Ayurveda, the traditional medicine of India has been practised for over 5,000 years. The Sanskrit name translates as ‘Ayu’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘Veda’ as ‘knowing’, so Ayurveda is termed ‘the science of life’. This system sees everything, including mankind, as a smaller reflection of the bigger picture that includes all of creation. Therefore, it seeks to treat health with a holistic approach, and it aims to honour the unique constitution of the individual. Each constitution is a combination of the five elements: of ether (space), air, fire, water and earth. These elements together form all organic matter (plants and animals) and inorganic matter (minerals). The five elements form the three Doshas (constitutions) of Vata (ether and air), Pitta (fire and a little water), and Kapha (earth and water).
We contain all three doshas, but usually one, two, or occasionly all three are dominant. We are born with a unique constitution known as our Prakruti, ‘our nature’. It is when our Prakruti is out of balance that illness has the potential to take hold.
The doshas out of balance
Vata, like its elements of ether and air, has the following attributes associated with it – dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile and clear. When there is excess Vata, a few of the symptoms may include dry skin, flatulence, thinness, general or bone pain that is piercing, stabbing or moving. Decreased Vata can show itself in various ways, some of which include the need for more sleep, coughs, nausea and tastelessness.
Pitta is made of fire with a little water present, so the fire does not burn itself out. Like describing fire, the words associated with this Dosha are – hot, light, intense, penetrating, pungent, sharp, acidic, oily. When there is excess of this Dosha, some of the following ailments may occur – toxicity of the blood, inflammation, infections, skin problems and digestive disorders.
Kapha is earth and water, and its attributes are – oily, heavy, cold, soft, slimy, dense, gross and slow. Imbalance can manifest in having excess mucous, being cold, sleeping in the day, overeating and inertia.
How to re-balance your dosha
An Ayurvedic principle is that ‘like increases like’ and ‘opposites decrease’. So for example, if your dosha is Kapha (cold, soft, dense, slow etc.) then taking daytime naps will only increase the Kapha, taking it out of balance. However, exercise (the opposite to sleeping) would help bring Kapha back into balance. The following are some tips for each Dosha.
Vata – keep warm, eat warm and spicy foods, minimize raw foods and legumes except mung beans, keep to a routine, create a safe, calm environment.
Pitta – keep cool, avoid steam and heat, avoid excess oils, avoid both fried and stimulating foods, eat diary, get enough fresh air and emphasise fresh fruits and vegetables.
Kapha – exercise daily, have variety in life, stimulate and challenge yourself, low fat diet, hot, light and spicy foods and enough carbs to maintain energy, avoid iced drinks.
This season’s dosha - Kapha
Five tips for thriving in winter
Typically Ayurveda, having its roots in India, works with six seasons. However, in the UK we work with four. Our four seasons have overlapping times when there is a more predominant feature or Dosha to the weather. For instance, winter often begins as dry and windy, a continuation of autumn and the Vata Dosha. It then moves to a wetter, damp and cold season, which is Kapha. As ever with Ayurveda and Yoga, awareness is key in assessing what is happening around you and what would be the best course of action. Below are some tips for a ‘typical’ wet and damp Kapha winter.
- Keep your head and hands warm. The wrists and back of the neck are sensor points that the nervous system uses to regulate metabolism and the distribution of body heat.
- Keep your bedroom cool, but not so much that the temperature drops in the night waking you up. If you feel aches and pains on waking, you may have tossed and turned during the night, a possible sign that the room got too cold.
- Take up a new interest in something that makes you feel happy and focused.
- Find ways to laugh and remain positive, and spend time with friends. If you feel unusually sad in winter and suspect SAD (Seasonal Affective disorder), consult your doctor, who may prescribe more exposure to natural or artificial sunlight.
- Make sure your diet is warm and nourishing at every meal.