I feel like I’m getting the reputation around the office as “the crazy girl who would try anything” — cycle syncing (did it), mantra 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, delusional.
But Ayurveda is different, I promise. It’s not one of the things I heard about and thought ohmygosh I’m going to try it and write an article about my experience and maybe I’ll finally discover the secret to flawless skin/limitless energy/eternal youth. I actually heard about Ayurveda, an ancient practice of medicine, years ago in my freshman year of college in a class on Hinduism (I was a religious studies major). A lightbulb immediately went off and I spent the next few years researching Ayurveda, going to an Ayurvedic practitioner (for one session — the only one in Orlando turned out to be wildly expensive), and even wrote my thesis on the relationship of Ayurveda and religion (sounds smart, doesn’t it?).
What is Ayurveda?
In technical terms, Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine. In Sanskrit, ayur means “life,” and veda means “knowledge,” so the word itself literally means the knowledge of life. It was developed over 3,000 years ago in India (yes, really), and is still widely practiced all over the world today. The main principle is that the mind and body are inextricably connected, and the goal is to promote good health (of body, mind, and spirit) through balance — instead of fighting disease through medicines and treatments.
Ayurveda teaches that every person consists of the three governing principles of nature — vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth). Everyone is a unique combination of each of these principles, or doshas, containing different proportions of each. One’s dosha depicts everything from what they should eat, when they should sleep, and basically how they should live. Any mental or physical symptoms are signals that one (or more) of the doshas is imbalanced.
You can find out your dosha based on physical characteristics and personality — it’s basically a personality test, your medical records, and a really accurate Buzzfeed quiz all rolled into one. Finding your dosha and lifestyle recommendations fit for you is a detailed exploration that can be done with an Ayurvedic practitioner, but you can also take a quiz (I like this one from Sahara Rose) for a quick answer.
I’m not completely submerged into the world of Ayurveda — I still go to an M.D. for annuals, regularly indulge in queso with Ruffles, and don’t practice all of the important rituals that Ayurveda offers. While I feel like one day I’ll reach my spiritual awakening and feel compelled to fully submerge myself Eat Pray Love style, I’m still in my post-college, trying-not-to-get-hungover-from-after-work-drinks phase, so I definitely have some work to do to get there. However, there are lessons from the ancient practice that have, yes, changed my life, and useful tips that can be applied to anyone’s health and wellness journey, no matter your medical preferences. Here are the wellness tips and rituals I’ve borrowed from Ayurveda that have actually stuck with me and have changed my life:
1. “Healthy” means something different for everybody
Of course you know the basics of “eating healthy” — stick to natural, clean foods. Simple, right? So why is there so much debate over diets? Ketogenic, paleo, Whole30, Mediterranean, low-carb, raw, dairy-free — the options for what healthy eating trend we’re “supposed” to be following feels overwhelming and limitless these days. So why all the debate? Probably because every body responds to foods and diets differently — something that Ayurveda has had figured out for thousands of years.
If you’re working on eating healthy, don’t just follow diet trends because your favorite celebrity or blogger promises weight loss or glowy skin. Eat based off of what’s best for your body, knowing a different way of eating might be better for someone else’s. Ayurveda tells you to eat depending on your dosha or what dosha is imbalanced — warm, heavy foods balance vatta; cool, refreshing food is best for pitta; and lightly cooked or raw preparation is best for balance in kapha. 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 curries has relieved my digestion issues because it’s not just “healthy,” it’s healthy for me.
2. Scrape your tongue!
I get it, this one sounds a little out there, but hear me out: Ayurveda teaches that we can learn a lot from our tongues. Not only can our tongues help determine our doshas, but they can tell us about our health. It’s time to get graphic — the fuzz, film, or bumps on your tongue show up in the mornings if you have clogged organs or undigested food. To avoid reingesting the toxins on your tongue, it’s crucial 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 that are showing up in my mouth to avoid swallowing them back into my body. I use a tongue scraper, but you can also use the tip of a metal spoon.
3. Use the six tastes in every meal
Ayurveda recognizes six different tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Every fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, etc. has a particular “taste,” or combination of a few, and you should be getting a balance of tastes at every meal. The idea is that each taste has a specific connection with one of the doshas.
- 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
Not only does including each of these tastes in each meal balance doshas, but it also ensures you’re getting all the nutrients your bodies need. Biologically speaking, it makes perfect sense — each of the tastes represent the different chemicals our bodies need. It’s easy to reach for a simple meal when life gets busy (aka every day) — a turkey sandwich, a plate of pasta, an easy-to-make soup. But these “easy” meals are lacking a lot of the potential nutrients we could be getting and what our bodies need a balance of to be truly healthy. Besides, adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice makes meals so much more flavorful. For basically every meal 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 taste.
4. Don’t just focus on what you eat, but how
Digestion problems generally include IBS, nausea, stomach pain, weight gain/loss, and bloating; but digestive issues can also show up as blemishes on the skin, hair loss, or sluggishness. Obviously what we eat is a big part of the 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. 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.
Ayurveda also 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 trying 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 its best. I eat slower, better, and drink ginger tea every single day to keep my digestive system on track (literally).
5. Schedule Your Day Based On Your Body’s Needs
Not only do the kapha, pitta, and vatta doshes 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, and also determines when is best to do certain activities — called Dinacharya.
While it’s nearly impossible to follow a strict schedule these days (that 10pm bedtime and 6am wakeup? Aint nobody got time for that!), 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. It’s also helped me to understand what’s going on with my energy levels throughout the day and identify what my body really needs.
- 6am-10am is the time when kapha is most active, meaning you should be peaceful and grounded. Wake up before the sun around 6am and start your day by meditating, eating a nourishing meal, and tending to self-care.
- 10am-2pm is pitta time, when you have the most energy of the day, so you could try to get your most difficult tasks accomplished during this time or squeeze a workout in. When the sun is at its highest peak (aka noon), your digestion is at its most powerful, so your lunch should be eaten around noon and be your biggest meal of the day.
- 2pm-6pm is when vatta is the most active, meaning your creativity 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.
- 6pm-10pm is the second cycle of kapha time, meaning you’re ready to be more peaceful and grounded, which makes sense as you’re winding down to prepare your body for rest. Tend to self-care or meditate during this time, much like in the mornings. According to Ayurveda, you should be asleep by 10pm because…
- 10pm-2am is another cycle of pitta, aka a burst of energy and alertness. This is why many of us don’t feel tired anymore if we’re getting into bed past 10pm, and it’s hard to sleep. It’s also why we get a surge of social energy when we stay out late at night.
- 2am-6am is the second cycle of vatta, so back to a creative state. This is when most of our dreams happen as we sleep, since the body is longing for creativity.