Ayurveda: An Ancient Healing System For Modern Times

By Minji

  • Ayurveda is a healing system from India dating back over 5,000 years
  • I love Ayurveda because it recognizes customized approaches of holistic health based on differences in body and personality types 
  • I'm a Pitta-Vata, what are you?

Ayurveda, known as the ‘science of life,’ is a healing system from India dating back over 5,000 years. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. Ayurveda medicine is the traditional healing system of yoga that views the human being as an interplay of body, mind, and spirit.

I love Ayurveda because it recognizes and uses different treatment protocols and lifestyle techniques as a way of creating harmony within who we truly are, a genuine holistic and customized approach. Its purpose is to heal and maintain quality and longevity of life.

These days we’re bombarded by all these different blanket statements on what to eat and how to live, it’s frankly overwhelming. Some people say we should all go vegan.  Others swear by keto. We used to hear people say we should stop eating fat, but now healthy fat is in… and the list goes on and on.  

According to Ayurveda, everyone is unique and therefore treatment should be customized to each individual. It’s the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach which we often see in Western culture, which I find refreshing.  If we all have different and unique skin, why wouldn’t the rest of our bodies be the same way, right?

A full discussion of Ayurveda would take up several volumes of books and can’t be covered in a simple article, but for now, let’s cover some of the basic principles.

It all starts with what’s called the five elements.  In Ayurveda, they believe that the five elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether – ether is another way of saying space – and that these five elements exist throughout the entire universe including within our bodies and make up everything.

When we understand the five elements, we can take that understanding and begin to understand the next key concept of Ayurvedic medicine, which is called the three doshas. Dosha is another way of saying a constitution or a characteristic. These five elements are what compose and create the doshas.

The first dosha is called Vata and made up of the two elements of air and ether, spaciousness and lightness. The next dosha is Pitta and is composed of the element of mostly fire, but also water. Pitta is naturally more penetrating, fiery and intense. The third is called the Kapha dosha and composed of the two most dense elements, water, but mostly earth. This symbolizes qualities like heaviness, stability and solidity.

Vata, Pitta, and Kapha translate into bodily characteristics and also personality traits, so you can look at these doshas not just on a physical level but also on a psychological level.

Vatas on a physical level are body types that are smaller boned and slender. Psychologically, Vata if you remember is the element of air and ether, so there’s a lot of movement happening. Vatas tend to be more creative. They can think out of the box, love to travel and never want to settle down. But when Vatas get imbalanced, their heads are in the clouds and you have to ground and center them.  

Pittas physically are going to be people that have more of a medium and athletic build. Pittas are natural born leaders. They’re fiery, and they can use this fire and intensity as a way to inspire and motivate. But when the Pitta gets out of balance, they’re the ones that get angry, irritable and hostile.

Kaphas are bigger boned, heavier and have a larger frame. Psychologically, a Kapha person, because they’re more earth and water, can be very stable and nurturing, but also have a tendency to get stuck and attached to things.

If you’re curious where you fit in, you can try this quick quiz.  Obviously, it’s much more complicated than just a quick questionnaire, but this can be a helpful starting point. 

In Ayurveda, once you figure out your dosha type (you can be a mix of multiple doshas), then you know how to proceed forward with specific tweaks to your eating habits, treatments and lifestyle in general that work for your specific nature.

For example, if you’re a Pitta person, you need to cool yourself down. Coconut water, aloe vera juice and watermelon are good. Stay away from spicy and other stimulating food. For Pittas, it might actually be what you love and are drawn to, but you need to balance that out.

For Vatas, you want to balance yourself out by eating warm, nutritious and heavier meals. Interestingly enough, you’ll see that Vatas are typically the ones that are going raw.  If you take this too far, you could be aggravating your Vata and creating imbalance.

For the Kaphas out there, you should work on scaling back on the quantity of food and moving away from heavy foods.  Eat lighter meals with smaller portions to find your balance.

Besides diet adjustments, for everyone, Ayurveda tradition conveys it’s important to harmonize yourself with the rhythms of nature. Go to bed earlier (cultivating a nighttime skincare ritual can be conducive to this!). Wake up when the sun is rising.

Be present to these cycles of nature, because the cycles of nature also exist within you. Especially as the seasons change, the five elements in nature will shit and that will also affect the elements present within your body and your skin.

*Adapted with permission from Travis Eliot's full article here*