Ayurveda is the ancient holistic medical system from India which has been practised for more than 5000 years. Ayurveda means “science of life” (“Ayu” meaning life and “Veda” meaning science).
Ayurveda sees everything in the universe, including human beings, as composed of five basic elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. These five elements in turn combine with each other to give rise to three bio-physical forces (or Doshas) – Vata (air & space), Pitta (fire & water) and Kapha (water & earth). Every individual has within them all three bio-physical forces, but it is the dominance of any one or two or all three that makes up a person’s individual constitution.
Prakriti: Basic body constitution: At time of conception, each person’s combination and proportion of Vata, Pitta and Kapha is determined according to genetics, diet, lifestyle, and the current emotions of the parents. The unique and specific combination of the three energies at the time of conception is called one’s Prakriti or basic body constitution. It is like a DNA imprint, which will never change.
Vikriti: Current body constitution: As conditions change – due to weather, diet, lifestyle, emotion, stress – the balance of the Doshas in our body and mind also changes. This altered state of Doshas, reflecting the current state of health, is called Vikriti.
Ayurvedic approach involves establishing an individual’s constitution and the nature of the imbalance and then seeking to return the individual’s body to a state of healthy balance. The treatments consist of the use of:
- Daily routine
Ayurvedic perspective on food:
“You are what you eat” is an age old saying that finds its origins in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda looks at a balanced diet in terms of tastes and says that every meal should contain all the six tastes, but one must predominantly favour the tastes that help eliminate the excess Dosha dominance that may lead to imbalances in their body.
These tastes are:
Tastes beneficial for Vata imbalances:
- Vata dominant people have excess of air and space element.
- They lack fire, water and earth elements. Hence they are usually dry, cold and light and prone to ailments like lower back pain, arthritis, sciatica, sleep disorders.
- They also generally tend to suffer from constipation, headaches, dry skin, circulation disturbances, stress and nervousness.
- Therefore the best tastes for them are anything that is sweet, sour and salty. By this we mean only naturally occurring sweets like sweet fruits, rice, etc. likewise the same goes with sour and salty foods too.
- These tastes help to ground a person, calm the excess movement of air.
- These tastes also help to warm up the body and increase circulation and lubrication
Tastes beneficial for Pitta imbalances:
- Pitta dominant people have an excess of fire element in them.
- They lack the cooling properties of earth and refreshing qualities of air. Hence they are usually hot, humid with fire related restlessness.
- They are prone to conditions of fevers inflammation, infections, sunburn, skin disorders, gastritis, stomach ulcers, diarrhea, hyperacidity and headaches.
- The tastes that would benefit a Pitta dominant person are sweet, bitter and astringent.
- Sweet taste helps to calm down the restlessness.
- Bitter and astringent tastes are more cooling and refreshing.
- These tastes help to reduce the heat in the body thereby helping to alleviate fevers, inflammations, acidity etc.
Tastes beneficial for Kapha imbalances:
- Kapha dominant people have an excess of water and earth.
- They lack the movement of air and the warmth of fire. Hence they are usually cold, clammy, heavy and slow to move with slower digestion and metabolism.
- They generally suffer from dull headaches, sinusitis, tonsillitis, respiratory infections, congestion, bronchitis, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol.
- The tastes that would benefit excess Kapha Dosha are spicy, bitter and astringent.
- Spicy tastes helps to stimulate the metabolic activities.
- Bitter and astringent tastes also help to cleanse the channels and help to get rid of excess mucus, slime and congestion in the body.
- Hence these tastes will help to regulate the fire and air elements in the body.
Examples of tastes:
Maple syrup, rice, asparagus, sweet fruits, milk
Vinegar, alcohol, lemon, cheese
Rock salt, sea salt, sea fish, sea food
Chillies, black pepper, dried ginger, mustard seeds, garlic
Aloe Vera, fenugreek, green leafy vegetables, salads,
Buttermilk, amaranth, unripe fruits
Importance of digestive fire (Agni) in Ayurveda:
Agni or the digestive fire is located in the stomach and small intestine and this can be compared to the digestive enzymes. It is believed that as long as Agni is strong, food will get completely digested. But when Agni becomes weak, toxins start forming and this leads to disease in the body. Therefore keeping the digestive fire strong is an important aim in Ayurveda. I usually say that: “Just the way the earth revolves around the sun and is completely dependent on the sun, likewise our lives also revolve around our digestive fires.”
Some simple remedies to stimulate digestive fire:
- Ginger Lemon Tea during the day. Ginger has fire like qualities, which helps to stimulate Agni and melt toxins away. Lemon has cleansing qualities and helps to flush out the melted toxins from the body.
- Warm liquid foods during the day, example soups
- Avoiding heavy foods like cheese, yogurt, cold juices and cold foods early in the morning and late in the evening
© Dr Deepa Apte 2020