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Mind & Body

A Beginner’s Guide To Ayurveda

Considered to be one of the oldest healing sciences by scholars, celebrities and wellness influencers alike, Ayurveda promises to provide inner balance & energy by focusing on the fundamentals of your unique body type – Your Dosha to be exact! The use of specific nutrition, body techniques & exercise will help your energy start to flow in the right direction.

Ayurveda is an ancient holistic healing philosophy to improve your health and wellbeing with a focus on prevention through the balance of your body’s natural constitution (or “Prakriti”). Translated as “the science of life”, the Ayurvedic concept is that we are at one with nature and our environment, and our habits and lifestyle should reflect this. 

Your Prakriti (translating as “nature” or “source”) is established at birth, affects the way you function, and determines your physical and psychological characteristics. Although your Prakriti never changes, it is constantly influenced by fluxes of various internal and external factors that can cause imbalances – from the environment, to seasonal changes, exercise, diet, lifestyle choices, community, surroundings, and more. 

The Ayurvedic way of life is to consistently re-balance our mind, body, and spirit to prevent injury, illness, and disease through a “lifestyle medicine”. Yoga, anyone? 

The 3 Doshas: Vata, Pitta & Kapha

According to Ayurveda, our Prakriti is made up of individual ‘Doshas'
(or body types) identified with their Sanskrit names: Vata, Pitta,
and Kapha. According to Ayurveda, we all have a dominant Dosha whose
characteristics we tend to display, but we can be a combination of two. 

Our
leading Dosha impacts the way we look, act, sleep, eat, exercise, and
feel emotionally and physically. By being aware of our unique Prakriti,
we can actively balance out our natural Dosha to create an equilibrium
through our lifestyle choices so that we are operating in our most
optimal state, leading to a flourishing, longer life with reduced
stress, increased energy, and less pain, injury, illness, and disease. 

During
our life, and even throughout each day, our Doshas can become
imbalanced resulting in emotional or physical stress from rashes and
breakouts to poor mental health, injury, colds, and flu, to obesity and
heart problems. Ayurveda suggests that any ill-health or disease we
experience can be directly influenced by how we take care of ourselves
from sleep to nutrition and self-care. 

The three Doshas are
present in everybody in varying amounts and represent different
functions in our bodies, but can you identify yourself in the
descriptions of the three Doshas below to determine your Ayurvedic
Prakriti? 

1. Vata

Vata consists mostly of two elements: air and space. People who are
more ‘Vata’ are usually slim with bony limbs, and straight body shapes.
They tend to gain weight in the middle, have fine or dry skin, feel the
cold, and have difficulty sweating. They might have an irregular or
erratic appetite. 

Vatas tend to be high-energy, creative,
enthusiastic, alert, active and can be restless as their mind jumps from
one thing to the next. Vatas are great idea-generators, social
butterflies, and mood-lifters. On an imbalanced day, Vatas might find it
difficult to relax or focus, feel frazzled, stressed, burnt-out, or
suffer from insomnia, poor circulation, or constipation. To balance
this, Vatas should make time for self-care and seek warmth, stillness,
and grounding. Eating at regular times and going to bed at the same time
each night can also help to create harmony. Vata types tend to be
spiritually connected and quick-learners with a penchant for nature and
the outdoors. 

If you recognize yourself as a Vata, feel more
grounded with foods that are heavy, moist, sticky, warm, stable, salty,
and sour like soups, stews, and curries. 

2. Pitta

Pitta is made up of fire and water. Pitta types tend to be of medium
build, with a strong, athletic figure, and can tend to gain weight on
the bottom half. They tend to get warm easily, have a strong appetite,
lustrous skin, and good metabolism and digestion. 

A Pitta is
likely to be ambitious, determined, and competitive with a strong
intellect and good insight. They can be focused innovators, who like to
be the center of attention and are good leaders. Although Pitta types
can be nocturnal, they are prone to sleeping deeply and having vivid
dreams or nightmares. 

To seek balance, Pittas should choose cold,
hard, bitter, dry, astringent, or sweet foods to counteract oily,
sharp, fleshy, salty, and sour Pitta characteristics. On a good day,
Pittas are radiant, with glowing skin, and have inner peace and
happiness, but an imbalance could lead to irrationality, controlling
tendencies, irritability, and breakouts or rashes. They might experience
interrupted sleep, acid reflux, loose bowel movements, or headaches. 

Pittas fiery nature can be balanced out by seeking solace in calm and soothing scenes during times of stress. 

