Ayurveda: The Tradition of Healing

Originating in India more than 5000 years ago, Ayurveda is the oldest system of healing. The name derives from two root words in Sanskrit (the ancient Indian language) - Ayus, which means life, and Veda, which translates as knowledge. Therefore we can understand this in English as Life Knowledge.

At the heart of Ayurveda is our connection to the elements, how they help us to achieve balance, both physically and spiritually. In all aspects of our lives, we can find balance through diet and exercise. 

 

An ‘easy way’ to look at this is to do all the obvious things, don’t eat processed food, don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t smoke, exercise and so on. Another ‘easy way’ is by connecting with your environment. Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables - mother nature makes it this way for a reason.

Look into yourself and ask how you feel today? As I write this, it’s wet, windy, and grey in London. I woke to feel a little confused by the season - yesterday we had glorious sunshine.  I’m preparing myself for the autumn while clinging on to the last moments of summer. Braving the rain, I took myself off to a yoga class. Funnily enough, my yoga teacher was feeling the same, and she began by discussing how the change in season is affecting her. How we must listen to ourselves, and feel out what we need. Today I needed to heat up. And so my yoga class was everything I needed; energetic and warming - we practiced a sun salutation sequence, giving me the nourishment I needed. 

 

Understanding Doshas: Your Body Constitution

We’re all born with three doshas (personal constitutions) that shape our body. Most people have a stronger primary dosha, a secondary dosha, and a third less prominent dosha. Through Ayurveda, we can bring all three doshas into balance. 

Vata = Air   |   Pitta = Fire   |   Kapha = Earth

For example, a person who is Pitta (their primary dosha is Pitta), would look to eat food and do exercise that has qualities of Vata and Kapha. Our doshas reflect the elements of Fire, Air, and Earth - so it’s not surprising that our food and environment affect each of these elements within us. Our bodies have the intelligence to understand. Some people enjoy spicy food, while the other can’t handle it. Some may thrive in cold weather, while others dislike it. By understanding your doshas, you can prepare meals that work with your body type - introduce food that increases your second and third dosha - bringing you into balance.

Find your Dosha

To find out what your primary dosha is. You can do our little checklist below. Check off each statement that applies to you from sections A, B & C. Then count the total for each. 

Section A 

  • Thin build and small-boned. Can be tall or short.
  • Prominent joints, don’t put on weight easily
  • Skin is dry, chaps easily, rough, cool, prominent veins
  • Hair is coarse and dry
  • Small, active, dark eyes
  • Lips are thin, dry, chap easily
  • Brittle, ridged or cracked nails
  • Little strength, tires easily
  • Variable appetite, can get very hungry
  • Very physically active
  • Bowel movements irregular, hard, dry
  • Mind is active, restless
  • Tendency toward fear or anxiety when under stress
  • Recent memory is good, long-term memory is poor
  • Light sleeper
  • Cold hands and feet, little perspiration
  • Dreams are fearful, flying, movement
  • Tendency towards constipation, anxiety, nervousness, poor sleep

Section B 

  • Medium build
  • Moderate body weight, may be athletic, muscular
  • Oily skin, warm, sensitive skin, reddish, inflamed
  • Hair is fine, oily, may have balding or premature greying
  • Medium, penetrating, light-sensitive eyes
  • Lips are soft, medium-sized
  • Soft and flexible nails
  • Medium strength
  • Strong appetite, irritable if you miss a meal or can’t eat when you’re hungry
  • Enjoys physical activity, especially competitive
  • Bowel movements easy and regular, soft, oily and loose
  • Mind is focused and sharp
  • Tend toward anger, frustration or irritability when under stress
  • Excellent memory
  • Usually sleeps well
  • Good circulation, perspires frequently
  • Dreams fiery, angry, violence, passionate
  • Tendency towards inflammation, high blood pressure, hypersensitive, aggression

