A Beginners Guide To Ayurveda
I’ve tried every freaky deaky diet under the sun. Vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, lemon detox, atkins, juice cleanses, wheat-free, gluten-free, flexitarian, low-carb, high fat, high protein, you name it. And you know what, they were all crappo. I’m sure many of them work for some people, but personally for me, as I dive deeper into living a holistic lifestyle, living on juice or lemon and maple syrup doesn’t really cut it. No bueno.
I first heard about Ayurveda when I was learning Vedic Meditation with Jac at The Broad Place in Sydney in 2013. Now the Vedic Meditation practice is deeply rooted in Ayurvedic living and Jac sells the most beautiful dosha specific body oils and teas that I always loved, but I never really knew what the heck a dosha was and how to figure out what I was and what that meant.
So to make things super simple for you, I’ve put together The Beginner's Guide To Ayurveda to spell it out for you and cover exactly what Ayurveda is, how to figure out what the heck your dosha is and what this means for your diet and lifestyle and why all of us could benefit from incorporate more Ayurvedic rituals and practices into our lives.
The best bit about Ayurveda? It’s preventative and restorative rather than the modern medicine method of getting to the point of no return only to prescribe antibiotics to manage and attempt to cure. It focuses on healing with food from the inside out in combination with lifestyle changes that truthfully, make a shit load of sense!
I’ve always had issues with awful acne and nothing I tried helped. Sure antibiotics like Roaccutane and Minomycin helped in the short term, but those zits always made their way back onto my face….bastards. Even when I tried to eat better, fuelling my body with the right kind of foods, plenty of fruit and veg, I still struggled. And to make matters worse, my gut hurt. Like heck. All the time. I pooped too much, or not enough. (TMI?) So when I picked up this book a few months ago and finally took a comprehensive look at what doshas were and what mine were, it all made sense. Learning about Ayurveda has changed my life. Biggie to call, I know. But I finally feel grounded, I’m healthier and I know when and why I’m out of balance and how to rebalance. My theory is, there’s a place for ancient wisdom and modern medicine, but too much emphasise is placed on treating the symptoms rather than preventing and restoring the root cause.
So what the heck is Ayurveda? Ayurveda has been around for over 5000 years originating in India, created and cultivated over time and is a very much so a sister holistic science to Yoga. (Yoga being much more than asanas – the physical practice of Yoga. Perhaps a Glow Guide is needed to explain this?)
Ayurveda hasn’t changed much with trends or time, it’s an established way of holistic living that has truly stood the test of time and yet it’s still considered hippie dippie and a bit woo, woo in our modern world. Unlike much of modern medicine which is prescriptive in nature, Ayurveda is preventive, promotive and restorative.
Ultimately Ayurveda is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbs, lifestyle changes and yogic breathing as treatment. In Ayurvedic medicine, we are all self-healing beings. If we are in imbalance, we can correct this misalignment by making lifestyle adjustments that activate our inherent self-healing mechanism! All of our experiences are valid and we’re more than just parts, we are whole. And so approaching our health in a holistic nature, treating the mind as you do the body, treating the body as you do the spirit, it all links. That’s the beauty of Ayurveda.
What the heck is a Dosha?
There are three basic types of Dosha. According to Ayurveda, absolutely everything is made up of the three Doshas: Vata (Space and Air), Pitta (Fire and Water) and Kapha (Earth and Water).
Most people have two Dosha, though some people have one prevailing Dosha and rarely, you could be tridoshic. Your dominant Dosha/s is known as your Prakriti. Each of you beauties were born with a unique doshic constitution determined when your mumma and papa got it on (no eww’shere babes, sex is normal and natural), yep, at conception your prakriti was decided. Your prakriti determines the features that don’t change – like the shape of your face, characteristics of your body, and even your underlying personality and character. Got kids or siblings? You’ll know then how different people can be even with the same upbringing. That’s their prakriti.
But our Prakriti often goes out of balance and this is known as a vikruti – the doshic constitution we have today, at this stage of our life. Our vikruti is affected by our environment, diet, stress levels, activity, sleep patterns, and many other factors. For example, you may be more Pitta and fiery during a stressful time period in your life; you may be more Kapha and grounded during pregnancy; you may be more Vata and airy in a transitional time.
