"With proper diet & lifestyle, medicine is of no need. With improper diet & lifestyle, medicine is of no use" - Ayurvedic proverb
What is Ayurveda?
Emerging from the ancient spiritual texts, known as the Vedas, Ayurveda dates back over 5000 years ago and can be described as a holistic self-healing method from India that covers physical, mental, emotional & spiritual health. Through Ayurveda, methods of healing via diet, herbal remedies, exercise & lifestyle regimens are tailored to individuals, based on their unique Dosha makeup.
What is a Dosha?
A Dosha can best be described as the biological energy believed to govern one's physical, mental and emotional state. Related to the 5 elements found in nature: space, air, fire, water & earth, Ayurveda recognizes these elements as the building blocks of human existance. There are 3 Doshas: Vata, Pitta & Kapha and individuals can be any combination of the 3.
What determines our Dosha?
Each person’s constitution - also known as Prakriti in Sanskrit is a combination & proportion of the 3 doshas: Vata, Pitta & Kapha and is determined according to the genetics, diet, lifestyle & emotions of the parents at conception. While a few rare individuals are born with a balanced constitution (all 3 doshas in equal quantity & quality), most of us have 1 or 2 dominant doshas.
In addition to our Prakriti, there is also a “present moment” constitution, called Vikriti, reflecting one’s current state of health or imbalance. In a person of “excellent health” the proportions of Vikriti & Prakriti will be the same - but most likely there will be a difference, as the Vikriti reflects any aspect of diet, lifestyle, emotions, age, environment, that are not in harmony with one’s prakriti.
While I highly recommend an in depth Ayurvedic consultation to determine your dosha / any imbalance, the following chart gives a brief summary of some of the qualities of the 3 doshas.
How does food relate to Ayurveda?
According to Ayurveda, a balanced diet is considered to be the foundation of all healing therapies and views food as the most important form of medicine. It is said, without the right food, no other healing modality can be completely effective.
The basis of an Ayurvedic diet is the attitude of ahimsa (non-harming), with a focus on fresh vegetarian foods, avoiding any products that involve the killing or harming of animals, emphasizing natural foods, grown in harmony with nature, on good soils, ripened naturally, cooked with love.
While Ayurveda believes there is no single diet or food that is good for all, it instead states the foods your body needs, varies from person to person, with an emphasis on eating for your dosha and changes according to the time of the year & other life events.
Traditionally, Ayurveda emphasizes cooked foods, because raw food is harder to digest with undigested food becoming toxicity in the body. This toxicity is called ama in Sanskrit.
What is Ama?
Ama, can be described as a sticky toxic sludge of undigested food residue that builds up and spills over to weak sites in our body, weakening the immune system over time and eventually leading to various physical disease. It is said that ama is one of the main causative factors in physical and even mental disease. Therefore food is only believed to be medicine when properly digested, converting to nutrients our body can absorb.
While undigested food is said to be one of the main contributors to ama, it is also said that undigested thought, emotion & sensory impressions can lead to the accumulation of mental ama. From an Ayurvedic perspective, most forms of mental disease stem from the buildup of mental ama.
While mental ama is said to be more subtle than the physical buildup of ama from food, the 2 are interrelated with poor mental digestion leading to physical illness & poor physical digestion eventually leading to imbalances in the mind.
Ayurveda identifies numerous ways of ridding the body of excess ama, however the focus is on the prevention of this accumulation via a balanced diet, & lifestyle. When buildup does occur there are several ways to
The main method to treat ama is to burn it up with herbs or to modify diet in order to increase the agni (digestive fire).
What is Agni?
Agni, also known as our digestive fire is what's responsible for extracting nutrients from the food we eat and converting it to our bodily tissues. Composed of a variety of acids and enzymes, agni lives in the lower stomach & small intestine.
According to Ayurveda, all disease starts with an imbalance of agni. When agni is weak, Ama (undigested food) accumulates in the form of a sticky, toxic substance, which eventually builds up and spills over , travelling to weak sites in the body, weakening the immune system and over time leading to various mental and physical diseases.
Physical symptoms of agni include dullness, heaviness & cloudiness of emotion & perception.
Alternatively, when agni is balanced, we are vital, clear, with dharmic goals, purpose and the ability to maintain focus with the potential to live a long and vibrant life.