Introduction to Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a healthy-lifestyle system that people in India have used for more than 5,000 years. It emphasizes good health and prevention and treatment of illness through lifestyle practices. These include practices such as massage, meditation, yoga, and dietary changes. Herbal remedies are often used as well.
Ayurvedic medicine is preventative and holistic, which means viewing the body and mind as a whole. The philosophy works to change lifestyle practices to maintain or improve health in addition to addressing the physical complaints as well.
There are five elements of nature. These are ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. We understand them as unique by the way we experience them; we use the terms "attribute" or "quality" to describe these states of matter.
These certain combinations of elements have unique physiological properties and functions in nature. These elements combine in the body as three components known as doshas. Vatta, Pita, and Kapha are the three doshas, which are biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical and mental processes as well as provide us with an individual blueprint for health.
Using the elements and their attributes, we have clearer understanding of the realm of cause and effect, anatomy and physiology, structure and function.
Do you know what your predominant dosha is? An Ayurveda practitioner can tell what your predominant dosha is and certain imbalances by taking your pulse and asking a few health related questions.
Air and ether represent Vatta, which means "that which moves things." This controls muscle and joint movement, breathing, and heartbeat. It also controls anxiety, fear, pain, and other functions of the nervous system.
Attributes of Vatta include: dry, light, cold, rough, hard, subtle, clear, mobile
Site in body: colon, thighs, hips, ears, bones, and organs of touch
How to Balance Vata (and some imbalances):
- Favor foods that are warm, moist, and cooked
- Favor sweet, sour, and salty tastes
- Eat in a peaceful environment
- Eating while anxious or depressed or eating on the run as well as drinking alcohol, coffee, or black tea can cause imbalances
- Establish regular daily routines including regular meals, exercise, meditation, and sleep/wake times
- Avoid erratic schedules, stimulants, cold and dry conditions, too much travel, and too much sensory stimulation from electronics such as TV, tablets, and smartphones
- Go to bed early
- Do gentle exercises like yoga, swimming, walking, or tai chi
Pitta, which means "that which digests things." is represented by fire and water. It is thought to control such bodily functions as digestion, metabolism, intelligence, and skin color. Pitta also governs the emotions of anger, hate, and jealousy.
Attributes of Pitta include: oily, sharp (penetrating), hot, light, mobile, liquid, unpleasant odor
Site in body: small intestine, stomach, sweat, blood, lymph, sebaceous glands, and organs of vision
How to Balance Pitta (and some imbalances):
- Favor foods that are nourishing, refreshing, and not overheating
- Favor sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes
- Avoid stimulants and acidic foods
- Eat in a peaceful environment
- Avoid eating while angry
- Drinking coffee, alcohol, or black tea and smoking cigarettes can cause imbalances
- Keep the body cool as much as possible - avoid overheating
- Incorporate regular moderate, noncompetitive exercise
- Establish daily routines including calming activities, meditation, walks in nature, and/or time for self-reflection and self-care as much as possible
- Do calming exercises such as yoga, swimming, tai chi, or walking
- Overworking and being overly competitive can cause imbalances
Earth and water represent Kapha, which means "that which holds things together." The physical structure of the body and the immune system are governed by Kapha. Emotional responses thought to be controlled by Kapha include calmness, forgiveness, love, and greed.
Attributes of Kapha include: cold, wet, heavy, dull, sticky, soft, steady, solid, smooth
Site in body: chest, lungs, throat, head, sides, pancreas, stomach, lymph, and fat
How to Balance Kapha (and some imbalances):
- Favor foods that are light, warm, and cooked
- Favor pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes
- Eat in a loving environment
- Eat more lightly in the morning and the evening, with the biggest meal at lunchtime
- Overeating and eating to offset emotions (such as indulging in sweets when depressed) cause imbalance
- Vary your routine from time to time
- Wake up at or before sunrise
- Avoid napping during the day
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine
- Spending most time indoors, especially excessively watching TV while sitting, cause imbalance
- Avoid a luxurious, leisurely lifestyle
- Spending too much time in cool, damp climates cause imbalance
In each person, typically some of each dosha is present, but there tends to be one predominant dosha. You are born with that dominant dosha, and no matter what changes your body may go through, your dosha type will never change. Balancing the unique make up of these three doshas are thought to be required for optimal health.
