What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a centuries-old system of health and wellbeing that was first developed in India – the birthplace of both Ayurveda and Yoga – which is still practiced and recognised today the world over. In basic terms, the overall aim of Ayurveda is to balance the energies that exist within the body in order to restore both body and mind to a state of health. Ayurveda often refers to ‘imbalances’ or ‘excesses’ of energies within the body. These energies relate to the elements and are split into three distinct categories, each with its own set of related qualities in physical appearance, behavioural or emotional aspects and associated health problems. These three categories are Pitta, Kapha and Vata. Each individual’s constitution is a combination of Pitta, Vata and Kapha and usually a person is predisposed towards one Dosha in particular, or perhaps two. Interestingly, no two people have exactly the same combination of the three Doshas. Each person’s constitution is uniquely their own. The work of Ayurveda is to identify imbalances and associated health concerns, and then to prescribe both a diet and activities which will help to restore balance back into these areas. There are many ways in which Doshas can be balanced – through diet, aromatherapy, massage, Yoga postures and pranayama practices – even the time of day you wake up can have an effect on your Dosha type. Ayurveda is a very broad and complex science, so bear in mind that this is just a very short summary of a very complicated and interesting subject!
HOW DOES AYURVEDA RELATE TO YOUR YOGA PRACTICE?
“Yoga & Ayurveda are two closely related spiritual or sacred sciences rooted in the Vedic tradition of India. Ayurveda is the Vedic science of healing for both body and mind. Yoga is the Vedic science of Self-Realization that depends upon a well-functioning body and mind. Both disciplines developed together and have always been used together. Therefore, those who are interested in one would benefit from studying the other.”
– Dr. David Frawley
Both Yoga and Ayurveda originated from India and were developed as two sister sciences at a round the same time. Both were intended to be self healing practices – but for very different reasons. Yoga can be viewed as the science of Self-Realization, whereas Ayurveda is the science of maintaining health and wellbeing. Ayurveda acts as a support to the practices of Yoga, by helping to keep the physical body aligned with a state of optimal health. Both of these practices support, inform and inspire one another. Ayurveda and Yoga both share the same Vedic roots, and offer two differing paths to the same common goals of self-understanding, healing and union. When practiced together in conjunction the effects of Yoga and Ayurveda together are profoundly healing.
ALL ABOUT THE DOSHAS…
“Ayurveda teaches us to love as is – not as we think people should be.”
– Lissa Coffey
Pitta Dosha is the energy associated with the elements of Fire and Water. The qualities of Pitta are hot, light, sharp and penetrating. Physically, people with a high level of Pitta are usually a medium and athletic build. Their eyes tend to be light in colour and have sensitivity to the light. Pitta’s skin type is usually yellowish or reddish, may have freckles and can be prone to sunburn. Pitta people can be quite competitive, driven and success orientated. As I mentioned to my students in a recent Pitta-pacifying class, a bit of Fire or Pitta energy is a good thing – because it can provide the drive and motivation for us to get things done, or have the courage and energy to start a new project. However, too much Pitta can result in over-competitiveness, anger, aggression, discontent, irritability and generally being a bit hot-headed! Physically, an excess in Pitta energy can cause thirst, dehydration, heartburn & indigestion, rashes, irritated or red eyes and inflammation.
Tips for balancing an excess of Pitta Dosha (particularly relevant at the moment as Summer is the season of Pitta – yes, the seasons also relate to the three different Doshas!):
Stay playful in your Yoga practice (and off the mat too!) and try not to take things too seriously. Avoid or notice any tendencies you have to be self-critical or judgmental.
Enjoy the movement in your body and try to ‘be in your body’ and not just your head.
Soften your gaze and face, and smile!
Focus on your exhalations, releasing the heat of Pitta through your breath and along with it any associated feelings of frustration and stress.
Less is more! Try to pull back a little from your physical practice rather than ‘working’ your body at 100%. Remember to enjoy the sweetness or Sukha to be found in your movements.
