Ayurveda (translates from sanskrit as the "science of life") helps eliminate not only the symptoms of a disease, but also the deeper imbalances in the mind. First, find out which element prevails in you: air, fire or earth? Secondly, find out how this affects the relationship between your health and the products in your fridge. Cody Rogowski, a certified Ayurvedic teacher and author of the My Tiny Brooklyn Kitchen blog from New York knows the answers to all these!
Cody Rogowski is a certified Ayurvedic Culinary Educator, recipe developer living in Brooklyn, NY. She agreed to help get our heads around the role of the world's oldest self-healing practice in the modern world.
the science of life
Ayurveda recognises there are 5 different energies that make up all things in the Universe: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Since we are a microcosm of the universal macrocosm, these five energies are the building blocks of our human bodies as well: each of us have our own special recipe of how they reside in our bodies, some being more dominant than others. This unique interplay of the energies is known as our constitution, or dosha. Some people’s bodies are dominated by a hotter, fiery energy (also known as transformation). Their dosha is known as PITTA. Others have more grounded energies that dominate their constitution, those elements being water and earth (liquid/solid). Their dosha is KAPHA. Individuals can also be dominated by airy energies, which include air and ether (gas/space). Their вosha is VATA.
These dominating energies can work for us in a multitude of positive ways, but often they can also tip us out of balance, leading to health problems, inflammation, and illness. The healing science of Ayurveda is all about working with these imbalances so that we can steer ourselves back to a state of equilibrium. This is done through food, our daily routine, through exercise and meditation: it’s a complete mind-body science.
like increases like, opposites balance each other out.
In the regards to diet, Ayurveda harnesses the innate healing intelligence and balancing properties of food to bring the body back into alignment. It does that by introducing foods that have opposite qualities of the person’s imbalance. (Think of it this way
— you wouldn’t have a person eat hot chilli when they have fiery, acid indigestion, would you?) Like increases like, opposites balance each other out. So in ayurveda, the main goal is to find ingredients, herbs and spices that are the opposite quality of the ailment or imbalance at hand. And because everyone has their own unique proportions of air, ether, fire, earth and water — no two people are suited for the exact same type of menu.
This is why fad diets tend to not work for most people.
Ayurveda not only looks at our individual body types, but also at the dominating energy of the season around us. Just think about it, our bodies and environments are a constant flow of energy that moves, builds, and transforms. Because we are a living and breathing part of this environmental macrocosm, our bodies are deeply influenced by these outer seasonal rhythms, and we need to adjust our food accordingly.
the forces of movement, transformation, and cohesion: the three doshas
Vata, pitta and kapha are the three biological forces of nature, called doshas. Vata is the force of movement, pitta the force of transformation, and kapha, the force of cohesion. Each of us naturally has our own unique proportion of these three forces at play in our bodies, but typically, one tends to lead the other two. Your leading dosha determines your constitution (or your prakriti (Sanskr. 'nature'). Some individuals are led by two of these forces, and others can be led by all three, known as tri-doshic (though a bit more uncommon). Much more often you will meet a person with vikriti — an imbalance.
This Dosha is defined by the elements of ether and air, and because of this, Vata (Sanskr. 'the one that puts in motion' ) is known as the force of mobility, responsible for all the movement in the mind, body and digestion. Vatas have a tendency to have more airy digestion, thinner frames, prominent joints, thinner skin and smaller pores, and a mind that is quick, lively and creative. Because ether and air are cool, light, dry, rough, erratic and mobile, a person with a Vata Dosha will tend to have imbalances that reflect in the following ways: dull, dry skin, constipation, bloating, forgetfulness, indecision, feelings of fear, scatterbrain, anxiety & nervousness.
Vatas should try to steer clear of raw foods and cold, as their digestion usually isn't strong enough to handle the amount of energy needed to digest foods that haven’t been cooked. They should not forget about a long and deep sleep, tactile care from the loved ones, warm words and a bath! Here is a quick guideline of ingredients & foods that will help Vatas maintain their inner balanced state
Vegetables (cooked): asparagus, beets, carrots, cucumber, green beans, mustard greens, okra, black olives, parsnips, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes.
Fruits (ripe): apples (cooked) bananas, apricots, avocados, berries, cherries, coconut, dates, fresh figs, grapefruit, lemons, limes, grapes, mangoes, sweet melons, oranges, papaya, pineapple, peaches, plums, prunes, raisin, stewed fruits.
Grains: cooked oats and rice.
Dairy: all are acceptable.
Beans: chickpeas, mung beans, mung dal (split), red lentils, tofu (small amounts)
Oils: sesame oil, ghee and olive oil.
Nuts & seeds: all are acceptable in small amounts. Almonds are best.
Sweeteners: all are acceptable.
Herbs: cilantro, basil, bay leaf, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, thyme
Spices: cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel, cumin, ginger, cloves, mustard seed. Everything that helps to kindle the digestive fire (agni).
Warm milk, rich soups, stews, hot cereals, fresh baked bread, raw nuts and stewed fruits are good for Vatas. Take a hot or herbal tea with snacks in the late afternoon. Warm drinks or hot water are best for Vatas.
