Ayurveda: A Journey Towards Balance Using Food As Medicine
Ayurveda Element Body (Lila Volkas)
I’m sitting cross-legged with a group of 15 people, passing around a bowl of mango slices for a taste of something sweet, then a tray of lemon wedges makes its way around the circle and everyone puckers their lips. Next comes spicy half moons of radish and finally tiny flutes of tangy pomegranate juice. I am attending an EatWith Ayurvedic dinner at the home of the host, Britt Barrett, an Ayurvedic chef and practitioner.
For the past four months I have been immersed in a yoga teacher training program at Laughing Lotus. Besides learning the yoga asanas, breathing and mantras we have had instruction about the “sister science of yoga” know as Ayurveda. This healing practice was new to me and I was hungry to learn more. I interviewed Britt to gain additional insight about the inner workings of Ayurveda.
How would you describe Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old system of medicine that originated in India. “Ayus” means life and “Ved” means wisdom. So, it is basically how to utilize what we know about nature and apply it to our lives to create more balance and flow. And ultimately make ourselves more happy.
It is based on [the idea] that we are the microcosm to the macrocosm of the universe. Everything that exists outside of our bodies, the water, the fire, the wind and the space also exist inside of our bodies. Each person has a unique constitution of doshas, or elemental vital bioenergies, known as Vata (air and space), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water).
How did you personally get interested in Ayurveda?
In 2006, I was diagnosed with a chronic digestive disease called ulcerative colitis. The doctors told me there was nothing I could do to heal from the disease.
In 2009, I moved back home with my parents, depressed, sick, and feeling hopeless. One night, I attended a lecture by Shunya Pratichi Mathur about the ancient Indian healing practice called, Ayurveda. From the moment she started speaking, I was completely captivated.
I signed up for an Ayurvedic retreat with Shunya the following weekend, and ended up carpooling with 2 Ayurvedic doctors who would change the course of my life forever. While tears streamed down my face, one of the doctors looked into my eyes and told me with confidence that I would heal from my disease. He told me to get out a pen and a piece of paper and write down everything he said.
After a few months of following their instructions, my condition had improved dramatically. I signed up for a one year self-healing course with Shunya at Vedika Global, a small Ayurvedic college in Emeryville, California.
After changing my diet and lifestyle, meditating, doing yoga, and learning how to cook foods that were balancing for my body... I healed. Not only did I heal from ulcerative colitis, but everything in my life improved.
I was so impressed by my own recovery that I studied for two more years and became an Ayurvedic Lifestyle and Wellness Counselor, so I would be able to share this knowledge with others. In 2012, I founded Daily Ayurveda, [my company]. My goal is to share the deeply rooted solid science of healing in a simple and digestible manner so that others may benefit from all of the gifts Ayurveda has to offer.
I understand that everybody has a unique combination of the three doshas, can you describe the characteristics of each one separately?
Vata Dosha (air and space) has the qualities of dry, light, cool, rough, subtle and mobile. Vata controls all the movement in our body. Vata-dominant types tend to have a lighter and thinner frame. They have thin and dry skin. Vata-dominant people tend to be imaginative and enthusiastic. They are quick learners, but also quick to forget. Vata types tend to have active lifestyles and enjoy new experiences. When Vata types are out of balance they tend to be very in their head, which produces anxiety and a sense of ungroundedness.
Pitta Dosha (fire and water) has the qualities of oily, sharp, hot, light and liquid. Pitta controls all of the transformation and cellular regeneration in our body. Pitta is responsible for our warmth and activates digestion, metabolism and hormone regulation. Pitta dominant types tend to have a medium build. Their skin tends to flush easily and can be more sensitive than others. People who are Pitta dominant tend to be intellectual and ambitious, but when they are out of balance, anger, jealously and rage can take over.
Kapha Dosha (earth and water) has the qualities of heavy, slow, steady, solid, cold, soft and oily. Kapha is responsible for our physical form. Kapha dominant people tend to have larger, well-built frames, and have a tendency to over-nourish. Their skin is soft, thick and moist. They move and talk at a slow and steady pace, and their sleep is long and deep. Kapha dominant people tend to be very steady, loyal and compassionate. They are not easily irritated, and naturally quite loveable.
What is the basic principal of healing in Ayurveda?
The whole premise of healing is that “like increases like” and “opposites balance.” For example, if you already have a pitta imbalance and have excess heat in your body, if you consume foods that are pitta-increasing in nature, like chili peppers, your disease is going to get worse.
What are some common misconceptions about Ayurveda?
You have to eat all Indian food to live an Ayurvedic lifestyle. Actually, we can use whatever is growing here as long as the qualities of those food are aligned with the qualities we are supposed to be consuming in that season.
Ayurveda is only for Indians. The knowledge is a universal science and can benefit every living being.
That all Ayurvedic people are vegetarian. Ayurveda uses meat medicinally.
That people believe they are only one dosha. It is easy to over-simplify Ayurveda and misdiagnose yourself. It's best to see an experienced practitioner who can tell you more accurate and clinical information about doshas.
If you had one nugget of advice from your Ayurvedic journey what would that be?
Start cultivating awareness around what you eat and how it makes you feel.
If you are interested in experiencing Ayurvedic tastes first hand you can attend one of Britt’s EatWith dinners.