Ayurvedic medicine is considered the sister compliment to Yoga. It is the study of health, wellness, balance, diet, detoxification, the mind, and lifestyle.
The holistic system of medicine originates from India and is over 5,000 years old.
The curriculum for Naturopathic Medicine College included many types of alternative medicine, such as nutritional sciences, Traditional Chinese Medicine, homeopathy etc., however, Ayurvedic medicine was never in the course load and I really didn’t know much about it. I had heard of it, and being Indian, I grew up learning of many home remedies for common ailments via use of herbs, spices, and food properties, but I was never formally taught Ayurvedic Medicine.
The basic premise of Ayurveda is to determine your personal “Dosha.” Dosha is loosely translated to your personal constitution or your digestive blueprint. There are three types of Dosha’s: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each dosha is unique to the person and requires a unique diet, exercise, lifestyle, sleep schedule, etc. This is where it can become tricky because a household of four can have three different dosha’s in it. In North America and especially in the holistic health world, people will always argue that their diet should be a one size fits all. A lot of websites proclaim that everyone should be vegan, vegetarian, paleo, ketogentic, gluten free, or eat 80% raw foods, which is untrue depending on your dosha. For the purpose of this article, it is important to note we are separating political and ethical values, and only considering the dosha. We are about to explore dosha’s from a constitutional point of view.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the key to longevity, and anti-aging is balanced “Agni”. When you follow the guidelines of what strengthens your personal dosha, you are therefore, keeping your Agni high and in balance. What is Agni? Agni is translated to “Digestive Fire”. In Ayurveda, and I would agree in my personal practice, it is stated that imbalanced Agni is the root of all chronic disease. Translation, a healthy gut is the root of long-term health and wellbeing.
I first became aware of the brilliance of Ayurvedic medicine when years ago, my mom purchased a Vita Mix, and I was encouraged by a trainer to include green smoothies to get an extra dose of greens into my diet. So I complied, and began drinking: Kale, Cucumber, Celery, ½ and Apple, Lemon and Ginger smoothies. I would drink it and moments later I would feel my chest tighten up and would start to wheeze. This happened repeatedly. I was so confused as to how something so healthy was triggering my Asthma to flare. Then I figured it out: I was aggravating my dosha!
I am still learning the characteristics of each dosha, and I happen to know mine the best, for obvious reasons. Vata has weak digestive Agni. Foods need to be cooked. Vata is airy and extremely energetic and their minds can spin out of control with a million thoughts. I once wrote to an Ayurvedic practitioner and she could tell I was Vata from how I wrote the email! Vata’s are easily excitable, and very expressive, but they need stillness, calm, and grounding. They have a tendency for dry conditions of the body and sensitive to wind/air.
Since the digestive Agni is weak, foods need to be well cooked/warm. Porridge, congee, risotto, kitchari, and soups are all foods that are very well cooked and balance the Vata. The less work the Vata digestion has to do, the better the health, hence, my asthma flares with green smoothies! There are many juiceries popping up: fresh juices, raw foods, are big for the health movement right now, but fresh juices and kale smoothies are NOT good for Vata Dosha. They are too cold and still require too much digestive fire to absorb, and therefore aggravate the Vata, and in many cases Asthma is an imbalance of Vata Dosha.
Key point: All health foods are not healthy for each person. Very important. If I took kale, celery, and zucchini and cooked it and blended it into a hot soup, my Vata Dosha would have loved it, but as a fresh smoothie, it resulted in asthma – immediately. It is important to look at the season as well. On a hot summer day, the fresh juice may suit the Vata Dosha on occasion, but the same juice is a very bad idea on a cold windy winter day.
Pitta dosha can eat anything! They have a stomach of steel and it rarely is upset. It is the polar opposite of a Vata Dosha digestive wise. They are generally a hot constitution, so fresh cold juices are great for Pitta. A raw food diet would likely suit a Pitta Dosha very well, it would help to balance the fire and keep them cool! Pitta is fiery all around, their Agni is high, they are typically hot, they perspire easy, they also anger very easily. They have anger outburst, hold onto anger, judge others and themselves easily. They can be perfectionists and controlling.
A Pitta condition could be an overly acidic stomach, heartburn, and diarrhea, so for a Pitta, often a small amount of a sweet treat right after a meal can soothe this fire and cool it down. Cooling the Pitta will cool the personality and mind as well.
Kapha Dosha is the most balanced and grounded of the two dosha’s and it is also the dosha I have studied the least. Kapha doshas are well loved, they are the nurturers, the peacemakers, they are very happy and patient and tolerant. Kapha’s are so grounded they can feel heavy, so movement is great for them; it makes them feel amazing. They will often feel the best after exercise, although they do love sitting, so getting them to exercise may be the issue. This is the opposite of Vata where there is so much going on inside the Vata all the time, slowness and meditation is best for them, whereas, the Kapha will begin to feel heavy and perhaps gain weight easily. They are often cold, but any type of movement will instantly make them feel lighter as it will warm them up and it often takes a bit of time for a Kapha to perspire.
Kapha’s tend to have a slow metabolism, so often times they feel great with a skipped meal here and there. Intermittent fasting is a great idea for Kapha’s! It will make them feel lighter, however, it is a horrible idea for a Pitta who will get “hangry” and a very bad idea for Vata’s as they need all the digestive support they can get! Intermittent fasting is also a big dietary movement. Juice fasts, or only eating your meals between 1pm and 8pm, is NOT healthy for all Dosha’s, but if you are Kapha, go for it. They will likely feel great and it will help rev up their digestive Agni, which they need a little help with.
This is just a smidgen of a look into Ayurvedic Medicine, but can you already see the brilliance? Our one stop shop of health and healing in North America could be making us sick, and all the while we think we are trying to be so healthy. Follow your dosha, it will never lie. It is the key to longevity, key to wellness – do not be persuaded by fad diets that come and go. Most diets are written from the perspective of what worked for the author, how can that translate to being the key to health for each and every person? Well the answer is, it can’t. The answer lies within you, what is your digestive blueprint, how can you treat your digestive Agni.
As a resource, I love this website. She has great information, and she has an online test to determine your dosha. She is the one I once emailed and she knew immediately I was Vata. A skilled practitioner can even look in your eyes and tell you your dosha! In my visits, most times, I am also changing nutrition according to the patient’s dosha; however, I may not refer to it as dosha – who knows, now I may start ☺
In health, Dr. Neetu