You are about to get the real scoop on what this ancient medicinal science called Ayurveda by my friends at Pukka Tea and find out why it is something very very important to me!
What is Ayurveda and the power of herbs.
Can you briefly describe Ayurveda? And Ayurvedic medicine?
Translated as ‘knowledge of life’, Ayurveda is a holistic Indian philosophy offering a ‘Users Manual’ for how to get the most out of life, by balancing body, mind, senses and spirit. It offers a very simple approach, without being simplistic. Ayurveda sees that we are all quite different and brings you special insight about your health and well-being, informing your choices and decisions that you make every day. For example, did you know that raw food is seen as better for one type of people than others. And that Hot yoga is best for just one of the types? Ayurveda has been practised in India for over 3,000 years – and its wisdom has now spread all over the planet. It remains one of the world’s most powerful mind-body-spirit health systems. Ayurveda helps us see how our health is connected to everyone and everything around us: our family, our work, our society, and our planet. The Ayurvedic toolbox covers diet, natural remedies, lifestyle practices, rejuvenation and detoxification processes, hands-on therapies, as well as meditation. But be warned… there are no ‘quick fixes’ as Ayurveda is a way of life rather than a short-term intervention. There are also not many ‘one size fits all’ solutions. For example, not everyone needs breakfast first thing according to Ayurveda!
What does dosha mean?
The Sanskrit term ‘dosha’ is probably the best-known principle of Ayurveda today and forms the cornerstone of its method of diagnosis, prevention and treatment of health issues. Essentially, Ayurveda sees that everything in the world is made up of 5 basic elements which are ether, air, fire, water and earth. Vata is composed of air and ether, Pitta of fire and water and Kapha of water and earth. The three doshas govern all our physical and mental functions- appearance, mental state, memory, digesting elimination, individual likes and dislikes, as well as hinting at which health problems we may be more susceptible too.
What can our doshas tell us about ourselves?
Good health seems to be such a complicated subject that it is not always easy to know how to achieve this holy grail. The key to unlocking Ayurveda’s self-help find out what your ‘dosha’ or body-mind type is (Vata, Pitta or Kapha). These can be thought of as a particular pattern of energy, or health star sign. The three primary energy patterns in our body, or doshas, are: wind or vata – that is cold, dry and light – is the force that controls our movement, regulates the nervous system, and oversees elimination of waste; fire or pitta – that is hot, wet and combustive – is the force that controls our digestion and metabolism; and water or kapha – that is cold, wet and heavy – is the protective force which governs stability, structure and moisture in our mind and body. Although we’re all born with all three doshas, they come together differently in each one of us, and it is this unique combination that makes us who we are. Typically, every person has one dominant form of dosha that makes up his or her personal Ayurvedic constitution or prakriti. We are all a mix of each of the dosha but one or two will dominate. It takes a little time to discover your dosha and the art of living in harmony with nature. You’ll then be able to know what helps you thrive; what foods to eat, how much sleep you need, what exercises are best for you (including which type of Yoga!) and even how you interact with others in your workplace, relationships and families. Ayurveda offers life-changing insights that will add clarity and colour to your life. For example, Vata types have variable appetite & digestion, and are often attracted to raw vegetables and salads. However, they are balanced by regular meals of warm and nourishing food- think one pot meals such as soups, stews, casseroles, and the Yogi dish of kitchadi.
What plants are used in Ayurveda?