In Ayurveda, you are always trying to balance the doshas to keep the body and mind in good, glowing health. And so if your dominant Dosha is Pitta, you want to eat and live in a way to balance out the fiery elements of Pitta. Being naturally fiery, an out of balance Pitta will posses far too much Pitta energy and be easily stressed, angered and blow their lid more often than not. But we can easily counteract this by incorporating cooling foods and grounding activities to rebalance Pitta energy.
There are countless quizzes online to help you uncover your Dosha/s, but I recommend Sahara Rose’s here. Read the below though and you’ll sense pretty quickly which one’s resonate with you!
It’s important to note that we possess all of the Dosha’s energies. Some days Pitta energy will be at the forefront for you, other days, you might be feeling more Kapha.
The Doshas In-Depth
Those who are primarily Vata type tend to be tall with a long lean body, prominent bone structure and a quick, light step, Vata types often have irregular eating and sleeping patterns and feel the cold more than other Dosha types. Vata elements are wind and space. Which when you picture and feel them, (not that you can actually see wind, obv) are light, cool and lofty. Makes sense, right that Vata body types and characteristics will be the same.
Psychologically, Vata types are talkative, they’re quick learners but their memory of said learnings isn’t the best and they struggle to make decisions. They’re spirited folk, bubbly, lively and full of pep, but naturally emotional creatures and their moods can change quickly.
Now when Vata’s are out of balance they can have digestive issues, gas, bloating and dry skin. Not to mention feeling out of control, an unfocused, fluttery mind and feeling like they can’t get a grasp or handle of anything. When Vata’s are imbalanced they’re prone to anxiety.
So to balance out that Vata energy, warmth and stability are key. Sticking to a regular sleeping routine, (ideally resting around 9.30/10pm and rising before 6am, more on this later) and eating small, regular meals will greatly help ground a Vata. Using olive oil and ghee in cooking, eating plenty of warming rice dishes, activated nuts, cooked veggies, spices and sweet heavy fruits will aid in pacifying Vata. Avo’s are great for Vata. Win! Moist, oily foods are all welcomed in abundance. Just remember to eat, Vata! Foods that have a warming energetic and using plenty of warming spices generously are excellent for Vata’s. Avoiding exceptionally drying foods like popcorn, crackers, white potatoes, raw veggies, beans, and dried fruits and favouring warm drinks over cold will also help rebalance an out of whack Vata babe.
When Vata functions normally, we feel inspired, enthusiastic! Vata regulates all movement, including excrement, so it’s important to keep Vata energy in check. When Vata increases or accumulates, a dislike for cold, rough, dry foods will arise and a corresponding craving for warm, oily, cooked, soft foods arises, alongside gas and a feeling of fullness. These are generally natural cravings and signals that our body’s wisdom provides for us – so it’s key to Ayurveda and maintaining a healthy, happy mind, body and spirit that you listen!
Feisty, driven and highly determined, oh yes, those headstrong Pitta babes make excellent decision makers, speakers and teachers. Pitta’s tend to have a athletic bodies with good muscle tone and can gain weight easily but lose it just as quickly. Pitta’s often have a rosy, sometimes flushed complexion and can be prone to acne. (Yep, I’m a dominant Pitta dosha!) Those babes that get the ol’ beetroot face post-workout, I bet they’re a Pitta. Don’t worry, I’m with you there in the tomato party.
Pitta types are efficient, focused and orderly in their activities and they oh boy, do they love challenge! These intelligent perfectionists are rather frank, sharp-witted and outspoken, however they often considered stubborn, struggle to tolerate disagreements and can be judgemental of themselves – and others.
Out-of-balance Pitta types are highly argumentative, short-tempered and can suffer from excessive body heat, sweating, heartburn, skin issues and flare ups. The Pitta elements are Fire and Water, and when they’re out of balance, it’s as if oil is being thrown onto an open flame. It’s a scary, tense situation!
