What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is something I’ve touched on before. It’s a form of traditional medicine in India that dates back to around 6,000 BCE and encompasses a range of ‘therapies’ that are now popular on a global scale, like yoga, massage, acupuncture, and herbal medicine. According to Jasmine Hemsley, a food, health, and wellbeing writer, Ayurveda is a philosophy that understands nature and helps us understand that we’re a part of nature, too. Unlike a lot of popular diets, Ayurveda is about comfort food. It’s about food that is easy to digest, determined by the individual idealised state of being which is intrinsic to you from birth.

As a broad concept, Ayurveda might seem a little unusual to us here in the west. However, our fixation with things that are ‘whole’ and ‘holistic’ can be traced back to Ayurvedic medicine: fermented foods, probiotics, and intermittent fasting. These trends that we’re experiencing are all Ayurveda. Indeed, the popularisation of the Ayurvedic diet speaks to our tendency to appropriate certain ideas or ways of being, while continuing to reject the eastern medicine system from which it originated.

Okay, let’s get into some of the basics. The Ayurvedic Diet is comprised of what are known as the “three doshas”: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The doshas are dynamic energies that constantly change in response to intangible things, like our unique thoughts and emotions, and tangible things, like the foods we eat, the seasons, and other sensory inputs that feed us. According to Hemsley, when we make dietary and lifestyle decisions that support our doshas, we live in harmony with our individual natures, creating balance in the mind and body. Commonly, people are a blend of two doshas, or even all three, but one will typically be more dominant. The overarching idea is that if the proportion of doshas in your current state is close to your natural constitution, then your health will be vibrant. When we work against these doshas, though, we foster unhealthy patterns that can lead to physical and mental imbalances.

So, what exactly does the Ayurvedic Diet look like? Well, it really differs depending on your dominant dosha. According to Ayurveda expert Miriam Hospodar, Vata types need foods that calm their anxious and overactive tendencies. Heavy, warm, cooked foods are most suitable, and dairy products, sweeteners, and foods cooked with fats and oils tend to pacify Vata. Pitta types, on the other hand, need foods served at cool temperatures (but not too cold, because this can inhibit digestion). Pittas are best suited to reduced amounts of fats, oils, salt, and thrive on sweet, ripe fruits and vegetables (except garlic, tomatoes, radishes, and chillies). Finally, Kapha types tend to be cool and sluggish, and therefore need light, warm foods. Grains such as barley, buckwheat, and rye, and light fruits like apples are the best for Kaphas. It’s also recommended that Kapha types minimise their consumption of fats, oils, and dairy products.

Ultimately, there’s no denying that Ayurveda as a system has had a significant role in shaping the way we in the western world think of health and wellness. The Ayurvedic Diet, in particular, is prominent both in and outside of the online health world. While there is no clear scientific rationale for this style of eating, experts agree the focus on unprocessed foods and mindful eating are both valuable takeaways. So, there’s no harm in finding which dosha you are – there’s a whole range of quizzes out there (including a good one on Hemsley’s website). Who knows, this might just be the start of a healthier, more balanced you.

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