In the west, our medical system of health care has been around roughly 100 years, not a long time in the scheme of things. Whereas, India has practiced the anciently wise system of Ayurvedic health care for at least five thousand years. Can we learn from this ancient wisdom that which we have yet to master in the west? Are there secrets already revealed there, within the tried and true Indian system, for which we are still hunting for with modern medicine?
Ayurveda literally means ‘science of life’ and therefore is more than a health care system, but an entire science for understanding life and the way it works through our physical vehicles. Ayurveda makes up one aspect(largely physical) of the ‘triad’ in the Indian system of their ‘whole-being’ philosophy. The two other bodies of knowledge are yoga and tantra which incorporate the spiritual and mental avenues of life.
Truthfully, Ayurveda is not even an ‘eastern’ philosophy, but a proven method for establishing health and harmony within the body-mind-spirit triplex. This somewhat complex though very ‘simplified’ system sees the whole person and recognizes every body as uniquely different, though able to be categorized into several ‘types’, with over-lapping qualities. The health and well-being of all types can be addressed through proper diet, exercise and cleansing practices.
The Body Types
Ayurveda, like Chinese medicine, utilizes the wisdom of nature and the elements in order to ‘see’ the body more clearly. Recognizing we are made up from the elements of the earth, Ayurveda seeks to acknowledge how different bodies emphasize the elements in varied proportions, the imbalance of which – in accordance with each system – leads to dis-ease in the whole being. The main elements focused upon are earth, fire, water, air and ether – or spirit. Every body dominates in one of three ‘Doshas‘ – either earth/water (Kapha), fire (Pitta) or air (Vata) or a combination of these. Ether is present in every body, though can be more pronounced especially in those with high Vata – or air – tendencies and constitutions.
Vata people are those who are very energetic and laregly intellectual, in their minds a lot and, when over-emphasized, Vata dominance can look ‘airy’ or ungrounded, too ‘out there’ and even ‘woo-woo’ by some definitions.
Pitta dominated people are firey in nature, more active and prone to anger. Pitta people are generally active and use their bodies a lot where Kapha dominant people are slower, in their bodies. Where Pitta people are often thin due to exercise, Kapha people are usually a bit thicker of a build and can be slow to take off weight.
There is of course combinations of these types, though these are the main avenues of expression in Ayurveda. According to this method of thinking, different body systems are also dominated by these various ‘doshas‘ or types. For example, the digestive system is Pitta-dominated and active between 10am-2pm and again between 10pm and 2am. From 2-6 in both a.m. and p.m. is Vata time when the mind is most creative and the nervous system is active, and 6-10 is Kapha time – the lymphatic system time – dominating the early morning sunrise as well as sunset – ‘slow’ periods of the day for light stretching and easy-going activity.
Each dosha alternates it’s ‘on’ time – and it is suggested to note when you feel ‘off’ and correlate it with which dosha is active – as this could clue you into which system needs balancing. Seasons are said to be dominated by the doshas as well as the elements. Someone who is largely Vata, or air, could be thrown off balance by adding too much more Vata to their system, like excessive wind. Pitta people could become irritated by over exposure to the sun(fire) and Kapha people have a tendency to be more lazy in the cold, damp seasons.
Foods and Doshas
Different foods support the different doshas – and all body types can come into balance by following what is known as a ‘Sattvic‘ (or pure) lifestyle, which incorporates moderation in activities as well as more bland, non-stimulating foods such as brown rice, simple legumes, root vegetables, mango, coconut, figs, milk and fresh yogurt. These foods are thought to cultivate clarity and perception in the mind as well as love and compassion in the heart.
Stimulating foods, such as onion, garlic, ginger, peppers are known as rajasic foods and help stimulate overly Kapha types, or anyone who needs to ‘move’ something through their system – in order to promote change in the person.
The third ‘type’ of food is known in Ayurveda as tamasic food – otherwise called heavy or ‘stale’ food. Meat is generally considered tamasic, as is most cheese, avocado and ‘left over’ food. Heavy cream-filled desserts could be termed tamasic, as they can induce laziness.
There are variations in the categorizing of foods mentioned above, depending on the Ayurvedic practitioner, but you get the idea. To find out which type you are – so as to know which foods and lifestyle recommendations can best serve you – you can take an Ayurvedic quiz.
Indians and others around the globe have been using the anciently wise health care system of Ayurveda for thousands of years – perhaps it is time to give it a look. As a time-tested science and knowledge about life, one that has served billions of people for so long, it would not hurt to see if any personal wisdom can be gained in light of our own health conditions in the west. Ayurveda is becoming increasingly popular in the states and around the western world. Take a look around your nearest city to find a center near you – or contact an Ayurvedic practitioner on-line for assistance.
(The information in this article is not intended to diagnosis, cure or treat. If you are experiencing any health condition, seek proper health care and seriously consult your inner healer.)
Written by: Stasia Bliss