If you’re interested in wellness and alternative medicine, you may have heard of Ayurvedic medicine before—but what exactly is Ayurveda? In this article, we will go over a brief history of Ayurveda, the three different doshas and what they mean, and how Ayurvedic medicine is used today.
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What Is Ayurveda?
Translating to “the science of life” in Sanskrit, this holistic approach to medicine has origins reaching back over 3,000 years ago in India. With a tradition of natural healing with roots in diet, yoga, massage, herbal remedies, and meditation, these ancient healing tools were handed down from generation to generation in the form of Sanskrit poems.
Ayurvedic medicine seeks the purification that comes from a balance between environment, body, and spirit. In India, Ayurvedic medicine is considered a valid form of medical care, like Western medicine. In the United States, however, many Ayurvedic medicines are considered supplemental and therefore are not regulated by any federal standard. Despite this, many health and wellness institutions and schools practice Ayurvedic medicine as part of their treatment or care.
What Are the Elements of Ayurvedic Medicine?
If Ayurveda is based on the concept of balance, what are the components of life it is balancing? First, life is broken into five elements: air (vayu), fire (teja), earth (prithvi), water (jala), and space (aakash). The way these elements interact creates different needs within individuals. It is up to the practitioner to determine the best course of action.
What Are the Ayurvedic Doshas?
The five elements combine to create three doshas, or humors, which are said to account for mental, emotional, and physiological health. In Ayurvedic medicine, practitioners will look at your dosha levels as the starting point for treatment. If you have a mostly Pitta dosha, for example, they may recommend changing your diet, circumstances, or exercise accordingly. Here are the three doshas of Ayurveda:
Said to be based on the elements of fire and water, those with Pitta doshas tend to be athletic, natural leaders. They are said to be goal-oriented, competitive, and tenacious, which can sometimes cause conflict with others who don’t value these qualities. While those with Pitta-forward doshas are thought to have faster metabolisms, good circulation, quick learning skills, healthy hair and skin, and be masterful at whatever they choose. Along with these positives, Pitta doshas tend to be impatient, sensitive to warm temperatures, prone to inflammation and dermatological issues, and experience mood swings, especially when their blood sugar drops.
Pitta doshas should be mindful of eating spicy food and look closely at their work-life balance. The season associated with Pitta is summer.
Ideal Diet: Fruits and vegetables low in starch, grains like oats, white rice, and wheat, lean meats in moderation, and soothing spices like saffron, cardamom, fennel seeds, and coriander. Pitta doshas should avoid red meat and potatoes, and overly spicy or sour foods.
Suggested Physical Exercise: Team sports are great for Pitta doshas’ innate competitiveness; Pittas should avoid over-exerting themselves and/or working out in the heat.
Based on the elements of earth and water, people who are Kapha-dominant are often described as supportive and nurturing; they tend to move through life slowly and deliberately, with empathy, patience, wisdom, a healthy immune system, and hearty joints and bones. Kapha doshas may be prone to asthma or allergies, lethargy, weight gain, slow metabolism, depression, mucous buildup, or heart disease.
Areas of focus for Kapha doshas are a healthy diet and regular exercise, maintaining a higher body temperature through saunas, steam rooms, bathing, or eating warm foods, and keeping to a regular sleep schedule. The season associated with this dosha is spring.
Ideal Diet: Dark, leafy greens, wild rice and grains, fruits and berries, pungent flavors like radishes, citrus, beans, polenta, and sprouts. Kapha doshas should avoid overly fatty foods like nuts, seeds, and processed foods.
Suggested Physical Exercise: Truly any form of movement is welcome for this group, but they tend to do well with a mixture of weight training and cardio.
Composed primarily of space and air elements, Vata doshas are generally considered to be creative, unorthodox thinkers, energetic, and slender in build. They typically are easily influenced by the environment around them like the weather, other people, or their diet. Vata doshas tend to be skilled multitaskers and quick learners, adaptable and good-natured individuals, and naturally slim. On the other hand, people who are Vata-dominant tend to be sensitive to cold temperatures and sleep issues, anxious, absent-minded, easily overwhelmed, and have circulation issues.
Vata doshas should be particularly mindful about maintaining low stress levels, keeping body temperature up, meditating, and keeping to a regular routine. The season associated with this dosha is fall.
Ideal Diet: Cooked vegetables, “moist” fruits like peaches and bananas, brown rice, eggs, dairy, avocados, lean meats, and warm soups or stews. Vata should avoid excessive amounts of fruit, frozen or cold foods, lamb, red wine, nicotine, caffeine, and dried nuts, fruits, and seeds.
Suggested Physical Exercise: Vata doshas do well to practice sports requiring a lot of movement, like cycling, running, hiking, walking, or even some kinds of yoga.
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By adapting diet, exercise, and herbal remedies, Ayurvedic medical practices aim to purify the spirit through the balancing of the five elements. By understanding their primary dosha type, practitioners of Ayurveda can help their patients achieve holistic wellness through natural avenues. While Ayurvedic medicine has roots in India reaching back thousands of years, it is still practiced today in healing schools and luxury spas near Asheville, and other major cities.
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