What is Ayurveda? Breaking Down the Sacred Life

The topic of ‘Ayurveda’ has always left me with a myriad of questions. I used to hear ‘Pitta’ and ‘Kapha’ tossed around casually at gatherings with friends or a community yoga class with no real tangible explanation attached. Like horoscopes, it seemed definitive but also residing on a spectrum based on personal interpretations of each dosha breakdown. To me, Ayurveda seemed too complex to integrate into my life, it seemed like a math equation I would never grasp, so I ignored it!

Then, quarantine happened and I began to focus on my body. No, I wasn’t ‘glowing up’ with protein shakes and aerobic workouts, I was just noticing my body more. I would notice what made me anxious, what made me bloat…simply put, I noticed what made me feel ‘good’ and ‘bad’; which, as it turns out, is exactly what Ayurveda is.

Disclaimer: I am not an Ayurvedic professional, this is simply my research on an Ayurvedic lifestyle.

A little background, I am from the Midwest and outside of the Gregorian calendar holidays, there isn’t much spirituality that we are brought up with. I was never taught astrology let alone what my ‘dosha’ is. I was used to eating what I wanted and ‘sleeping in’ was deemed a luxury while ‘rising early’ was obligatory for school and workdays. As I get older, my viewpoints on these seem entirely flipped, which happens to align with an Ayurvedic lifestyle almost completely. 

But first…

What is ‘Ayurveda’?

The word ‘Ayurveda’ is a Sanskrit word that breaks down to “sacred life” or even “sacred knowledge”, which sums up exactly what it is. Ayurveda is a lifestyle choice based around the idea of healing, where the practices help to support your health physically, emotionally and spiritually based on your specific body.

Many types of people practice Ayurveda but the origins are from ancient Eastern philosophies, based in Hindu medicine. That being said, there are religious ties to Ayurveda but many people practice it independently of religion.

What is ‘Dosha’?

The word ‘dosha’ is a Sanskrit word that simply means ‘energy’. Your dosha breaks down into three different types of energies, Vata, Pitta, and Kapha which are derived from our natural elements. The elements that Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are composed of are air, ether, water, fire, and earth. Vata consists of air and ether, Pitta is fire and water, Kapha is earth and water. 

Finding My Dosha

The first thing I did while researching for this article was Google ‘Ayurveda’. That should give a simple answer, right? Immediately, pages of dosha tests popped up onto my feed. It was overwhelming to just figure out where to start, everyone seemed to have their own interpretation of a dosha test. I figured the best way to get an accurate reading was to take a few of the tests and compare the results since they all seemed a bit different. I thought I’d be taking the average number of answers to boil it down to one that was ‘basically-my-dosha’ answer but, alas, I got the same answer every time for my body’s dosha. 

My body’s dosha is Vata-Pitta. 

Which, if you know me, makes a lot of sense…

The three different dosha energies make up your unique dosha and can help to find your ideal diet, which is a huge part of Ayurveda. Understanding your combination gives you optimal daily meals, as well as lifestyle and exercise that jives best with your body’s makeup.

What Are the Types of Dosha?

Here are the three energy breakdowns:

Vata: the word itself means “that which moves things” which makes sense because those who are Vata are restless, active, and social. They are energetic and creative, they have irregular appetites and enjoy variety.

Pitta: means “that which digests things”. Pittas are often bright, intelligent, witty and driven. They have intense appetites, are articulate and competitive and love to make plans. 

Kapha: the word means “that which holds things together”. Kaphas are often calm, stable, and grounded. They enjoy routines and love leisure activities. Their appetites are steady and their speech is often slow and melodious. 

When I read my dosha definitions, I felt an immediate connection to the Vata-Pitta combination but could see a bit of myself in each.

what is ayurveda

Our Dosha Constitutions

The word Prakriti is what “percentage” of our doshas affect us personally. It’s entirely possible to relate to all three in some form, but our dosha constitution, or Prakriti, is our permanent qualities by which we can be defined by. For example: Perhaps sometimes I feel that I am direct and witty while other times I am sensitive and indecisive, but there is no changing the fact that my skin is oily and I bloat easily. (Hope that wasn’t too TMI, for y’all!)

For me, I’ve found that my Prakriti demands warm and fresh foods with warm or room temperature beverages.  The diet is extensive, finding your dosha diet isn’t as simple as a few qualities. Some sites, like The Ayurvedic Experience, will go through the entire food pyramid and break down what is best for your body type. A lot of it resonated with me, and now I’m looking forward to paying attention to closer detail to how the other ones I may not have noticed in the past have affected me.

An Ayurvedic Lifestyle

In Ayurveda, doshas are the guide but there’s much more to be discovered about oneself outside of food. Types of exercises and lifestyle are also a huge part of what your doshas dictate. The Times of India suggests that Vata types do “lunges, squats, resistance band training, and low-intensity yoga”, while Pitta types should try Yin yoga, Pilates, and swimming as well as walking. Funny enough, the exercise I enjoy the most is running!

Outside of doshas, there are some overall lifestyle principles that Ayurveda believes in for everyone despite what dosha combination you are. One of the biggest things I noticed was how meals should be consumed. People who practice Ayurveda believe that lunch should be the biggest meal of the day. Being Cuban-American I have seen Latin cultures practice this same ideal, but being raised in Ohio, I have always known dinner to be the biggest meal of the day. If you’re in New York, where I live now, you usually eat quite late into the evening. Eight o’clock at night is a standard New York dining time, which goes against intermittent fasting that has ties to Ayurvedic diet principles as well. 

There are so many interesting aspects of Ayurveda and it’s tough to cover them all in one article, but the main principles I connected to was how we rise and rest at the beginning and end of the day. The idea that there should be a method to how we put ourselves to bed and how we wake in the morning seems so logical and yet I know no one around me that practices it. Little things such as ending your day with a light dinner and walk after the meal to improve digestion seem to make perfect sense instead of going to bed bloated after watching your favorite television show. 

I know there is still much more for me to learn in Ayurveda, but writing this article pushed me to wipe away the mystery I had created in my mind. Like any practice, there is a learning curve but I can already see that I will be attracted to an Ayurvedic lifestyle because I’ve been interested in some of these techniques for quite some time already. It’s easy to remember something and be intrigued to learn more about a practice that not only makes you feel good but that is good for you, and I am excited to learn.

Written by Laura Ornella

Laura Ornella

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