It is easy for most to understand how what you consume in your diet will affect your health & well-being. Naturally some foods are more nutritious than others. Fruits & veggies will lead to greater general health than candy & processed foods. Ayurveda takes the knowledge a bit further and predicts which fruits and veggies are best for you and why. At each moment we all have a unique make-up of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, & ether, known as our dosha or constitution. This constitution affects how we respond to different foods. For example being a predominantly Vata constitution my body responds better to root vegetables than to leafy greens, but for others this may not be the case.
Foods, like all of nature, are made up of the five elements and consist of a unique combination of qualities. When we understand the qualities inherent in a food and know the qualities inherent in ourselves, how a food will affect us is also known. If our ultimate goal is to bring balance to the body the foods with the opposite qualities of our imbalance should be consumed. For example, if you were experiencing a Pitta or fiery imbalance then dull & smooth foods would bring you back to balance.
The key is to know which foods have the qualities that you need. The qualities of food are determined primarily by their taste, though these qualities can be altered through preparation and processing. The body craves life-sustaining foods and we are drawn to them through our sense of taste. From a whole foods perspective, what taste good for you will be nourishing and what taste bad is not likely a food that will sustain you.
Ayurveda divides up food into six tastes, each having its own set of qualities and elemental make-ups. The six taste of Ayurveda are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, & astringent. The six different tastes will affect your health differently based on your dosha. To create optimal health in the body Ayurvedic teachings recommend that you choose foods to eat that balance your predominate constitution and take only a small amount of the taste that increase it. If you have an imbalance related to a specific dosha it is recommend that you avoid the foods that increase that dosha and increase the foods that bring you back to balance. The chart below will help you understand how each taste effects the doshas.
For me, my predominant dosha is Vata. Vata is related the constitution of air so in general qualities I experience are lightness and dryness. I would need foods that have the qualities of heavy & moist to bring me into balance. According to the table, foods with the constitution of earth and fire will help bring more harmony to my body. These foods have the taste of sweet, salty, & sour. I also have had times when I get stressed at work and begin to channel a lot of masculine energy. During these times I begin to accumulate some excess fire qualities in my body. This is categorized as a Pitta imbalance. During these times I have brought myself back to balance by consuming those taste which are Pitta are decreasing such as sweet, bitter, & astringent foods.
The key here to realize as with everything we are not striving for perfection but having the intention that the majority of the foods we consume bring balance to our bodies. One thing I’ve found helpful is to create a dosha specific pacifying shopping list & having a couple of go to recipes for breakfast lunch a dinner. This week I’ll be diving into the digestive qualities of each dosha and sharing some practical tips maintain a healthy digestion.
Ayurveda is closely connected to Yoga. It often known as the sister of Yoga. Ayurveda is the science of how to create optimal health, while yoga is the science of how to attain peace in the mind. Together, Ayurveda and yoga provide a prescription to remove unnecessary suffering and dis-ease so that you can fully blossom and thrive in this human experience.
Ayurveda teachings state that misuse of the senses is one of three primary cause of dis-ease in the body. The science of Ayurveda explores how we can use our senses in a conscious way to support healing & alter the physiology of the body. Ayurveda is the science of how to effectively use diet, visual images, sounds, aromatherapy, and touch to create within the body an optimal environment for healing to take place. We have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Ayurveda pushes this a step further and states that you are what taste, smell, see, hear, & feel. The five sense are viewed gateways into the body, mind, and consciousness. If we consume that which is harmonious we will feel supported and balanced, conversely if we take in that which is disharmonious we will feel unbalanced & create dis-ease in the body.
In his book Healing Your Life Marc Halpern relates human health to the health of plants:
“In many ways, we are much like plants. If a plant lives in the right environment and receive all of the proper nutrients, has healthy soil, proper sunlight and is growing in the right temperature, it will attain a deep rich color and have lots of blossoms. If it does not it may still survive, but it will not thrive and reach its full potential of beauty. We are much the same. Our environment is what we take in through the five sense: food, sights, sounds, smells, and touch. If our environment is ideal, each of us will attain a deep, rich color and fully blossom into a healthy, whole, and joyous human being. If not, we may still survive but our well-being will be significantly compromise and there is no way we can reach our full potential. “
The challenge of course is to know what is harmonious & what is disharmonious. There is no right way to use the senses. We are all unique. Halpern goes on to state, “Nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone.” Ayurveda is ultimately the science of learning what is right for you!
Last month, I attended the first session of my Ayurveda Therapist Training. The first night my lovely teacher shared a myth called the Ocean of Awareness with us. It definitely struck a chord with me.
The story was about a heroic Turtle named Kurma. There was so much so many lessons to be learned in that story but, what stood out to me was that the hero decided to incarnate into a turtle to save the day. Now, turtles are cute and all, but when I think heroic, they are not the first thing that comes to mind. Upon further contemplation I came to the conclusion that the turtle does have some pretty admirable traits. Their sturdy shell makes them built to last. They move mindfully so they avoid burnout & when life does get chaotic around them they are literally able to retreat from the outside world to gain more clarity. These are all excellent behaviors to avoid dis-ease and bring more harmony to life.
The Ayurveda teachings give us three causes of dis-ease or lack of harmony in the life and they are as follows:
Around that time, I wandered into my first yoga class. I fell in love immediately because it gave me permission to slow down. The intentional movement helped focus my always whirling vata mind & the breath helped cool my fiery tendencies. Understanding my tendency to lack discipline (another vata trait) I signed up for Yoga Teacher training at Swan River Yoga to force myself to develop a consistent practice. The next few months were a complete transformation. My practice helped me feel more grounded, release competitive tendencies, and overall feel more balanced in my body and in my life. Today even though my full-time job is the same, I find a lot more harmony in my life.
See it’s not that Pitta Dosha tendencies are “bad” or that one Dosha is more favorable than the others. The problems arise when we become unbalanced. In Ayurveda, it is taught that we sign up to be born with a specific constitution of each of the doshas based on the lessons we are trying to learn this life time. This is called our Prakriti. It is our own unique natural state. Our task during life is to work to bring to balance to the imbalance or Vikriti caused by our lifestyle choices including our profession, relationships, habits, and tendencies.
While the faster equals better paradigm seems to be shifting amongst businesses as more companies are adopting a more mindful & steady approach to business. Retail management or any capitalist based business will always be a Pitta provoking profession due to it nature. It’s important for me to incorporate daily practices or Chikitsa’s or rituals that will help keep me in balance. Some of the recommended Pitta/Vata pacifying Chikitsa’s I have implemented thus far have been Restorative Yoga, daily abhyanga, shirodhara & meditation. All of these practices are beneficial for calming the nervous system & feeling more grounded in your body.