To bring Pitta back into balance it is important to make choices which are calming and stabilizing. Pitta’s are generally the beauties ADDICTED to spin or circuit classes and have a tough time slowing down. By including plenty of rest, connecting with Mama Earth in nature and making time for an abundance of deep belly laughs, Pitta’s can really ground themselves and rediscover balance. Food wise, Pitta types tend to do well with high levels of dairy products, wheat, barley and rice as well as sweet fruits and cooling herbs such as coriander, cilantro, cardamom, saffron, and fennel. Too many hot spices, sour and acidic fruits are a big no no for Pitta’s. Pitta’s liquid nature and tendency toward excess oil make dry or astringent foods like beans, potatoes, oats, pasta, popcorn and most veggies good choices.
When Pitta is normally functioning, we feel happy, cheerful! Pitta regulates heat, vision, thirst and digestion. When Pitta increases or accumulates, we develop a dislike for spicy foods and too much heat and sunlight, naturally seeking out cooling foods, shade and cold drinks. (Side note: cold, not icy! Ayurveda never recommends consuming ice or iced drinks – think about it, ice is not exactly something humans are made to eat, but with the beauty of tech and devices, we do!) When Pitta is aggravated, you might notice yellow urine, diarrhoea, even feelings of anger or irritability.
Lastly, our Kapha babes tend to be soft and solid in body constitution, generally holding an excess of weight enjoying less frequent, but bigger, heavier meals. Kapha’s are often blessed with beautifully clear skin, big doe eyes and full features. And these lucky ladies are generally sound sleepers.
Kapha’s are the Dosha babes you want on your team. They’re loyal, caring, kind and patient. But don’t try to implement sudden change on a Kapha, they love their routines and will often be very protective of them.
When Kapha energy is out of balance, they’ll be found oversleeping, gaining weight and prone to asthma and unfortunately, depression. Comfort and the known is everything for Kapha’s which sometimes leads to staying far too long in unhealthy relationships, crappy jobs and toxic environments.
The best way to bring a Kapha back into balance? Regular exercise, shedding the old and making room for the new through decluttering and home detoxes are a great way to start. And in terms of eats, beans, ginger tea, honey, light fruits and most vegetables are great for controlling Kapha. Heavy foods like dairy, nuts, oats, rice and wheat aren’t ideal for our Kapha ladies. Drying foods like beans, white potatoes, dried fruits, rice cakes, popcorn, and an occasional glass of dry red or white wine (YAS!) are however on the menu to offset Kapha’s oiliness.
When Kapha is functioning normally, we are content, comfortable and happy! Kapha regulates our physical structure, strength and when it accumulates in the body, we dislike dairy, fatty, oily foods and seek out light fare that’s easy to digest, with warming spices and hot drinks. An overabundance of Kapha results in feeling heavy, moist and lethargic.
Doshas that dance
Now, since most of us have two Dosha’s that dance with one another, the biggest stumbling block that arises here for many of us is, well, what the heck do I eat? If you’re a blend of Pitta Vata (you always mention your more dominant Dosha first) how do you properly consume both moist, oily, warming foods and cooling, dry, grounding foods at the same time. It can be a little bit of a contradiction not to mention confusing as heck, right?
The first thing to look at is the digestive system. What are the imbalances here? What does your body naturally crave? Oftentimes, your body’s wisdom is guiding us towards what we actuallyneed but we let our mind trick us into thinking something completely different. So ask yourself, what does my body need?
Next, look at the elements that make up the Doshas. Each are comprised of two elements.
Vata is Air + Space
Pitta is Fire + Water
Kapha is Earth + Water.
If you are Pitta Vata, both are missing the earth element. So increasing the yummy healthy fats and grounded, earthy veggies like sweet potato, carrots and potatoes will suit Pitta Vata babes.
Our Vata Kapha beauties are low on the fire element. So upping the spices and heat in their diet will do a world of good. Ginger, cayenne pepper and turmeric are all great spices to include, as are pungent goods like onions and garlic.
So take a look at the missing element and then figure out what’s missing!
But most of all, listen to your body. Listen to it’s intuitive wisdom. Only you can know what works for your body and against it and the Ayurvedic tradition isn’t about pigeonholing an individual into a specific category or mold.
But Ayurveda goes beyond what to eat for your Dosha. There are rituals and practices in the Ayurvedic style that every being should try to incorporate into their day. My favourite? An epic morning routine to set you up to supercharge through the rest of your day with ease, grace and centredness.
