Read your yoga emails! They will remind you that fall is vata season (in NYC at least). Some of these emails may advise you to drink warm milk. Motherly advice, no? This is an Ayurvedic thing. I learned about Ayurveda two months ago in yoga school but promptly forgot about it. My forgetfulness likely relates to my inability to believe. Or it could be vata imbalance. I come from a family of Indian-born and Western trained doctors. They are into holistic medicine, are all familiar with Ayurveda, but, I can’t imagine my dad, despite being 100% on board with the mind-body-environment connection thing, prescribing a course of treatment based on the doshas. But now that the seasons change, I am thinking about Ayurveda again.
Ayurveda is a system of Indian medicine, one of the oldest in the world, which aims to integrate and balance the body, mind, and spirit to lead to health and happiness. (Check out this primer from the NIH.) Ayurveda is considered a sister science to yoga.
According to Ayurveda, everyone and everything is made up of the five elements (ether, air, fire, water, earth). In people, these elements combine in varying degrees to form three doshas or constitutions (vata, pitta, and kapha).
- Vata is made up of ether (the subtle energy that connects all things) and air. Like the wind, vata types are dry, cool, lively and unpredictable.
- Pitta is fire and water. Pittas make great leaders and act with determination.
- Kapha is water and earth. Kaphas tend to be stable and loyal.
Our doshas change all the time because of the seasons, the weather, our age, and other circumstances. If our doshas are in balance, awesome, but if we have an excess or deficit, depending on which dosha is affected, we will have acne or the runs or whathaveyou. (Read this and this for more on the doshas.) Two basic principles govern the doshas: Like increases like, and opposites balance each other (from this). Foods, weather, and situations with similar traits as the dosha will increase it; things with the opposite characteristics decrease the dosha.
In my experience, this is how Ayurveda is applied to everyday life: 1) Take a dosha quiz. Based on whether you are constipated or athletic or have big eyes, you can tell which dosha or two is dominant. 2) Once you’ve got your dosha and know what’s in or out of balance, you can figure out what to eat and which yoga poses to do.
Here’s a quiz from the Chopra Institute. I am tri-doshic, and my pitta is out of balance.
I love the Ayurvedic view that health is an active state of being that we can manage with appropriate behavior, with simple changes to diet, exercise and mantra, all tailored to the individual. (Modern medicine purports to do some of these things, but doesn’t.) However….I’ll admit that this dosha system….sounds….a bit… primitive. AH! And some of the dietary advice….sounds….arbitrary. AH! (For example, from the Ayurvedic Institute in NM: these Ayurvedic food guidelines say that vatas should avoid turnips but favor rutabagas, while kaphas are good with goat cheese but bad with yogurt.)
Anyway, according to the sages, late fall and winter are more vatic with windy days, cool temperatures, and dry air. Therefore, the advice says that, if you’re feeling flighty and anxious, or have insomnia, dry skin, or constipation, your vata needs some reining in. You should: stick to a daily routine; go to bed early; eat warm, moist foods at regular times; give yourself warm oil massages (awesome!); and do moderate, consistent and calming exercise to ground vata’s airy nature. There’s more advice on fall/vata issues here and here.
This is sensible advice for the fall. However, in general, two things bother me: 1) the dietary prescriptions. I love ALL food at ALL times. 2) the doshas. It seems implausible that the physical, mental and emotional varieties of 6 billion humans can be lumped into three boxes.
But what do I know. And, the doshas are FUN. Who doesn’t love an online quiz.