Ayurveda is regarded as one of the oldest forms of healthcare, medicine, and understanding of the human mind and body. It is a truly ancient and traditional practice, also considered a way of life, as well as being one of India's main healthcare systems.
From food, massage therapy, mental health, and connections to nature, Ayurvedic principles continue to be taught, maintained, and used throughout India and now around the world.
There are several basic rules or concepts that make up the Ayurvedic principles. I’ve written this short guide to understanding the basics of these principles.
There are five elements that make up the physical world, in Ayurveda they have their own names:
In Ayurveda the human body is made up for four basic parts:
Dosha = bioenergy, constitution, or the part of the body that can cause problems or disease
Dhatu = physical elements of the body
Mala = waste by-products of the body
Agni = digestion
Although each of us have all the elements present within us, every individual typically has one or two dominate elements that define their character and body type.
Your prakriti is known as your constitution or 'natural state' and this is made up of (usually) one of three dosha.
The three dosha are known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each dosha relates to a combination of each of the five elements:
Prakriti = natural state
Dosha = Vata, Pitta or Kapha
Vata = ether & air
Pitta = fire & water
Kapha = water & earth
Each dosha then has its own details that relate to the physical and mental characteristics and process of the mind and body.
Characteristics of Vata:
. Cold, dry, light
. Regulation of nervous system
. Elimination of waste
. Circulation & breathing
Common aliments or conditions of Vata:
. Difficulty sleeping
. Scattered thoughts
. Anxiety & stress
Herbs that benefit Vata:
Most warming herbs are good for Vata constitutions. These include allspice, black pepper, cardamon, cumin, cinnamon, clove, ginger, mustard seed, marjoram, nutmeg, paprika, saffron, turmeric, vanilla.
Characteristics of Pitta:
. Hot, wet, combustion
. Digestion & metabolism
. Courage, strength & enthusiasm
Common aliments or conditions of Pitta:
. Fiery temper
. Skin problems
. Issues with gall bladder & liver
Herbs that benefit Pitta:
Pitta constitutions benefit from a more cooling range of herbs, however this can vary from person to person. Some useful herbs include; coriander, dill, fennel, peppermint, spearmint, and tarragon.
Characteristics of Kapha:
. Cold, wet, heavy
. Productive force
. Stability & structure
. Elegance, patience & compassion
. Physical & mental endurance
Common aliments or conditions of Kapha:
. Slow starter
. Poor appetite/fluctuating appetite
. Frequent colds or congestion
. Foggy mind
. Water retention
Herbs that benefit Kapha:
Kapha constitutions also benefit from more warming herbs, such as; chilli pepper, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, paprika, and turmeric. However, more cooling herbs can also be useful like coriander, peppermint, and tarragon.
Things to Note -
. There are crossovers between each dosha
. Each individual may relate to more than one dosha, in fact it is common for people to relate strongly to two dosha rather than just one
. One of the main objectives of Ayurveda is to prevent issues, illness and disease and to balance the mind and body. For example, when the body is suffering from inflammation or fever then cooling remedies are prescribed.
. Your prakriti (natural state) can shift or fluctuate over time as you age, or due to other processes such as puberty, pregnancy and menopause
If you want to know which dosha relates to you, there are many online quizzes you can do to find out. Alternatively you can seek out an Ayurvedic professional who can do more extensive research with you so that you can better understand how the dosha and Ayurvedic principles relate to you, your mind, and your body.
And if you would like to learn more about Ayurveda in general, to gain a deeper understanding or to start incorporating the principles into your daily life then I recommend joining a course that offers training in various formats.
Here are some useful resources if you’re looking for more information, books, courses, and products for Ayurvedic practices:
Hale Pule - I have completed several courses in Ayurvedic philosophy, healthcare and wellbeing, foods, and cooking. I highly recommend Hale Pule, a New Zealand based Ayurvedic school that offers many courses, both on and offline. Their website also has an extensive blog and you can find their podcast on most platforms.
I especially recommend the Agni Therapy course which I completed a few years ago. This course focuses on digestion, mindset, and Ayuverdic cooking that helped me to overcome years of digestion issues. If you’re interested in exploring their courses and other resources, then visit their website – www.halepule.com
The Ayurvedic Institute - highly regarded Ayurvedic school based in the US, however they do also list other schools, including in various locations across India
Paavani Ayurveda - Ayurvedic skin care products, supplements, and useful tips for Ayurvedic cooking, as well as a great blog
Pukka Teas - for herbal teas, this brand is now available in supermarkets as well as health food stores across the UK. This can be a nice stepping-stone on the way to exploring making your own tea blends. Their website also offers lots of information about the benefits of herbal teas, especially those with Ayurvedic properties.
Natures Roots - for Ayurvedic spices and herb powders, available via their website and through Amazon. It can be especially useful to find a good supplier that can deliver to you if certain herbs and spices are hard to find in your local shops. However, most of the herbs and spices mentioned in my list above are common and available at most supermarkets, health food stores, and highstreet shops, depending on where you live.
There is also some information on the Cancer Research UK website about Ayurvedic remedies as complementary therapy for patients. There are resources available that detail research studies on this topic. If you search on their main website for ‘complimentary & alternative therapies’, it should navigate you to this information.
. The Yoga of Herbs by David Frawley
. Ayurvedic Cooking for Beginners by Laura Plumb
. Ayurveda by Geeta Vara
. Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad
. Ayurveda: An Ancient System for Holistic Health by Sonja Shah-Williams
Always, always, always check with your doctor or healthcare provider before using herbs for medicinal purposes or as supplements.
My recommendation is that herbs should be used in moderation, in combination with your diet, and can be used in addition as complimentary therapy and remedies to other medicine you may be taking if it is safe to do so. There are some cases where herbal remedies do not mix safely with orthodox medication, so it is very important to check with a healthcare professional if you are taking regular or temporary medication and have any doubts.
I hope you find this mini-guide interesting, inspiring, and useful. Remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg as there is abundant knowledge and wisdom to learn from Ayurveda. Enjoy!