What is Ayurveda?

Achieve a strong mind-body connection with this ancient wellness practice.
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Preventative and holistically-minded, Ayurveda starkly (and perhaps welcomingly) contrasts with Western medicine and its more isolated, crisis-by-crisis oriented approach to health. But what is it, exactly? Ayurveda is a holistic approach to mind and body health that’s based on ancient Indian medical beliefs, dating back over three millennia. Ayur means ‘life’ and veda means science or knowledge in Sanskrit). It’s rooted in a trio of texts written in Sanskrit, called the Great Trilogy: Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and Astanga Hridaya, which are more than 2,000 years old, though much of Ayurveda predates these texts and thus was dispersed anecdotally, by word of mouth. One of the oldest medical systems globally, Ayurveda remains widely used throughout India as well as Southeast Asia today (either on its own, or in tandem with Western medicine). In the latter half of the 20th century, Ayurvedic treatments started becoming popular in the U.S. and other Western countries as a form of alternative medicine.

Ayurveda is all about the big-picture approach: the idea of interconnectedness between people, health, and the universe reigns supreme. Prakriti, a.k.a. the body’s constitution or nature, is also an important tenet of Ayurveda: The thinking goes that three doshas, which are life forces or energies, blend in differing combinations from person to person. This trifecta of body types and corresponding personality traits are thought to thrive on specific diets, herbal combinations, and lifestyle choices, in order to holistically balance body and mind, which can be mixed and matched based on the one or two doshas that are most resonant to each person.

Kapha dosha can manifest as a larger, more voluptuous physique with wide hips and shoulders, physical stamina and thick hair. Being prone to circulation issues, slow digestion systems, sluggish metabolism, and sinus congestion are also Per Ayurvedic beliefs, the best ways to thrive as Kapha Doshas feel and look their best by consuming a diet with low oil, fat, sugar, and salt intake, and instead filling up on ample vegetables, legumes and other fibrous foods. Spicy foods are also recommended, as are garlic and gugul (similar to myrrh) supplements.

Pitta dosha qualities include a medium-build physique, with good muscle tone and hearty digestive system. This dosha is prone to reddish complexions, running warm (aka a tendency to feel hot frequently and less likely to get cold easily), and can experience inflammatory or digestive issues. Pitta types are advised by Ayurvedic philosophy to forgo spicy food, as well as all sorts of acidic foods and drinks, like vinegar, tomatoes, citrus, alcohol, and coffee. Instead, suggested fare includes lots of juicy fruits like mangoes and melons, plus watery vegetables including cucumbers, kale, and lettuce, plus aloe vera juice, pomegranate juice, and rose petal jam.

Vata dosha is characteristics include slim physiques, and typically have dry skin and hair, and minimal muscle tone. They’re prone to colds, insomnia, fatigue, and digestion issues like constipation and bloating. The Ayurvedic cure? Avoiding cold or raw vegetables, dry and crunchy foods, and carbonated drinks. By contrast, the ideal Vata diet is packed with soupy dishes, warm cereals, nuts, hot milk, and ghee (clarified butter).

Thousands and thousands of years of usage—plus the holistic, mind-body connectedness that Ayurveda underscores—make it a pretty compelling approach to explore, whether that means a sweeping lifestyle overhaul or a tinkering with a minor dietary tweak or two.

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