by: Peggy Breeze
Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing system from India, offers a unique approach for determining a correct diet based upon individual constitution. Different from the current Western definition of a balanced diet, which is based on eating from different food groups, ayurveda views a person’s own makeup as the key component.
In ayurveda, all matter, including the human body, is made up of five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Ayurveda groups the five elements into three basic types of energy, or functional principles, that are present in everybody and everything. Each element brings with it certain attributes or qualities: ether or space— clear, light, subtle, soft, immeasurable; air—mobile, dry, light, cold, rough; fire— hot, sharp, dry; water—cool, liquid, dull, soft, oily, slimy; and earth—heavy, dull, static, dense, hard, gross.
There are no single words in English to describe these principles, so we use the original Sanskrit words vata, pitta and kapha. Vata is the combination of ether and air, pitta is fire and water and kapha is earth and water. According to ayurvedic tradition, for humans, it is at conception that a combination of these elements come together to determine the unique makeup or dosha of the individual. As long as the doshas are normal in quality and quantity, the body will remain balanced. However, if the original distribution is out of whack, then imbalance sets in and the body will begin to experience pain and suffering in the form of illness.
One way to keep the doshas in balance is through the foods we eat. That is why in ayurveda, food is thought of as medicine. To understand how this works, consider another ayurvedic theory— like energies attract like energies. So for those with a vata constitution, eating foods that are light, dry, cold and rough, (the attributes of ether and air) will increase the elements of air an ether in the body and thus may cause a vata imbalance. Vata imbalances can range from constipation, dry skin and eyes to osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, as well as fear.
The same goes for those with a pitta constitution that eat hot, sharp, oily and dry foods; the increase in the fire and water elements may cause pitta imbalances. Rashes and acne, ulcers and acid reflux, rheumatoid arthritis, bleeding gums, red eyes and migraine headaches, as well as anger, envy, hate and over-competitiveness are examples
of pitta imbalances. Kapha constitutions that eat cool, liquid, oily, heavy, dense and hard foods, which could increase the water and earth elements in their bodies, could experience the imbalances of weight gain, congestion and depression.
Keeping with the theory that like energies increases like energies, then opposite energies balance. An example of this might be if someone is of a pitta constitution (fire and water), and their pitta dosha has become imbalanced due to eating peppers, onions or hot soup (hot and wet properties), they might try eating cooling cucumbers or a salad (cool and dry properties). The same might go for a vata constitution that has become vata imbalanced. The imbalance may have come from eating cold and dry foods (smoothie, salad) and could be balanced by eating oatmeal and soup (warm and liquid properties).
In addition to food, other things like the seasons, the time of day, the time of life, lifestyle, habits, environment and even exercise styles, including types of yoga classes, can balance or imbalance a person. An ayurvedic consultant can help determine a specific constitution, and then guide the patient through those areas that are causing imbalance. With this knowledge in hand, everyday decisions can help us stay healthy throughout the year and even our entire lifetime.
Peggy Breeze is a kripalu ayurveda diet and lifestyle consultant, Himalayan Institute ayurveda yoga specialist, certified ACE and AFAA personal trainer and owner of The Balanced Yogi. For more information, call 972-658-1600 or visit TheBalancedYogi.com.