Ayurveda is an age-old science based on traditional holistic medicine from India. With more individuals seeking out natural treatment options, Ayurveda is slowly making its way into our mainstream society here in the West. Although the overall theory of Ayurveda seems easy enough, it can be quite complicated and overwhelming, especially in the beginning. If you are looking to adopt an Ayurvedic diet or lifestyle but do not know where to begin, here is a guide that will allow you to transition into this healing journey smoothly and with ease!
The best thing to do when starting to incorporate an Ayurvedic lifestyle is to keep it simple by utilizing the basic principles of this ancient wisdom. Although there are countless principles in Ayurveda, here are the main ones to focus on.
Main Principles of Ayurveda
1. The three dosha types and their specific needs.
Ayurvedic medicine is based on the three main body types, often called doshas or bodily humors (i.e. Vata, Pitta, Kapha), and finding a balance between these unique energetic forces. The ratio of these three doshas in your body will makes up your personal constitution (sometimes called Ayurvedic body type or Prakriti) and will help to shed light on the best foods, herbs, and general activities for you. For example, a Vata type is often restless in mind and body and may need more grounding foods and activities in order to find a sense of balance and stability. Alternatively a Kapha type is often more slow and sedentary by nature and will need more lightening foods and increased mobility in order to avoid sluggishness and lethargy.
The knowledge of these three body types and our personal constitution reveals to us the theory that “what is healing for one individual, may be harmful to another.” This is one of the most essential and vital aspects of Ayurveda! Each individual is unique and therefore will require specialized, individual treatment in order to find balance. One man’s medicine may be another man’s poison!
2. Finding balance through the 20 qualities of Ayurveda.
According to Ayurveda, there are 20 main qualities (called gunas in Sanskrit) to look out for when preventing or treating imbalance. Each single quality has an opposing quality, so they are sometimes referred to as the 10 pairs of opposites. By knowing these 20 gunas, you can see which quality is out of balance at any given time and restore balance in your system by increasing its opposite force.
For example, if you have too much heaviness in your system, then you should increase its opposing quality of lightness in your daily diet and activities. Similarly, if you have too much heat, you should welcome in more cooling foods, herbs, and practices. Equally as important will be to avoid substances and activities that are similar in quality and therefore will increase your imbalance. Using this last example of excessive heat, you should avoid heating foods (e.g. chili peppers, acidic foods) and activities (e.g. exercising mid-day in the sun), as they will increase the already provoked heat in your system.
To put it even more basically, “like increases like” and “opposing qualities balance each other out”.
3. Digestion is everything!
Whenever treating a patient of any kind in Ayurveda, the first step is always to treat their digestive fire (called Agni). This is because each and every disorder stems from some sort of digestive imbalance. Therefore a healthy digestive fire equals a healthy body and mind (and vice versa). In order to prevent imbalance or treat disease of any kind, you must always look first at the digestion.
With this in mind, if you wish to adopt an Ayurvedic lifestyle, it must be geared toward strengthening the digestive fire and removing any accumulated toxins in your system. Without this essential factor, there cannot be true balance and health!
4. Perfect health includes a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
Although physical health is often what we are in search of, in Ayurveda it is well known that we cannot obtain svastha (perfect health) without balance of the body, mind, and spirit. In fact, it is said that 99% of all disease and disorders stem from a mental origin. Therefore, if you are looking to obtain balance through Ayurveda, you must also look into the health of your thoughts, mind, and emotions.
With these four essential philosophies to consider, here are some simple guidelines to begin with. Please keep in mind that Ayurveda is all about slow and steady. Therefore when you are first getting started, it will be best to adopt these guidelines one at a time and continue to make the necessary changes with patience, awareness, and ease.
5 Simple Ways to Make Ayurveda a Part of Your Daily Life
1. Know your Ayurvedic body type.
Since Ayurvedic medicine is based largely on the three doshas, discovering which is your predominant dosha is a vital necessity if you wish to adopt an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle. For some individuals, this will be fairly obvious to discover. However, it is equally as common to resonate with multiple doshas, making the answer a bit more complex. In fact, it is possible to have 2 doshas be equally as strong in your constitution (I personally am predominantly Vata and Pitta).
To begin with, you can take an online dosha quiz as a rough guideline for what your body type may be. Like any online quiz, this is just a simple guideline and may not give you an accurate reading. If you feel like you need a more definitive answer, it would be best to receive an individualized Ayurvedic consultation in order to establish this more accurately.
Once you discover your body type, you can then read on to find out the best diet and lifestyle practices to go by. For example, Pitta types will want to avoid heating foods such as cayenne pepper, spicy food, and fatty fried foods, as well as avoid heating practices such as hot baths, excessive sauna use, and excessive exposure to direct sunlight.
