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What Is Ayurveda?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021

Ayurveda is an ancient form of nature-based medicine that has been practiced in India for thousands of years. It's a holistic approach to health with personalized medicine. Ayurveda focuses on balancing your mind, body, and spirit.

Ayurveda isn't meant to replace standard medical care. You should tell your doctor about any herbs you're using or any Ayurvedic treatment you're getting to make sure it won't affect conventional medicines you may be taking.  

Ayurvedic herbs and supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Ayurvedic practitioners are not licensed in the U.S. You should thoroughly investigate the background and qualifications of any practitioner you visit. Ayurveda can be beneficial when used in combination with conventional medicine.   

The Ayurvedic Theory of Balance

Ayurveda is mainly concerned with staying in good health and preventing disease. This is done by striving for balance in your life with right thinking, specific lifestyle and diet choices, and the use of herbs. You have a unique pattern of energy, called your constitution, that's influenced by the individual factors in your life. Things that can influence your energy and disturb your “balanced state” include: 

  • Food choices
  • Emotional stress
  • Physical stress
  • The seasons
  • The weather
  • Family relationships
  • Work issues 

When you understand your constitution and how it can be affected by inner and outer influences, you can take steps to balance it. In Ayurveda, the universe is composed of five elements that work together to form three types of energy within your body. The five elements are:  

  • Vayu, which is air
  • Jala, which is water
  • Aakash, which is space or ether
  • Prithvi, which is earth
  • Teja, which is fire

3 Types of Body Energy in Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, there are three key groups based on the main type of energy in your body. You have elements of each type that make up your prakriti, which is your natural state of being. One or two types of dosha are usually predominant. The three types of energy are called dosha, and each one controls specific biological functions. Ayurvedic thinking says you’ll thrive if you follow the lifestyle, diet, and exercise plan that best suits your dominant doshas. 

Vata. This is the energy of movement.  This energy is responsible for cell division, cell signaling, excreting waste, and thought processes. Characteristics of people with predominant vata dosha include:

  • Lean or thin body type
  • Dry skin
  • Fine hair
  • Energetic and vibrant expression
  • Quick to speak
  • Light of heart
  • Very creative
  • Mood changes frequently
  • Flexible thinking and decision-making

Pitta. This is the energy of digestion and metabolism. It also controls pigmentation, vision, and attention processes. Characteristics of people with predominant pitta dosha include: 

  • Medium or muscular build
  • Good friend and fierce enemy
  • Passionate, strong-willed leaders
  • Direct, take-charge personality

Kapha. This is the energy that is based on earth and water. It's the energy of structure, storage, and stability. Characteristics of people with kapha predominant dosha include:  

  • Solid frame and thick bones
  • Slow to act and react
  • Calm
  • Easy personality
  • Caring and loving
  • Moves slowly and purposefully
  • Usually conservative

The Ayurvedic Diet to Balance Your Dosha

In Ayurveda, staying in good health depends on keeping your doshas in balance. Each type of dosha needs to be balanced differently based on the natural tendencies of that dosha. Talk to your doctor before you make any big changes to your diet.

Vata. The vata dosha easily falls out of balance because it's the energy of movement. Here are some guidelines for balancing vata: 

  • Have a daily routine.
  • Avoid raw, undercooked, and dry foods.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Use warming spices such as cinnamon, cumin, and cloves in your cooking.
  • Practice self-massage, particularly on your feet.
  • Eat meals at the same time every day.
  • Make time for meditation, stillness, and reflection every day.
  • Avoid extreme cold.

Pitta. Pitta types have many qualities of fire. If you have this type of dosha, you may become short-tempered and agitated when you fall out of balance. Tips for balancing pitta include:  

  • Limit your salt.
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Avoid pungent and sour foods. 
  • Avoid hot spices.
  • Avoid highly processed foods
  • Eat cooling, non-spicy foods. 
  • Eat your meals in a peaceful environment. 
  • Avoid excessive oil. 

Kapha. The kapha dosha is marked by stability and endurance. If your predominant dosha is kapha, you're not likely to be bothered by much. But kapha types tend to gain weight easily. Here are some tips for balancing kapha:  

  • Eat foods that are light, dry, warm, or bitter. 
  • Get plenty of exercise. 
  • Avoid heavy foods. 
  • Avoid frozen foods and drinks. 
  • Don't nap during the day. 
  • Avoid oily foods. 
  • Don't eat sweeteners other than small amounts of raw honey. 
  • Change up your routine. 

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Ancient Science of Life: "Establishing the Scientific Validity of Tridosha part 1: Doshas, Subdoshas and Dosha Prakritis."

AYU: "Ayurvedic research and methodology: Present status and future strategies."

J-AIM: "Dosha brain-types: A neural model of individual differences."

JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICINE: "What is Ayurveda?"

Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "A glimpse of Ayurveda – The forgotten history and principles of Indian traditional medicine."

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