Section C 

  • Thick, ample or stocky build. Larger bone-structure.
  • Overweight
  • Thick skin, cool, prone to acne
  • Thick hair, shiny, lustrous
  • Large, round eyes with thick eyelashes
  • Lips are large, smooth, full
  • Strong and thick nails
  • Strong, good endurance
  • Less active, sometimes lethargic
  • Bowel movements thick, oily, heavy, slow
  • Mind is calm and slow
  • Tendency to avoid situations that are difficult
  • Memory is slow but sustaining
  • Sound, heavy sleeper
  • Moderate perspiration
  • Dreams peaceful, romantic, water, ocean
  • Tendency towards respiratory congestion, water retention, lymph congestion, cystic acne, tiredness

If you selected mostly A’s  - Your Dosha is Vata - Element: Air

People born with Vata as their primary are energetic, creative - they are natural risk-takers. When someone has an excess of Vata or has Vata as their primary dosha - they can experience nervousness, anxiety, fear, fatigue, and at times depression. Other signs of a Vata imbalance -  include constipation, dryness, weight fluctuations, poor circulation, decreased sweating.

By following ayurvedic principles for reducing Vata and techniques such as meditation, breathwork and yoga can calm their anxiety, turn their fears into joy, and turn fatigued into energy.

Breathwork - Breathing to and from the abdomen helps to ground Vata.

Yoga - Morning sun salutation helps to balance all three doshas. Take 3 long inhale and exhale per posture focusing on alignment not perfection. Complete 6-10 repetitions.

Favourable Foods - Vata is a cold and dry dosha: nourishing foods with a fairly heavy texture are good for balancing Vata; use added butter and oils, especially sesame. Sweet, sour and salty tastes create a calming effect. For breakfast choose; warm milk and multi-grain cereal, hot cereals like porridge with stewed berries, rice flour crepes with baked fruit fillings. As we’re coming into autumn, lunch with a warming soup; carrot and ginger, clear vegetable, spiced pumpkin - remember to think seasonal. In the evening Urad Dal, soft and spicy eggplant curry, or spiced buttermilk curry. In the late afternoon make yourself a hot or herbal tea. We recommend using almond milk and a little honey or comfort yourself with a warming masala chai. 

Spices: Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, cloves, and garlic are all ok for Vata. 

Foods to Avoid - Cold foods such as salads, cool drinks, raw vegetables, and greens are not good for those where Vata is dominant. Avoid drinks with too much caffeine, sweets, and unripe fruits. 

Food Guide for Vata:

Vegetables (cooked): sweet potatoes, asparagus, beets, green beans, pumpkin, courgette, leeks, watercress & carrots.

Fruit (well ripened): apricot, avocado, bananas, berries, cherries, coconut, dates, figs, grapefruit, peaches, plums, rhubarb, & strawberries. 

Grains: oats, cooked, all rice, including brown rice, wheat, wild rice. 

Seeds: flax, sesame, pumpkin, & sunflower.

Legumes: uran dal, mung beans, masoor dal, soy cheese, soy milk, tofu

Nuts: walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, coconuts, pecans, pine nuts & pistachio.

Dairy: all dairy.

Sweeteners: barley malt sugar, gur, honey, maple syrup, & molasses. 

Oils: all oils, especially sesame.

If you selected mostly B’s - Your Dosha is Pitta - Element: Fire

People born with Pitta as their primary tend to be natural leaders, their meticulous, decisive, and take focused action. When someone has an excess of Pitta or has Pitta as their primary dosha - they can experience mood fluctuations, irritability, increased body temperature, restlessness, and impatience. Other physical signs of Pitta imbalance include broken capillaries, weight fluctuation, sweatiness, sleeplessness, and an overactive mind. 

By following Ayurvedic principles for reducing Pitta and techniques such as meditation, breathwork, and yoga can turn their irritability into focused action -  easing their temperature and mood. 

Breathwork - Breathing in and out of the rib cage, will give you a sense of empowerment, and is especially beneficial for Pitta. 

Yoga - Doing morning sun salutation help to balance all three doshas. The sun salutation helps Pitta feel calm and centered for the day. Take 1-2 to inhale and exhale per posture to expel excess fire and focus on inner strength. Complete 6-10 repetitions. 

