An Introduction to Ayurveda
by Nirmala Raniga
Ayurveda, a Sanskrit term meaning “science of life,” is a 5,000-year-old healing system founded in India. From the Ayurvedic perspective, we, as human beings, are not merely thinking machines, but rather fields of intelligence, interacting with the information and energy that surrounds us. Through these daily interactions, stress, diet, and other routine parts of life can shift the balance of both body and mind, which can lead to health issues. Fortunately, the wisdom of Ayurveda can help connect us more deeply to our minds and bodies, offering us tools to identify imbalances in our lives and simple ways to help correct them.
According to Ayurveda, we are one or more of three mind-body types, also known as doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each dosha is a combination of the five elements – air, space, water, fire, and earth. The Vata dosha is a combination of air and space; Kapha is earth and water, and Pitta is fire and water. While we are generally a combination of all three doshas, one or more tend to be dominant. (To learn more about doshas, please take this Dosha Quiz.)
Each dosha has different requirements in order to remain healthy and balanced, and we can achieve and maintain such balance through our five senses – taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell.
Sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent are the six taste categories, and knowing which taste helps or hinders our respective doshas is important. For example, eating sour and salty foods can help Vatas feel their best. However, when Pittas and Kaphas eat too much of those foods, they can feel out of balance. Pittas and Kaphas tend to feel better when they consume bitter and astringent foods, such as kale and lentils, yet those foods in excess do not benefit Vatas. Following a dosha-specific diet does not mean eliminating certain foods that we might enjoy; yet understanding which tastes and foods can be problematic can help us enjoy those foods in moderation.
Touch is also very important for overall wellbeing. When we are babies, touch is an important way we connect with the world and others around us, and it continues to play a vital role throughout our lives. One way we can benefit the mind-body through touch is to practice a self-massage, or Abhyanga, using dosha-specific oils. As with tastes, each dosha benefits from different oils. Sesame and almond oils are recommended for Vatas. Coconut and sunflower oils can help balance Pittas, and safflower oil is good for Kaphas. By spending 15-20 minutes each day massaging the body with warm oils, we can help increase circulation and stamina and decrease signs of aging.
Sound is also very powerful in helping us feel balanced and whole. In our busy, modern world, jarring noises like traffic, cell phones, and televisions create an unhealthy environment. For thousands of years, Ayurveda has provided evidence of the healing quality of not only the sounds of nature, but also that of music. Each dosha can feel more balanced from different types of music. Vatas do well with classical music, which calms their active minds. Because Kaphas can sometimes feel sluggish, more active music can invigorate them. And Pittas, because of their fire element, can benefit from calming, soothing sounds.
Our lives can be so busy and we are constantly bombarded by a barrage of visual imagery, so we don’t often think about the effects these sights have on our wellbeing. However, what we see greatly impacts that balance of our doshas. For Vatas, mild pastel colors can help cultivate calm, while Pittas feel balanced surrounded by cooler, softer colors. Kaphas do well with bright, bold colors, which help energize them. Because vision is also a key part of how we perceive the food that we eat, a healthy Ayurvedic diet is one that includes a broad spectrum of colors, which also offers greater nutrients.
The mind has a natural ability to link specific scents with feeling and memories, which makes aromatherapy an effective tool for wellbeing. For instance, floral and fruity scents benefit the Vata dosha; Pittas respond well to cool and sweet smells, and Kaphas enjoy stimulating and spicy aromas.
By using the wisdom of Ayurveda, we can all create more balanced lifestyles, enabling us to find greater enjoyment in each moment and enhance our longevity quality of life.
Paradise Valley Healing Center has integrated the ancient system of Ayurveda into our programs to promote healing, self-discovery and emotional release for our guests. Learn more.