Aaharasayanaabrahmacharye yuktha proyojitha:
Sareeram dharyathernityam agaaramiva dhaarani:
Ayurveda says that wellness of human beings are fundamentally sustained on three major factors, just like three pillars holding a building. Each of these factors is equally important and disturbances to even one will cause imbalance in the being. And the qualities of these three aspects determine the quality of ones being too.
And they are food [good, healthy food that suits ones personal mind-body constitution and is appropriate for the particular season], sleep [sound sleep and for appropriate duration not more not less] and sex [understanding ones sexuality and transcending it without letting it fall into levels of obsession or aversion, through disciplined and healthy indulgence or evasion].
Eating right in Ayurveda
The first and foremost of the three is food. Each and every bite of food that we consume contribute to our health or ill health, one way or the other. Imagine having a few pegs of scotch. Your state of mind, mood etc are all altered. The same way each food we consume effects our body and mind, whether we are aware or not. So eating the right foods can help maintain good health, a positive mood and high energy levels. Ayurveda recommends the best suited foods for each person based on his dosha prakriti or mind body constitution.
Doshas and Prakriti
The principles of Ayurveda are based on the concept of tridosha, or the system of three doshas. The three doshas, known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha, are dynamic forces with distinct characteristics that shape all things in the universe. Each person is born with a unique constitution, called prakriti, (Sanskrit for essential nature), a personal blueprint composed of varying amounts of influence from each of the three doshas. Each person’s prakriti describes the unique harmony or balance between the doshas that is necessary for that person to experience perfect health.
Only a small percentage of people are purely Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Each of us possesses a proportion of all three doshas. In many cases, two doshas combine to determine our dominant physiological and personality traits.
Vata, translated as ‘wind’, has the elements of ether and air, and controls all movement in the body, including the flow of blood to and from the heart, the expansion and contraction of lungs that makes breathing possible, and the contractions that push food through the digestive tract.
The person with a Vata prikiti is typically of slight, thin build, and demonstrates great enthusiasm, imagination, and vivaciousness. Vata types grasp new concepts quickly, but forget things easily. They have bursts of mental and physical energy, love excitement and constant change, and display dramatic mood swings. Vatas tend to have irregular eating and sleeping patterns.
When out of balance, Vata types experience dry or rough skin, constipation, tension headaches, cold hands and feet, anxiety and worry, fatigue, poor and irregular appetite, insomnia, arthritis, and difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight. The Vata constitution is characterized by swift change, and, as a result, it goes out of balance more easily than the other doshas.
Pitta, related to fire, controls metabolism and digestion and regulates appetite. Pitta types are often of medium build and medium strength and typically have blond, red, or light brown hair with freckled or ruddy skin. The basic theme of the pitta constitution is intensity.
Pitta types are ambitious, self-disciplined, enterprising, articulate, intelligent, and outspoken. When in balance, they are warm and loving; out of balance, they can be demanding, sarcastic, critical, argumentative, or jealous. Unlike Vata types, Pittas experience intense hunger and cannot skip meals.
When out of balance, Pitta types experience rashes, inflammatory skin diseases, heartburn, peptic ulcers, visual problems, irritability, premature graying or baldness, and tend towards compulsive behavior (e.g. alcoholism, eating disorders, etc.).
Kapha, derives from water and earth, and controls the structures of the body, giving strength and physical form to cells and tissues. Kapha types are of solid, powerful build and display great physical strength and endurance. A primary characteristic of the kapha prikiti is contentment.
Kaphas are relaxed, affectionate, serene, slow to anger, forgiving, happy with the status quo, and respectful of the feelings of others. They tend to require lots of sleep, have slow digestion, and moderate hunger, though they find comfort in eating.
Kaphas typically enjoy good health, but tend to become obese more often than Vata or Pitta types. When out of balance, Kapha types may may experience colds and flu, allergies, sinus congestion, depression, lethargy, asthma, and joint problems.
In the Ayurvedic view, an imbalance between the doshas produces a condition called vikriti, a Sanskrit word that means “deviated from nature”.
In Ayurveda, diet is one of the key ways to maintain and restore dosha balance.
According to Ayurvedic principles, each individual’s diet should be suited to his or her prakriti. During times of vikriti, or imbalance, the diet can be used to either decrease or increase the three doshas until balance is restored. The dosha balancing effect of a food is determined by its taste, either salty, sour, sweet, bitter, astringent, or pungent and its other qualities, either heavy, oily, cold, hot, light, or dry.