Favourable Foods - Pitta is a hot and fiery dosha, so think cool or warm, instead of steaming hot. Sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes are ideal for cooling down your dosha and help bring you into balance. Take refreshing food in the hot months, for breakfast try fresh fruit salad with yogurt & flax seeds, milky buckwheat pancakes with banana, or multi-grain cereal with fresh berries. For lunch try refreshing salads, cooling soups such a spicy chickpea with coconut, or asparagus miso soup. Eating a cooling coconut curry or a balancing mung dal will help maintain balance. Vegetarian food is especially good for pittas, consuming meat can heat the body, due to the fat content. Herbal teas in the afternoon such liquorice or mint are great for balancing this dosha.

Foods to Avoid: use less butter and added fat. Avoid things like pickles, sour cream, and cheese. Use lemon juice instead of vinegar in salad dressings. Alcohol, as well as fermented foods. Oily, salty, and heavy fatty foods such as fried food. Hot spices and hot drinks. 

Food Guide for Pitta:

Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, lettuce, mushroom, courgette, leafy greens, sweet potatoes. 

Fruit: apples, apricots, avocados, berries, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, mango, melon, watermelon, & plums.

Grains: barley, oats, cooked, basmati rice, rice cakes, wheat, wheat bran, wheat granola. 

Seeds: psyllium, sunflower, & moderate pumpkin. 

Legumes: black beans, black-eyed peas, brown or green lentils, chana dal, chickpeas, kidney beans, soybeans, soy milk, & tofu. 

Nuts: avoid.

Dairy: unsalted butter, cheese, ghee, ice cream, & yogurt. 

Sweeteners: maple syrup, & barley malt sugar. 

Oils: avocado, coconut, olive, sesame, & sunflower. 

If you selected mostly C’s - Your Dosha is Kapha  - Element: Earth

 

People born with Kapha as their primary dosha tend to be affectionate and good-natured. They experience the least mood fluctuations of all the three doshas. When Kapha is out of balance, they feel sluggish, can suffer from addictions, possessiveness, over-sensitivity, and laziness. Physical symptoms include; excess weight, cellulite, lack of motivation, and puffiness.

By following ayurvedic principles for reducing Kapha and techniques such as meditation, breathwork, and yoga you can turn stagnant energy into activity, find freedom from attachments and addictions - and be creators of their own positive choices. 

Breathwork - Breath of Fire, Kapalabhati in Sanskrit - will energise and enliven the entire body, especially for Kapha.

Yoga - Morning sun salutation help to balance all three doshas, the sun salutation gives Kapha a wonderful kick-start to the day. Take one inhale, and one exhale per posture. Complete 6-10 repetitions. 

Favourable Foods - think warm, light & dry food. Kapha is best when eating lightly cooked or raw foods. Spicy food such as Mexican or Indian is perfect for igniting a little fire and balancing the dosha. Dry cooking methods such as baking, grilling or sautéing and use lots of spices; cumin, fenugreek, sesame seed, and turmeric. 

Foods to Avoid: sweet and fatty foods are a no go, you also need to watch your salt consumption, as it can lead to fluid retention. Try not to overeat, and make your main meal in the middle of the day. Only eat light or dry meals in the evening. 

Food Guide for Kapha:

Vegetables (Raw): raw vegetables., asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, fresh corn, aubergine, fenugreek, garlic, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, & spinach. 

Fruit: apples, apricots, berries, cherries, cranberries, figs, pears, pomegranates, prunes, & raisins. 

Grains: buckwheat, corn, oat bran, basmati rice. 

Seeds: flax, pumpkin, & sunflower. 

Legumes: black beans, chana dal, aduki beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas, tur dal, & white beans. 

Nuts: avoid.

Dairy: ghee, goats milk. Yogurt, diluted with water 1:4.

Sweeteners: Raw honey.

Oils: in very small amounts - almond, corn, & sunflower.

 

We hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about Ayurveda and the doshas. And perhaps have found some more insight into how to find balance within your own body.