Favour cooling foods like sweet juicy fruits and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Kapha Dosha is associated with the elements of Earth and Water, with its qualities being slow, oily, cool, smooth, soft, dense and stable. Physically, Kapha Dosha people have a medium to heavy build with a tendency to gain weight more easily than the other dosha types. They are usually attractive looking with large eyes, straight white teeth, glowing skin and thick lustrous hair. Kapha people are very grounded and calm and provide a lot of love and nurturing support to others. These even-tempered and stoic dosha types make great parents, teachers and healers. Kapha energy is slow and heavy, which in moderation can provide a good sense of grounding, but in excess it can lead a predominantly Kapha person to feel very unmotivated, lethargic and sedentary. If there is an excess of Kapha energy in the body it can cause slow metabolism, weight gain, excess mucus and a general sense of heaviness.
Tips for balancing Kapha Dosha:
An invigorating yoga practice is the best kind for balancing Kapha. Challenge yourself with an energetic flow practice on your mat and really make an effort to get things moving!
Kapha can suffer in a cold or damp environment so take care to stay warm.
Kapha tends to want to keep hold of objects and maybe even hoard stuff, so having a regular clear out can help to avoid feeling claustrophobic and keep your space clean and clutter-free.
Warm and stimulating aromas such as clove, ginger and cinnamon help to balance Kapha – a cup of warm ginger tea will help to stimulate Kapha’s sluggish digestion.
When you are feeling lethargic and want nothing more than to insert yourself into the sofa go out for a brisk walk or take a bike ride, even if it’s the last thing you feel like you want to do. You’ll feel so much better for it.
Vata Dosha is associated with the elements of Air and Ether and is the Dosha that is the most linked to illness. The qualities of Vata energy are light, quick, dry, cold, rough and clear. Physically, Vata people have a small and light frame and a tendency to lose weight easily. They often have an oblong face, thin or wiry hair, dry rough skin and chapped lips (think all the qualities of air and dryness). Vata people are highly creative and fast moving, and they love to travel. They are very fast learners and show a lot of enthusiasm but can also have a bit of a poor memory. Vata types make excellent counsellors, teachers, creatives and spiritual people. Although the Vata mind is a little scattered, they can often be very well attuned and sensitive to subtle energies. When out of balance, an excess of Vata can cause anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and mental instability. Physically, too much Vata can cause dry skin, dandruff, bloating, constipation, colds and a myriad of other illnesses.
Tips for balancing Vata Dosha:
Vata can suffer from the cold so it’s a good idea to stay warm – preferably under a palm tree on a beach in a hot sunny country!
A grounding practice is the best kind of Yoga for Vata, poses which are low to the earth and strongly rooted balance postures all help to stabilise Vata.
Enjoy foods that are warm in temperature and favour a lot of root vegetables like sweet potatoes and cooked carrots.
Avoid dry and light foods like popcorn or crackers.
Treat yourself to a massage with a moisturising and warming scented oil.
SO, HOW DO I KNOW WHAT DOSHA TYPE I AM?
Having read this blog you might already have a rough idea of which Dosha type or types you might be. But if you aren’t sure, follow the link to take this quiz and find out: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/prakriti-quiz/
My personal experience with Ayurveda is somewhat limited to the basics as stated here, but I am fascinated by this science as it seems to be spot-on for me and I am interested to learn much more. I am a mixture (almost equally) of Pitta (slightly more) and Vata (a bit less) and I find that during the season of Pitta in Summer I am much less anxious, less often ill and a lot more motivated to do things. However, when winter comes around my Vata easily becomes out of balance with the arrival of the cold, light and dry qualities of the season – causing me to feel anxiety, worry and become ill more often. My best solution to this so far has been to relocate myself to warmer climes for as long as possible! But of course there are many effective ways to balance Vata whilst staying at home during the winter as well.
The three Ayurvedic Doshas are at the core of the Ayurvedic idea of what is called Prakriti – meaning ‘constitution’. Prakriti is the the concept that each and every one of us has a unique combination of all three Dosha types that is solely our own. According to Ayurveda, our Prakriti or constitution is established at conception, and remains consistent throughout the rest of our lives, helping to provide us with a measure or point of reference for monitoring our own personal health and unique discrepancies. Alongside the self-study element of Yoga, this science provides us with another way to really know ourselves, and therefore know what we need in order to move in a more positive and balanced way through the ebbs and flows of life.