I’ve always had the reputation around the office as the girl who would try anything: cycle syncing (did it), affirmation training (crushed it), face washing with honey (made it my personal revolution). It’s a well-earned reputation, as I very literally would try anything on the quest to become my best, healthiest, most energetic, and happiest self. I suppose I’m a bit of an over-achiever, or as friends and family might say, too extra.
But Ayurveda is different. It’s not a trend I heard about on TikTok and will forget about in a few months. I actually first learned about Ayurveda, an ancient medicine system with roots in the Indian subcontinent (stemming from the ancient Vedic culture), years ago in my freshman year of college. A lightbulb immediately went off, and I spent the next few years researching Ayurveda, going to an Ayurvedic practitioner, and even writing my senior thesis on the relationship between Ayurveda and religion. It’s what got me started on my own healing journey and made me interested in health and wellbeing enough to turn it into a career.
Before we dive into rituals that you can start implementing into your life today, know that Ayurveda is incredibly complex; it’s an entire system of medicine with spiritual and emotional elements. It cannot be summarized in one article–especially not by me who is by no means an expert. I am sharing tips that I implement in my everyday life, but if you’re new to Ayurveda, I urge you to learn more about the history, culture, and complexities of the form of medicine that’s been practiced for the past 3,000 years—it just might change your life as it did mine.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine that’s still widely practiced today. In Sanskrit, ayurveda translates to “the science of life.” To briefly summarize (but how do you fit 3,000 years into 1,500 words!?), Ayurveda identifies three principal energies of the body: vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth), known as doshas. “If one element is out of balance, they all have the potential to be affected,” explained Tracy Adkins, a NAMA-certified Ayurvedic practitioner. Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, everyone has their own particular pattern and balance of doshas. The practice of Ayurveda is to create a balance of body, mind, and consciousness (according to each body’s individual constitution).
“Ayurveda teaches us to have as much respect for our external surroundings as we do for our inner milieu, empowering self-care, personal wisdom, and promoting lifelong health,” Adkins said. Finding your dosha and lifestyle recommendations tailored to your individual constitution is a detailed exploration and extremely complex that can be done with an Ayurvedic practitioner, but there are lots of quizzes online to get you started (I like this one from Sahara Rose).
Ayurvedic rituals that have changed my life
1. “Healthy” means something different for every body
PSA: Every body needs different things, and healthy looks different to everybody. “Ayurveda is based on the premise of balance and individuality,” Adkins explained. “What is balanced for one individual will not be the same for the next person, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.” If you’re working on eating healthy and creating a workout routine, don’t just follow diet and exercise trends because your favorite celebrity or influencer promises weight loss or glowing skin. Instead, Ayurveda tells you to eat and work out depending on your dosha balance.
For example, “Most Kapha-dominate individuals should follow a lower carb diet, and exercise vigorously most days of the week to feel energized and optimal,” Adkins stated. “If a Vata-dominant person followed the same regimen, they would likely end up depleted and ill. A Pitta person would end up irritable, hungry, and with some skin breakouts.” Bottom line: Eat and exercise based on what is best for your body and dosha. I’ve spent my life eating salads thinking this was “healthy” for me but got consistent stomach cramps and nausea after eating them. Switching to warm, dense foods like stews or soups has relieved my digestion issues because it’s not just “healthy,” it’s healthy for me.
2. East seasonally
So you already know that eating foods in-season is better for nutrients and taste, but the Ayurvedic practice goes beyond foods grown at each specific time of year. “Our bodies change along with the weather,” explained Sahara Rose, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Best-Selling Author, and Host of The Higher Self Podcast. “When the temperature cools down and the air dries out, our bodies follow suit. We begin taking on more qualities of the Vata dosha, comprised of air and space energy. Our bodies require more grounding and warming foods to counterbalance Vata’s cold and dry energy. Root vegetables are grown under the ground, so they have the most warming qualities.”
Basically, indulge in whatever is opposite of the season to balance out the effects of the weather. For winter, that means eating warm foods with grounding vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, and turnips. In summer, you can have raw salads or cold sandwiches to cool you down. Besides just the temperature, also be mindful of the humidity in your area. If it’s wet (raining or snowing), eat more dry foods like roasted vegetables or nuts and seeds. If the weather feels very dry (leaves falling off of trees, low humidity, etc.), load up on soups and stews.
3. Scrape your tongue
Ayurveda teaches us that we can learn a lot from our tongues. Not only can your tongue help determine your dosha, but it can also tell you about your health. “The tongue gives away clues as to what’s going on within the body and where,” explained Adkins. “It reflects what’s happening inside our body, the level of ‘toxins’ or ama, and is a direct manifestation of our diet. Looking at your tongue day after day you will begin to notice changes in the quality and quantity of its coating.”
Fuzz, film, or bumps on your tongue show up in the mornings if you have clogged organs or undigested food. To avoid re-ingesting the toxins on your tongue, you need to scrape them off. Before I even drink my morning cup of water with lemon–and for sure before any cup of coffee–I always brush my teeth and scrape my tongue to get rid of all the toxins to avoid swallowing them back into my body. I use a tongue scraper, but you can also use the tip of a metal spoon.
