But there are some basic principles you can use today to improve your daily life, health and yoga practice.
Through my exploration of this science I’ve learned that Ayurveda is worlds apart from western (allopathic) medicine, more akin to homeopathic medicine. Ayurveda treats the person, not the illness.
In the Ayurvedic system, you are viewed as a combination of five elements: space (sometimes called ether), air, fire, water and earth. These elements are manifested as three forces—vata, pitta, kapha—known as the doshas.
If you intend to stay healthy, you must maintain your own unique balance of these elements.
Sounds easy, right?
Well…maybe not. Like I said, it is a science, and like any science it takes a bit of study to understand.
When a person becomes imbalanced, an Ayurvedic practitioner arrives at a treatment that is unique to each person using a combination of yoga, meditation, medicines (including herbal, surgery, drugs and panchakarma), and dietary tweaks.
By understanding this guidance you learn how to see the signals of imbalance and can make the necessary adjustments to bring all parts back into balance—mind, body and spirit.
The following are a few keys gems I’ve learned though my study and work with students. They’re good for all doshas to keep you balanced and living well.
1) Know your dosha.
Knowledge is power. Once you know your dosha you’ll have more insight into how to stay in balance. You can find a dosha test here (excerpted from Ayurvedic Cooking for Self Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad). Read the directions at the top before taking the test.
Once you have your dosha, dig a bit deeper, do a little research on the web or in books (see some suggestions below from both Dr. Lad and Dr. David Frawley) or take a course. The beauty of Ayurveda is it encourages self-care.
Before your morning practice, start your day with a glass of warm water and a little lemon or lime juice. It’s a great way to stimulate your gastrointestinal system.
The warm water encourages peristalsis (those natural contractions of our intestinal tract that keeps the waste moving) and a slice or squeeze of lemon or lime juice help loosen the toxins in your system.
Drinking room temperature or warm water throughout your day is a good too. Avoid drinking iced fluids that cool your digestive fire, known as the agni.
3) Rinse out those sinuses.
Flush your sinuses with warm salt water in the morning, especially if you wake feeling a little stuffy.
You can do this any time of the day, but it’s best to do before you start your practice so your breathing will flow easily.
Use a neti pot or a nasal plunger-type washer (shown in photo), and a little sea salt.
4) We aren’t just a physical body.
Yes, your physical body benefits from the asana practice, but ultimately we are working on our energetic body through the asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation which affect prana, the senses, mind, the nadis and chakras.
Your yoga practice is meant to heal your energetic body, which affects your spiritual and physical bodies.
Commit at least 15 minutes daily to a mini-practice consisting of deep breathing, some simple stretching to wake up your spine and any movement that feels good. Even add a short meditation at the end.
Allow your breath to move you—it doesn’t have to look a certain way, go by how it feels. Start small and let it build organically. Get more guidance at classes or in private sessions with a teacher you trust.
Daily moderate exercise like walking or swimming or cycling is also an essential part of being a healthy human.
5) You are what and how you eat.
I’ll admit it, the doshic food recommendations make my head hurt. It’s tough explaining the Ayurvedic food recommendations in an easy-to-understand way.
Simply put, you want to eat food that’s balancing for your primary dosha—vata, pitta or kapha.
If you eat an excess of food that is unbalancing you’ll feel it as a symptom, such as a gastrointestinal issue, skin irritation, mood swing, lack of mental clarity or sleep disruption.
- Eat fresh, clean, wholesome, in-season food.
- Don’t eat unless hungry, don’t drink unless thirsty.
- Focus all your attention on your meal—no TV, electronics…even talking—just eat.
- Chew each mouthful over 30 times (tough for us pittas. :o)
- Don’t overeat—what you can hold in your cupped hands is enough.
- Drink a little warm water with your meal.
- Leave the table a little under full.
- Cook with healthy oils—ghee, avocado and coconut.
6) Listen to what your poop is telling you.
Using the Bristol Stool chart as a guide, a healthy stool is in the #3 to #4 range. Above or below indicates imbalance.
Ayurvedic practitioners also take color and frequency into account when determining your health. One complete elimination in the morning, well-formed, easy to wipe and with very little odor is optimal.
When there’s a vata imbalance it tends towards constipation; a pitta imbalance tends towards diarrhea and a kapha imbalance tends towards sticky and mucous-y.
The more in balance you are in all areas of your life, the more your stool reflects that balance.
7) Early to bed…early to rise.
Good sleep is essential for good health. Synching with the rhythm of the natural world does wonders for our health.
As the sun sets, wind down your day. About two hours before sleeping turn off artificial light sources, shut down electronics, quiet your mind and body and get to sleep by 10 pm—during one of the kapha phases of the day.
Rising between 4 and 6 am—during one of the vata phases of the day—gives you a good night’s sleep, following the natural world around you. I use the birds outside my house for my wake up call. They start singing before sunrise and that gets me moving.
And it’s a great time to do your practice, as your mind and the world around us is quiet.
These are just a few tips from the vast world of Ayurveda. Have fun exploring further. I highly suggest meeting with an Ayurveda practitioner to get your dosha properly diagnosed and to help with correcting any imbalances that you might be currently experiencing.
- Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing: A Practical Guide by Vasant Lad (1985)
- Ayurveda, Nature’s Medicine by by Dr. David Frawley, Subhash Ranade (2001)
- Yoga & Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization by Dr. David Frawley (1999)
What you can do next
- Really cool people (like you) leave us comments…do you have a favorite Ayurveda self-care technique???
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