2. Incorporate simple steps to start an Ayurvedic diet.
Whether you know your dosha type or not, you can begin to adopt some of the basic Ayurvedic food principles into your daily life. You do not need to be vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or follow any other specified diet, as the main principles are based on how we eat as well as what we are eating. In fact even a cookie can be considered Ayurvedic when it is made and eaten in the right context (try our Ayurvedic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe!)
To avoid becoming overwhelmed with the multitude of rules that make up an Ayurvedic diet, here are some of the most important ones to welcome. Once you transition into these new habits and make them a natural part of your daily life, then you can begin to create more changes as time goes on. However, making too many changes at once can often lead to burnout, resentment, and frustration and rarely ever leads to longterm changes.
- Eat home-cooked meals using whole foods while avoiding processed food, refined food and additives (click here for some healthy recipe ideas)
- Eat on a healthy, consistent meal schedule; do not skip meals
- Eat your largest meal mid-day; make dinner your lightest meal
- Take a digestive aid before meals (click here for our digestive appetizer recipe)
- Sip on hot water between meals
Following simple rules such as these on a regular basis will help to increase your digestive fire, creating more health and balance in your whole being.
3. Begin to create routine in your daily life.
Ayurveda thrives off of consistency and routine. Therefore one of the most essential aspects of incorporating Ayurveda in your life will be to create a healthy daily routine and stick with it! Here are some examples to begin with:
- Create a healthy sleep schedule being asleep by 10pm and awake by 6am
- Create a healthy meal schedule, eating breakfast around 7am, lunch around 12pm and dinner before 6pm (7pm in the summer)
- Begin each morning by scraping the tongue and drinking a hot cup of lemon water
- End each evening with a 10 minute mediation or 15 minutes of restorative Yoga
4. Make meditation, Yoga, and simple breathing techniques a daily practice.
Since Ayurveda considers perfect health (svastha) to include the balance of the mind, body, and consciousness, we must look further than our physical body to establish true health. The most powerful way to heal our mind and consciousness is through a daily practice of either gentle Yoga, meditation, and/or pranayama (breathing techniques).
Ultimately you should choose the practice that you resonate with the most. For example, you may not be able to sit in silence for too long and therefore a gentle Yoga practice may be more suitable for you. Whichever one you choose (and it can vary each day), the most important aspect will be to be consistent with the practice for effective results. If you are still unsure of where to begin, here are some examples to consider:
- Perform 10 slow-paced sun salutations each morning.
- Take 5 minutes to sit in mediation each morning, and again before bed (discover three simple methods here)
- Sitting comfortably, take 10-15 deep belly breaths each morning, mid-day, and again before bed. This number can be increased overtime.
- Sitting comfortably, perform 5 rounds of alternate nostril breathing (get instructions here) upon awakening and again before bed. This number can be increased overtime.
- Perform 15 minutes of restorative Yoga before bed such as legs up the wall, supported supta badhakonasana (reclined butterfly pose), and supported forward fold (Click here for detailed instructions of my favorite restorative Yoga postures).
5. Introduce a self-care practice into your daily life.
Ayurvedic medicine is all about learning to love yourself by taking the time to care for yourself. Too often we become so busy caring for others we end up putting our own needs on the back-burner. Therefore a great way to welcome in an Ayurvedic lifestyle will be to make a little time for yourself each day by performing a nourishing self-care activity based on your own needs.
There are many simple practices you can adopt to begin your journey of self-care, but here are some of my favorites:
- Perform a self-oil massage (called abhyanga) each morning or before bed (click here for detailed instructions)
- Take a warm bath before bed (click here for our ginger detox bath recipe)
- Perform 30 minutes of gentle movement such as walking, biking, hiking, or swimming
- Spend some time in nature
- Take some time to journal your thoughts, feelings, or the days events
- Spend 30 minutes on your own personal hobby (i.e. baking, reading, sports, playing music, drawing, painting, writing, singing, etc)
Like the recommendation above, these self-care practices can vary each day. The most important aspect will be to make this “you-time” a part of your daily life. Even if you can only fit in a 10 minute walk, this is much better than nothing!
Although it is easy to get in depth with the multitude of rules and guidelines that make up Ayurveda, it does not have to be so complicated, especially in the beginning. By establishing these 5 simple guidelines (and being consistent with them!) you can begin to find balance, stability, and health in your daily life. Making these shifts in your daily routine will undoubtably leave you with more energy, vitality, and mental clarity. With the positive results that manifest, you will be more eager to continue on this healing journey known as Ayurveda, diving deeper into its vast array of knowledge, practices, and theories.