What is Ayurveda?

And How You Can Use It
By Anhoni Patel

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian medicinal system that dates back over 5,000 years. It’s not just about healing and herbs, but a way of life and a lens through which you explore yourself and the world around you.

According to Ayurveda all things are composed of five basic elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space, and it organizes these elements into categories called Doshas -  Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each living and non-living thing has a combination of these doshas (and the elements they encompass). The doshas are comprised of sets of characteristics that run the spectrum from broad to very specific traits.*

Generally, the Vata dosha consists of “air” qualities like dryness, airiness and cold. For example, people who get cold very easily or are sensitive to the cold may have a lot of Vata in them. Pitta consists of “fire” qualities like heat, sharpness, and acidity. If one is experiencing digestive issues such as heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion, they may be experiencing a Pitta imbalance. The Kapha dosha excompasses qualities of “earth” such as denseness, slowness and a sense of grounding. Someone with a Kapha dosha may have certain physical characteristics such as a strong, solid muscular structure and build.

To achieve optimal health, the aim is to have each of these elements in balance - from your diet, sleep, exercise and behavior to your lifestyle, clothing and living conditions. Moderation and listening to your body’s needs are key. The best way to determine your Ayurvedic constitution is to consult with a specialist. There are also several good surveys online from respected Ayurvedic sites that you can fill out to help you get a better sense of your doshas.

Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash
However, there are some general Ayurvedic practices which you can integrate into your life right now. Upon waking, try drinking a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon. This simple habit wakes your body, helps detox your gut, and hydrates your skin. Drinking warm water - rather than cold water  - throughout the day is recommended in Ayurveda as warm water is more gentle on your digestive system and helps your body relax.

Another quick Ayurvedic tip you can integrate into your life is to wake up and go to bed at generally the same time every day. It’s difficult for your body to establish a natural, balanced rhythm if you go to bed one night at 10pm, another night at midnight and then wake up one morning at 6am and another morning at 11am. Try your best to get to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning regardless of weekdays, weekends and holidays. At at certain point you will be able to establish a natural rhythm that works for you and you won’t need an alarm clock blaring to wake you up. You’ll wake up feeling fresher and less cranky. This tip is a part of the Ayurvedic principles of achieving balance.

Along with the daily pace of life, there is also a monthly and seasonal pattern. A major component of Ayurveda is centered around food. What you eat, when you eat it, how you eat it, and even what foods you eat together for optimal digestion. A simple way to make some Ayurvedic changes in your diet is to have lighter - yet warm - evening meals like soups and porridges. In the warmer spring and summer months aim for thinner soups and broths and in the fall and winter months try having thicker, heartier stews. Ideally you would eat this meal at least two hours before bedtime to give yourself time to digest.

Every person has their own unique dosha so keep in mind that what may work for some people may not work for others. Those with more Pitta and Kapha may need lighter, cooler meals and those with more Vata may require warmer, heavier foods year round. The key is to listen to your body do what feels best for you and your needs.

This is especially crucial after a major physical event like having a baby! Read our follow-up posts: Self-Care: Balance after Baby and Foods That Can Help Increase Your Milk Supply for more in-depth information and tips on how you can use Ayurveda as a (new) mother.

If you have any particular health needs, always consult with your physician and/or Ayurvedic specialist before making changes.

*NOTE: This piece is just skimming the surface of Ayurveda. This is a complex science that cannot be easily explained or explored in one article; we encourage you to do more research and reading on your own to delve deeper into the principles we touched upon here.

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