4. Use the six tastes in every meal
Ayurveda recognizes six different tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. “The six tastes are a guiding principle in Ayurveda, which states that like qualities increase each other, whereas opposites promote balance,” described Adkins. “Each of the six tastes are integral to our diet and physiologic needs. Knowing which dosha (or doshas) are prominent within you helps to determine the proper combination of tastes (or rasas) that you need.”
Every fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, etc. have a particular taste or combination of a few, and ideally “each of the tastes are present at every meal–or at least every day–to ensure proper digestion,” Adkins said. “Your current doshic balance (vikruti), environment, lifestyle, age, and other qualities will guide you in choosing foods with particular properties to eat in larger or smaller quantities to promote or maintain balance, thereby reducing the chance of illness.” Besides, adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice makes meals so much more flavorful. For most meals I eat, I go through a checklist to make sure there’s a little bit of every taste—not only for the optimal nutrients but also for the optimal deliciousness.
- Sweet: carbohydrates and natural sugars
- Sour: organic acids and fermented foods (probiotics)
- Salty: salts (which contain crucial minerals)
- Pungent: spicy foods (ignites digestion)
- Bitter: dark, leafy greens and herbs (anti-septic and detoxifying qualities)
- Astringent: legumes; raw or dry produce
5. Don’t just focus on what you eat but how
Obviously, what we eat is a big part of the wellness equation: Eating a wide range of nutritious foods (specific for our doshas, of course) while avoiding the foods that upset our systems. But the way we eat is just as important as what we eat. The fix to digestive issues could be as simple as making sure your posture is upright and your stomach is relaxed or eating slower and without distractions (read: no TV, phone, or emails).
Ayurveda suggests that digestive problems occur because the digestive fire (or agni) is weak, so igniting it before meals is crucial to proper digestion. Adding spices like cumin or turmeric to meals will aid in digestion or taking a teaspoon of fresh ginger with a few drops of lime juice and a pinch of salt before meals can activate salivary glands to produce the proper amount of digestive enzymes. Ayurveda focuses so much on proper digestion as it recognizes that it’s the way our bodies absorb nutrients and feel best. I eat slower, better, and drink ginger tea most days to keep my digestive system on track (literally).
6. Try self-massage
Massage is not just a self-care activity or indulgence in Ayurveda; it’s an essential healing practice. Abyanga (or self-massage, also spelled Abhyanga) is a form of medicine that involves massaging the body with dosha-specific oil. “A daily Abyanga practice restores the balance of the doshas and enhances well-being and longevity,” Sandhiya Ramaswamy, an Ayurvedic practitioner, educator, and chef wrote for Chopra. For me, this practice is the most luxurious time of my day. After a shower, I rub oil between my hands to warm it up. Ramaswamy recommended applying oil first to the crown of your head and massaging down to your feet, but I skip the head because otherwise, I’d be walking around with oily hair, and nobody wants that. I start at the neck and make sure to take my time massaging in the oil.
7. Schedule your day based on your body’s needs
Not only do the kapha, pitta, and vatta doshas make up our “selves” as a whole, but they also make up times in the day. Ayurveda essentially tells time through these different cycles of the doshas. “The Ayurvedic clock helps us to determine which activities might be the best for us as individuals throughout the day,” explained Ashley Katzakian, an Ayurvedic practitioner and founder of So Hum Collective. “The clock is split into six sections, each dosha appearing twice within a day. The times of any particular dosha are when those doshas have the strongest presence.”
While it’s nearly impossible to follow a strict schedule these days (because life happens), I have made a lot of shifts that have helped immensely. When I can, instead of squeezing in a workout first thing in the morning, I wake up slowly and peacefully. I also schedule checking off tasks and sending emails in the later morning/early afternoon and wait to write articles (like this one) until later in the day when I’m more creative. The slight adjustments have also helped me to understand what’s going on with my energy levels throughout the day and identify what my body really needs and when.
Katzakian guides us through how best to schedule our days:
- 6-10 a.m. is the time when kapha is most active, meaning you should be peaceful and grounded. Start your day by meditating, eating a light, nourishing meal, and tending to self-care.
- 10 a.m.-2 p.m. is pitta time, when you have the most drive or motivation of the day, so try getting your most difficult tasks accomplished during this time or squeezing in a workout. When the sun is at its highest peak (noon), your digestion is at its most powerful, so your lunch should be eaten around 12 p.m. and be your biggest meal of the day.
- 2-6 p.m. is when vatta is the most active, meaning your creativity and ability to think abstractly and problem solve is at its peak. If you can, schedule your most creative activities at work for the end of the day. Try to paint, write, or cook in the late afternoons and evenings.
- 6-10 p.m. is the second cycle of kapha time, allowing us to feel more peaceful, grounded, and ready to wind down for a restful night’s sleep. Eat a lighter meal and keep stimulation low.
- 10 p.m.-2 a.m. is another cycle of pitta, the dosha of fire, digestion, and transformation, which resets your system for a new day. This is a crucial time to get in quality shut-eye to allow your body to properly detox and digest.
- 2 a.m.-6 a.m. is the second cycle of vatta, which controls our sensory experiences and begins to slowly wake us back up for another day (also why you might have more vivid dreams during this time).