A Beginner’s Guide to Ayurveda

Last updated November 14, 2022

Ayurveda has been steadily climbing the social ladder for decades and is now the gold standard in healing centers, advanced hospitals and luxury spas around the world. Your beginner’s guide to Ayurveda starts here.

In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “the science of life” and this science encourages prevention of disease by paying close attention to balancing our inner and outer worlds through proper selection of foods, lifestyle and herbs. 

Ayurveda teaches us to live in harmony with nature by reminding us we are nature. And when we get out of balance, like most of us do at some point, Ayurveda helps us identify where we are out of alignment. 

Ayurveda, a system of holistic healing, originated in India more than 3,000 years ago.

The principles are simple and begin with the understanding that “like increases like” and “opposites balance.” These premises illuminate the way back to our individual rhythms and are a real game changer once you commit to using them on a daily basis. 

In full form, Ayurveda is a vast science covering everything from yoga to herbs, diet, exercise, mantra, gem, color, aroma and sound therapy. Just learning some of the basics is a great way to begin making better choices in life—including what to have for dinner and which wellness vacation to book. 

The most important concept to know in Ayurveda is your dosha. In layman’s terms, this refers to which elements are dominant in you. So let’s get learning with this beginner’s guide to Ayurveda.

Ayurveda 101

beginner's guide to ayurveda five elements

According to Ayurveda, there are five elements—ether, air, water, fire and earth. These are the basic building blocks of life and are present in all things. In any given substance, including people, two of the five elements will dominate. 

These five elements also correspond to our five senses and create the three primary doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. 

Vata dosha is composed of air and ether; Pitta dosha is composed of fire; while Kapha dosha is composed of water and earth. 

The primary doshas are then broken down into six dual element constitutions: Vata, Pitta, Kapha, Vata-Pitta, Vata-Kapha, Pitta-Kapha and one tri-dosha: Vata-Pitta-Kapha or balanced. You will be one of these. 

There are also 20 qualities in life. Ayurveda organizes them into ten easy-to-remember pairs of opposites. The pairs of opposites are good to learn because when you know which qualities you have in excess, you can implement the opposites to ensure success. 

The 20 qualities are: heavy and light, dull and sharp, cold and hot, oily and dry, smooth and rough, dense and liquid, soft and hard, stable and mobile, gross and subtle, and cloudy and clear. 

So for example, a Vata type person made of mostly air and ether, will get out of balance by too much air travel, eating only cold, raw foods and living in windy conditions. The reasoning is because these things add light, dry, cold and mobile qualities to ether and air elements (which already possess these qualities). 

However, these same things are balancing medicine to the Kapha type who is composed mostly of water and earth. 

beginner's guide to ayurveda three doshas

What Does Each Dosha Look Like?

Let’s move forward with this beginner’s guide to Ayurveda and delve into the three primary doshas now. 

Ayurveda Dosha: Vata

Ayurveda dosha vata air and ether

Vata people are slim and slender with dry skin and hair, less muscle mass, poor endurance and poor circulation. They have variable digestion and metabolism and are prone to constipation, pinched nerves, pain, bone loss, instability and over-stimulation. They are also extremely creative and the most adaptable of the three types. 

Vata is disturbed to excess by cold, dry, windy conditions including air conditioning. Vata types should avoid iced drinks, too many green smoothies, living on salad and instead opt for cooked vegetables, soups and quality protein. 

Raw veganism is not favorable to Vata. Telltale symptoms of excess Vata are emaciation, anorexia, protruding belly on a skinny body, fear, anxiety, confusion and aimless talking.

Excess Vata treatments begin by fueling digestive fire with warming herbs then adding tonic herbs to fortify and build quality tissue. A Vata balancing diet of warm, heavy, moist foods with sweet, sour, salty tastes is also advised. 

When booking spa services and wellness retreats, Vata people should look for warm oil massage, gentle yoga, silent meditation, warm climates and peaceful, supportive environments that allow one to rest. 

Ayurveda Dosha: Pitta

Ayurveda dosha pitta fire and water

Pitta people are medium build with good circulation, warm soft skin, and high metabolism that allows them to eat as much as they want and burn it off. Pittas are prone to burnout, premature balding, inflammatory disease, fever and infection. Intelligent, motivated and perceptive with natural leadership skill and tendency toward competition, they have penetrating eyes, intense focus and become irritated in heat and hot sun. 

Pitta is disturbed to excess by heat and oil. Hot climates, spicy, oily, greasy, excessively salty or sour foods tend to overheat Pitta people. Tell-tale signs of excess Pitta are anger, short temper, conflict, extreme hunger or thirst, allergic reactions like hives and inflammatory disease. 

Pitta balancing therapies begin with a diet of cool, light, dry foods with sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. When booking wellness vacations, Pittas benefit by choosing locations that offer cool water swimming, cold-water plunges and spa services that offer light, cooling coconut oil massage with sweet aromatherapy oils like rose or sandalwood. 

Ayurveda Dosha: Kapha

Ayurveda dosha kapha water and earth

Kapha people, the largest of the three, are capable of great strength and physical endurance and equally capable of gaining weight and becoming obese. These people love a stable routine and if they establish a rigorous exercise program, make some of the world’s best athletes. 

Kapha types have thick, lustrous hair, melodious deep voices, wide doe-like eyes and beautiful skin. They tend to live longest and have strong immune systems. Kaphas have a calm, cool nature, are cool under pressure and cool to the touch. They can become attached to people and possessions and may have a hard time letting go of the past. 

Kapha is disturbed to excess by cool, damp, heavy environments and by living near water. Heavy foods like dairy products, too much meat, wheat, pastry, even watery foods like melons and cucumber all contribute to excess Kapha. 

Tell-tale signs of excess Kapha are feelings of heaviness, depression, inability to “move on,” water retention, obesity, swollen glands, increase in mucous production in cough and congestion, and sleeping too much. 

Kapha balancing therapies begin with a diet of warm, light, dry foods with astringent, pungent and bitter tastes. When booking wellness vacations, Kaphas should look for wellness programs that offer rigorous group exercise classes, strong massage with dry herbal powders, dry sauna to promote sweating and support for light fasting. 

Ayurveda and Your Life Energy

beginner's guide to ayurveda and herbs

As an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor and Yoga Therapist working in the wellness industry for twenty years, I believe, we as a collective of people, were once so far away from viewing ourselves as part of nature that we became a disease-based society. The good news is, this is changing. 

Now, with each individual making it a priority to take the time and responsibility to heal themselves, we are moving back into a time of collective well-being and harmony with nature, thereby raising the vibration of the entire planet. 

If this beginner’s guide to Ayurveda piqued your curiosity and you would like to learn more or take the dosha quiz, follow this link.

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