Ayurveda: A Simple Approach

O.K., aren't you tired of trying to figure out what to eat? How much fat?, how much protein?, how many carbs? Don't eat fat, don't eat protein, eat more protein, eat high carbohydrates, eat low carbohydrates! Even with a Masters Degree in nutrition it can be extremely confusing and overwhelming. The frustration is terrible and the more information you receive the more confusing it can get. The best thing to do is STOP!

The overload of information is driving people crazy!!!

Ayurveda is a philosophy that is helping me to get my clients more balanced and tuned in to their own, specific, individualized needs. Ayurveda is a medical system that originates in India. It is 5,000 years old and has many similarities to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both deal with the five elements, the "qualities/energetics" of food, and digestion. Digestive disorders are affecting up to 85% of the American public as problems ranging from gas and bloating, to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, to Colitis. Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda believe that the root of good health is your digestion. If your digestion is inefficient illness is imminent. Side effects can range from fatigue, to weight gain (or loss), depression, headaches, or PMS. Most Americans think that gas and bloating are normal but Ayurveda believes it is the first signal by the body that you are putting something in the system it cannot handle or does not like. The beauty of Ayurveda is that there are no good or bad foods, (except for aspartame's, and nutrasweets, and chemicals, and pesticides, and additives). What one starts to look at is the qualities/energetics of foods and how they work in YOUR system.

Ayurveda adds a beautiful approach to overall health, well being, and nutrition. Clients are creating positive, healthy relationships with food for the first time in their lives. Ayurveda allows people to understand their body's response to stress, the environment, the weather, and specific foods instead of trying to fit in to the latest plan that is out there. I do think every new philosophy that has come out has built on good information preceeding it. Ayurveda brings in the nurturing, sensual component of food. I have found that I can give clients the best information in the world, but if it adds more stress, is not easy to apply to every day life, and doesn't feel satisfying or taste good, they will not stay with it. We help you to integrate the basic Ayurvedic principals into a hectic American lifestyle.

The goal of Ayurveda is to work with your natural biorhythms and specific needs instead of working against them. I find that my clients are frustrated because they think something should be working for them because the last book said it would and they can't understand why it's not and then they feel like they are failures and get frustrated.

We help you to create a plan that will help increase efficiency of the digestion, burn body fat, increase lean muscle, and decrease stress, not create more!!!

Ayurveda believes that food is supposed to be life giving, nurturing, nourishing, and immune system enhancing. Americans have gotten so far away from the sensuality of tastes and flavors. Food is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. We have turned into neurotic, diet-crazed people who feel guilty about everything that we eat.

Ayurveda begins by figuring out your specific body type and personality type or "dosha". This is so important because EVERYONE'S metabolism and genetic makeup is different. There is no one perfect plan that will work for everyone. Everyone has a different lifestyle, body type, genetic background, and metabolism. It is important to figure out your own body chemistry.

When you figure out a plan to meet your specific needs is should be simple. Ayurveda looks at the persons body type, personality type, response to stress, the weather, the time of year, and the time of life. Once you have a basic understanding of the five elements, six tastes and qualities of food you will understand why you crave the things you crave.

Ayurveda then puts these five elements into three categories, constitutions or "doshas" called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We are all a combination of the three but tend to have a dominance in one or two. The five elements are: Air, Ether, Fire, Water, and Earth. These five elements all have characteristics associated with them. Air and Ether (Vata) tend to be light, dry, mobile, everywhere, all over the place, and cool. Ayurveda believes Vata is responsible to all movement in the body. Fire (Pitta) is obviously hot, red, and burning, Pitta is responsible for metabolism in the body. If you don't have enough fire you will not be able to metabolize your food efficiently. Earth is grounded, stable, strong, dependable, and thick. Water is obviously wet, damp, moving, cool, fluid (Kapha). We all have all five of these elements in us but we usually tend to dominant in one or two. When these elements are balanced properly we should be running smoothly, when they get thrown out of whack we will start to show problems. That is why one person may be cold all the time while their partner is always hot.

We can also be one body type or a combination, with a different personality type, and a different imbalance. Use me as an example. I am a Pitta/Kapha body type. I have a medium build and frame at 5'4 and 135 lbs. I have very good genetics toward muscularity and actually dated a competitive body builder for five years and had to watch how I trained otherwise I would bulk up more than I wanted. If I am going in any direction however, it is easier for me to gain body fat than to lose it (although since adding the Ayurvedic principles I don't even worry about it any more!) I am a Pitta personality type, (lot's of fire and drive but enough Kapha to stay grounded) and if I had bronchitis and was really congested and mucousy I would be in a "Kapha" imbalance.

A "Vata" person tends to be on the thin more fragile side, the kind of body type who can eat anything and not gain weight. They tend to have very quick metabolisms and will drop 5 pounds if they get a cold. Marathon runners, sprinters, and longer distance endurance athletes tend to be more Vata body types. A Vata personality type will tend to be more creative, abstract, spiritual, talkative and fast moving. They tend to have problems grounding and take on too many things at once. When faced with a stressful situation they will usually respond with anxiety, fear, sadness, or nervous energy. Autumn would be considered the Vata time of year when the leaves are drying up and falling down and the weather begins to get cool and breezy and blustery and dry. People who tend to have more Vata in them may get more aggravated in the fall. People who are thin and cold and dry don't usually love the cold, dry weather, they tend to crave the heat and they don't mind the humidity. The years of life from 60 on are considered to be the Vata time of life. Think about what happens as we age. We tend to get more dry and wrinkled skin, elderly people tend to be cold more often because their digestive fire is not as strong and they may start to have more difficulty digesting their food. They may also start to suffer from constipation because their metabolisms are getting less efficient and their intestinal tracts are getting more dry. They also speak about the seats of the body and the colon and lower intestinal tract is considered to be the seat of Vata. Any complaints of gas, bloating, constipation, dry skin, cold hands and feet, inability to concentrate too many things going on, too much travel or movement (especially through cold, dry air in planes) may set off a Vata person. They may feel spacey, light headed or fuzzy, overwhelmed, sad, nervous, worried, anxious or unable to concentrate or ground, and they may feel constipated. The important piece is to understand that anyone can be in a Vata imbalance at any time.

