It’s that time of year where winter just won’t seem to end. I’ve been feeling zapped of energy and enthusiasm, my skin feels dry and lackluster and all the things are just a little… bleh.
I’ve been experimenting with different ways to honor my body, and the season but, also, increase my energy and focus. And since Ayurveda kept coming up, I took it as a sign from the Universe to reacquaint myself with it. Perhaps some ancient wisdom will punch me in the face with some inspiration along the way?
Ayurveda translates to ‘science of life’ (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). And there are two main guiding principles:
- The mind and body are connected.
- And the mind is the most powerful way to heal the body.
Basically, freedom from illness depends on our awareness, bringing it into balance, and then bringing that balance into the body.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Ayurveda is all about creating and maintaining a balance in our emotional and physical states which, as your run-of-the-mill, Vata-Pitta basket case, is not exactly my strong suit. More on Vata Pitta in a moment but, for now, picture one of those inflatable man-balloons at a used car dealership flapping about violently in the cold wind – that’s basically me – emotionally speaking.
What I love about Ayurveda though, is that it believes every individual is unique and there’s no one diet or lifestyle or routine that works for everyone. And learning how to counterbalance your unique energy, can help you be a little less like that flailing inflatable.
It also focuses on prevention, something our sick-care, Western society hasn’t historically been great at. (Feels like maybe we could combine the two with great success, no?) It suggests food and lifestyle are the most potent medicine available to us, which is also neat.
The basis of Ayurveda is understanding individual body types in order to help bring them into balance.
There are three body types, or Doshas, that describe the different energies of each individual.
Those doshas are: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Doshas are really the foundation of Ayurveda. They’re basically our mind-body types – blends of physical, emotional and mental characteristics. And they’re derived from the five elements of nature: space, air, fire, water and Earth.
Ayurveda says that you can achieve and maintain vibrant health by identifying your type and creating a lifestyle that supports your unique needs best. Which makes a lot of sense to me.
Each person has all three Doshas within them but, most are primarily dominated by one or two. As I said before, I’m about 50/50 Vata-Pitta, which can be confusing and contradicting at times.
The 3 Doshas:
Typically creative, quick to learn, but a touch scattered. They walk fast. Tend toward cold hands and feet with an aversion to cold weather in general. Just as they are lively and fun and excitable, they can also be irritable, moody and irregular. They typically have thin builds and dry skin and hair.
Typically medium sized, well-built and strong. They have sharp minds, good concentration and are orderly, focused and assertive. They are competitive, enjoy challenges and can be passionate and romantic. They get irritated if they miss a meal, and are uncomfortable in hot weather. They are prone to inflammation of the skin, like acne.
Generally easygoing, relaxed and slow-paced. They are stable and reliable with a strong, sturdy build. They have the most energy of all constitutions and it’s steady and enduring. They tend toward slower speech and are deliberate in thought and reflection. They’re typically averse to cold, damp weather, and they are prone to sluggish digestion and depression. They have strong immune systems.
There are about a thousand ‘Dosha Finder’ quizzes on the internets and it’s always a good idea to know more about yourself. If you’re unsure what your Dosha is, our favorite quiz is one of our IIN instructors – John Douillard’s.
Other Important Aspects of Ayurveda
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools in the Ayurveda toolbox. It’s believed that when you meditate, your state of expanded awareness and inner quiet refreshes the mind and restores balance. And if you meditate yourself, you’ll know that that’s spot on.
Diet is also important. Not diet as in ‘keto’ or ‘Weight Watchers’ but as in eating a colorful, flavorful diet of fresh, whole foods. “Eat the rainbow” gets tossed around a lot in these parts.
But uncommonly, there’s an emphasis on including all of the six tastes into meals to achieve balance in yet another way. Sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent. I’m not even sure I could identify what astringent tastes like but, I believe it. And I think Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat on Netflix would probably useful for this. Ayurveda believes that including all six tastes in each meal will not only balance your physical state, but also reduce the urge to overeat.
Another key component of Ayurveda is the digestive fire or “Agni” of each individual. The goal is to increase the power of it and strengthen your gut. According to the system, there are seven ways to do this:
- Always eat sitting down and undistracted.
- Eat when relaxed and not upset.
- Only eat when actually hungry.
- Eat at a moderate place.
- Minimize raw foods which are harder to digest than cooked.
- Drink hot water with ginger throughout the day.
- And practice moderate, regular exercise.
Sleep is also paramount to balance and vibrance in the Ayurvedic approach. Our body repairs and rejuvenates itself during sound sleep and a lack of it leads to a weakened immune system and general imbalance throughout. Restful sleep means there’s no alcohol or pharmaceuticals being used and that you fall and stay asleep easily for at least 6-8 hours a night.
Tuning Into Your Body & Nature
Finally, it’s important to be in tune with your body and nature’s natural rhythms in order to be in true harmony and health. And in doing so, hopefully what you need and what you crave become one and the same.
All of these principles, when reading, seem rather obvious, but in reality, are rarely practice by the majority. Especially the last principle. This time of year is an excellent example of tuning in to our bodies signals and respecting the season of the year by letting go of the struggle and embracing what our bodies truly need and crave.
Like one podcast guest noted recently, it’s not the time of year to force yourself out of bed and into the cold to workout. It’s the time of year to sleep in and sip hot tea.
Have you ever seen an Ayurvedic practitioner? Do you know your Dosha type? Leave a comment below![feature image by Hilary Hahn via Unsplash]