You've probably heard the term "Ayurveda" tossed around, especially in the context of food. As it turns out, this year, you may want to consider this buzzy (albeit, ancient) approach if you're looking to get 2020 off to a healthier start. So, why should you add it to your list of resolutions?
According to Kim Goeltom, Certified Master Wellness Coach through the International Association of Wellness Professionals and owner of Creating Legacy Wellness, Ayurveda is all about self-discovery and considering all aspects of the wellness wheel. "Ayurveda wants us to look deeper into our lives and so that we not only have physical health and strength, but emotional wellbeing," she explains. "Being aware of your dosha can help you have a better understanding of who you are and how to create balance in your life so that you can fulfill your goals, dreams and purpose."
Sounds like the perfect refresh for the new year, right? Ahead, three health gurus weigh in on the basics behind Ayurvedic philosophies and why they may be beneficial to you. Better yet, they share actionable steps that you can try right now. If in the new year you'd like to feel healthier — body, mind, and soul — read on; this is about so much more than diet.
Ayurveda In A Nutshell
"Ayurveda is the traditional medicine of India," Goeltom begins. "In Sanskrit, veda means 'sacred knowledge' and ayur means 'life,' so what we have here is the sacred knowledge of life, or sacred knowledge of how to live. It is a complex and ancient system of wellbeing that is well over 5,000 years old."
Kendra Irvine, CEO of Living Light, Certified Wellness Coach, and professional kinesiologist breaks it down further. "Within the system, there are three body/mind types, or 'doshas': Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which are composed of the five elements found in nature [earth, water, fire, air, and ether]. We are born with our own unique combination of these elements and knowing the combinations and their qualities can help us move from dis-ease to ease."
The philosophy behind adopting an Ayurvedic-type diet is to eat foods that counteract our dominant traits — for instance, eating cooling foods to counteract "hot" qualities — in order to achieve balance.
The 3 Doshas
Vata: "Vata means 'that which moves things' and has the elements air and ether in it," says Goeltom. "Vata embodies winds of change, beauty, unstoppable creativity, lightness, movement and more. [Vata types] tend to have a slimmer frame, find it hard to gain weight, have original thoughts, and tend to worry."
Divya Alter, chef and co-owner of Divya’s Kitchen, relates this energy to food. "If your Vata dosha is out of balance, you will most likely experience the symptoms of airy digestion: irregular appetite, bloating/gas, constipation, belching without acidity. Vata energy is cold, dry, mobile, subtle, and to balance its excess, we need foods that are of opposite qualities: warm, moist, grounding." She recommends opting for soup over salad, hot tea over iced beverages, and loading up on cooked root vegetables, whole grains. Lastly, she suggests incorporating "a little more ghee [clarified butter] or oil for moisturizing our dry skin from the inside out."
Pitta: "Pitta means 'that which digests things' and is comprised of the water and fire elements. [Pitta types] have qualities such as strong, toned bodies, oily skin, leadership skills, [and they] enjoy spicy foods and are really great at transformation."
As far as your gut goes, "If your Pitta dosha is out of balance, you will most likely experience fiery digestion: feeling always hungry, acidity, heartburn, eating a lot but not absorbing nutrients," says Alter. "Pitta energy is hot, drying, sharp, unstable, and to balance its excess, we need foods that are cooling (metabolically), calming, [and] heavier to digest." Her recommendations include "sweet and juicy fruits, coconut in any form, raw and cooked foods, foods higher in protein, whole grains, fresh cheese, [and] cooling vegetables such as zucchini, leafy greens, celery, and bitter melon."
Kapha: "Kapha means' that which holds things together' and is made up of the earth and water elements. This dosha [type] tends to have a thicker build, round face, [is] great at saving money, sleeps very well, and tends to be a calm and patient person."
Alter elaborates, "If your Kapha dosha is out of balance, you will most likely experience slow digestion: loss of appetite, congestion, stagnation," she says. "Kapha energy is cool, damp, heavy, stagnant. To balance its excess, we need foods that are pungent and heating, cooked/warm, [and] light to digest." She recommends steamed greens, light grains and fruits, berries, bitter, and cruciferous veggies, adding "use lots of chilies and ginger. Cook with extra spices to stimulate your digestive fire and burn stagnation."
Potential Benefits of Ayurvedic Living
Now, the good part: why might you consider Ayurvedic-style eating? "When a person embraces their dosha and learns what to do/eat when they are out of balance, they learn how to mitigate those challenges, create their desired overall wellness, and become centered," says Goeltom.
According to Alter, some of the most sought-after benefits include:
- Fully breaking down and absorbing nutrients
- Maintaining your healthy weight
- Feeling energized rather than fatigued or sluggish, even after a meal
- Clearer mind
- Glowing skin ("A lot of skin issues arise from indigestion," she points out.)
- Emotional stability, contentment, and happiness
- Achieving overall balance, body, mind, and spirit
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
Now, a disclaimer: While examining your dosha based on quizzes and research can offer guidance, Alter says not to get too caught up in boxing yourself into a single category. "Figuring out your body-mind constitution and your dosha imbalance can be confusing, especially if you are not being monitored by an Ayurvedic doctor or practitioner," she warns. Further, most people possess a combination of these qualities. "That’s why, in terms of food selection, it is best to make decisions based on the strength of the digestive fire you’re experiencing today. This may vary day to day or with the seasons." (Of course, you should always consult with a health professional before altering your diet in any way.)
Easy Ways To Incorporate Ayurvedic Principles Into Your Life
The good news is, there are some simple Ayurvedic principles you can adopt right now. For starters, Goeltom suggests tracking what you eat for a week or two in order to "find out how food makes your body feel." Adds Alter, "It’s not just what we eat but how we eat that affects our health and relationship with food."
The experts share some Ayurvedic techniques you can try as soon as your next meal:
- Eat calmly, mindfully, and always have gratitude for your food. "Noshing on food while you are hurrying down the street, also on your cell phone, or even simply while standing keeps your body in fight or flight, stressing your guts," says Irvine.
- ·Eat only when you're hungry, not just because it's a mealtime. On the flip side, don't prolong eating when your stomach is growling.
- When possible, opt for freshly made food over leftovers, which tend to be "harder to digest," says Alter.
- Make lunch the biggest meal of the day. "Our body’s digestive system is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and peaks at noon," explains Irvine. "Take advantage of this time!"
- Don't eat right before going to sleep. Instead, "allow at least two to three hours between dinner and going to bed (ideally by 10 p.m.)," says Alter.
Irvine concludes with the sentiment that Ayurveda is ultimately about self-love. "Self-kindness is of utmost importance and extreme makeovers are not recommended," she says. "It is so crucial to take on ONLY ONE simple challenge on at a time. Who needs [to be] overwhelmed? Not you!"