According to Ayurveda, the three limbs of health are food, sleep, & discipline; with care, they can unlock health. Start with these Ayurvedic suggestions.
Many students of yoga have been trained under Jen (Ryan) Engstrom at the Yoga Loft just north of Boston in Massachusetts. An intensive 200-hour teacher training program includes a day-long workshop on the Ayurveda module. Understanding the teachings of Ayurveda is not only important for yoga teachers, but for those who want the benefits of holistic medicines that can keep the mind, body, and spirit in balance.
I had the opportunity to attend this year’s workshop with esteemed Dr. Pratibha Shah, BAMS, Masters in Ayurveda, MPH. Dr. Shah is a senior faculty member of Kerala Ayurveda Academy, is a founder and director of the Council for Ayurveda Research with the Wholisitic Health Alliance, and an Ayurveda consultant at Well Life.
As the seasons change, so too do the best modalities for living in good health. Depending on which of the different doshas (kapha, vita, or pitta) is more dominant for each unique individual, the ways that you welcome spring into your life will differ, because spring is the season of the kapha.
For those who are unfamiliar with the ancient traditions of Ayurveda, understanding the Sanskrit might help you to know yourself and your partner a little better.
The very word “Ayurveda” is itself the pursuit of understanding the ways that science and life are intertwined. Ayu means life. Veda means science, making Ayurveda a life science.
It is believed that the goals of life are:
“You need health at the basis of all of these goals,” said Shah. In order to achieve health, one must first know, respect, and love the self, which is why one of the most beautiful Sanskrit mantras taught in Ayurveda is “Swasthasya swasthya rakshanam.” Swa means self. Asthasya means to be established. To be established in self.
“Maintenance of the health of the healthy requires that you respect and love who you are. If you are comfortably established in who you are, you will be health,” said Shah.
A second Sanskrit mantra she shared with the room full of soon to be yoga teachers was, “Aturasya vikaar prashamanamch.” Alleviation of the pathology in the diseased.
“Knowing who you are, loving yourself, respecting yourself, and living aligned with that knowledge will lead to health. If you have a Honda and you want to run it like a Mercedes, something is wrong,” said Shah.
According to Sushrauta Samhita, health can be achieved for those who are in physical and physiological equilibrium. Those who are in a joyous state of body, mind, and soul. Shah said, “The body is a microcosm of the universe, made up of the five primordial elements of ether, air, fire, water, earth. These are the basis for the doshas.”
Vatas are made of up of the elements of ether and air, while pitta are full of fire and water, but kapha are the elements of earth and water.
“If an individual follows the diet, regimen, and lifestyle according to one’s body type, with an awareness of the daily and seasonal variations, disease can be kept at bay. And if diseased, one can manage it in the most optimal manner,” said Shah.
The concept that body types are the hardware of our natural being and affect how we interact with each other was one of the most important messages that Shah impressed upon the group.
This practice of healthy living is but one form of medicinal exercises available. Shah said, “If we have to travel somewhere, there are always so many options for us. We have so many different methods of transportation from riding a bike to walking to driving a car or flying. We choose which we align with, by assessing which is more efficient.”
The one common goal of all these available modalities is health. “None is bad, as long as you know what to choose and when is the right time to choose it,” Shah said.
Because Ayurveda is so far-reaching and touches upon so many aspects of holisitic health, “There are a lot of modalities to choose from,” Shah said. “Ayurveda is such a deep and comprehensive health science. In its umbrella you can find solutions for mild, moderate, and severe health issues,” she continued.
What is different about modern medicine is the focus tends to be on treating disease rather than preventing it. “Ayurveda actually provides answers for you in every layer of the issue,” said Shah.
The season of kapha.
The three “limbs of health” in Ayurveda are food, sleep, and discipline. Dr. Shah challenged all of the yogis to think about the source of their food. She said, “How your food was grown and manufactured is directly proportional to the nutritional value and is directly proportional to your health. When food is filled with chemicals, what is going to happen to the body when the food breaks down?”
But one goal is never enough. Dr. Shah also encouraged everyone to become label readers and to stop using Teflon. “You can have the best quality food, but if it is heated in plastic, the value is gone, so pay attention to everything,” she said.
While seasons indeed determine which tastes are more dominant, the equilibrium of health is also impacted by the dosha (body type) and age.
“We do have cultural transitions in seasons,” said Dr. Shah. “Can you imagine drinking egg nog or cider in the summer?” The body craves these and other heavy foods in the cold of winter because the digestive fire is highest in winter, but it grows progressively weaker as the seasons progress.
Kapha need the most activity and the longest fasting during spring, though all body types will benefit from a spring cleanse. “Spring is the season of kapha, and a time for detox,” Shah said. Because the heavier foods of winter leave residual congestions in our tissues, the spring detox is a time to ride the body of these toxins and energize or reignite the digestive fire that naturally extinguishes as the winter ends.
Dr. Shah said that, in the comfort of your home, you should follow the seasonal routine for spring. Choose foods that are high in a pungent taste. “Be aware of and consciously set aside time to prepare for the cleanse, remember to slow down, and stock up on the following recommended foods and spices,” Shah said.
- Bitter greens like kale dandelion,
- Old wheat old rice old quinoa
- Daikon radish
- Black pepper
- Long pepper
- Cumin seeds
- Carom seeds
Finally, the greatest benefits of the spring cleanse will come when you “Eat warm, light and well-cooked foods such as soup, favor easy to digest fruits, vegetables, and grains,” said Shah.
In order to achieve the greatest benefits from all you put in your body, try to eat fresh and organic and avoid processed, frozen, or canned foods. More importantly, said Dr. Shah, “Know if you or the season is suitable for a cleanse. Have the full picture and know the contraindications that can impact you.”