“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need,” according to an Ayurveda proverb.
Inspired by the teachings of Ayurveda, learning to eat for your body type promotes a healthy weight, proper digestion and elimination, optimal energy and an overall sense of wellbeing. The ancient medical practice of India focuses on balancing mind-body-spirit and believes a correct diet is the foundation of good health.
According to Ayurvedic principles, what you need to eat to achieve optimal health also depends on your body-mind type, called a dosha. Each person has a unique mix of three biological principles, or doshas – known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha – which determine specific physical and mental characteristics.
Ayurveda practitioners offer a prescriptive diet plan developed for your unique body type and health concerns. However, there are general Ayurvedic dietary guidelines you can follow based on the three primary doshas. Most people have a combination of two doshas, such as Vata/Pitta, Pitta/Kapha and even a Tri-dosha type, but one typically predominates.
Common characteristics of each dosha type
Vata: Characterized by movement and change, Vata types have a tendency to be on the go, with a curious and creative mind. Vata governs movement in the body, the activities of the nervous system, digestion and elimination. Vata individuals usually have a thin, light frame with low muscle mass. They are sensitive to many foods, causing gas, bloating and constipation. Vatas typically have dry skin and hair, are cool in temperature and complain of cold hands and feet. They can experience unexplained bouts of fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. When Vata is in balance, you will be lively, agile and energetic and maintain a lean body. Vata imbalances can manifest as weight loss, digestive challenges, hypertension, arthritis, weakness, low energy and agitation.
Pitta: The essence of Pitta is transformation; it controls digestion, metabolism, and energy production. Pitta individuals have a fiery nature, with a medium build and weight, and have good muscle tone. They tend to be fit with little body fat. Other traits include a warm body temperature, premature graying hair or balding, and reddish complexions and hair. They enjoy high energy levels, have excellent digestion, short but restful sleep and a strong sex drive. Balanced Pitta types have a glowing complexion, good digestion, abundant energy, and a healthy appetite. They may suffer from skin rashes, burning sensations, excessive body heat, heartburn, high blood pressure and indigestion when out of balance.
Kapha: This dosha rules the structure of the body, holds the cells together and forms the muscle, fat, bone, and sinew. Since the primary function of Kapha is protection, Kapha individuals have a strong build, usually stocky, and can put on weight easily. Other characteristics are endurance and physical stamina; large, soft eyes; smooth, radiant skin; and thick hair. Those who are predominantly Kapha sleep soundly and have regular digestion. Signs of Kapha excess include weight gain, fluid retention, allergies, asthma, diabetes, depression and excessive sleep. They’re also prone to sinus congestion, poor circulation, and sluggish digestion that can lead to obesity.
If you are new to Ayurveda, you have to find out your dominant dosha. While it’s best to seek out an Ayurvedic doctor for a complete physical, there are several websites with short quizzes to give you some idea of your body type. Here are a few to try: http://doshaquiz.chopra.com/, http://www.jiva.com/ayurveda/about-ayurveda/vpk.html and http://www.doctoroz.com/quiz/ayurvedic-body-type-find-your-dosha
Taking a self-assessment on a reputable website will get you started and give you good insight into your primary dosha so you can begin to adjust your eating. Ayurveda believes an imbalance of Vata, Pitta or Kapha energies leads to physical disease, and most imbalances are linked to diet. Secondary factors, like body tissues (dhatus), toxins (ama) and waste materials (malas), are the result of an imbalance in the doshas, not the cause of it.
Before you embark on an Ayurvedic diet, you need to understand the qualities of your dominant dosha, and how food affects it. Vata represents dry, cool, mobile, light, subtle and rough. The qualities of Pitta are hot, sharp, acidic, intense, oily and pungent. And Kapha is heavy, slow, steady, solid, cold, soft and oily. Certain foods also have these same characteristics and can either balance or aggravate the body.
Ayurveda has established suitable diets, exercise and lifestyles patterns, such as when to eat and sleep, to support good digestion, vibrant health, mental clarity and emotional stability. An Ayurvedic diet guide recommends foods that balance your dominant dosha; it also helps stabilize a dosha showing signs of excess and presenting as negative symptoms in the body. Next week, learn about the unique dietary needs of each body type and tips on what to eat and what to avoid.
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