The West has begun to discover the benefits of Ayurvedic medicine, one of the oldest medical systems in the world and the traditional system of medicine still in use in India. With the increasing number of Ayurvedic practitioners in the West and the ever-expanding range of Ayurvedic books in English, it is easy to apply some principles of Ayurveda into your daily life.
The Three Doshas
One of the ideas behind Ayurveda is that every human being contains the same energies or life forces as the universe. Health is the result of balance in the mind, the spirit and the body as well as harmony with the universe, illness results from lack of harmony.
Everyone has a unique constitution (prakriti), a combination of the three doshas, or energies/life forces: vata, pitta and kapha. In most people one or two doshas are usually dominant. The balance of the doshas is affected by lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep, stress) and the environment (such as the climate or the changing seasons).
Vata has the qualities of air and space. It is cool, mobile and dry, and it is responsible for the heart, for breathing, for the mind and for the discharge of waste from the body. Vata is related to the emotions of fear, nervousness and anxiety. Vata types (people who have a dominant vata) are often active physically and mentally. When balanced, vata types can be good thinkers, creative with a vivid imagination. When out of balance they can become anxious, worried or fearful. Vata types often forget to eat regular meals or get enough sleep, and insomnia is a typical vata condition. Staying up late can aggravate vata and so can certain foods, including “dry” foods.
Pitta is related to fire and its qualities are light and hot. It governs metabolism, digestion and the hormones. Pitta people can be intense, strong-willed, irritable, impatient but also motivated, quick learners and natural leaders. Pitta, when out of balance, can manifest as anger or a judgmental or irritable attitude. Pitta can be overstimulated by too much sun and spicy food, and pitta people are prone to digestive problems, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Kapha is the dosha of earth and water. Its qualities are heavy, moist, and stable. It is responsible for maintaining the immune system, moisturizing the skin and lubricating the joints. Kapha is related to feelings of love, forgiveness and attachment. Kapha people can be strong or athletic but they are also prone to weight gain. Kapha can be aggravated by sweet and salty foods and by sleeping too much (especially during the day). When in balance, Kapha people are compassionate and loyal. When out of balance they can be unmotivated, stubborn and jealous.
To understand more about Ayurveda in everyday life and for some meal ideas suitable for each dosha, Anjum’s Eat Right for Your Body Type: The Super-healthy Diet Inspired by Ayurveda is full of recipes and tips for applying the principles of Ayurveda into your daily lifestyle in the West.
A good introduction: Scott Blossom: Intro to Ayurveda on Yoga Journal