The goal with a Vata imbalance would be to use foods, herbs, body work, and oils to calm & nurture ground, moisturize, lubricate, and warm. These people tend to benefit from more fat (good fats) and oils and warm foods in their diets. Foods like broccoli, popcorn, rice cakes, and beans that are thought to be great diet foods can be really aggravating to Vata people because they will add more air to the system and increase the imbalances like gas, bloating, and spaciness. Low fat diets can be detrimental for these people. I see many Vata women on low calorie, low fat diets and they feel lethargic, weak, and hungry all the time, and their skin is too dry and they have lots of bloating and gas. What they really need is more warm, heating, oily food to heat up their fire, increase efficiency, and moisturize.

Sweet, sour, and salty tastes will calm a Vata imbalance. If someone is sad, nervous or overwhelmed, it would be appropriate to crave sweets or salty things. The goal is to make choices that will help balance, not create more problems (see "Your Cravings").

Pitta is associated with fire and water. Pitta predominant people tend to be strong, type A personalities and overachievers. They are usually medium body types with good genetics toward muscularity. When they are balanced they are very productive, organized, "get it done" type people. When stress hits they tend to react with fire or anger, frustration, or annoyance. Summer would be the Pitta time of year when the days are the longest and the sun is the highest over head and the hottest. Pitta time of day is between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is the highest over head. Ayurveda believes that this is the best time to digest a meal. If you want to lose weight, eat your larger meal at lunch. That is probably why most other cultures tend to eat their main meal at 12pm instead of dinner. This is one the worst things we do in the American culture. We rush through breakfast and lunch grabbing cold sandwiches in front of the computer. There is little satisfaction and those six tastes are not present. We then go home or out and eat our larger meal in the evening when the body is less efficient to break it down. One of the goals is to get people to start to think about a warm main meal with the right ratio of protein, fats, and carbs and balanced with the six tastes so that you feel satisfied. Otherwise most people are craving sugar and coffee in another two hours. People with Pitta predominance can become aggravated during the summer months. Pitta people do not usually do well with overly hot, spicy foods like jalapeno or chili peppers. They tend to crave sweet, cold drinks and cool places. That is why Starbucks is making millions of dollars in the US. Type A Pitta Americans like sweet, cool drinks.

Middle age is considered the Pitta time of life when people are the strongest and the most fired up. Any health condition related to heat, burning such as indigestion, heart burn, esophageal reflux, skin inflammations, rashes, hot flashes, etc. crankiness, anger, are all attributable to Pitta and need to be cooled down with the correct foods and herbs. The tastes sweet, bitter, and astringent would cool and calm a Pitta imbalance. If you tend toward aggression, anger or frustration, it would make sense to crave sweet, cool things. Again, the goal is balance, not adding more stress.

Kapha is associated with earth and water. The consistency of Kapha is thick, damp, slower moving and tendencies toward mucous. Kapha body types tend to be built more on the solid, larger boned side with a tendency to gain weight. Kapha people will voice frustration that they can gain weight just by looking at food and tend to hold water. They tend to be more calm personality types that don't get too upset either way if stress hits and will usually keep the peace if an argument or disagreement breaks out while the Vatas will get upset and nervous and the Pittas will get angry. They are more solid body types and personality types. If you think about the consistency of body fat, thick wet, damp and mucousy it is Kapha but it can actually be caused by a Vata or Pitta imbalance emotionally. If people are either upset (Vata) or angry (Pitta) for prolonged periods of time they will probably crave sweets and eventually start to put on weight.

Winter going into spring would be considered the Kapha time of year when the snow is starting to melt and it is more damp and wet. When the spring rains come the earth gets more wet to allow for the flowers and grass to grow. Child hood is considered the Kapha time of life when children are growing. They also tend to suffer from wet, mucousy types of health conditions like ear infections, runny noses, colds, and allergies. Foods like ice cream, oatmeal, cheese, milk, wheat or anything else that has a thick, damp, moist consistency could tend to increase a Kapha imbalance. Any imbalance in the lung or chest area that is wet or mucousy would be a Kapha imbalance. Foods that are heating, drying, and stimulating can help decrease too much Kapha in a system. Too much weight would be considered a Kapha imbalance. Again, it could be caused by a Vata or Pitta imbalance on an emotional level. As you can see, weight management and health are usually a much larger picture than just going on a diet! The tastes pungent, bitter, or astringent, such as ginger, cinnamon, aloe vera, and vegetables can help balance the kapha imbalance. The goal is to warm, dry-out and cut body fat but still satisfy your cravings.

Ayurveda believes that most Americans are in a Vata/Pitta imbalance emotionally. They are worried about finances, single parents, or single people who are not in nurturing relationships, in jobs they don't like, stuck in rush hour in 90 degree heat. Any of these situations can cause a person to crave the sweet taste. We'll get more into that in the next section when we talk about the cravings and the six tastes, but if someone is in one of these states for too long and they overdo the sweets they will eventually start to add too much Kapha or body fat.

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