Ayurveda, the ancient Indian Science of Life, which dates back some 5,000 years, is a system of traditional medicine and a form of alternative medicine.
Ayurveda adopts the physics of the five elements which are said to comprise the universe, including the human body - they are space, air, fire, water and earth. Plasma, blood, flesh, fat, bone, marrow and semen or female reproductive tissues are held to be the seven primary constituent elements of the body. Ayurvedic literature deals elaborately with measures of healthful living during our entire lifespan and its various phases. Ayurvedic theory asserts that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion and proper excretion leads to vitality. Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga and meditation.
Ayurveda stresses a balance of three elemental energies or doshas:
- Vata (combination of space and air elements)
- Pitta (combination of fire and water elements)
- Kapha (combination of earth and water)
The combination of the three doshas that you are born with is your constitution and is usually a combination of the three doshas with one or two doshas being more predominant. In rare cases all three doshas are balanced. The constitution we are born with can be altered during our lifetime according to proper or improper lifestyle, sleep, work, diet, exercise, season, environment and time. We will focus on what brings your unique constitution into balance.
Vata" is an Ayurvedic term referring to the aggravation of the "wind element." The primary characteristic of "vata" imbalances is that the symptoms are quite changeable. Someone with a predominance of Vata generally moves swiftly, “like the wind”, and is quick thinking; they can be changeable, artistic, creative and intelligent. If ungrounded they can be spaced out, find difficulty settling down, become aggravated easily and have irregular digestion. Coldness is the second major attribute of vata derangement. People with coldness usually have poor circulation because the air element is not propelling the blood smoothly through the arteries. They tend to have cold hands and feet but may be generally cold and very sensitive to drafts and artificial air movement such as caused by fans and air conditioning. To balance Vata dosha a grounding practice is needed to come back to earth and slow down as well as fluid movements to bring flexibility into the joints and increase the water and fire elements.
Vata out of Balance:
- Worries, overactive mind, sleep problems, difficulty breathing
- Dry coughs, sore throats, earaches, general fatigue
- Slow or rapid digestion, gas, intestinal cramps, poor assimilation, weak tissues
- Intestinal cramps, menstrual problems, lower back pain, irregularity, diarrhea, constipation, gas
- Dry or rough skin, nervousness, shakiness, poor blood flow, stress-related problems
How to balance Vata:
- Warm temperatures
- Warm, cooked foods (less raw foods)
- Early bedtime, lots of rest
- Flavour warm, oily, heavy, sweet, sour, and salty tastes
- Reduce light, dry, cold, pungent, bitter and astringent foods
- Regular daily routine
- Avoid stimulants
- Regular, daily elimination
- Stay warm in cold, windy weather
Some ways to cool and invigorate the Vata person include:
- Yoga practice of Standing Postures which are grounding, strengthening and heating
- Draw the mind into the present moment with Balancing Postures
- Full yogic breath exercises, Relaxation and Self Enquiry Meditation practices to promote concentration, a sense of peace and tranquillity.
- Herbal remedy use of nervines to calm and balance the nervous system
Pitta is the element of fire and constitutional fire is responsible for digestion. It is availability of fire that determines the production of gastric juices. Someone with a predominance of Pitta will be looking to find the balance between the mind and the heart; they can be too fiery in their personality or too busy in the mind. Their yoga practice is a letting go of striving and ambition. Pitta people will benefit by going deeper into yoga postures through the breath (the air element) and developing patience to discover a stronger connection to themselves through both the space around them and the inner space. Pitta Dosha finds balance in a calming, cooling and grounding practice.
Pittta out of Balance:
- Blood shot eyes, poor vision
- Skin rashes, acne
- Demanding, perfectionistic, workaholic
- Acid stomach
- Early graying, anger, toxins in blood
How to balance Pitta:
- All Pitta products, drink Pitta Tea
- Keep cool. Avoid hot temperatures and food
- Flavour cool, heavy, dry, sweet, bitter and astringent foods
- Reduce pungent, sour, salty, warm, oily and light foods
- Moderation, don't overwork
- Allow for leisure time
- Regular mealtimes, especially at noon
Some ways to heat and invigorate the Pitta person include:
- Yoga practice of forward bends calm the mind
- Sun salutations performed slowly and consciously while connecting to the breath
- Balancing Postures to become grounded
- Full yogic breath exercises, particularly the cooling exercises
- Self Enquiry Meditation
In Ayurveda, kapha is the term used to describe an excess of the water and earth elements. These people have a tendency towards excess ama, a word that can be broadly interpreted to mean phlegm or mucus. Indians value the water type above all others because it is the most fertile and, all other things equal, has the best longevity. There is a fine line between enough water and excess water though. Hence someone with a predominance of Kapha moves slowly, gains weight easily and will need a more dynamic yoga practice to increase the fire and air elements. They benefit from working to their limits using their strong, solid bodies to open deeper into the postures and stimulate their metabolism. This will bring the feeling of lightness associated with the space element.
Kapha out of Balance:
- Sinus congestion, poor sense of smell
- Poor sense of taste, food cravings due to lack of fulfilment
- Impaired digestion, poor absorption
- Lethargy, respiratory problems, lower back pain
- Weight gain, oily skin, loose or painful joints
How to Balance Kapha:
- Drink Kapha Tea
- Vigorous regular exercise, a little each day
- Warm temperatures
- Fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes
- Flavour pungent, bitter, astringent, light, dry and warm foods
- Reduce heavy, oily, cold, sweet, sour and salty foods
- Seek out variety and new experiences
- Stay warm in cold, damp weather
Some ways to heat and invigorate the Kapha person include:
- Practicing Sun salutations in harmony with the breath will increase the fire and raise energy levels.
- Standing postures such as triangle pose extend and stimulate the flow prana through the body.
- Backbends postures are beneficial as they are energizing.
- Inverted postures are beneficial as they are warming and stimulating for the circulation.
- Certain advanced breathing techniques practices that energise, cleanse and balance, stimulate the metabolism and wash away impurities, increasing the digestive fire and metabolism.
- Self Enquiry Meditation.
The practice which will balance you is usually the one that you will find most challenging. It is not in the Kapha’s nature to move energetically but if they can be motivated to do so will feel light and energised. It is not Vata’s nature to move slowly but the grounding practice will bring them back to earth. It is not in the Pitta’s nature to be calm and inwardly focused but cooling and calming practice will restore a sense of equanimity. Meditation is recommended for all Doshas – Meditation happens if practiced daily and is an ultimate source of insight and balance in life.