Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word. Like many other words, it’s a combination of two root words: ayur (life) and veda (knowledge or science). An acceptable definition of the word Ayurveda is “the science of life.” It’s a holistic science that places importance on spiritual health as a key to physical and mental health. In opposition to a lot of modern thought, Ayurveda doesn’t see health as simply the absence of disease, but rather as a state of positive and radiant wellbeing. This is not achieved by meticulously counting calories or nutritionally analyzing every type of food you consume. It’s achieved by identifying features in food and activities that will result in a balance of your Gunas and your Dosha.
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s a Guna? And, who’s a Dosha?” Right?
The three Gunas are found in Samkhya philosophy, one of the six Indian Darshans (or ways of seeing). The entire universe is considered to be a manifestation of a mixture of the three Gunas: Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. Rajas is considered to be dynamic and can be thought of as kinetic energy. Tamas is associated with inertia or potential energy. Sattva is the luminescent consciousness that balances these two seemingly opposing forces. We’re all a mixture of these three Gunas. I’m sure you can think of people who are more inert or dynamic for their own good. Neither extreme is good. Like yoga, Ayurveda seeks to increase Sattva in the individual.
Ayurveda further classifies us by Dosha types—our constitutional tendencies, innate biological makeup, and intrinsic elements of who we are. For example, I have a deviated septum. This is a strong mark of the irregularity of Vata, and although I’m red bearded and blonde (both markers for Pitta), none of these will change as I move through life. As with the Gunas, we’re mixtures of the Dosha types. People are predominantly one Dosha or a mixture of two; few are tridoshic and split between three. Our Doshas aren’t dependent upon our habits for the last two months but rather our habits over the last 20 years.
The first Dosha is Vata. Vata is associated with cold, dry, light, irregular, mobile, rarefied, and rough. Colorado’s weather is a good example of Vata. The second is Pitta. Pitta is associated with oily, hot, light, intense, fluid, malodorous, and liquid. A digestive tract needs some Pitta to perform well, but it doesn’t need a lot. Stomach acids and the bile our bodies produce for digestion are good examples of Pitta. The third is Kapha. Kapha is associated with oily, cold, heavy, viscous, stable, dense, and smooth. We’re all likely to see some of these traits in ourselves as well as a cross over between the Doshas. In Indian sciences, this is normal—not everything fits neatly into one category. Balancing Doshas can be achieved by consuming or not consuming certain amounts of the six Ayurvedic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent.
Each taste has several different elements. How the elements correspond to your Dosha generates positive health and balance or disease and imbalance.
- Salty is water and fire, which increases Pitta’s innate heat and Kapha’s cool moist qualities. Salty is balancing for Vata because it warms and soothes Vata’s cold dry qualities.
- Sweet is earth and water. It increases Kapha but decreases Pitta and Vata. Both Kapha and sweet are earthy, so they increase when mixed. The opposite is true for sweet’s effect on Pitta and Vata, which are either hot and wet or cold and dry.
- Sour is composed of fire and earth. It increases Kapha and Pitta, but it decreases Vata.
- Bitter is mostly air and space. Bitter leafy greens, for example, may seem like a big mass but wilt down to nothing when cooked lightly. Bitter helps to balance Pitta and Kapha and it also increases Vata.
- Pungent, like hot chiles and garlic, increases Pitta and Vata with its qualities of heat and air and it also decreases Kapha. When wasabi clears out congested sinuses, pungent is working to balance overactive Kapha.
- Astringent is the most difficult taste to pin down. An unripe banana or raw cranberry that leaves a dry feeling in your mouth is astringency at work. Astringent is mainly air and earth. It increases Vata and decreases Pitta and Kapha.
By using these tastes, we can start to balance our constitutions and eventually our Gunas. So, where do we start? Pay attention to the tastes and qualities you discover in your life and observe how certain tastes affect you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Being conscious of your consumption and its effects is an excellent first step toward the goals of both yoga and Ayurveda.
For more information on Ayurveda please read: Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Dr. Robert Svoboda.
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Until next time, may you all be Happy, Healthy, and in Harmony with your environment.
Namaste – A. R. Berger