Ayurveda 101

Ayurveda 101

Do you know your dosha? If you’re not quite sure of what that is, you’re not alone. But a quick overview of Ayurveda – yoga’s sister science – will clear things up, and may even set you on a new course for sparklingly good health.

One of the world's oldest health care systems, Ayurveda’s first written documentation dates back to 400 BC, and is best described as a comprehensive system of natural medicine comprised of many different therapeutic modalities – including diet, yoga and seasonal detoxes – to ensure perfect health and long life.

The roots

Diet, self-massage, exercise, yoga and pranayama, as well as seasonal routines and purifications, are ways in which Ayurveda helps to balance individual qualities or doshas within the body. The doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) are considered the organizing principles in nature and the primary life-energies in the body; most people are a combination of all three doshas, with a strong leaning toward one in particular.

A Vata constitution is dry and airy, and people with strong Vata are generally thin and fair, can be nervous or anxious, and tend to feel cold; Pitta people are fiery, well-proportioned, and their sometimes ruddy complexion can be sun-sensitive; Kapha constitutions are sturdy and oily with a calm nature, a heavier build and a slower digestion. So, as you can imagine, when all three doshas are balanced properly within our bodies, our prana, or vital life force, is able to flow freely, which in turn could help ensure optimal health and a long life. (Want to find out your dosha? Take this quiz.)

Ties that bind – and balance

“Yoga is a complete philosophy of liberation, of transformation, of how we can understand the capricious nature of the mind and befriend ourselves,” says Felicia Tomasko, president of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine.

According to Tomasko, who is also a board member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association, and editor-in-chief of LA Yoga and Ayurveda, Ayurveda is known as the science of life, a millennial-old tradition that provides information on how to live a life that is in harmony with ourselves, with the people around us and with our environment. “According to Ayurveda, everything has the potential to be therapeutic and to help us become and stay more balanced – if it’s incorporated in our lives in a way that promotes health and well-being,” says Tomasko.

Because everything has the potential to throw us off balance, balance is the aim, along with longevity and general well being. “From the point of view of Ayurveda, yoga is therapeutic – and how we engage in our yoga practice can help us maintain or disturb our balance,” says Tomasko. “Together, the two provide the owner's manual for this human body with teachings and practices that support longevity and liberation, sleep and santosha (contentment), and happiness and health.”

Road rules

While there are specific Ayurvedic principles for eating according to your particular constitution, there are also some general rules that can help improve overall digestive health. Dave Nuss, an Ayurvedic chef and consultant, shares these tips as a good place to start:

  • Sip small amounts of warm water throughout your meal to aid in digestion, and to open specific channels throughout your body where toxins often collect.
  • Eat according to your unique constitution or dosha, and be sure to include a variety of seasonal and local foods.
  • Chew your food well, and be mindful of all the smells, tastes and textures. Thoroughly chewing your food allows complex carbs, sugars, oils, proteins and other minerals to reach maximum absorption, while mindful eating allows your body to settle easily into its digestive processes.

Leave 1/3 of your stomach empty using your hands as a gauge. Cupping both hands together provides a perfect measure for the amount of food you need. When you overeat, you weaken your “digestive fire.” Undigested food will transform into accumulated toxins in your gut.

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