How Ayurveda Can Change Your Life

This ancient Indian medicine takes a personalized approach to wellness.

 ayurveda guide diet

photography by PHUONG NGUYEN


If you’ve ever tried a wellness trend and wondered why the hell it just wasn’t working for you (float therapy, anyone?), your Ayurvedic type might be the issue. An ancient Indian medicine, Ayurveda believes that “every body is different”—which means what works for your best friend isn’t necessarily going to benefit you.

“It’s individualized wellness, meaning that we’re not just taking the average of what we think is good for most people, but we’re actually looking at the individual, their specific constitution—from the size of their bone to the shape of their eyes to even their lifestyle and where they live and what season they're in,” explains Laura Coburn, Director of Serenity at The Inns of Aurora in upstate New York. “And we’re offering through Ayurveda very specific tools and practices to make their life the best it can be, again, based on their individual makeup.”

Essentially, Ayurveda believes in three different doshas, or energies, which make up each individual in different amounts—and the one that’s dominant in your system determines the way you should approach wellness. To figure out which type you are, Coburn recommends taking the quiz at Banyan Botanicals and creating an Ayurvedic profile—and then, read on for your personal wellness prescription, so you’ll never wonder “What is Ayurveda?” ever again.

Your specific dosha unveils everything from the seasons that work well for you to what diet you should follow, and it’s way more intuitive than following a trendy wellness fad.

VATA

Ruling element
Air

Physical Characteristics
Tall, slender, small bones, tendency toward cold hands and feet, and uncomfortable in cooler climates. They generally have dry scalps and hair.

Disposition
“When you’re vata, you have a lightness to you—a dryness, a subtleness, a coolness, a clarity,” says Coburn. “You can be a bit erratic, and these are the qualities of fall. So, when autumn comes, we see a drying, and the wind will make you feel and sometimes even be less stable. You’re experiencing more illness because you just have less grounded durability in your constitution.”

Vatas tend to therefore be quick-thinking, mobile, creative, and fast-moving when in balance, but when their constitution is off, they tend to experience anxiety, dry skin, and constipation.

Prescription
“Vatas need to be the most careful of the seasons that are most like them,” explains Coburn. “So coldness, cold air—in this season, you're going to want to favor things that are sweet and warm and grounding. Favor for breakfast things like cooked grains and things that are creamy. For lunch, you’re going to want to avoid your raw greens and vegetables and favor cooked and steamed vegetables, soups with hearty grains in them. I would even say, if you love vegetables, roast them. You want to just minimize anything that’s drying or too light. This is not the time for you to be having your leafy greens, and popcorn, and kale. You're definitely going to want to think warm, heavy, moist, and oily.”

PITTA

Ruling element
Fire and water

Physical Characteristics
Athletic build and physically strong. Strong digestion and appetite, rarely miss a meal. Heat generally makes them very tired, and they sunburn easily.

Disposition
Pittas tend to have a fiery element to them, and are governed by moist qualities—which is why the humidity of summer gets to them. When in balance, pittas tend to be assertive, confident, intelligent, and strong leaders. However, when there’s an issue, they border on aggressive and impatient. Physical problems when pittas are off-balance include those generally signifying an excess of heat—such as acne, rashes, inflammation of the skin, heartburn, and insomnia.

Prescription
“The key to Ayurveda is opposition,” explains Coburn. “So pittas need cooling foods, like cucumbers. They should squeeze limes on things and eat more cilantro and sour cream on things, because all of these things are cooling. Sometimes, even in cooler weather, however, pitta tends to bring a little more heat with them—so they should work on eating apples, pears, things with astringent properties. And they do fine with sweets, so some sweets like coconuts, dates, and sweet berries would add to the cooling factor.”

KAPHA

Ruling element
Water and earth

Physical Characteristics
Kaphas tend to have a sturdier, heavier build, and go with the flow. They gain weight easily, and have slower speech, which signifies a more deliberate thought process.

Disposition
Because they’re ruled by earth, kaphas hate moist, muggy conditions—opposition, remember? Coburn explains, “They’re a little oilier, heavier, and not as mobile. They want to stay warm because they can easily become cold, since they don’t move as much.” Kaphas are therefore easygoing and peaceful, and tend to be loving, steady, and reliable to the loved ones in their lives. However, when off-balance, they can get possessive and lazy, with physical problems manifesting as colds, congestion, sinus headaches, and respiratory problems like asthma and allergies.

Prescription
Transitional periods between seasons are the hardest for kaphas, Coburn explains. “With kapha, fall—particularly right in the transition from summer to fall—is tricky. Sometimes, they can cool down a little bit too quickly, and they can get some of those seasonal colds and things like that.” So, kaphas have to burst out of their immobile shells and exercise a little more. “You can exercise just a little. Go out for a brisk walk, and eat foods that are not too heavy. When you do get out and move that body and maybe break a little sweat, you want to make sure that you don’t get cold, so warming foods are key.”

It’s important to note, however, that you might be a combination of two dispositions, and the one that’s out of balance can change depending on the season. Coburn says, “The truth is that we all have all of the constitution—all of these elements in us all the time. Dosha really means in balance. Any one of us is in a state of imbalance at any given time, so the dosha quiz helps point you in the right direction. You’ll see what drives your decision-making based on different times of the year.”

See more wellness:
Everything You Need to Know about Himalayan Salt Therapy
Do Natural Deodorants Really Work?
I Tried (and Survived) a Celebrity-Approved Detox

Published on November 10, 2017 - 9:00am EST

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