Key Terms & Phrases To Start Your Ayurvedic Journey
Over the years, Ayurveda has informed my own health journey and supplied me with the tools that I use in my own health coaching practice. It means “life” and “knowledge” and unlike western medicine, it takes a deeper look into healing and treating the body as a whole. One of the most ancient practices of medicine in the world, Ayurveda treats emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health.
You may be familiar with the “personality” aspect of Ayurveda. We are all born with high and low traits. In Ayurveda, your constitution or Prakriti is your unique combination of the three doshas. Everyone has a little bit of each dosha inside them but usually, some traits are more dominant than others. The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha.
An Ayurvedic perspective uses the doshas to address common ailments of the body, mind, and spirit to bring the whole back into balance. When I work with my clients, I take their dosha into consideration and help them find ways to improve gut health and overall energy with certain simple Ayurvedic principles.
While Ayurveda can treat a whole range of issues, the gut is where our healing journey begins and ends. A healthy gut means a healthy, energized life, and an unhealthy or imbalanced gut can lead to disease and fatigue. Because my treatments are heavily influenced by Ayurveda, I wanted to go over a few basic terms that will help you to understand why I use it and how it can help you.
One of my Ayurvedic gurus, Kulreet Chaudhary, M.D. and author of The Prime, describes ama as “substances inside the body and mind that are insufficiently digested and/or are located in their current form in places they should not be.”
When a toxin enters our system, our body has systems in place to neutralize any harmful effect these toxins may have. Some are eliminated through digestion, others through our sweat and lungs, and our lymphatic system catches still others. Some toxins cannot be immediately eliminated, whether because our system has been compromised or there are simply too many for the system to deal with all at once. These toxins are neutralized and stored in fat cells and organs. Hidden away where they cannot cause immediate harm.
Over time, this build-up of ama can cause all sorts of problems including inflammation, weight gain, and indigestion. Small or large, ama affects the balance of our body’s systems. Kulreet Chaudhary’s book The Prime presents a simple detox solution. I highly recommend her book and have used the method myself. It’s a real gamechanger.
Agni is the Ayurvedic term for our digestive fire. From our brain to our organs and everything in between, Ayurveda teaches that our overall health is based on the strength of our digestion. If our Agni is strong, our health is robust. If it is weakened or impaired, our health is similarly imbalanced.
Here is where the doshas come in. Depending on our current state of health, one or more of our doshas may be elevated. This is normal and can be caused by a variety of lifestyle factors including our current diet, the season, our exercise routine, work, or relationship stress. However, knowing where our doshas may be imbalanced allows us to form a treatment plan which may include soothing foods, supplements, or activities that will help bring us back into balance.
Sometimes when our digestion is weak, we have irresistible cravings for sugar, salt, carbs, alcohol, and any number of things that can harm our bodies in large quantities. Giving in to these cravings can cause disease or infection, and can exacerbate inflammation, fatigue, or an already weakened immune system.
Ayurveda is full of tools and treatments to bring balance back to a weak digestive system. Agni is the center of it all.
The Doshas, The Seasons & The Elements
The doshas tie into all aspects of life. They each represent a way of life, a type of energy, a style of food, particular qualities, a time of the year, and a pair of elements. When we become aware of our doshas, we open up a whole new world of self-knowledge. Like a baby when they first figure out that squeaky voice is actually coming from their mouth, our first instinct upon discovering our doshas is to scream it out and push our limits. We say, I am this, but not that. My pitta is strong and my kapha is weak. My skin tends to be dry, not oily. But all of this is beside the point. Like the world cycles through the seasons, so do we all cycle through the doshas, each taking its turn at dominance, imbalance, strength, weakness.
Once we understand the strengths and weaknesses of all the doshas, then we have the tools for true understanding and growth.
Here are some of the basic associations for the three doshas:
Vata season ambles through the late fall into early winter. Its qualities are light, dry, rough, hard, mobile, irregular, cool. Its elements are air and ether.
Kapha season occupies the long winter until early spring. Its qualities are heavy, dense, wet, gooey, stable, cool. Its elements are water and earth.
Pitta season burns from early spring to late fall. Its qualities are moist, intense, hot, sharp, and focused on their goal of transformation. Its elements are fire and water.
Each season has dominant qualities and in order for us to bring balance to our bodies, we have to work with the seasons and elements instead of fighting against them. We need to embrace the winding down of winter, the burning heat of summer, and work to balance our diet with those qualities in mind.
Ayurveda is over a thousand years old and its treatments are filled with practical wisdom accumulated through trial and error, thoughtful research, and carefully tended traditions. This article represents a drop of water in the ocean of knowledge that is Ayurveda.
My hope is that you will feel inspired to learn more about this world that has influenced me so profoundly. Ayurveda is a keystone in my health coaching process, a favored lifestyle, and a well-tended passion that I revisit on a regular basis. It has changed my body, my mind, and my spirit all for the better.
Check out one of my favorite Dosha quizzes to begin your journey with Ayurveda, and feel free to reach out to me with any questions about how your dosha would influence our work together.