Published on August 31st, 2019 | by Gedalia Genin0
Discovering Ayurveda Part 1
by Gedalia Genin
While yoga has flourished and enjoyed mainstream acceptance over the last few decades, its sister science, Ayurveda, has not received as much attention. Yet people turn to both practices to reduce stress, eliminate pain, lose weight, prevent disease, reduce dependence on prescription drugs, improve quality of life and accelerate spiritual development. So what’s special about Ayurveda?
According to Dr. Marc Halpern, founder and director of The California College of Ayurveda, “Ayurveda is considered to be the mother of all healing sciences, and yoga is its corollary… Ayurveda is the healing side of yoga; yoga is the spiritual side of Ayurveda.”
What is Ayurveda?
The word “Ayurveda” literally means “knowledge of life.” Originally handed down in an oral tradition, Ayurvedic teachings were recorded in sacred Sanskrit texts called the Vedas over the course of 4,000 years. The teachings offer guidance for daily routines, diet, lifestyle and thinking as well as herbal formulations and other practices that aim to balance both mental and physical health.
While the concept of mind-body connection is new to modern science, Ayurveda has recognized it for millennia. In fact, it asserts that the mind-body connection is essential for optimal health, longevity and disease prevention. It considers good digestion and elimination to be key to health, and it guides people to learn what types of foods, colors, aromas, sounds and touch create balance for body and mind.
Benefits of an Ayurvedic lifestyle can include natural weight loss, increased self-awareness and self-care, anti-aging, glowing skin, reduced or eliminated pain and increased creativity.
How is Ayurveda different?
While Western medicine views human physiology as being comprised of separate parts—bones, joints, muscles, organs and so on—Ayurveda looks at the whole human being, including their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual natures. And while Western medicine focuses on symptoms of diseases and primarily uses drugs and surgery to rid the body of pathogens, the goal of Ayurvedic practice is to keep the energy pathways, or nadis, unblocked for optimal health. In Chinese medicine, the energy in these pathways is known as “chi;” in Japanese healing practices, it is known as “ki;” and in yoga and Ayurveda the vital energy force is called “prana.” Practices such as yogic breath, meditation and chanting, and Ayurvedic therapies such as Marma and Polarity Therapy, work to enliven prana.
According to Ayurveda, each of us is made up of a combination of fundamental energies, or doshas. The three doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha—each have their own qualities and flavors and are derived from a unique blend of the five elements—earth, air, water, fire and ether. While each of us have all three doshas in our physiological makeup, one or a combination of two are predominant at birth.
The doshas are used as the basis for creating a customized wellness program that might involve shifting dietary choices, using essential oils, revising lifestyle patterns, incorporating yoga postures and more. Detox programs, herbs, gemstones, breathwork, self-massage, and Ayurvedic therapies such as meditation and Marma—which involves pressure points and chakra balancing—can become part of one’s Ayurvedic path to wellness.
“The three doshas are present in every cell, organ, tissue, system and organism and at all levels of consciousness,” wrote Dr. Vasant Lad, an Indian physician who brought Ayurveda to the West. The seasons, times of the day, and portions of the life cycle also have a predominant dosha associated with them.
Take A Dosha Quiz Online
There are several dosha quizzes online that make it easy to find out which dosha(s) you are and to learn more about the benefits of making Ayurvedic changes to your lifestyle. For best results, work with a skilled Ayurvedic professional.
Kristin: The next 3 subheadings should fall within the “Doshas” heading.
Those born with a Vata constitution may have a thin frame and tend toward dry skin, constipation and scattered energy.
Vata types get balanced with the help of warm, cooked foods and grounding tastes, such as sweet, salty and sour, as well as root vegetables, sea vegetables, sweet potatoes and ghee. They thrive when they get “oiled” both inside and out—with healthy fats and self-massage. Warming essential oils such as vetiver, nutmeg and vanilla bring peace to an often scattered Vata mind.
Yoga postures such as Tadasana, or standing pose, and Uttanasa, or forward bends, are classical poses that bring calm and centeredness to these often-unsteady types. Alternate nostril breathing, like that used in pranayama, or breathing techniques, can reduce anxiety and stress. Calming a Vata’s sensitive nervous system is key. We are currently living in a Vata-provoking society, so paying attention to overwhelm and overstimulation will prevent Vata derangement in most everyone.
Pitta energy combines the fire and water elements, providing the energy of transformation. Pitta types are often of medium build, have strong metabolism and sharp intellect. They may have fair skin, freckles and even red hair. They have tendencies toward inflammation, diarrhea, acid reflux and skin conditions such as acne and redness.
Pitta types get more balance with cooling foods such as cucumber, coconut, mint, aloe vera juice, sweet fruits, coriander flavoring and sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. It’s best for Pittas to avoid spicy foods, too.
Being in nature and near water cools the Pitta nature. In other words, “chilling out” is the remedy. Cooling essential oils such as sandalwood, peppermint and orange help Pittas relax, as does the “Cooling Breath” pranayama breathing technique. Yoga postures that calm and balance Pitta are Cobra Pose and Moon Salutation. Summer is Pitta season, in fact—a time when everyone can benefit from a few heat-pacifying practices.
Kapha, the energy type that derives from earth and water, includes the structural elements of the body. Kapha types are often larger-boned, are blessed with strength, endurance, and stamina and are often loving and caring people. They are usually very calm, tolerant and forgiving. When out of balance, Kapha types have tendencies toward weight gain, congestion and resistance to healthy change.
People with predominant Kapha energy find balance with vigorous exercise and stimulating tastes such as pungent spices, astringent and bitter tastes. Dry brushing is an effective ritual for these types since it helps the lymphatic system move stagnant energy. Kaphas often do well with light food and grains.
A helpful yoga asana for Kapha types is Sun salutation, since it is vigorous and stimulating, along with Soul Cycle and spinning classes. And a breathing exercise, Bastrika Breath, can be used to get Kaphas’ energy moving.
Next month: Part 2 of our Ayurveda Series: Ayurveda Brings Balance to Digestion
Author Gedalia Genin, Ph.D., has been using Ayurveda, breathwork, meditation, essential oils, Marma, sound healing and more for over 15 years to help women experience greater health and vitality. Contact her at GedaliaGenin@gmail.com or 678-357-3443.