Literally translated from Sanskrit as “knowledge of life,” Ayurveda functions as a holistic health-care system that organizes the elements of nature into a unified understanding of the human body, mind and spirit. Developing the Ayurvedic system approximately 5,000 years ago, devoted spiritual practitioners known as rishis viewed health and wellness as crucial to an existence harmonious with the earth and all of its inhabitants. The rishis noticed that each individual related to the environment in different manners defined by their propensities toward each of the five elements—ether, air, fire, water and earth. From the elements, the rishis developed three doshas, or body types—vata, pitta and kapha—to help individuals define their unique constitutions of body and spirit, and thereby determine how to best care for their health. One must focus primarily on keeping that dosha in balance in order to foster calmness and happiness within oneself . To maintain the balance of one’s particular dosha, one must notice where one feels out of sorts, then introduce the foods and lifestyle choices that will bring their constitution back into alignment. Based upon the following descriptions of each dosha, you can determine your own needs and see which foods will best balance your stressed-out Vassar student self.
Vata body types reflect the elements of air and ether in their spontaneous, active nature. Characterized by their adaptability, talkativeness and creativity, vatas love the sun and tend to have dry skin, thin frames and a special sensitivity to loud noises. When out of balance, vatas feel uncertain, impatient, anxious, and insecure, so they need to eat warm, grounding foods to rekindle their flexibility, positivity, and thoughtfulness. Vatas should consume plenty of warm, wet, oily and foods—cooked whole grains, soups, stews, spices, hot teas, curries, fresh oils and raw nuts should comprise the bulk of a vata’s diet. On the other hand, vatas should avoid astringent foods such as beans, cruciferous vegetables, tart fruits and pickles, as well as dry foods such as cold cereal, toast, gluten and crackers.
Born from the relationship between fire and water, pitta body types exude heat, intensity, ambition and passion. With demanding, opinionated, highly intelligent and workaholic natures, pittas tend to have muscular builds, bright eyes, oily skin and athletic tendencies. To bring themselves out of their judgmental, self-centered, jealous stupors and back to their balanced states of awareness, independence and open-mindedness, pittas must eat an abundance of cool, hydrating foods. Pittas thrive on basmati rice, oats, cooling spices, protein-rich seeds and juicy fruits, while they should avoid oily nuts, salty snacks and spicy foods .
Finally, kapha body types draw upon earth and water to possess a heavy, stable, slow and gentle nature. Kaphas harbor laid-back, nurturing and steadfast qualities and tend to have wavy, lustrous hair, smooth skin, large eyes, steady appetites and propensities toward weight-gain. When imbalanced, kaphas become possessive and controlling. To rekindle their peaceful natures, kaphas should consume a light, low-fat, high-fiber, mostly cooked diet with an emphasis on pungent, bitter and astringent foods such as warming whole grains, cabbage, asparagus and spices. Kaphas should also avoid excessive sweetness in their diets, and should thus stray from overly sweet fruits such as bananas, dates, figs, as well as from concentrated sweeteners like white sugar, maple syrup and agave nectar.
The following recipe, which I’ve enjoyed for breakfast since the onset of the spring semester, provides a nourishing, grounding way to begin your day with some of the healthiest foods around—leafy greens. While increasing vata slightly, the recipe will decrease both pitta and kapha.
Adapted from The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen.
2 tbsp water
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ bunch kale, spinach, or swiss chard
½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced, or 1 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp coconut, olive, or flaxseed oil
1 tsp soy sauce, tamari, or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp nutritional yeast
In a large, heavy skillet over high heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the cumin, fennel and ginger. Stir in the greens and ginger and cook until the greens have wilted—the amount of time this takes will depend upon the heartiness of your greens. For example, more hearty greens like kale will take about 5-7 minutes to wilt down, and you may have to keep adding water, whereas tender greens like swiss chard and spinach will only take about 3 minutes to wilt, and the original amount of water should be sufficient. Once the greens have wilted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oil, soy sauce/tamari/apple cider vinegar and nutritional yeast. Serve hot. These greens taste especially nice served over a bowl of oatmeal.