Ayurveda (which literally translates as ‘life science’) is a 4000 year old wellness system originating in India.
The system is ultra-sophisticated, with a preventative, long term, holistic and integrative approach to a person’s wellbeing. That makes it relevant for anyone interested in optimal health.
Because of that, Ayurveda (along with other time-tested system, Traditional Chinese Medicine) is experiencing an ongoing Renaissance.
Once you start delving into the Ayurvedic system, things can become overwhelming quickly! It’s pretty complex. That said, there are some simple practices we can all do to benefit from Ayurvedic wisdom now.
What follows is a brief introduction to Ayurveda.
Key elements of Ayurveda
Here are some cornerstones of Ayurveda’s approach to wellbeing:
- Your mind and body are inextricably related.
- Nothing has greater capacity to heal the body than the mind.
- You have a ‘type’ of constitution (one of three) which means you have specific dietary and lifestyle needs.
- Your body thrives on routine.
- You should enjoy a colorful, flavorful diet.
- Getting plenty of restful sleep is important.
- You should act in accordance with your nature as far as possible (be attuned to your body’s messages).
- Strengthening your digestive power is more important than what you eat.
- You should follow the ‘law of least effort’ in life. This just means practicing acceptance, forgiveness and love.
Knowing your dosha type
In Ayurveda, your dosha type is what dictates your specific self care practices and nutrition strategy.
There are three types – kapha, pitta and vata.
It is not necessary to know what your dosha type is, but it is kind of cool and interesting to learn.
To discover your type, try this quiz.
10 things Ayurveda says we do wrong
The following popular approaches to health and nutrition are incompatible with the Ayurvedic system.
There is one ‘perfect’ diet
The Ayurvedic approach does not advocate one diet for everyone. Rather, an individual’s food choices should be based on their own specific needs.
The raw food diet in particular is considered health-depleting by Ayurveda – too dampening and cooling for the bodily systems. Ayurveda’s focus is on each individual’s ability to digest food.
Nutrition is the way to understand food
This is a very limited perspective on food and one that creates problems. Ayurveda looks at a food’s effects (e.g. calming, cooling) and tastes (which affects satiation). The system avoids making food choices based solely on nutritional value.
Juicing is detoxifying and healing
Drinking juice every day, although nutritious, doesn’t really help with your body’s elimination process. Plus, excessive juicing diminishes and weakens digestive system – which is the opposite of what Ayurveda recommends.
Milk is poison
Ayurveda considers milk a useful food, and therefore does not advocate a vegan diet as being optimal. Cream, butter and ghee all have low lactose, making them suitable foods for most people. Depending on how well you tolerate it (and that depends on your constitution), quality diary should be a feature of your diet.
Dairy should be taken with spices to aid digestion. Individuals that do have difficulty with digesting milk (and homogenizing and pasteurizing processes make it more difficult) should aim to resolve their weakened digestion rather than eliminate diary.
A gluten free diet is better for everyone
Ayurveda considers wheat a beneficial food and again suggests that intolerances are caused by weakened digestion. Unyeasted breads are easy to digest and can promote calmness and improved sleep for some individuals. Instead of eliminating wheat, focus on improving your digestive fire.
The belief that food will heal your chronic health condition
If your health condition has regressed to a state of disease, Ayurveda says you need herbs or other types of treatment beyond a change in diet.
However, taking a single herb by itself won’t cure you. Along with the powerful active ingredients, there are co-factors that we don’t understand.
Many people say it takes twenty years or more to learn when to take herbs and when not to take them. You should consult with a herbalist if you are considering using them.
The belief that nutrition alone can heal you
Nutrition alone cannot heal chronic health conditions: detoxification and digestion are more important. Supplements and probiotics are overused and not supported by Ayurveda. Similarly, taking hormones and digestive enzymes creates inbalances and are also not supported.
Eating less and exercising more is the best way to lose weight
There are many different reasons why we gain weight. The Ayurveda philosophy is that you have to determine the individual’s reasons for weight gain.
The one-food/herb-fits-all philosophy
You have to know the cause before you know the cure. For headaches, there could be 20 different causes. The whole ‘ten foods to cure your headache’ culture is far too simplistic.
Exercising and having muscles is a state of health
Ayurveda suggests that this can be deceptive as there are many more factors and states that are indicative of overall health levels – for example, how well we sleep, our immune system, our energy levels, inflammation and toxicity levels.
In addition, there are better and healthier ways to help the muscular/skeletal system than weights training (for example, yoga).
Easy way to Ayurveda
Below are 25 simply practices from Ayurveda that you can start using now.
- Practice mindful eating. That is sitting down to eat, taking your time with your food, eating in a settled environment and avoiding eating when you’re distressed. Eat in a state of serenity!
- Avoid eating unless you are definitely hungry and eat at a moderate pace.
- Minimize the amount of raw foods in your diet, which are much harder to digest than cooked ones. (Some dosha types can thrive from eating higher amounts of raw foods though).
- Eat real foods from nature (avoid processed foods) and eat organic where possible.
- Ditch dietary dogma which can result in not getting enough variety and excessive food cravings.
- Rotate your meals.
- Eat seasonally.
- Try a variety of cooking methods including steaming, sautéing, boiling, roasting, purees, smoothies, baking, fermenting and raw.
- Include all six tastes at each meal (sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, astringent and sour).
- Have plant foods be your primary food source.
- Regularly use high quality herbs such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon to flavour foods.
- Avoid cold from the fridge beverages (they effectively halt your digestion and take away your energy).
- Don’t deprive yourself – recognize that food is also about feeding the soul.
- Do seasonable cleanses. Detoxing is a great way to improve energy, digestive ability and even gain spiritual and mental/emotional clarity. Spring is a good time.
- Perform a daily oil massage with herbal oil.
- Meditate each day.
- Use detoxifying herbs (I love ashwagandha).
- Add in oil pulling and tongue scraping.
Sleep and rhythm of the day:
- Rise with the sun and be in bed by 10pm.
- Eat your heaviest meal in the middle of the day. Eat light in the evenings.
- See also: sleep remedies for each dosha type.
- Use exercise to energize you and listen to your body.
- See also: workouts for your dosha type.
Ayurveda offers some powerful wisdom, a lot of which is super simple to incorporate and may offer you drastic benefits (check out this guy’s story).
Try starting with just a few of the suggestions above. For example, eat foods that are in season, eat your largest meal midday, and be in bed by 10pm. If you then want to take it a step further, you can determine your individual dosha and look into more specific dietary tweaks.Ayurveda is an access to feeling physically, mentally and emotionally balanced Click To Tweet
Keep in mind that this isn’t just some fad diet! This is a way to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally balanced.