Ayurveda has many ‘hero herbs’, so called because they can each bring so many benefits to body and mind. Triphala is a great example. This ancient Ayurvedic formula combines three fruits- Amlalaki, Bibhitaki and Haritaki, each of which balances one of the doshas so it’s good for everyone. Triphala has long been revered in Ayurvedic traditions as a decongestant for the digestive system and for cleansing the blood, helping to extend the quality and quantity of life. It is even safe enough for children and can help with a wide variety of digestive complaints. Some Ayurvedic doctors in India just used these three fruits in different ways to heal. Modern research tells us it has a high concentration of active polyphenols and tannins, with a strong ant-oxidative effect. Other key herbs include Ashwagandha and Shatavari which are both powerful adaptogens, helping us adapt to the stresses and strains of 21st century living. For the Yogi or Yogini, both Turmeric and Tulsi are especially helpful. Turmeric is become famous all over the globe for its ant-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. It can really help with the physical asanas, as well as contributing to a healthy gut biome and rejuvenating the liver, blood and skin. All from one herb! Also known as Tulsi, Holy basil is a sacred herb, celebrated for its inspirational properties. Helping to lift your spirit and clear mental fog, it provides an antidote to the stresses of modern life that can lead to depression, low mood and a lack of ‘mojo’. Studies have shown that Holy Basil decrease levels of key stress hormones, such as corticosterone. It’s also an apoptogenic herb that increases circulation in the brain and can support a meditation practice. These are some of my favourite herbs that I use in my Ayurveda clinic, but there are so many more helpful herbs that are also on most people’s spice racks- ginger, cinnamon, fennel, cumin, saffron, black pepper- all have powerful health benefits when used regularly, from good organic sources. Ginger has so many benefits, for example, that it is known as ‘the universal medicine’ in Ayurveda. Pukka Herbs is unique in using medicinal grade herbs in all our herbal teas and lattes- so the same herbs used in our supplements also go into the drinks, meaning you get therapeutic benefits from every cup.
How is Ayurveda connected to Yoga?
They can be thought of as sister sciences, as they have developed together and have repeatedly influenced each other throughout history. Traditionally they were always used together but this has not been the case in the recent West. Yoga’s popularity has grown since it was brought to the West at the end of the 18th century. Ayurveda was left behind but is now catching up! There are some great books on this connection, such as David Frawley’s ‘Yoga and Ayurveda’ and Mukunda Styles ‘Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy’. It is said in Ayurveda that disease is the result of forgetting our true or spiritual nature. Yoga is the science of self-realisation that depends on a body and mind functioning well. Both sciences exist to help people re-connect to their true nature- Ayurveda is the healing side of yoga, and yoga is the spiritual side of Ayurveda. They are two sides of the same coin.
What does it mean when our doshas are out of balance?
It might be helpful to first talk about how we are when the doshas are balanced. Sleep is easy, and we wake naturally feeling refreshed; we have a good appetite, food is easily digested and eliminated with a regular bowel movement before breakfast. We have sparkling eyes, glowing skin, a calm, clear mind and feel cheerful. We have enough energy to work and play, with good immunity. Ayurveda views that the human body, when healthy, is in harmony, self-perpetuating and self-correcting just as the universe is. We get unbalanced through diet, emotions, lifestyle, seasonal factors, physical trauma, and toxins. When vata dosha gets out of balance, we are colder and drier than normal so may suffer from bloating, constipation, dry skin, insomnia as well as increased fear and anxiety. Imbalanced Pitta can lead to skin problems and rashes, acid digestion and acute inflammation, as well as feelings of anger and frustration. Too much Kapha in the body can cause a thick, white coating on the tongue, excess mucous, weight gain as well as feeling mentally foggy and slow. Ayurveda advises on the right diet, lifestyle, herbs and treatments to bring each doshas back into balance. To take a simple example, a person with a cold is suffering from congestion and mucous due to excess water and earth elements in their system. To alleviate symptoms they take ginger tea, predominant in the fire element. They would also do well to avoid dairy and cold foods which make congestion worse.
Can our doshas change over time?
Although we’re all born with all three doshas, they come together differently in each one of us, and it is this unique combination that makes us who we are. Typically, every person has one dominant form of dosha that makes up his or her personal Ayurvedic constitution. This can be thought of as our true nature. However, it can be hard to stay balanced with busy schedules and eating on the go. When the doshas start to get out of balance, health problems start. It can be hard to work out who you really are, from a state of imbalance but Ayurveda is like peeling off the layers of an onion-the more you explore and experience, the better you get to understand your true nature and how to thrive!
Are our doshas related to our DNA?
A great question! The science of genetics is evolving rapidly but broadly our DNA doesn’t change (unless exposed to certain toxins or radiation). Similarly our Prakruti, or true nature doesn’t change. Both our DNA patterns and doshas are set when we are conceived and are determined by factors such as our parents doshas, their mood and the time and place of conception. However, our state of imbalance is always changing. What is fascinating is that there have been some studies looking for genomic variations between people who are Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas. Scientists have found significant differences between people with different dominant doshas irrespective of their ancestry. Studies like this are helping to confirm that the ancient art of treating people according to their dosha has a genetic basis and is just as relevant today when thinking about more personalized approaches to health and healing.