Considered the oldest medical science in the world, Ayurveda is a form of holistic healing that has been practiced in India for more than 4,000 years. Derived from the Sanskrit roots of "Ayus," meaning life, and "vid," meaning knowledge, Ayurveda literally translates to the "knowledge of life."
According to Ayurvedic principles, every aspect of life-the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual-contributes to your overall health. By balancing these elements and addressing the body as a whole, Ayurveda restores equilibrium when you're ill and keeps your body's natural defense system strong when you're healthy.
Prevention vs. cure
Western medicine traditionally treats the symptoms of an illness or disease with medication and/or surgery to "cure" the patient. Ayurvedic medicine takes a holistic approach to prevent the onset of an illness or disease by monitoring a patient's lifestyle including diet, emotional state, level of activity, sex life, work conditions and spirituality.
Ayurvedic practitioners emphasize natural foods and herbal remedies, and usually recommend yoga and meditation for all the doshas. But by taking your unique physical, mental and spiritual factors into consideration, an Ayurvedic practitioner can advise you based on your individual constitution — and help you take action to help you manage stress and prevent illness, lose weight, detoxify your body and maintain optimal health.
Know your body constitution
Everything in nature, including our bodies, is made from the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements combine to form the three basic body-mind profiles, called doshas, that govern our entire physical composition and how each of us is uniquely inclined to react and interact with the world around us. In Sanskrit, the doshas are called vata, pitta and kapha.
While each dosha plays an individual role in our bodies, overall good health is achieved only when all three are in balance. Knowing your unique proportions of vata, pitta and kapha is a prerequisite to understanding Ayurvedic diagnosis and treatment. To determine the dominant dosha in your body-mind makeup, read the characteristics for each listed below. Keep in mind that while some of us have one only dominant dosha, many people are a combination of any two or all three doshas, usually with one profile that is dominant.
- Small and thin; lightest of the three body types
- Dry, rough skin
- Average amount of dry hair
- May have crooked, large or protruding teeth
- Restless, disjointed thoughts but highly imaginative
- Dislikes cold weather
- Benefits from daily naps between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
When in balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety. Physical ailments connected to the air element, such as emphysema, pneumonia and arthritis, are predominant. The general guidelines for balancing vata include: keeping warm and maintaining calmness, avoiding raw, cold foods, staying out of cold weather and keeping a regular routine.
Elements: air and space.
Optimum meal times: breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack at 4 p.m. and a full dinner at 6 p.m.
- Medium build, strong, well-built
- Fair or reddish skin; sunburns easily
- Fine, straight or thinning hair
- May have yellowish teeth
- Sharp mind with good concentration powers
- Dislikes hot weather
- Benefits from daily meditation after 6 p.m.
When in balance, pitta promotes intelligence and understanding. Out of balance, pitta produces anger and jealousy. Physical ailments connected to the fire element, such as fevers, inflammatory diseases and jaundice, are predominant. The general guidelines for balancing pitta include: avoiding excessive heat, oil and steam while limiting intake of salt and exercising during the cooler part of the day.
Elements: fire and water.
Optimum meal times: breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack at 3 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.
- Larger build, sturdy, physically strong
- Oily, moist and pale skin
- Thick amounts of hair
- May have white teeth
- Reflective and deliberate thought pattern; calm
- Dislikes damp, cold weather
- Benefits from going to bed early and rising early
When in balance, kapha promotes calmness and forgiveness. Out of balance, kapha produces greed and envy. Physical ailments connected to the water element, such as the flu, sinus congestion and excess mucous, are predominant. The general guidelines for balancing kapha include: staying active and getting plenty of exercise, avoiding heavy, oily foods, dairy and iced drinks and varying your routine.
Elements: water and earth.
Optimum meal times: breakfast at 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., a snack at 4 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.