A Beginner’s Guide to Ayurveda

A Beginner’s Guide to AyurvedaHave you heard of Ayurveda before? Pronounced “aa-yer-vay-da”, this is one of the oldest healing and medicinal systems in the world, straight out of India. In fact, it’s often called the ‘Sister Science’ to yoga, because they were both started by the same great sages and compliment each other in their wisdom.

Ayurveda’s history can be dated back over 6,000 years – and some say as much as 10,000 years (isn’t that incredible?). Today in India there are around 300,000 Ayurvedic doctors, many of whom work side by side with conventional medicine and homeopathy, and as yoga has gained popularity in the western world, so has Ayurveda.

I’ve been lucky enough to learn a very small amount of this wisdom, in my yoga teacher trainings, in my studies and in my time in India this year, and it’s a subject I am fascinated by.

So let’s break it down. ‘Ayur’ is translated as ‘life’, and ‘veda’ is translated as science or knowledge – the Science of Life.

The basic philosophy is that every living creature is comprised of body, mind and spirit, and they are also comprised of five elements – earth, air, water, fire, and ether (or space).

Just as these elements are found in nature, so they are found in you! Because you too, are part of nature.

The thing I love about Ayurveda is that it looks to you as an individual. It works on which elements you are governed by (known as your ‘dosha’), and whether any of them are imbalanced or excessive. When an element becomes imbalanced, it can affect you on any of your three levels, physically, mentally or spiritually.

The ‘doshas’ are a key part of Ayurveda, and it’s pretty interesting to find out which dosha you are. There are a few websites that have online quizzes you can fill in, and it’s incredible at how detailed they can be – from the way you look, to the way you act, to little characteristics you probably thought were totally unimportant!

My most prevalent dosha is Vata. Vata people are governed by the elements of air and ether, so the characteristics are pretty relevant – usually thin, do things quickly (walk, eat and think), feel the cold, get dry skin, learn quickly but also forget quickly (airheads!), get dry throats and the hiccups. We also often have too much going on in our heads and can get overwhelmed by thoughts, it can be like a tornado in there! (The hubby will tell you, this is totally true of me.)

The other two doshas are Pitta, governed by the fire element, and Kapha which is earth and water.

So when treating excessive or imbalanced doshas, you’re prescribed dietary and lifestyle guidelines, herbal supplements, and various other natural remedies to balance things out again (the ayurvedic massage is one of my favourite remedies).

It’s all about being in balance to nature, to your elements, and to your environment.

Interestingly, other ancient medicinal systems such as Chinese medicine and Tibetan medicine run along similar principles, about our bodies being governed by various elements. It’s just western medicine that has separated us from nature, and even separated us from ourselves, looking at the body as separate pieces rather than a whole working organism.

Ayurveda isn’t just fascinating, ancient and holistic. It’s also effective. If you’re looking for disease prevention and treatment, Ayurveda is a great place to start. After all, there are over a billion Indians – they must know a thing or two about longevity!

So, here are a few tips for you, depending on your dosha:

Vata: You’re governed by air and ether so you’re going to be a little dry, a little rough, and probably a little cold. You should include lots of warming foods in your diet like garlic and ginger, lentils and green veggies, drink warm water (not cold), and watery fruits. Massage (with oil) is also good for you to work out all that excess air, and practice joints movements (there’s a great yoga sequence called pawanmuktasana for this). Avoid food that grows underground (like rice and potatoes), and don’t eat yoghurt at night time!

Your best exercise is anything that grounds you – yoga, walking, hiking, and cycling. And because you don’t do well in the cold then it may be best to stay indoors over winter.

Your mantra is warm, ground and regulate.

Pitta: You’re governed by fire, so you have a good appetite and feel warm most of the time. You should include easily digestible foods into your diet, such as green and cooked veggies, nothing too oily or spicy though. Deep fried foods, garlic and ginger, heavy meat and too much coffee isn’t good for you – these create fire and you have enough already.

You are naturally quite competitive, so your best exercise is anything that challenges you but doesn’t get you too fired up! Hiking or skiing could work better than playing footy for this reason. You also handle winter sports better because of your warmth.

Your mantra is calm, cool and nourish.

Kapha: You’re the elements of earth and water, so you probably have a larger frame, do things a little slower and put on weight easily. You need to include light food (but not raw) in your diet because of your natural heaviness. Heavy, fatty foods including rice, red meat and dairy, coffee, chocolate and alcohol are all no-nos for you.

The best exercise for you is anything where you work up a good sweat – running, playing sports, dancing, cycling, whatever you like!

Your mantra is warm, enliven and lighten.

Now these are very general and very basic descriptions and suggestions. If this information has lit a flame inside you then why not find an ayurvedic practitioner near you and head along to find out more specific information about you and your dosha! It may open up a whole new world for you.

If you have delved into Ayurveda, let me know in the comments below!

With love and balancing with nature,

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