If you haven’t heard of Ayurveda yet, fear not!
For some reason I feel it’s only a matter of time before this holistic system of looking at overall health and wellbeing becomes more widely referred to in the West. There are more and more people turning towards natural ways of dealing with both physical and mental health issues today, and in my experience there’s no system quite like Ayurveda to help us become more fully aware and accountable for the entire spectrum of individual balances and imbalances we experiences as humans throughout or lives. Studying and implementing Ayurvedic techniques during my travels and yoga trainings over the past few years has really been a huge factor in the re-balancing of my overall health and wellbeing, and I am currently studying a course on integrative and holistic nutrition so I can learn and share more about it all.
Thing is, Ayurveda isn’t new.
Far from it. In fact, it dates back almost 5,000 years to ancient India and a time when herbalists and natural methods of staying healthy were staple features of society. Despite literally thousands of years of knowledge, the migration of its sister-science Yoga to the West, and countless tried and tested methods of treating and preventing illness, we are still (for the most part) oblivious to the amazing insights Ayurveda can provide us with.
Okay…But What Does It MEAN??
Ayurveda (‘veda’ meaning ‘science’ in Sanskrit, and ayur’ meaning ‘life”) technically translates to ‘life science’’, and it’s based upon the observations, practices and studies of ancient health and wellbeing practitioners in the East. Through heightened awareness of the elements in nature and their relationship to the human body, tendencies and psyche, these doctors became acutely aware of how the various elements in which we live (and are composed of) impact and affect the quality of our health.
With ‘wholeness’ and a state of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual balance being the overall aim, they set out to identify, outline and treat the varying imbalances which arise within aspects of the human mind, body and spirit throughout our lifetimes. Using only natural methods, ‘imbalances’ (used in this sense to refer to what we in Western society would label as ‘illnesses’ today) are treated by addressing the Ayurvedic Dosha of each patient individually, and implementing changes in their dietary and lifestyle habits to counteract any fluctuation or variation from their natural constitution (known as our ‘Prakriti’, in Ayurveda).
Why Is It Important?
When we understand and are aware of our own individual constitution, balancing and keeping our Doshas in an optimal state of balance becomes the overall goal. Knowing how to treat personal imbalances naturally can contribute not just to improved overall health, but to our own unique and individual expression of optimal health – a heightened vitality and vigour for life which many of us may not ever have experienced before.
If there’s not professional Ayurvedic doctors on hand where you live, a simple Dosha Quiz like the one I’ve linked below will help to get an idea of what Dosha you might be currently leaning towards, but it’s important to understand more about them first before you start making assumptions. As our Doshas encompass everything from our physical characteristics, inclined health issues, to how we react to a stressful situation or even to a severe gust of wind (even climate and environment is taken into account), it’s a natural occurrence for our constitution to shift and change over time, meaning for example that a Vata imbalance at one stage of our life isn’t necessarily going to last forever.
What Can It Do For Me?
Once I learned more about my dominant Doshas and began implementing strategic steps to help balance them out, I noticed that everything from my digestion, my skin and my mental health began to improve.
So What Are They?
Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three Doshas which we are all composed of, and which fluctuate continuously within our bodies depending on lifestyle and diet factors. Each Dosha governs a specific element (Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth) and specific qualities, and these characteristics associated with the dominant elements within a person’s mind-body composition are usually the most noticeable personal qualities in them, too.
The Doshas are also how we differentiate between characteristics of each individual mind/body type, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Ayurvedic doctors prescribe certain foods, herbs, activities and lifestyle recommendations to patients who present with imbalances of all kinds, from things like dry skin, insomnia, depression, digestive issues to more serious issues like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
See if you can relate to any of these:
Vata – is composed of Space and Air. A Vata dominant person will likely be taller, slimmer, more prone to some physical issues like dry skin, indigestion, arthritis, and brittle bones. Characteristically Vata types are usually creative, flighty, visual and might suffer from things like anxiety, over-thinking and panic disorders when unbalanced.
Pitta – is composed of Fire and Water. A Pitta dominant person will usually be of medium build and have a strong digestive fire, a flair for organisation and be incredibly motivated and driven towards things they are passionate about. Physically an imbalance in Pitta will manifest in things like oily skin, a tendency to overheat or sweat a lot, and things like rashes or fever. When unbalanced, Pitta can also be easily irritated and often act without thinking in outbursts of fiery tendencies.
Kapha – Is composed of Earth and Water. A Kapha dominant dosha-type is the grounded, rational and mothering energy of earth, combined with the flexible fluidity of water. Physically Kaphas are usually of a more solid constitution and will have a slower digestion, preferring to sleep for longer often needing to eat less often than Vata or Pitta types. A balanced Kapha will be extremely grounded, rational and nurturing in nature, while an imbalance can manifest as lethargy, lack of motivation, and a sluggish or even negative vision of the world.
As we all contain elements of all three Doshas, it’s normal to relate to the characteristics of more than one, yet you’ll probably find that one or two of the Doshas best describe you. Commonly, imbalances are the first thing we notice, so it’s easy to assume that one Dosha is our dominant when in fact it might just be a symptom of imbalance in that particular area. For example I realised that for years I’d been suffering from severe Vata imbalances, and though most of my symptoms were Vata-related, once I began counteracting them with diet and lifestyle changes, I realised that my natural Prakriti is more Pitta-based than anything else. Settling into my new identity as a Vata-Pitta type really started making more sense for both my mind and my body, and the more and more I managed to stay in that sense of balance and ease, the more comfortable and aware I became of what my body needs.
This means that being familiar with the symptoms of all 3 Doshas is necessary if we’re seeking to balance out the physical, emotional, environmental and spiritual facets of our lives. All of this must all be taken into account when hoping to achieve an optimal (tri-Doshic) state of balance between the Doshas, and there are specific dietary, lifestyle and even yoga practices which can be implemented to help return us to our natural Prakriti (constitution). It’s my eventual goal to be able to share more about Ayurveda and holistic health through the lense of yoga practices and mindful lifestyle.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ayurveda and about some practices which could work to return you to your natural state of balance, I’ll be posting more about each Dosha soon on the blog and how they relate to yoga and overall holistic health. Please feel free to get in touch with me on the contact page. I’m also working on developing some online resources which will help you learn more for yourself and start implementing changes in your lifestyle to suit your unique constitution.
If you’re interested in finding YOUR Dosha, Deepak Chopra has a very quick and easy quiz on his website which will give you a good idea of what you are. I’d always recommend going to an actual Ayurvedic doctor however to get a more concise reading, but unless you’ll find yourself in Sri Lanka or India anytime soon, that might not be so easy!