The Pitta Dosha (Sanskr. 'the one that digests) is defined by the elements of fire and water, and the constant dance of dominance between these two. Because of this, Pitta is known as the force of transformation, responsible for all the transformative processes in the body such as: digestion, metabolism and body temperature. Pitta doshas tend to have slightly oily, sensitive skin, medium builds, and nice muscle development. Due to transformation being in their nature, they also tend to gain and lose weight quite easily. They have a strong appetite and good digestive power. They have fiery, type A personalities, and tend to be good leaders. They are quite competitive and adaptable. A person with the Pitta Dosha who is off balance will tend to have such ailments as: sensitive skin and rashes, high blood pressure and fever, thirst, acid indigestion, aggressiveness and irritability.
Pittas should reduce their spicy, salty food intake as these foods tend to aggravate their already heated and acidic digestive tendencies. If you are reading about pitta at the moment, then try to fall in love with cool and sweet foods, invigorating walks and spontaneity. Be ladylike, buy yourself a bouquet of roses and tell your husband or friend some kind words. And after that, take care of your refrigerator and check if it is organized according to this list:
Vegetables: sweet and bitter vegetables, like asparagus, artichokes, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bitter melon, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, green beans, leafy green vegetables, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, peas, pumpkin, sprouts, squash (winter and summer), sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrot, and spinach.
Fruits: avocados, berries, cherries, coconuts, dates, grapes, figs, mangoes, melons, limes, oranges, pears, pineapples, plums, prunes, raisins, watermelons.
Grains: barley, oats, quinoa, spelt, wheat, and rice (preferably basmati).
Dairy: unsalted butter, fresh cheese (paneer or cottage cheese) egg whites, ghee, whole milk (cow or goat), fresh yogurt (homemade).
Beans: chickpeas, mung beans, mung dal (split) red lentils, tofu (not fermented, in small amounts).
Oils: coconut, flaxseed, olive, sunflower, and walnut oil.
Nuts & seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds.
Best Sweeteners: date sugar, maple syrup, sucanut, turbinado.
Herbs: cilantro, basil, dill, mint, parsley, peppermint.
Spices: Spices quickly kindle the digestion, so use them only in small amounts. You can take cardamom, cinnamon, coriander seed, fennel, saffron, turmeric, cumin, vanilla.
Take cool, refreshing food in summer or hot weather, like salads, light grains, fresh fruit and cooling herbs. Herbal tea, specifically mint or licorice root tea are pacifying to Pittas. Vegetarian foods, in general, are the best for Pittas, as consuming red meat tends to heat the body from the fat. They should consume abundant amounts of milk, grains, and vegetables.
The Kapha dosha (Sanskr. 'the one that binds') is defined by the elements of earth and water, and because of this – Kapha is known as the force of cohesion, responsible for all the physical structure and lubrication of joints, skin, strength and stability. Kaphas have a tendency to have thicker skin, a denser build with a broader frame and thicker features. They are strong, with good endurance and immunity. Extremely reliable, loyal, and able to handle stressful situations with more ease than other Dosha (all due to that ‘thick skin!’). Since earth and water are heavy, dense, and less mobile, a person with the Kapha Dosha will tend of have imbalances that reflect these aspects, such as excessively oily skin and clogged pores, lethargy, weight gain, laziness, congestion, depression, and possessiveness.
Kaphas should try to limit the amount of heavy, oily, and sweeter foods in their diet, as these foods continue to build upon their tendencies towards lethargic digestion and weight gain. But do you know what is worth to be increased? Physical activity, the number of unplanned trips and your portion size at lunch to balance the light breakfast and dinner. If you are a Kapha, set the alarm at dawn and go to the market with this list:
Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, bitter melon, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, leafy green vegetables, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, peas, radishes, spinach, turnips, squash, and sprouts.
Fruits: apples, apricots, berries, cherries, cranberries, grapes, lemons, limes, pears, prunes, and pomegranates. Dried fruits in general are good for Kaphas, specifically apricots, figs, prunes, and raisins.
Grains: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, rye, spelt, quinoa, and basmati rice.
Dairy: buttermilk, small amounts of fresh cheese like paneer and cottage cheese, fresh yogurt, goats milk and eggs (not fried or cooked with butter).
Beans: chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, mung dal (split).
Oils: almond, sunflower, flaxseed oil, and ghee (all in small quantities).
Sweeteners: natural fruit juices, honey.
Nuts & seeds: almonds (soaked and peeled), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds.
Herbs: cilantro, basil, bay leaf, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, peppermint, rosemary, thyme
Spices: cinnamon, ajwan, anise, asafetida, black pepper, caraway, cardamom, cayenne, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, turmeric, paprika, cumin, ginger, cloves, mustard seed, nutmeg, vanilla
Any food that is spicy is good for Kaphas such as hot Mexican or Indian food, especially in winter. Dry cooking methods (baking, broiling, grilling, sautéing) are preferable for Kaphas over moist cooking such as steaming, boiling, or poaching. Foods such as romaine lettuce, endive, or ginger are good for stimulating the Kapha appetite, while preferred spices are cumin, fenugreek, and turmeric. The formula for Kaphpa balance is quite simple: the mobility in any unclear (and clear) situation + dry brush massage + warming spices.
If you want to find out your dosha type, Cody recommends Joyful Belly as a great online resource for all things Ayurveda, and they also provide an easy dosha quiz you can take to get a better sense of your own constitution here.