Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit words, “veda” meaning study, and “ayur”, which means life. So literally “ayurveda” means the study of life. The science of Ayurveda has been studied and practiced for millennia. Ayurveda is a holistic form of medicine that considers diet, lifestyle, and mindset all as integral parts of your health. It is based on the idea that we each have a unique constitution, or prakriti, from birth, and that constitution is influenced by our lifestyle, diet, emotions, and environmental factors.
Ayurvedic techniques aim to help balance each individual’s unique constitution. Ayurveda is not a “one size fits all” form of medicine; rather, what may be balancing and healthful for one person may cause illness in another. In Ayurveda, all things are considered to be made of five elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These five elements are the basis of the three doshas, which are important elements of one’s constitution. Here are some of the main characteristics of each dosha:
Vata is the dosha of movement; it is comprised primarily of air and space. Vata is seated in the colon and governs the movement of the pitta and kapha doshas. Those with a predominantly vata constitution tend to be creative, active, quick-thinking, and restless. When vata individuals are off balance, they may become nervous and anxious. They are prone to diseases such as arthritis, digestive issues, and insomnia. Today’s hectic, multi-tasking lifestyle tends to create vata imbalances. In order to keep the vata dosha harmonious, it’s very important to maintain calm and routine, practice mindfulness and meditation, and get sufficient rest. Soothing, nourishing, well-cooked foods also help to balance vata, as do nourishing oils, such as ghee (clarified butter).
Pitta is known as the fire dosha and is responsible for digestion and transformation. Comprised of fire and water, pitta is the force responsible for breaking things down into digestible components. Individuals with a predominantly pitta constitution tend to have good digestion, an athletic build and a strong metabolism. They also tend to be sharp-witted and good decision makers. Pitta is strongest in the summer. When the pitta dosha is exacerbated, it can lead to problems like excess stomach acid, anger, bleeding disorders, and skin rashes. Pitta is exacerbated by eating hot and spicy food, excessive sour, salty, and fried foods, and holding onto aggression or anger. Pittas can maintain balance by following an appropriate diet and taking measures to “cool off” on a daily basis, by taking walks in nature, practicing restorative yoga, and avoiding unnecessary time pressures.
Kapha is comprised of earth and water and represents stability. The qualities of the kapha dosha are cold, immobile, moist, heavy, soft, and cloudy. Individuals with a predominantly kapha constitution tend to be steadfast, reliable and slow to anger. They have a strong constitution with lustrous skin and hair and a large build. When out of balance they can gain weight easily and are prone to swelling, congestion, and excess mucous. Kapha individuals can maintain balance by eating light foods and avoiding sweet and oily foods, which exacerbate kapha. Regular exercise also helps to balance kapha. Kaphas do best rising early in the morning and avoiding sleeping in late.
Everyone has a combination of these three doshas in their constitution to varying degrees. By staying alert to potential imbalances in the doshas, we can work toward a longer, more balanced and healthier lifestyle. Yoga asanas also help to balance the doshas. Learn more about yoga asanas and how they can help you stay healthy and energetic here.