By Jhena Waring
Ayurveda, translated to “science of life,” is a system of holistic medicine. It focuses on intentional living, through the cultivation of complete mind-body harmony.
Dating back 5,000 years from India, it continues to be one of the world’s most powerful mind-body health systems.
Navi Gill, a Vancouver-based Ayurvedic Therapist & Lifestyle Consultant, defines Ayurveda as “purposeful, intentional, spiritual and joyful living.”
Allowing us to realize our full human potential, it offers more than just an approach to treat illness.
The two main guiding principles of Ayurveda are:
1. There is a strong connection between the mind and body
2. Nothing has more power to heal the body than the mind
Maintaining purposeful and integrative health practices leads to mindful living.
Exercise, stress management, healthy eating, and energy balancing are pivotal aspects to this lifestyle.
Plant-based foods are nutrient-dense, making them catalysts for healthy living.
Focal foods include legumes, dark leafy greens, pulses and fermented food. The gut plays a huge role in your mood and energy levels, producing over 90% of the body’s serotonin (a hormone largely linked to happiness). So eating ‘for your gut’ will make you feel happy and energized. Studies show that consuming more fruits and vegetables leads to an increase in life satisfaction.
Mindful living, with nature’s rhythm, brings the body back to its equilibrium. In this state, the body can heal itself.
Comparative to Western medicine, Ayurveda is integrated on an individual level.
There is no best practice for everyone. Instead, approaches centre around the root cause of a person’s ailment.
Know Your Doshic Makeup
Optimization of health starts with energy balancing, also known as dosha.
Doshas are your individual constitution: energetic forces from nature that speak to your nature. Individuals are believed to have a unique combination of the five elements (air, earth, space, water, fire).
There are three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. They contain all of the five elements, but each is predominantly composed of two elements. Ayurvedic specialists like Gill suggest creating a daily routine, or Dinacharya, around your doshas. This is the easiest place to start.
“The simplest approach comes through a proper diet, eating on time, in season and for your dosha,” Gill emphasizes.
Doshas can help illustrate energy imbalances. Unbalanced energy is a predominant cause of illness and overall disturbance. Their irregularities manifest biologically, as well as mentally.
Through understanding the doshas, it is possible to nurture a state of balance, and supportive, mindful habits are the stepping stones to a healthy lifestyle.
As Gill states, “Experiencing good health and well-being is our birthright.”
Vata dosha is characterized by elements of space and air. They are light, rough, dry, cool and quick moving.
Pitta dosha qualities reflect the elements of fire and water. Think oily, sharp, hot, light, moving, liquid and acidic attributes.
Kappa dosha traits are earth and water. These qualities are moist, cold, heavy, dull, soft, sticky and static.
We encompass all doshas, but usually one more than the others. You can learn more here if you’re curious about your primary dosha.
Plant-Based Foods to Incorporate into Your Lifestyle
Plant-based foods should be specific to your dosha. These foods are selected due to their opposite effect on your individual constitution.
For instance, those with a dominant Vata dosha should integrate foods that are warming, heavy, spiced, liquid-based, and oily. Vegetables should be sweet, moist, and cooked. Examples include asparagus, carrots, cucumber, sweet potatoes, watercress and zucchini. Ideal fruits include those that are sweet, such as bananas, grapes, pineapple, oranges and kiwi. Plant-based grains should be sweet, nourishing and easily digestible. This includes oats, quinoa, rice, seitan and wheat.
Pitta types should look for cooling foods that are easy to digest. Select vegetables that are sweet or bitter, like artichoke, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and mushrooms. For fruits, this includes sweet options like coconut, mangoes, oranges, strawberries and dried fruits. Grains that are cooling, sweet and dry are recommended, for instance, barley, couscous, tapioca, oats and wheat.
And Kapha folks should eat heating foods that are naturally pungent and bitter. For vegetables this looks like asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, eggplant, okra and spinach. Fruits should be only mildly sweet, like apricots, cherries, lemons, peaches and pomegranates. Recommended grains are light, dry and rough, such as buckwheat, millet, polenta, quinoa, and wheat bran.
Gill also recommends using specific dosha-type oils to aid in digestion. Although Vata and Kapha do well with most spices, Gill says that Vata needs extra lubrication which comes from adding ghee, or sunflower or olive oil to food.
Fresh ginger is recommended for Vata types, whereas dried ginger is better for Kaphas. Coriander, cilantro and fennel are cooling and non-aggravating, perfect for Pitta dosha types.
As often as possible, it is ideal to eat organic, locally-sourced food. Ayurvedic practices advocate eating with the seasons—a movement which is gaining popularity in the West. Seasonal eating is intentional and supports dosha diets.
Toxins will compound in your body over time. “It is best to make sure the everyday items are as toxin free as possible,” Gill says. Investing in good quality oils and spices can greatly aid your health and digestion—regardless of whether you’re eating organic produce.
You Are What You Digest
“A proper diet and digestion through the right foods is at the core of Ayurvedic well-being,” Gill explains. “Keeping our digestive system functioning well is the cornerstone of good health and vitality,” she adds.
Fresh spices can provide benefits for everyone. Gill recommends keeping fresh ginger, cilantro (or coriander seed), cumin seed, fennel, turmeric, and cardamom in the kitchen.
Ayurveda encompasses more than energy balancing. The ‘science of life’ looks at optimizing your entire lifestyle. True health is a dynamic state, in which the emotional and physical are in harmony. Living your full potential requires optimal mind and body health.
Doshas show us what balance looks like on an individual level. They shed light on ways to achieve balance through food. Eating in tune with nature and our internal nature, balances our gut as well as our mind. Meditation, yoga, exercise, and good sleep are all important ayurvedic practices.
There’s a plethora of online resources about Ayurveda. Dr. Vasant Lad is another pioneering figure within the field.
Always consult a health practitioner before making any major lifestyle changes.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We advise readers to always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Header photo supplied by Navi Gill