Using Ayurveda to Improve Your Health

In part 1 of this article I went over the basics of Ayurveda: the 5 Elements, the three doshas and their qualities. Figuring out your constitution (prakriti) and following the appropriate diet and lifestyle recommendations should go a long way to keep you healthy. But that's not it. You see, the thing is most of the time we are in a state of imbalance (known in Ayurveda as your vikriti) and might be exhibiting symptoms that are not proper to our prakriti. For example, you may have a predominance of air (vata) and fire (pitta) in your essential constitution but have been feeling uninspired and totally unmotivated lately, all signs of excess earth (kapha). If you were to stick rigidly to a vata-pitta pacifying lifestyle and diet it is unlikely that you'd start feeling better. So instead of just following the recommendations for your constitution no matter what, I suggest a more refined approach which is to look at your life in terms of qualities. After all, Ayurveda is a science of qualities. It tells us all of life is experienced through 10 pairs of fundamental qualities. Of course they are all expressions of vata, pitta and kapha. But looking at them without labeling them as such, and forgetting our constitution for a while, helps us be more objective. Looking at each quality separately, regardless of whether it is vata, pitta or kapha, we notice which ones are overly present in our life, which ones are lacking. This assessment serves as the basis for the changes we need to make in our diet and lifestyle in order to regain balance.

The 20 Qualities (Gunas)

1. Heaviness / Lightness

2. Dullness / Sharpness

3. Coldness / Hotness

4. Dryness / Oiliness

5. Sliminess / Roughness

6. Solidity / Liquidity

7. Softness / Hardness

8. Stability / Mobility

9. Subtlety / Grossness

10. Cloudiness / Clarity

Like Increases Like = Opposite Decreases

The relationship between a pair of qualities gives us the law of  “like increases like”, and consequently that a quality in excess is decreased by its opposite quality.

So this is what I'd like you to do:

#1 Take at look at every area of your life (food, sleep, exercise, sex, spiritual practices, work, travel, relationships, self-care..) and notice which qualities are excessively present (or lacking).

#2 Once you've identified those qualities, knowing that "like increases like" and therefore that “opposite decreases”, aim to add more of  the OPPOSITE qualities into your every day life through the same means, by modifying your diet, lifestyle, yoga, meditation and attitude accordingly.

For example, imagine the following scenario:

  • You’ve been feeling particularly short-tempered lately (excess heat in the mind)
  • It’s summer time (excess heat in the atmosphere). Your office is not air-conditioned (excess heat in your closed environment)
  • You’ve been having Indian food for lunch every day. (hot spicy food)
  • You’ve joined a hot yoga class. (heating physical activity)
  • And you've been going to bed around midnight every day. (aggravating for the liver)

Trying to make a point here :) I think it’s pretty obvious some cooling is needed. How? Here are suggestions:

  • Meditate to cool your mind (use water and moon visualization to emphasize the cooling effect).
  • Wear loose and light clothing, whites and blues (cooling colors).
  • Use a rose spray on your face throughout the day (cools body and mind). • Incorporate more salads, raw veggies, bitter greens for lunch.
  • Drop the hot yoga and join a gentle Hatha yoga class.
  • Walk barefoot on the grass at sunrise or sunset.
  • Practice yogic relaxation (yoga nidra).
  • Go swimming!
  • Go to bed by 10PM.

To further help you identify imbalances in your life I'll give you examples below of how too much of any one quality can show up. Too Much:

Heaviness = lack of joy, depression, excess weight, feeling stuck and uninspired.

Lightness = feeling ungrounded, underweight, restless, anxious, scattered, forgetful.

Coldness = poor circulation, cold, clammy hands, slow metabolism, cough.

Heat =  inflammation, excessive sweating, receding hairline or baldness, impatience, irritability, anger.

Dryness = dry skin, dandruff, constipation, stiff and cracking joints.

Oiliness = oily skin, loose stool, acne.

Mobility = loose joints, restlessness, insomnia, multi-tasking, scattered mind.

Stability = depression, feeling stuck in a rut, laziness, over-sleeping, unmotivated.

Clarity = quick understand and quick forgetting, experience of void and loneliness, weight loss (brought about by excessive cleansing).

Cloudiness = brain fog, confusion.

To find out what adding more lightness, oiliness or stability would specifically look like, it is best to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner who will make recommendations just for you, based on your prakriti, vikriti, unique needs and tastes. In my practice I have chosen to focus on stress and anxiety. Those are for the most part due to excess lightness, mobility, coldness, dryness.

As a Last Thought

By now, you’re probably getting that Ayurveda is about tailoring every aspect of your life to your ever changing body, mind and environment. And when you realize that the only constant in life is change, sticking to the same diet, breathing techniques, exercise regimen and other habits all year round, from your 20’s to your 90’s, just doesn’t make sense. Most of all it will not, cannot, keep you balanced. Yes this tailored approach to health care takes more personal involvement and investigation than following a generic  “3-step method”, buying the latest celebrity-endorsed “juice cleanse”, or adding so-called “miracle foods” to your diet hoping for perfect health, but the long-term rewards are oh so much greater. The reason being is that it is empowering. Our society would have us believe that we always need to turn to so-called "experts” to know what to eat, how much to exercise, which supplements to take, how to improve our intimate relationships and more. At the same time scientific studies come out every day with results that are often contradictory, causing those same experts to constantly re-evaluate their "guidelines". Pretty confusing right? And overwhelming. Faced with so many options, "musts" and "bests" we end up confused and fail to take any action. That's when Ayurveda comes in with its invitation to reconnect to our innate wisdom. It reminds us that we have all it takes to be our own health expert (which could mean at times you realize you need to consult with a doctor or natural health practitioner!) It reminds us that if we pay attention to the effects of our actions, use our God-given intelligence, discerning capability and intuition we can to a large extent determine what’s best for us at any given time, and organically find our way back to health. Ayurveda is an empowering form of medicine and that's what I love most about it. I hope you’ll come to appreciate it as much as I do.

Yours in health,