There are three primary doshic states:
- Balanced - All three doshas are present in their natural proportions in equilibrium
- Increased - A particular dosha is present in a greater-than-normal proportion; aggravated or excess state
- Decreased - A particular dosha is present in a less-than-normal proportion; reduced or depleted state
Of the three states, the increased or decreased state leads to imbalances. This can be due to a number of influences, including dosha-aggravating diet or carrying too much stress in life. If an imbalance occurs, the result is illness. You can restore balance when you begin to understand both your unique constitutional make-up and how to harmonize your internal environment and its needs externally.
We are all most susceptible to imbalances related to our dominant dosha. So for example, if you are Pitta, you may experience heartburn (a common Pitta disorder) after eating spicy foods. The important thing to remember is that like increases like, while opposites create balance. By choosing cooling and more alkalizing foods, you can avoid the heartburn and support your underlying make-up at the same time.
There's more to Ayurveda than doshas. Have you heard of the Ayurvedic clock? You may have if you spend a lot of time in the yoga studios.
If you have ever read about body clock, circadian rhythm, and discussions about the perfect timing to do just about anything from eating to sleeping schedule to having sex. For thousands of years, Ayurvedic clock has been established and practiced.
The Ayurvedic clock is basically what modern science calls our body (biological) clock and how it is linked to operations of our genes and hormones. Ayurveda practices optimal times for eating, sleeping, working, and other activities by linking our body's energy and the doshas' energies during one of six blocks of time per 24-hour cycle.
According to Ayurveda, the body clock is broken down into six four-hour windows based on the type of energy that is predominant in our bodies and in nature - one day zone and one night zone for each of the three doshas. Every day, we cycle through the three doshas twice during the 24-hour period.
Ayurveda believes that the more closely we align our daily routines with the rhythms of nature, the more we can support our well-being. When we go against the natural daily cycles of energy, we disrupt our health and illnesses can occur.
Ayurvedic Clock: Vata
- 2-6 am - ideal time to meditate. You can connect more easily to stillness and peace when there is less disturbances in a quiet, peaceful environment
- You can also meditate between 5-6pm when nature slows down at dusk
- 2-6 pm - high Vata energy makes this an amazing time to do creative endeavors. The qualities of air and ether are present during this time are naturally more playful and light
- Have a more substantial lunch if you are experiencing cravings or low blood sugar during Vata afternoon hours
Ayurvedic Clock: Kapha
- 6-10 am - awaken and nurture the physical body and other layers of the body via the five koshas (energetic sheaths)
- Exercise in the morning or no later than 7 pm to allow your body to wind down and prepare for bed during the Kapha evening cycle
- 6-10 pm - ideal time to wind down the day and flow with the heavier energy to move us toward sleep. Generally, our bodies naturally have less energy and are getting ready to go into rest and repair mode
- Evening bath or shower and practicing Abhyanga (warm oil massage) invites the heavy, sleepy feeling
- Turn off all screens and relax by reading a book before 9pm at the lates. Go to bed before 10pm
Ayurvedic Clock: Pitta
- 10 am-2 pm - ideal time to break down food since our digestive fire is the highest. Consume the largest meal of the day during this four-hour window
- Schedule as much physical or analytical tasks during daylight Pitta hours as possible
- Eat an earlier, lighter dinner so that the evening Pitta fire is used to digest mental information and to make cellular repairs instead of trying to digest heavy food
- 10 pm-2 am - the fire of our body's repair system begins to ignite during this time so be in bed by 10pm. By being asleep, you will allow for full processing of the day to occur on an involuntary and cellular level
It is important to keep daily routines and habits in line with this Ayurvedic clock and the 24-hour circadian rhythm of our bodies. Misalignment between our lifestyles and this rhythm (such as from jet lag from travel) can affect our well-being. Long term misalignment can contribute to certain illnesses.
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle and the demands of modern society has caused many of us to ignore our natural rhythms as well as dosha imbalances. These modern norms pressure us to push beyond what is actually healthy for our bodies. By learning more about some Ayurvedic practices, your predominant dosha, and the best lifestyle habits lined up with the Ayurvedic clock, you can regain or maintain your health and live your best possible life.
I hope that you can start looking for ways to find balance and sync your body with natural rhythms. Let's stop operating like modern machines and more like the beings nature intended us to be. You'll find yourself more productive and life to be more enjoyable this way.