Updated: Dec 16, 2022
The ancient wisdom of India teaches us to live in tune with nature and to pay close attention to what our bodies really need. In this brief introduction, my goal is to give you some foundational knowledge of Ayurveda that you can start to apply to your life.
I studied Ayurveda at Mount Madonna Institute in the Santa Cruz mountains for two years. In my journey to becoming a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, I got to experience first hand the benefits Ayurveda had on my mental, emotional, and physical health. I feel really passionate about sharing these teachings and working with people to help them achieve their ultimate health. I hope you enjoy this brief introduction of Ayurveda.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, translated from Sanskrit means the “science or knowledge of life.” It is the world's oldest form of medicine dating back to India 5,000 years ago. This ancient medicine is still practiced in India today and around the world. The main goal of Ayurveda is to bring yourself back into balance through nutrition, lifestyle, routine, yoga (including pranayama and meditation), herbs and cleansing practices, so that you can live a healthy life feeling your best.
According to Ayurveda, everyone is unique. Understanding your personal make-up, working with the seasons, time of day and your stage of life, you can adjust your diet, routine and lifestyle to keep yourself balanced.
How does Ayurveda relate to Yoga?
Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga; they go hand-in-hand. They both merge out of Sankhya Philosophy with the goal to alleviate pain and suffering. Each has its own focus within this goal:
Yoga is a practice of self-realization and cultivating a deep awareness of the body, mind, and spirit. The focus is more on the mind and the senses.
Ayurveda is the practice of healing the body, mind and spirit through nutritoin, lifestyle, and routines that keep you balanced. The focus aims to prevent and treat illnesses.
Both yoga and Ayurveda work towards achieving a balanced life in the body, mind, and soul.
The Human Constitution (Dosha)
Vata ✧ Pitta ✧ Kapha
The three psychological and physiological functioning principles of the body, mind and soul (vata, pitta and kapha), which determine your individual constitution and help maintain balance in the body. The doshas are governed by your response to change, whether that’s in your environment, physical changes or mental/emotional changes. When the doshas are disturbed an imbalance is created, and when untreated this can lead to the disease process.
The fixed constitution determined at the point of conception reflects the proportions of vata, pitta and kapha in an individual. This does not change throughout one’s lifetime.
The current state of an individual's constitution is based on how the body, mind, and soul respond to changes in the environment. If nutrition, lifestyle and routine are not adapted to these changes, imbalances occur in vata, pitta or kapha, either increasing or decreasing them. These imbalances begin the disease process. When not addressed they can advance to serious challenges.
Despite what your prakruti is, we are made up of all three doshas and any of them can go out of balance at any time. Vata is always the first to go out of balance because of its air quality to quickly change and move.
The Five Elements
Ether (Space) ~ Akash
Subtle, cold, light, everywhere. The space that is filled with all the other elements. Does not have form or boundaries. Space is needed in order for individuals to live, move, grow and communicate. It governs freedom, peace, love and compassion, along with isolation, insecurity, anxiety, ungroundedness and fear.
Air ~ Vayu
Dry, clear, mobile, formless. Perceived by touch, air is the element that moves all things. Thought, desire and will flow out of air, which generates happiness, joy and excitement. Since air fills ether/space, there is a connection between these two elements, and therefore air also governs nervousness, anxiety, fear and insecurity.
Fire ~ Tejas
Hot, dry, sharp, penetrates, illuminating. When air moves through ether, friction is created generating heat or fire – energy. Fire is responsible for transformation, intelligence, ambition, comprehension, appreciation and understanding, along with hatred, envy, anger, criticism
Water ~ Jala
Moist, heavy, soft, flowing. When fire becomes more dense, it begins to cool and water is created. Water brings things together and generates contentment, love, purity and compassion. It also creates heaviness, over-consumption, dullness and over-caring.
Earth ~ Prithvi
Solid, heavy, rough, dense, slow, grounding. Earth arises out of the combination of the four other elements to form a solid matter. Earth promotes groundedness, forgiveness and growth, while also creating depression, greed, attachment and ungroundedness.
Always remember: likes increase likes and opposites balance.
Key Principle of Ayurveda: The Gunas
Likes increase likes and opposites balance.
The 20 gunas (qualities/attributes) help to create balance by using the opposite quality, while trying to reduce “like” qualities. We are constantly affected by the changes in these qualities within us and around us.
The food we eat, what we drink, the weather, our mental and emotional state, what’s happening at work and home, etc. – all impact our state of balance. By identifying which guna(s) is (are) present you can begin to bring yourself back to balance by using the opposite quality of the guna(s) you notice.
Heavy ~ Light
Dense ~ Liquid
Cold ~ Hot
Soft ~ Hard
Dry ~ Oily
Static ~ Mobile
Slow ~ Sharp
Subtle ~ Gross
Rough ~ Slimy
Cloudy ~ Clear
Time of Day ~ There is a natural ebb and flow to the day where each dosha is dominant.
Kapha ~ 6:00-10:00 am & pm
Pitta ~ 10:00-2:00 am & pm
Vata ~ 2:00-6:00 am & pm
The Seasons ~ Each dosha has a season connected to it based on the qualities.
Kapha ~ Late winter to early spring
Pitta ~ Late spring to summer
Vata ~ fall to mid winter
Life Cycle ~ Throughout life each dosha has a specific time that it governs.
