleeping, and need to focus on keeping warm and hydrated.
Pitta Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Pitta is governed by the elements of fire and water. Pitta people tend to be passionate and intense. They generally have medium, athletic builds, paler, ruddier complexions, and lighter-colored eyes. They exhibit strong precision, willfulness, focus, courage, articulate speech, and goal-oriented behavior. Pitta individuals have strong appetites, strong thirst, and generally have regular digestion. When out of balance, a pitta person will overwork, burning the candle at both ends. An out-of-balance pitta person will become aggravated, overly competitive, controlling, quarrelsome, intolerant, and enraged. Excess pitta manifests as inflammation, infection, and irritation.
Kapha Dosha Characteristics at a Glance:
Kapha is governed by the elements of water and earth, and tend to be calm, unruffled people by nature. Kapha individuals tend to have larger, stable body types, large, soft eyes, and slower metabolisms. When in balance, kapha people tend to be grounded, consistent, calm, romantic, devoted, and patient. When out of balance, kapha people can be stubborn and feel stuck and sluggish in body and mind, tend toward procrastination, weight gain and excessive sleep, and may become possessive, melancholy and depressed. Kapha is aggravated by cool and damp weather.
What constitutional types or dosha(s) seem to best fit who you are in general? Note: Most people exhibit more than one dosha with one dosha being more dominant.
Take my Ayurvedic Constitution Assessment
Download and print the PDF below to discover your Ayurvedic dosha
Whatever your age, yoga and Ayurveda are meant to enhance your wellbeing and help you live with ease and age gracefully. This winter's yoga series focuses on healthy aging, and one of the areas we focus on is: balance.
Physically and anatomically speaking, balance refers to our ability to maintain a stable position.
According to Baxter Bell in his book Yoga for Healthy Aging, our ability to balance is reliant on the health of various systems and factors in our body:
As we age, some of these systems may start to decline. Some of these changes are a fact of the aging process such as the fact that the functioning of our inner ears gradually declines as we age as does the vision for most older adults. As we age, muscle atrophy can cause loss of strength over time. Muscles and joints become stiffer with age which affects our range of motion. Wearing shoes over time can affect the sensitivity in our feet, making the feet stiffer, weaker, and less sensitive. A more sedentary lifestyle can lead to reduced proprioception over time.
Fortunately, a little bit of yoga every day or a few times a week can really help adults maintain and improve balance.
This is how yoga helps:
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Educator, certified health coach, educator and yoga instructor.
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