Translated as the “Science of Life,” Ayurveda is a system of medicine that has been practiced since 3000BC to harmonize the human being through treating the root cause of disease. Focusing on a preventative approach and using the wisdom of nature, it acknowledges each person as an individual, and recognizes that each patient must also be treated as such.
One of the most effective ways to use Ayurveda as a preventative and curative medicine is by eating mindfully.
As one Ayurvedic proverb reads, “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
Ayurveda recognizes that each individual is made up of a unique combination of constitutions, or doshas. These doshas are vata, which is identified by qualities of cold, light, and moving; pitta, which is identified by qualities like hot, sharp, and slightly oily; and kapha, which is identified by qualities like cool, heavy, and dense. According to Ayurveda, when one of these doshas becomes aggravated, it manifests as disease. Being mindful of imbalances and treating them preventatively can ultimately stop the onset of illness. And one can do that by eating delicious, healthy food that pacifies the aggravation of that specific dosha.
Let’s take a look at doshas and their respective tastes. Each dosha is associated with tastes that increase strength, and tastes that diminish.
Vata: increased by pungent, bitter, astringent; decreased by sweet, sour, salty.
Pitta: increased by pungent, sour, salty; decreased by sweet, bitter, astringent.
Kapha: increased by sweet, sour, salty; decreased by pungent, bitter, astringent.
Have you ever looked into your taste cravings and wondered what they mean? Are you a big fan of raw food diets and carbonated drinks? Do you sit down to most meals and immediately add a pinch of salt and spice? Or perhaps you find yourself living with a “sweet tooth” that has you rummaging through the cabinets for candy and cookies (fret not, I’ve been there too…) It’s not that these cravings are necessarily bad: they can, however, show us some key aspects of what our dominant doshas are, as well as how to pacify doshas when they become aggravated.
I’ll use myself as an example. My primary doshas are vata and pitta, and they show through in many aspects of my being. Vata especially comes through in traits like excess cracking of my joints, a mind that jumps quickly from idea to idea (sometimes in anxious ways), and my cravings for foods like raw vegetables, leafy greens, and strong coffee. Pitta comes through in traits like acid indigestion, competitiveness, and my cravings for foods like spicy curries and salty pretzels.
There’s nothing wrong about these cravings, but I notice that when one of these doshas specifically gets aggravated, my cravings for the tastes associated with that dosha skyrocket.
One of the principles of Ayurveda is that like increases like, meaning that, in this case, eating foods with certain tastes are going to increase that dosha. So when vata, for example, is aggravated, it’s not uncommon to crave tastes and qualities associated with vata dosha – but actually eating those foods will aggravate vata more.
If my lifestyle suddenly gets very busy, I’m traveling a lot, my brain is over-stimulated from computer work, or I am generally feeling stressed and ungrounded, vata gets aggravated. During these times, although I may continue to crave my light, bitter, astringent, cooling vata foods, I can actually use the principles of Ayurveda to pacify the aggravation by – you guessed it – eating the opposite.
If like increases like, pacifying a dosha aggravation means eating its opposite. What does that mean for me? It simply means turning to sweet, sour, salty tastes and grounding, warming foods when vata is aggravated.
I opt for meals that incorporate cooked root vegetables and healthy oils, like steamed pumpkin and sweet potato drizzled in ghee. I switch out black coffee for ginger tea with cinnamon and honey. I set a routine to eat regular meals, and do so slowly, with mindfulness. With the help of these Ayurvedic food choices, I begin to experience a general feeling of grounding, a sense of calm. And I am able to do it deliciously at that!
Is there more to it? Of course. Ayurveda and the study of Ayurvedic diets is quite complex, but studying the root principles is a great first step in knowing how to balance your own being with food, and thereby live in harmony physically, emotionally, and mentally.