All vegetarian diets are not Ayurvedic and all Ayurvedic diets are not vegetarian
Against the popular belief and as preached by the new age gurus, an Ayurvedic diet neednot essentially be vegetarian. Ayurveda doesn’t preach vegetarianism. There are several Ayurvedic formulations in classical literatures – internal and external medications – which are not vegetarian. There are numerous conditions where non vegetarian food is suggested for healing purpose. At the same time there are a wide range of conditions were non vegetarian is contraindicated. The classical texts of Ayurveda explain the qualities of various meat including including fish, chicken, duck, lamb etc. just like that of herbs and trees.
Vata predominants should emphasize the consumption of foods with a salty, sour or sweet taste. Vatas should also eat plenty of foods that are heavy, oily, and hot in quality. More specifically, Vatas do well on a meat-based diet, and can handle lots of dairy products in the diet. In addition, Vatas should eat only well-cooked foods and consume warm beverages instead of cold beverages.
Pittas should emphasize the consumption of foods with a bitter, sweet, or astringent taste. Pittas are also encouraged to consume foods that are heavy, oily and cold in quality. Pittas are well-suited to a vegetarian diet.
Kaphas should emphasize the consumption of foods with a bitter, pungent, or astringent taste. Kaphas need lots of foods that are light, dry, and warm in quality. More specifically, all vegetables are suitable for Kaphas, and because Kaphas tend to have slow digestion, ginger should be eaten every day for its ability to stimulate digestion. Although Kaphas can handle some meat in the diet, it should be eaten on an occassional basis only.
Foods to be Avoided
Vatas should avoid foods with bitter, pungent or astringent tastes. Vatas should also avoid foods that are light, dry, or cold in quality.
Pittas should avoid foods with pungent, salty, or sour tastes. Pittas should also avoid foods that are light, dry, or hot in quality.
Kaphas should avoid foods with salty, sour, or sweet tastes. Kaphas should also avoid foods that are heavy, oily, or cold in quality.
The Six Tastes
Bitter: The bitter taste is found in spinach, romaine lettuce, endive, chicory, chard, kale, and tonic water. The bitter taste decreases both kapha and pitta, but increases vata.
Pungent: The pungent taste is found in chili peppers, cayenne, ginger, and other hot-tasting spices. The pungent taste decreases kapha, but increases pitta and vata.
Astringent: The astringent taste is found in beans, lentils, cabbage, apples and pears. The astringent tast decreases kapha and pitta, but increases vata.
Salty: The salty taste is found in any food to which salt has been added. The salty taste increases kapha and pitta, but decreases vata.
Sour: The sour taste is found in lemons, limes, vinegar, yogurt, cheese, and plums. The sour taste increases kapha and pitta, but decreases vata.
Sweet: The sweet taste is found in table sugar, honey, rice, pasta, milk, cream, butter, wheat and bread. The sweet taste increases kapha, but decreases pitta and vata.
The Six Major Food Qualities
Heavy: Heavy foods include bread, pasta, cheese, and yogurt. The heavy quality decreases vata and pitta, but increases kapha.
Light: Light foods include millet, buckwheat, rye, barley, corn, spinach, lettuce, pears and apples. The light quality decreases kapha, but increases vata and pitta.
Oily: Oily foods include dairy products, meat, fatty foods, and cooking oils. The oily quality decreases vata and pitta, but increases kapha.
Dry: Dry foods include beans, potatoes, barley, and corn. The dry quality decreases kapha, but increases vata and pitta.
Hot: The hot quality describes hot beverages and warm, cooked foods. The hot quality decreases vata and kapha, but increases pitta.
Cold: The cold quality describes cold beverages and raw foods. The cold quality decreases pitta, but increases kapha and vata.
What is your Prakrithi?
The prakrithi of a person is best assessed by an Ayurvedic doctor. Self analysis is perfect if you are a master in Ayurveda. Or else there is a very high chance that you may end up assessing your current state [which may be of vikrithi] as your prakrithi.
There are several questionnaires available in books and in the net, which aid in assessing your body’s present state of constitution. But its always advisable to consult an Ayurveda doctor for the same.
Links to some dosha predominance calculators: