I first heard the word “Ayurveda” in 2007 while I was working as a paralegal in Virginia. My conservative boss approached me and told me that his cousin was a yoga-practicing hippy too, and he had recently gotten into this “thing called Ayurveda.” He had me do a short research project on the subject, as he liked to do when procrastinating. The previous one had been regarding where the name San Diego originated because I had named my chocolate lab puppy Diego, and had moved to Virginia from San Diego. (BTW, Will Ferrell’s claim in Anchorman that the name San Diego comes from certain parts of a whale anatomy is incorrect).
What I discovered that day, and in greater depth in the subsequent years after I quit the law firm to pursue Ayurveda as a career, is that Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest medical systems, translating in English as “the science of life.” Ayurveda emphasizes healing all parts of one’s self, maintaining that life must be supported by balance in the mind, body, and spirit.
Ayurveda is based on the five-element theory: everything in nature is made up of the elements of ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. When present in our mind and bodies, these elements are grouped into three doshas, or constitutions: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The biological energies of these doshas govern our physical and mental processes, providing us with a blueprint for health and fulfillment.
At conception, we have some of each dosha in our physical and mental bodies (our Prakruti). Throughout our lives, the amount of the doshas within us typically changes, pulling us out of our natural state of balance. The state of our imbalance, or current constitution is called our Vikruti.
Vata Dosha is comprised of the elements of Ether and Air and governs the energy of movement. The primary attributes of Vata are cold, dry and light. Pitta Dosha is comprised of the elements of Fire and Water and governs the energy of digestion and transformation. The primary attributes of Pitta are hot, light and sharp. Kapha Dosha is comprised of the elements of Earth and Water and governs the energy of lubrication and support. The primary attributes of Kapha are cold, moist and heavy.
In order to get an idea of your Prakruti, you can take Dr. John Douillard’s dosha quiz, answering the questions as an average over your life, or when you were young. Then, to determine your Vikruti, take the quiz again thinking about your present state of being.
Anything in ones environment with the same attributes as their doshic make-up can cause aggravation of that dosha, where opposing qualities will bring balance. For example, when a Vata individual eats foods that are cold, light and dry (crackers), or spends time in a cold, windy environment, they tend to go out of balance. Instead, a Vata individual should choose food that is warm, heavy and moist (oatmeal) and spend time in warm, tropical environments.
The key to Ayurveda is to learn to recognize the qualities of the fluctuating elements within yourself and your surroundings, and to make choices that bring balance to your life.