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Health & Nutrition
Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD

A Beginner’s Guide to Ayurveda & The Doshas

 

Ayurveda may be ancient, but its practice in modern-day life remains more valuable and relevant than ever. If you’re someone looking for a truly holistic approach to health, then Ayurveda is for you. 

Ayurvedic medicine is a way of approaching life, realizing that we are a part of nature, as opposed to separate from it. 


Known as the “science of life,” Ayurveda provides us with an in-depth understanding of our unique mind and body type, offering guidance to restore balance on every level of health. 

By seeing the body as a whole, health is defined as not just a physical state but also the balance of mind and spirit.
Incredibly, even though Ayurvedic philosophies and treatments were developed before the onset of modern-day scientific methods, these practices have achieved incredible success, and we now have studies to back up the use of many of these traditional intervention strategies and remedies!

 

The History of Ayurvedic Medicine


Ayurveda has a long and rich tradition behind it. Ayurveda is an Indian medical system that has been practiced for over 4000 years. To this day, it still remains a prevalent form of health care in the Eastern world, mainly in India. Still, thanks to its incredible benefits and philosophy, its practice as an alternative medicine is becoming increasingly popular in the West as well. 
 
The Vedas are the first text to describe Ayurvedic treatment and philosophy, including preventative practices, natural remedies and ayurvedic herbal medicine for issues ranging from fever, kidney stones, skin disorders, and everything in between. 


Amazingly, Ayurvedic treatments include around 700 herbal remedies and formulas, including 250 individual herbs; the most well-known include Ashwagandha, Turmeric, and Boswellia. 

 

 

The Proven Health Benefits of Ayurveda 

 

  • Reduced inflammation

One could argue that almost every ayurvedic practice may help to support healthy inflammatory responses, whether that’s in the form of mindful movement, stress reduction, a whole food diet, or powerful anti-inflammatory herbs like Turmeric root, which may even support those with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Optimized sleep

Health statistics show that we’re more sleep deprived than ever, thanks to high levels of chronic stress, electronic devices, blood sugar imbalances, and caffeine. 

Ayurveda’s focus on restoring balance and promoting calm through meditation, yoga, body massage therapy, breath work, and the use of medicinal plants such as Ashwagandha can support deeper, more restorative sleep.
 

  • Heart health

One clinical trial examined the effects of comprehensive Ayurvedic-based therapies on those with coronary heart disease. 

These therapies included diet, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and herbal remedies (one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbal medicines for heart health includes Indian Gooseberry)

At the end of the study, it was found that incorporating these ayurvedic principles led to a significant reduction in BMI, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. [1]
 

  • Weight loss

While the focus of Ayurveda is generally not weight loss specifically, Ayurvedic principles teach us that good health is about restoring balance. 

Once this balance is restored, we can maintain a healthy weight naturally and easily. 

Traditional Ayurvedic herbs like Triphala, Guggul, Ashwagandha, and Cinnamon may help the scale move in the right direction and are all available as dietary supplements. 

 

 

What are the Doshas?


“The balance of doshas is health, and the imbalance is disease.”

 – Swami Sivananda

 

Similarly to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the philosophy of Ayurvedic medicine is based on the belief that the entire universe is composed of 5 elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether, and that these elements come together to form the three doshas Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.

It’s said that these three doshas are energies present within the body and mind. Maintaining a harmonious balance of each dosha is essential to allow each bodily system to function correctly and optimally. 

Everyone has a different balance of these doshas, with some being more predominant than others determining a person's constitution or “body type.”

The doshas tend to take on the characteristics of the elements they are made up of, which defines the dosha's nature and role within the body.

Understanding your dosha is like getting a look at your “health blueprint.” 

Traditional Ayurvedic medicine aims to restore the correct balance of all the doshas within for balanced health of mind, body, and spirit. 

The easiest way to discover your dosha is by taking an online quiz, like the one here: https://www.oneworldayurveda.com/free-dosha-quiz/ 

 

Keep reading for a brief introduction to the three different doshas and a few holistic tools that can help to balance each.

