Most of us have had symptoms of lethargy, irritability, or just feeling run down without a specific infection or disease being the issue. Why does this happen? Is it just that we don’t know what the disease is? Why do we frequently experience real illness, like the common cold, when we allow our immune systems to be affected by undiagnosed ague?
Western medicine, though extremely valuable, does not provide many answers when there is no illness. While science recognizes the value of healthy living, more emphasis is placed on treatment than prevention. Oh sure, your medical professional will mention you need to exercise or lose weight during an office visit. But they rarely offer real help in achieving those changes. I think most people find it easier to make changes when they understand why the change is helpful. That is where traditional medicine, such as Ayurveda, can assist. Practiced in India for over 4,000 years (except during the British reign when it was forbidden), this ancient body of knowledge is extremely helpful in understanding why you feel lousy.
More than likely your tiredness or sadness or whatever manifestation you experience is not a medically recognized disease, but rather the imbalance that breeds in exhausted, flabby, and malnourished bodies trying to keep pace in a frenzied lifestyle. These imbalances of both the mind and the body are recognized and explained in Ayurvedic concepts. Holistic approaches, such as Ayurveda, offer insight and answers that can restore well-being. And that keeps you not only feeling healthy, but actually being healthy and strong enough to ward off real illness.
Ayurveda Provides Guidance for Health
A healthy, long life depends on the choices made daily. So, no real news there. The adage of small changes making a big difference is true, but many of us find the smallest changes too daunting to incorporate and sustain in daily life. But if you can visualize how the change is working and understand the specific value of the change, it is easier to muster the willpower or maintain enthusiasm for the new regimen. That is the usefulness of Ayurvedic principles. Imbalances are explained in terms of mind and body states that make sense and when we attempt a change and can actually visualize what we are adjusting, it makes it easier to follow through with the improvement.
The holistic approach of Ayurveda involves using supplements, behavioral changes, and diet to eliminate problems of mind and body. When there is an imbalance of doshas, the lifestyles and dietary managements that are based on these doshas get disturbed.
Understanding Your Dosha
Everything in nature, including us, is made from five elements: space, air, fire, water and earth. These elements combine to form three basic body-mind profiles called doshas. Understanding your most influential dosha helps you understand what lifestyle changes are right for you to feel and be healthy. You have probably noticed that what works for you does not work for others. That is because each dosha reacts and interacts differently. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of Ayurvedic texts, the doshas are called kapha, pitta, and vata.
Use the chart below to determine your dominant dosha. You may have one dominant dosha or a combination of any or all, usually with one profile that is more dominant.
Feeding Your Dosha Properly
Ayurveda practices repair imbalances using herbs and minerals, massage, yoga, and lifestyle changes—particularly diet. So, here is more about how to feed your dosha.
The Ayurvedic classification of food identifies six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Each taste has different effects on the energy of the body and mind. A food’s taste classification will either aggravate (imbalance) or pacify (balance) a particular dosha. For example, someone with pitta excess may cause imbalances by eating hot, spicy foods.
Too much bitter, astringent, or spicy tastes imbalance vata. If your dominant dosha is vata, focus your diet on sweet, sour, and salty tastes in foods that are warm, moist, and easily digestible. Some examples of foods for vata are:
- Grains such as rice and wheat
- Starchy vegetables: boiled or steamed
- Eat broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and leafy vegetables in moderation
- Ripe fruits including citrus
- Warm milk (use dairy moderately)
- Nuts, particularly almonds
- White meat, chicken and fish: broiled, baked or grilled
- Oils: ghee, sesame, olive, peanut
- Tea: lemon, chamomile, ginger, licorice
- Mild spices: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, cumin/coriander, mustard, salt, black pepper
- Warm soups and casseroles balance vata, especially in the colder winter months
Pitta imbalance can be caused by hot, spicy, oily, fried, salty, or fermented foods, and even alcohol. The following sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes in cool, heavy dishes balance pitta:
- Vegetables including bitter leafy greens: boiled, steamed, or raw
- Sweet fruits including sweet citrus
- Fresh dairy in moderate amounts
- Grains: basmati rice, couscous, wheat, barley, oats
- Mild, cooling spices: cloves, turmeric, cumin, coriander, mint, dill, fresh ginger
- Nuts: sunflower and almond in moderation, most are too oily
- Oils: ghee, sunflower, olive, canola, small amounts of sesame
- Mostly vegetarian diet, but baked or broiled white meat, chicken or turkey are least aggravating
- Tea: chamomile, red clover, peppermint, spearmint, licorice
Oily, heavy foods, dairy, and cold iced drinks, as well as over-eating and a sedentary lifestyle, can imbalance kapha. A lighter, warm diet of low-fat, pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes are recommended, for example:
- Pungent vegetables like artichokes, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, horseradish, chilies, spinach, radishes, cilantro, eggplant: boiled, steamed, or raw
- Astringent fruits like very ripe apples, cherries, cranberries, pomegranates, and dried fruit (avoid bananas)
- Fat-free buttermilk (remember to keep dairy intake low)
- Honey (use as a sugar substitute)
- Grains: white basmati rice, dry crackers (no salt), couscous, oats, barley, corn, millet, rye, wheat bran
- Strong spices: pepper, paprika, garlic, basil, allspice, fennel (most spices are good for kapha)
- Nuts: almonds in small amounts, most are too oily for kapha
- Oil: small amounts of corn, canola, or olive
- Meats: freshwater fish, shrimp, rabbit, venison, white meat, chicken and turkey
- Tea: raspberry, cinnamon, fenugreek, peppermint
Feel Healthy by Feeding Your Dosha Right
Overall good health is achieved when your doshas are in balance. Understanding why your dosha is out of balance and how to regain feeling healthy makes it easier to permanently adopt changes required to properly feed your dosha. Feed your dosha according to its needs and you will restore balance, feeling more energetic, focused, and healthy.