Ayurvedic Morning Routine
Wake up at 5.30am - According to the Ayurvedic doshas, 6am – 10am is the time of the Kapha aggravation. Thus, if we don’t get up before sunrise and wake up the body, we enter into the Kapha time period which is characterized by sluggishness and lethargy, making it even harder to get out of bed the later you leave it!
Scrape your tongue - Do WHAT?!? Before even taking a sip of water, Ayurveda recommends we scrape away any white coating on the tongue. This coating is perceived as accumulated undigested toxins lurking in the digestive tract. The scraping allows us to avoid ingesting this...makes sense, right? Who else has had an icky taste in the mouth when they first wake up? Why would we want to swallow that back down. Scraping your tongue with a copper tongue scraper is easy, effective and when you’ve done it once, you’ll be converted! Not to mention, better breath!
Drink a glass of water - You’ve just spent about 8 hours without any hydration. Water is required! Bonus points if you add in a slice of lemon to kickstart your liver’s detoxification. Make sure it's room temperature!
Wash your face - Ayurveda recommends splashing your face and eyes with water as soon as you wake up. Also, I don’t know about you, but I’m generally not awake until I’ve had a face wash in the AM!
Poop - Look, there’s no pretty way to say this. But you’ve gotta poop. The great news is, following a regular schedule, waking at the same time every day (including weekends as is the Ayurvedic way) will generally prepare your body to eliminate on schedule like clockwork. If you struggle with constipation, take a look at your Dosha/s and what you’re consuming.
Sun salutations - Yoga asanas are the preferred Ayurvedic movement, because practiced properly they don’t put undue strain on any one part of the physiology. Not only are a few sun salutations a great way to get the blood flowing to vital organs, they also personally help me stretch out and work out any creaks that have accumulated in my body overnight! Usually I spend 20 mins stretching out.
Meditate - Yoga prepares us for meditation. Most mornings, aiming for 20 mins I sit in the armchair by the bay window in our flat and meditate. I’m practiced in Vedic Meditation, but some days a guided meditation works better for me, other days, focusing on my breathing is what my body and mind needs. There’s no wrong or right when it comes to a good medi, just be sure to make it a consistent priority to really feel those benefits (which are miles long!) I’ve created a meditation series of 9 tracks that really kick-start that inner-led journey.
Dry body brush - One of the BEST ways to clear out your lymphatic system (read: drain toxins), smooth you free of dead skin cells and help move cellulite along, but also just a beautiful way to connect to your body and appreciate those limbs and the skin you’re in. Get yourself a brush and spend 5 minutes pre-shower in the AM, sweeping up your body from feet towards your heart. On your stomach, move the brush gently in counter-clockwise circles and avoid brushing your boobies too hard (ouch!). It might take you some time to work up to a full on brush, but go slow, steady and say hello to silky, smooth skin!
Shower - We don’t want those dead skin cells sitting on us all day, and this one is pretty self-explanatory. Go get wet!
Oil up - In the Ayurvedic tradition, warmed oils are recommended for the scalp and hair, body and even in the ears BEFORE showering or bathing! But my favourite way to include this practice in my morning is to jump out of the shower and pull out a bottle of almond oil, using it almost as a moisturiser before getting dressed for the day. It’s not about following a routine to a tee, it’s about adapting what works for you and creating a ritual that you genuinely love!
There are so many other Ayurvedic rituals that you could include, such as oil pulling with coconut oil, warm oil in your ears, practicing breathing exercises, reading, you name it. But my recommendation is to stick to most of the above for a supercharged day. Usually that routine takes me from 5.30am-7am at a leisurely pace, by which time I’m ready to really start my day!
This really is just the tip of the iceberg with Ayurveda, so if you’re interested in learning more, I’ve included below a few of my favourite resources, tools and books. The more I learn about Ayurveda, the more I find myself naturally incorporating it’s principles of preventive, promotive and restorative healing and living into my life.
So tell me, I’d love to know beauty, will you be incorporating more Ayurvedic medicine, tradition and rituals into your life? And what Dosha are you? (I’ve started recognising and trying to identify someone’s Dosha, haha! “She is soooo Vata Pitta!” I guessed my husbands before he had taken a test!)