 

 

Vata


Vata is made up of the elements air and ether (space) and is considered the dosha of movement. The energy of this dosha is responsible for functions like circulation, respiration, and the nervous system. 

Those with a predominantly Vata-type constitution usually have a lean body with a delicate bone structure. Their mind is typically sensitive and creative and quick to learn new things.

Vata individuals may be susceptible to feeling cold often, having dry skin, and experiencing fast thoughts and speech.

Imbalances in Vata can result in anxiety and digestive issues like constipation, hair loss, and insomnia.

 

Practices to help balance Vata

When Vata’s light, airy nature becomes excessive, grounding practices are essential. This can include setting up daily routines and rituals, practicing a grounding meditation with your bare feet on the earth, body massage, and hot baths. 

 

Dietary considerations for Vata balance

Warming, cooked meals are ideal for helping bring Vata back into balance. Root vegetables and warm spices like ginger and cinnamon are recommended alongside a higher protein and fat intake. 

Drinking plenty of water and herbal teas is also essential since Vata types are prone to dehydration and dryness.

 

 

Pitta 


Pitta is made up of the elements of fire and water and is considered the dosha of transformation. It takes on qualities like heat and sharpness from fire and fluidity from water.

Pitta’s primary functions include digesting food and producing blood while supporting self-confidence and intelligence.

Those with a predominantly pitta constitution usually have a medium, athletic body type with an active metabolism and oily skin and hair. They also typically have sharp, intelligent minds and are goal-oriented and driven.

Imbalances in Pitta can result in skin rashes, acne, anger, inflammation, and excessive sweating.

 

Practices to help balance Pitta

Excessive Pitta needs to be cooled and calmed. A focus on relaxation, meditation, and sleep is considered essential. 


Dietary considerations for Vata balance

Cooling foods are recommended, which include foods with bitter, sweet, and astringent properties, such as leafy greens, cucumber, oats, rice, coriander, mangos, bananas and the herb fennel.

Limiting sour, pungent, or spicy foods that may increase Pitta is also usually suggested, such as garlic, onions, radishes, buckwheat, corn, and citrus fruits.

 

Kapha 


Kapha is made up of earth and water and is the dosha of substance. It takes on the qualities of heaviness and stability from earth and smoothness from water.

Kapha's main functions include stabilizing and lubricating the joints, providing moisture, strength, and taste while cooling the heart and supporting immunity.

Those with a predominantly Kapha constitution usually have a more compact, sturdy body type with a tendency to store fat, a slower metabolism, and thick hair. They are usually patient, calm, kind, and generous beings.

When Kapha is imbalanced, this can result in sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain, withdrawal/isolation, and a craving for sweet foods.

 

Practices to help balance Kapha

Those with an imbalance in Kapha need to focus on activity, both physical movement, and mental stimulation. Setting up a self-care routine that includes mindful activities like breathwork and meditation would be very beneficial for restoring a Kapha imbalance. 

 

Dietary considerations for Kapha balance

Since Kapha tends to promote a slow metabolism, it’s recommended that those with excess Kapha need to focus on consuming stimulating and warming foods and spices like quinoa, millet, buckwheat, barley, onions, garlic, radishes, beetroot, cayenne pepper, ginger, turmeric, and cloves.

 

 

Final thoughts

 

If you think Ayurveda sounds like the right form of complementary medicine for you, start your journey by discovering your dosha type and consider seeking out a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before making any drastic dietary or lifestyle changes. 

Wishing you well on your healing journey!

 

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.

 

Zaheera Swing
Nutritional Therapist & Herbalist BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD
As a qualified Nutritional Therapist (BSc Hons Nutritional Science + NTPD), Zaheera Swing has a deep passion for restoring balance and harmony to the body through the modalities of nutritional science, herbalism, and holistic lifestyle practices. Using the functional medicine model coupled with wisdom from ancient paradigms, she aims to provide insight into the underlying root causes of poor health and the holistic tools we can harness to enhance the well-being of mind, body, and spirit.
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