Yoga 101: What is Ayurveda

Go to enough yoga studios, yoga workshops, and yoga conferences, and eventually you’ll hear someone start talking about Ayurveda. But what is Ayurveda? Simply put, Ayurveda is the “sister science” to yoga.

When broken down, the word Ayurveda means “life” (ayur) and “science” (veda) – Ayurveda is, very simply, the science of life.

After developing a steady yoga practice, many people find that they want to deepen their relationship to yoga, and that’s where Ayurveda comes in. Ayurveda isn’t just for people who are sick or dealing with chronic illness. It’s more than just an ancient system of healing – it’s also a way to deepen your connection to the natural world and natural energies around you. When you practice Ayurveda, you’re committing to a lifestyle that enhances your existing yoga practice and your physical body.

What Makes Ayurveda Different From Other Ancient Healing Arts?

Ayurveda treats each person as an individual, looking closely at the energetic makeup of the person (prakriti) and noticing which doshas (types of energy) are out of balance. Treatment in Ayurveda is highly individualized – what works well for one person isn’t necessarily what will work for anyone else. In this way, Ayurveda honors our unique energetic makeup and each person’s unique needs for health and wellness.

While Ayurveda does include herbal remedies for supporting chronic health conditions and general wellness, the overall focus of treatment is on lifestyle and diet choices. To understand more about Ayurveda, we need to take a quick look at the three doshas, or types of energy that exist in nature: vata, pitta, and kapha.

Vata Dosha

The two predominant qualities of vata dosha are cold and dry. This dosha is associated with movement, both in the body and in nature. In the physical body, vata dosha is responsible for anything that moves including central nervous system (movement of information along the synapses), elimination and digestion (peristalsis), and the movement associated with menstruation. Vata dosha imbalances show up in the body looking like anxiety disorder, problems with dry skin, heart arrhythmias, digestion and constipation, and some menstrual difficulties.

General practices for balancing the energy of the vata dosha include eating warm, well-cooked food with plenty of spices to boost digestion; daily oil massage of the skin using herbalized oils; and including lots of healthy fats in your daily diet like avocados, nuts, high-quality dairy products, and eggs.

Yoga to help soothe vata dosha include restorative yoga or Yin yoga to help strengthen muscles while releasing tension.
Because vata dosha is considered the only dosha that “moves” throughout the body, it’s generally responsible for most of the energetic imbalances in the body and is the most common form of energetic imbalance treated by Ayurvedic practitioners.

Pitta Dosha

Energetic qualities of pitta dosha are hot and oily. In the physical body, this is the dosha that’s associated with metabolism and transformation, so most of it is focused on digestion. Pitta dosha governs things like absorption of nutrients and metabolism. This is where we find our “inner fire”, both physically and spiritually. When pitta imbalances show up in the body, we see things like gallbladder problems, nausea, inflammation in the digestive tract, gastritis, and severe heartburn.

General practices for soothing and cooling pitta dosha include eating raw, cooling fruits and vegetables, eating foods that are slightly drying like asparagus, legumes, and leafy greens, daily meditation, and spending time in nature to help cool that intense pitta personality.

Pitta people are often characterized as driven, quick to anger, and “Type A” personalities. The best yoga practices for pitta people are very often a combination of vinyasa and restorative yoga to help balance that intense fiery energy.

Kapha Dosha

The general energetic qualities of kapha dosha are cold and wet. Kapha shows up in our physical body in the form of strength and structure, and joint lubrication. Kapha people are just naturally large-bodied and well-built, and they are the most flexible ones in yoga class – you know, the ones who can get their ankle behind their head without breaking a sweat while the rest of us are just trying not to break in two. Kapha plays some part in digestion through the secretion of saliva and other body fluids. When kapha is out of balance, we see physical symptoms and disorders like asthma, cracking in the joints, depression, and excess mucus.

To balance the kapha dosha, we look to practices of energetic stimulation. Keeping a high-paced energetic routine will help prevent you from becoming sluggish. Foods that are warming and drying are highly recommended to help balance kapha like legumes, spicy peppers, honey, and a predominantly vegetarian diet. Foods should be warm and well-cooked to help ease digestion, and ginger, cinnamon, and cumin can be used liberally to add spice to your diet.

The best kind of yoga for kapha is – you guessed it – vinyasa. Movement is important to help keep the energy of kapha in check, so a daily movement practice is recommended for people who are predominantly kapha.

Kapha people are often characterized as easy going, calm, thoughtful, and loving. Kaphas are the loyal, responsible folks who show up for you under any circumstances. We could all use a little bit of that energy in our lives!

The beauty of Ayurveda is that understanding these basic concepts and how these energies play off each other can help us to live closer to our true, essential nature. Simple lifestyle changes and awareness can go a long way to helping create a healthier you!

Jennifer VanBenschoten

A lifelong seeker, Jennifer has been practicing yoga since 2002. She completed her 200 hour teacher training in 2014, followed by additional training and certifications in Curvy Yoga and kid's yoga. She is now working towards her 300 hour advanced teacher training certification. In addition to yoga, Jennifer is a certified Usui Reiki Master, Tarot reader and blogger, and is a mom to the coolest 9 year old boy this side of the Mississippi.

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