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Despite being the world’s oldest holistic healing system—predating even Chinese medicine—Ayurveda is only now gaining traction on this side of the globe. Hailing from India, where some 70 percent of the population ascribes to its philosophy, Ayurveda emphasizes daily rituals, nutrition, and lifestyle. The word itself translates loosely as “the knowledge or science of life."'
According to the tradition, there are three main types (called doshas)—Pitta, Vata, and Kapha—and each of us is some combination of those three, with different ones dominating the others. Figure out which one you are (handy quiz here), and then follow the advice to keep yourself in balance—from getting enough sleep and sleeping better, to better skin, digestion, and performing better at the gym and at work. Simple as that!
There are no silver bullets with Ayurveda, precisely because it is based in the principle of whole body balance between the physical, the mental and the surrounding environment. Some Ayurvedic medicine has caused controversy, but we advocate focusing on lifestyle and nutrition as the best medicine—some of which is garnering scientific support for its effectiveness.
Are you open to Ayurveda? Click through the slideshow for its best tips.
This is a series inspired by No More Dirty Looks: The Truth About Your Beauty Products and the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Clean Cosmetics, a book by GOOD's features editor Siobhan O'Connor and her co-author Alexandra Spunt.
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Illustrations by Brianna Harden
Follow the day's natural cycles.
We’ve talked about how Ayurveda can relate to sleep: The tradition says that the hours of the day are divided into dosha cycles, making different activities ideal at different times. A few examples: Falling asleep is easier during watery and relaxed Kapha time before 10pm, rather than fiery Pitta time between 10pm and 2am, when the mind becomes active. (If you are asleep, this cycle is said to be ideal for vivid dreaming. Fun!) Ayurveda also recommends that the biggest meal of the day be lunch, during another Pitta cycle, when digestion is at its strongest. Dinner, which is during Kapha time, should be light. That's when our body is at its most sluggish.
Eat for your dosha.
People who have more Pittas tend to collect heat in the body (and have a strong aversion to being too hot); Vata tends toward cold dryness; and Kapha’s towards sluggishness. As such, each dosha needs a different diet. While Pitta’s digestion is very strong, it should stay away from stimulants, too much spice, and can use cooling foods (think cucumber) to balance it out. Vatas, who have a weaker digestive system and a more hyper disposition, need warm, rich, and soothing foods. Kaphas, meanwhile, do better with light foods that are less fatty and more energizing.
Change with the seasons.
Long before the local food movement got its wings, Ayurveda was telling us to eat with the season. Here’s why: The seasons too are dominated by doshas. If fall is cool and airy like the Vata dosha, we can all do better to adopt aspects of a warm and calming diet to balance it out. Think buttery squash soup, cooked vegatables, and protein. Hot (Pitta) summer weather, on the other hand, calls for salads and cooling food. Conveniently nature already supplies us with the appropriate Ayurvedic diet for each season. Stick with it and you'll feel better.
Know what throws your dosha off.
Life is always getting in the way of balance, and it’s useful to know what can push you and your dosha over the edge. For instance, frequent traveling will likely aggravate the already restless Vata, causing anything from indigestion and insomnia to really bad anxiety. Vatas do best with a more regimented schedule. The easy-going (though sometimes lazy) Kaphas probably like to enjoy an afternoon snooze, but their somewhat slower metabolism would benefit instead from a brisk afternoon walk. While Pittas have a strong and steady constitution, they should probably avoid activities that generate too much heat in the body: things like hot yoga, steam rooms, and intense physical labor (especially in the sun) are no-nos, and can cause aggravation, rashy skin, and too much acid in the stomach.
Balance yourself with yoga and meditation.
Ayurveda uses yoga and meditation as balancing tools as well. So Pittas, who may have a tendency towards trying to control things, are encouraged to do postures that focus on surrender and letting go. Kaphas, who need more movement, benefit from sun salutations and postures that aid with circulation. Vatas, however, need to chill out their overly active minds, which are known to run in circles: Regular meditation and posture retention is the prescription there.
Ayurveda also encourages abhyanga, a form of self-massage. We explain how to do it in our book, and ideally it becomes a daily morning ritual before showering. In short, it’s a soothing oil rubdown that stimulates circulation and nourishes the body. Ayurveda realizes that, because our skin absorbs so much of what we put on it (hello, cosmetics), we can treat ourselves transdermally with different oils and herbs—specific to each dosha of course. Also, it just feels good.
Seek out an ayurvedic doctor.
If you’re interested in going deeper with Ayurveda, you could go to Kerala, India, or you can seek out a practitioner in your area. Depending where you live this may take a little work. A few suggestions: reach out to people online who may be able to recommend someone, contact schools like Ayurveda College, or look for an Indian pharmacy and grocer in your city and ask the owner for a recommendation.