Staying Healthy with Ayurvedic Medicine
By Ellen Albertson, PhD, RDN, NBC-HWC
Most of us want to optimize our health and well-being so we feel and look fantastic, have unstoppable energy and increased longevity. Achieving this high level of wellness entails more than just avoiding or treating disease. The key is balance. Ayurveda can help you find that balance and better understand your body so you live a long, healthy and happy life.
What Is Ayurvedic Medicine?
Ayurvedic medicine (also known as Ayurveda) is a natural, holistic healing system developed thousands of years ago in India. The word Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit words: ayur meaning life and veda meaning knowledge or science and is usually translated as “the science of life and longevity.”
A type of complementary and alternative medicine, Ayurveda focuses on fostering and living with vibrant health rather than fighting disease. The system has numerous health benefits from improving digestion, metabolism and immune function to reducing anxiety, depression and stress.
How Ayurveda Differs from Conventional Medicine
Ayurveda is a wonderful complement to conventional medicine, yet differs from it in numerous ways. Conventional medicine tends to focus on the differences between diseases. In contrast, Ayurveda emphasis the differences between people. Specifically, it considers the bio-individuality of the patient—who they are, not what’s wrong with them.
While conventional medicine emphasizes the physical, Ayurveda looks at the connection between body, mind and spirit; the underlying causes of a disease and how an illness is influenced by a patient’s thoughts, beliefs and lifestyle. Finally, rather than prescribing drugs or surgeries, an Ayurveda Rx might include dietary changes, yoga practice, meditation, essential oils, healing herbs, supplements and/or stress management.
The Three Doshas
According to Ayurveda, everyone is made of five universal elements: air, fire, water, earth and space. Each of these elements is found in combinations that define physical or energy types called doshas.
There are three doshas: Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (earth and water). Everyone has a unique blend of doshas with one typically more dominant.
You can determine your dosha by taking a short test online or visiting an Ayurveda practitioner. Knowing your dosha will help you to understand your body and yourself and discover how to stay in balance with diet, herbs and lifestyle change.
How to Keep Vata in Balance
Vatas are creative, energetic and slim. When balanced they feel light, content and energetic and have good digestion and sleep. Out of balance, Vatas are tired, unfocused and susceptible to arthritis, anxiety, asthma and heart disease.
- Lifestyle: Slowing down, staying warm, following a regular routine and getting adequate rest are very important for Vatas. Yoga, pranayama (breathing exercises), sesame oil massage, stress reduction and avoiding stimulants and alcohol are recommended.
- Diet: Vatas should eat regular meals and snacks and soothing, warm, moist foods like soups and stews. Warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, fennel and cardamom are also good for Vatas. To feel grounded and relaxed, Vatas benefit from herbal teas containing chicory root, lemongrass, orange peel and licorice.
- Best Essential Oils: Warm, sweet oils such as sweet orange, fennel, holy basil, marjoram, rose, ylang-ylang, frankincense and orange are best.
How to Keep Pitta in Balance
Pitta types have an athletic build, sharp intellect and can be perfectionists and workaholics. Balanced Pittas feel peaceful and happy and have strong digestion, glowing skin and sound sleep. When unbalanced they are susceptible to inflammation, acne, heartburn, self-criticism and heart disease due to stress.
- Lifestyle: Since they have an innate drive, Pittas benefit from lightening up and being more playful. Meditation, especially at the end of the day to wind down, spending time with friends and family, walking in nature and swimming can help them thrive.
- Diet: The best diet for Pittas consists of foods that are cool (especially during summer) and sweet rather than spicy, sour or salty. They should eat moderate-sized meals three times a day and avoid alcohol and overeating. Spicy foods should be avoided, but small amounts of sweet, bitter spices like cardamom, mint and saffron are okay. Pittas benefit from teas made of cabbage rose, cardamom, licorice and ginger.
- Best Essential Oils: Look for blends that foster calm and focus. Good choices include fennel, sandalwood and rose. Small amounts of ylang-ylang and frankincense with a little lemon or peppermint to feel uplifted can help balance Pittas.
How to Keep Kapha in Balance
Kaphas have a heavier build and are slow, steady and easy-going. When balanced they have a healthy immune system, lots of stamina and sleep well. Out of balance Kaphas gain weight easily, feel sluggish and are prone to obesity, chest colds, depression, diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma and allergies
- Lifestyle: Kaphas benefit from stimulating activities, learning something new, fresh air and daily, vigorous exercise. Spending time with positive friends and listening to buoyant music can also help them stay in balance.
- Diet: Since they have a tendency to gain weight easily, Kaphas should eat a lighter diet and avoid sweets, salt and overeating—especially at night. They benefit from warm, light foods and teas that contain ginger, cloves, cardamom, turmeric and saffron. To improve digestion, Kaphas should drink hot ginger tea with meals and chew fennel seeds after meals.
- Best Essential Oils: Since Kaphas can feel heavy and sluggish, they benefit from warm, spicy, energizing oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, basil and rosemary.
Whatever your type, Ayurveda can empower you to maintain a balance between your body, mind, spirit and environment so that you can feel your best and boost your ability to fight disease.