Ayurveda emerged from the spiritual texts of ancient India, known as the Vedas, or Books of Wisdom. These date back at least five thousand years and are widely regarded as humanity’s oldest literature.
According to Ayurveda, health is not a state defined by lab tests or yearly check ups. Health is a continuous and participatory process that embraces all aspects of life: physical, mental, emotional, behavioral, spiritual, familial, social, and universal. Achieving balance on all levels of being is the true measure of vibrant health. The average person simply does not exist in Ayurvedic medicine. Every individual is unique with a specific blueprint for health. By providing a universal framework for understanding these blueprints, Ayurveda teaches us to honor and support our true individual natures.
In the West, we have separated ourselves from the food we eat. Food plays a role comparable to that of gasoline for a car, something apart from the body, used for fuel and energy. But the same energy is also present in every plant and morsel of food on this planet. Since the energetic foundation of the body and food are the same, we cannot truly separate ourselves from the food we eat. The energy of food not only nourishes every cell on a physical level but also replenishes our underlying life force.
A balanced diet directly nurtures the body, mind, senses and spirit. Food gives strength, sustenance, energy, and radiance. Ayurvedic nutrition is therefore intimately tied to what are defined as three doshas and takes into account the unique dietary requirements of every individual.
The doshas are biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical and mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health and fulfillment. On a basic level, Ayurveda describes three major constitutional types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.
Due to their subtle, energetic quality, the doshas cannot be perceived directly in the body. Their presence, however, is visible through distinct qualities and actions, ranging from complex biological functions to personality traits. Every cell of the body contains Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. It is the varying proportion of these doshas, however, that contributes to an individual’s unique mind-body composition.
A person with a predominantly Vata constitution is commonly quick thinking, thin, and fast moving. A Pitta type, on the other hand, will have qualities such as a fiery personality and a reddish complexion. A Kapha type will typically have a solid body frame and calm temperament. While one dosha predominates in most individuals, a second dosha typically has a strong influence. For example, a Vata-Pitta type will have Vata as a primary constitution but also embody strong Pitta characteristics. A Pitta-Vata type, by contrast, will identify more with Pitta characteristics, but also have strong Vata traits.
The doshas are dynamic energies that constantly change in response to our actions, thoughts, emotions, the foods we eat, the seasons, and any other sensory inputs that feed our mind and body. When we live into the fulfillment of our individual natures, we naturally make lifestyle and dietary decisions that foster balance within our doshas. When we live against our intrinsic natures, we support unhealthy patterns that lead to physical and mental imbalances.
An increased or aggravated doshic state leads to the greatest number of imbalances. Such imbalances can arise from any number of influences, including following a dosha aggravating diet or, more generally, carrying too much stress in life. One can initiate a restoration of balance, however, when one begins to understand both their unique constitutional make up and how to harmonize their internal environment and its needs with the external world.
We are most susceptible to imbalances related to our predominant dosha. A Pitta type, for example, may experience heartburn after eating spicy foods. The key to remember is that like increases like, while opposites create balance. By simply choosing cooling or more alkalizing foods, one can avoid heartburn, while also supporting the underlying health of the mind and body.
Ayurveda classifies different foods in relation to their energetic qualities and specific doshic effects. Modern nutrition, by contrast, classifies foods according to their independent physical components, for example, how many calories, carbohydrates, or grams of protein they contain. This approach echoes the West’s greater mechanistic view of the body and fails to capture the true dynamism of food. Ayurveda values these nutrients as a component of a greater synergistic whole and how they intermix to create vibrant and nutritious food.
Ayurvedic nutrition focuses on the way food affects three major areas: the doshas, the digestion, and the mind. According to Ayurveda, imbalances within the doshas lead to improper digestion. Poor digestion, in turn, plants the seeds for future illness. Ayurvedic nutrition extends to the mind by observing that food directly affects the qualities of the mind. Ayurveda also recognizes that we constantly process “mental food” in the form of sensory impressions, thoughts, and emotions. Just as heartburn or bloating can occur after a big meal, failure to digest mental food properly will result in disharmony of the mind, or mental indigestion.
All foods can be examined within an Ayurvedic framework. Questions regarding whether or not certain foods are Ayurvedic are irrelevant. Ayurveda offers a universal system of nutrition that teaches us to eat in accordance with our individual constitutions. It goes far beyond a rigid set of one dietary guideline by allowing individuals to tailor diets specifically for themselves. In this sense, Ayurveda inherently offers billions of diet plans.
A cornerstone of Ayurvedic nutrition is that food satiates the senses and stimulates the entire digestive system to carry out its job effectively. Ayurveda also suggests slow changes in eating habits, rather than demanding abrupt dietary and lifestyle changes. Like any sudden change in life, rapid dietary shifts can often lead to physical and mental problems. Making gentle, non invasive changes, on the other hand, ensure that the body will not undergo a state of greater imbalance before getting healthier.