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Ask Health Coach Maria: What is Ayurveda?

March 21, 2014

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Hi, I’m Maria Marlowe, a Certified Health Coach and author of Detox without the Deprivation. This is my weekly “Ask Health Coach Maria” series, in which I answer frequently asked questions that relate to health and wellness. Have a question? Ask me here. 

Ayurveda literally translates to “science of life,” and is a health and healing system from India that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. As a holistic approach to overall wellness in life, this system not only teaches you how to cure an illness, but also how to avoid illness altogether, with a focus on maintaining a vibrantly healthy life. 

I’m personally a huge proponent of Ayurveda, and incorporate many of its tenets into my health coaching practice. The following three principles, which set the foundation for Ayurveda, also set the foundation for my practice. 

Bio-Individuality: Ayurveda recognizes that everybody’s chemistry is unique, and as such, we each have different needs. One person’s medicine is another person’s poison. 

Because this concept of bio-individuality lies at the heart of Ayurveda, the first thing an Ayurvedic practitioner will do is determine your “dosha” or body type. 

There are three doshas: Vata (wind), Pitta (fire), and Kapha (earth). Your dosha is based on the characteristics of your mind and body, which can be determined with a simple series of questions.

It’s believed that everyone has traits from each of the three doshas, albeit in different in proportions. Typically, you tend to lean towards one dosha in particular. Once you understand your unique dosha, you can then use Ayurvedic guidelines to choose the best diet and lifestyle to balance your mind and body for optimal health. 

A Mind-Body Approach: Ayurveda incorporates a holistic, mind-body approach to wellness. You can eat all the broccoli in the world, but if you’re unhappy, you’re going to be unhealthy, too. 

Our mind is a very powerful tool. I’m sure you can think of at least one instance when you made yourself physically sick over the thought of something, whether it was a big presentation at work or a stack of bills. 

Ayurvedic practitioners understand the power of thought to affect our health and create our reality. Meditation is encouraged as a daily practice to help bring peace to the mind and foster overall wellness. 

Meditation may sound a little “woo-woo,” but I assure you, the science behind its effects on the brain prove otherwise. Researchers have found that with as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day, you can moderately decrease anxiety and depression

Alignment with Nature: We may live in skyscrapers andhave iPhones permanently attached to our hands, but we’re still very much creatures of nature. When we ignore the laws of nature, imbalances occur in the form of various health problems. According to Ayurveda, we must live according to the laws of nature in order to realize optimum health (and I wholeheartedly agree!). 

Since the doshas are based on the five elements (air, ether, fire, water, and earth), each dosha’s recommendations can change according to the season. 

For example, I am a Pitta, or fire type, which tends to overheat when out of balance. This can show up in a variety of ways, from skin rashes to digestive problems to irritability. When the temperature rises in the summer, making it easier for me to overheat, I need to be even more careful with my diet and mindset so as not to disrupt my balance during the hot summer months. 

Regardless of your dosha, Ayurveda emphasizes seasonal eating, because food gives your body clues to the environment, and your body reacts accordingly. It’s no coincidence that cool and juicy fruits, like melon and berries, come into season in the summer, while warming, hearty, and heavy root veggies come into season in the cooler fall and winter months. 

At its essence, Ayurveda is all about finding the unique balance of mind-body-environment for your unique body. 

If you want to learn more about Ayurveda, Deepak Chopra—who was one of my favorite teachers while attending IIN—has created an incredible resource for determining your dosha and exploring this health system further. 

What’s your dosha? Do you think it accurately describes you? Tell us in the comments below. 

Maria Marlowe is a Certified Health Coach and regular Wellness Today Contributor. Get your health question answered in her next column by sending her an email at