Kapha ~ Childhood, 0-16 years of age (developmental time of life)
Pitta ~ Teenage to mid-life, 16-50 years of age (productive time of life)
Vata ~ Mid-life to death, 51 years of age to death (retreat time of life)
By understanding your unique makeup you can move towards a balanced life.
The Doshas + Elements + Gunas
The five elements show up in the body as three basic principles or dosha (translated from Sanskrit as ‘humors’), known as tridosha (tri translated to ‘three’) or vata, pitta and kapha. The tridosha are responsible for the functions of the body, natural urges, individual's food preferences, general likes and dislikes, mental and emotional states, etc. Each dosha has certain guans that are expressed in an individual, along with specific physical, mental, emotional and behavioral characteristics.
Vata ~ Space + Air
The main seat of vata in the body is the large intestine. The role of vata is to move and carry. It is always the first to go out of balance.
Gunas: Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear
Body functions: All movement, governs the large intestine and the lower body, transportation and illumination of fluids, nervous system, circulation, joints, mind, senses, breathing, bones
Psychological functions: Creative, energetic, fun, always on the go, sensitive, scattered, moody, enthusiastic
Main physical disorders: Tissue depletion, dehydration, constipation, dry and flaky skin, arthritis, weight loss
Main emotional disturbances: Ungrounded, fear, anxiety, insomnia, worry
Characteristics of vata: Small. Thin, dry skin, cold hands/feet, quick, hard to pin down, lots of ideas, hard to commit, indecisive, smaller features, pointed nose, long face (everything long and narrow), talkative, moving
How to balance vata: Routine. Routine. Routine. Warm and nourishing foods, regular meal times, daily yoga and meditation practice, slow down, abhyanga (self-massage with warm oil), warm humid climates
Yoga practices for vata: Needs to be a grounding, slow and calming
Asana: Forward folds, twists, hip openers, standing and balancing postures (Yin, Restorative, and Alignment/Iyengar)
Pranayama: Slow deep breathing, Nadi Shodhana and Anulom Vilom
Meditation: Mantra meditation to keep the mind focused on something or visualization
Pitta ~ Fire + Water
The main seat in the body for pitta is the small intestines. The role of pitta is to push or provoke.
Gunas: Oily, sharp, hot, light, mobile, liquid, subtle
Body functions: Digestion and assimilation (metabolism), governs the mid body and the small intestines, blood, temperature, endocrine glands, eyes, muscles, taste
Psychological functions: Responsible for perception to understand right from wrong, courage, focus, determination, drive, passion, intelligence
Main physical disorders: Heartburn, fever, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorders, skin disorders
Main emotional disturbances: Anger, jealousy, hate, judgemental
Characteristics of pitta: Medium. Sharp features, angular face, defined muscles, freckles, can bald or go gray earlier in life, can have red hair, warm
How to balance pitta: Cooling foods, daily self-care practices, forgiveness, take time for self, cool climates
Yoga practices for pitta: Slow and cooling, avoid fast and heating
Asana: Backbends, side bends, restorative postures, moon salutations (Yin, Restorative, Gentle)
Pranayama: Sheetali or Seetkari, Brahmari and Nadi Shodhana
Meditation: Breath focused or Tratak (candle gazing)
Kapha ~ Water + Earth
The main seat in the body for kapha is the stomach. The role of kapha is to strengthen and build.
Gunas: Heavy, moist, cold, oily, slow, smooth, dense, static, cloudy
Body functions: Builds all tissue in the body, governs the upper body and the stomach, lungs, tissue, fat, hydration, lubrication
Psychological functions: Love, caring, stability, calm, contentment, sweet, compassionate, nurturing, affectionate, stubborn, rigid, uninspired
Main physical disorders: Edema, swelling, development of excess tissue (especially fat), water retention, lung disorders
Main emotional disturbances: Attachment issues, depression and lethargy (can feel very stuck)
Characteristics of kapha: Large. Solid, steady, grounded, even-tempered, round large eyes, soft and lustrous hair and skin, good sleepers
How to balance kapha: Discipline with a routine that includes daily exercise, no naps, shorten amount of sleep, small dinner, no snacking, bright colors, dry warm climates
Yoga practices for kapha: Heating, fast and moving
Asana: Upper back bends, twists, Surya Namaskar (Vinyasa, Flow, Alignment/Iyengar)
Pranayama: Kapalabhati, Bhastrika and Nadi Shodhana
Meditation: Walking meditation, group meditation and chanting
Want to learn more?
We have just scraped the surface of Ayurveda here. It is such a rich science and really teaches us how to live in accordance with nature and guides us towards a deeper understanding of our bodies. I offer a variety of Ayurvedic services to support you on your journey towards ultimate health.
Find out your individual Ayurvedic constitution with this quiz
Ayurvedic Products (herbs, spices, oils, etc): Banyan Botanicals
For a deep introduction read Vasant Lad's Brief Introduction to Ayurveda
The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
Ayurveda - Science of Self Healing by Vasant Lad
The Yoga of Herbs by Vasant Lad & David Frawley
Balance your Hormones Balance Your Life by Claudia Welch
Yoga for Your Type: An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice by David Frawley & Sandra Summerfield Kozak
Ayurvedic Cooking for Self Healing by Usha Lad
The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadae Morningstar & Urmila Desai
Heaven's Banquet: Vegetarian Cooking for Lifelong Health the Ayurveda Way by Miriam Kasin Hospodar
Dr. John Douillard's Life Spa Articles & Videos
Banyan Botanicals Articles
The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
Ayurveda - Science of Self Healing by Vasant Lad