3. Kapha

Kaphas, made up of water and earth, usually have broad shoulders and
well-developed skin, soft, oily skin, and thick hair. They usually have a
slower rate of digestion and metabolism. Kaphas tend to be grounded,
patient, caring, compassionate, and loving to family and friends. 

Kapha types
love warmth, can be attached to material possessions, have an
appreciation for art, music, and dance, and love to eat. To bring back
the equilibrium, Kaphas should eat foods that are light, pungent,
bitter, dry, clear, salty, and rough to balance out the heavy, moist,
dense, oily, smooth characteristics. Kaphas tend to be strong, stable,
affectionate, reliable team players. On an imbalanced day, Kaphas can
gain weight easily, be prone to sinus and respiratory problems, feel
lethargic, can be groggy in the morning, and experience food cravings
and depression. 

To counteract stress reactions like comfort
eating and hibernating, Kaphas should try to stay energized, practice
letting go, and take a nature walk outside.

How to practice Ayurveda at home

Now you’ve identified your Prakriti and Dosha tendencies, how can you
use that information to support your health and wellbeing? 

Ayurvedic
practices can support a healthy heart, digestion, reduce inflammation,
improve healthy sleep and wake cycles, help with weight loss, and
balance energy and mood for optimum health. Consider your individual
Prakriti and Doshas, along with nature and the environment to shape
Ayurvedic practices to suit you. 

1. Find your flow with yoga

Yoga is perhaps the most well-known Ayurvedic custom that has
infiltrated the western world and contemporary society. The ancient
stretching and breathing practice promotes health and vitality from
tapping into relaxation strategies to improving joint health and
mobility to grounding for the mind and body bringing peace and
flexibility. 

2. Find moments of calm with meditation

Stillness is scarce in our modern existence. Meditation
and mindfulness – now proven with scientific data – physically alters
the brain to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, enhances
concentration and attention levels, and improves memory, learning, and
cognitive function for brain-boosting power. 

3. Use essential oils with massage (“Abhyanga”)

Show yourself love with self-massage, or book in some aromatherapy with
your favorite spa for a relaxation treatment to improve your physical
health, mental health, and wellbeing. Essential oils contribute to
increased blood flow, support blood circulation, and remove harmful
toxins from the body. Physical touch and aromas help to decrease anxiety
and low mood and increase energy. 

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4. Create a mood-boosting morning routine

A peaceful, conscious start to the morning can set you up for a
calming, stress-free day. Going to bed early and waking up to watch the
sunrise as you prepare for your day follows the rhythm of nature and
ensures you get enough restorative sleep of 7-10 hours each night to
feel rejuvenated. 

An Ayurvedic morning routine might consist of
breathwork, meditation, yoga, and cleansing practices like tongue
scraping and emptying your bowels. Ayurvedic cleansing and
detoxification rituals (“Panchakarma”) can be carried out with an
Ayurvedic practitioner. At home, sipping warm water first thing in the
morning with herbs and spices is a nourishing way to detoxify and start
the day with balanced energy, digestion, and mood, reducing bloating,
helping you to feel happier and more alert. 

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5. Nourish with nutrition

An Ayurvedic diet encourages whole foods like fruit, vegetables,
legumes, and grains that contain essential nutrients, vitamins, and
minerals. Move with nature’s crops to choose foods that are in season to
nourish your body (and the planet). 

Where possible, choose
organic, home-grown, and fresh food instead of processed food that can
lack important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Practice intuitive eating,
taking time to cook and eat without distractions, and listen to what
your body needs. Eating according to your Prakriti, and at particular
times of the day, can enhance your health and vitality. 

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6. Sprinkle herbs & spices

According to Ayurveda, food is medicine. Natural herbs and spices
from the earth are widely used as part of a daily routine or ramped up
in recipes with healing and protective properties during times of
ill-health or stress. Root causes of neurological diseases, pulmonary
diseases, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular problems often
stem back to inflammation. 

Turmeric balances out all Doshas and is an anti-inflammatory. Stir into warm milk or food to protect against illness. 

Sprinkles
of cinnamon have anti-viral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, and
anti-inflammatory properties too. It’s especially effective for
improving digestion, much like ginger, that can reduce feelings of
nausea, help with weight loss and support healthy cholesterol levels.

Other commonly-used Ayurvedic herbs and spices are cardamom, cumin, fennel, ashwagandha, Brahmi, and Amalaki. 

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