Ayurvedic Nutrition & Balancing The Doshas

by | Feb 16, 2022 | Ayurveda

Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, is an ancient tool for balance and wholeness. As we begin the discussion on ayurvedic nutrition, it’s important to have an understanding of Yoga, Ayurveda, and Sankhya Philosophy. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali provides us with a path to practice that informs Self-Realization. In the sutras, Patanjali discusses first the experience of awakening into the wholeness of who you are, and the obstacles that keep us in separation. Patanjali talks about the mind, its fluctuations, and the way yoga helps to quiet those fluctuations. He then discusses the path of practice to self-realization, which includes the eight limbs of yoga. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are based on Sankhya Philosophy where Purusha and Prakriti are the essences of manifestation. It’s important to remember that Sankhya Philosophy visualized, and therefore recognizes the human condition to perceive things as either good or bad, and ultimately perpetuate attachments. Attachments keep us in a cycle of suffering, as Patanjali mentions when he discusses the kleshas. The kleshas include ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and the fear of death. Ultimately, all of these are forms of attachment to our perception, our individuality, our desire, or our fear. Many of these factors impact our relationship to food, and therefore Ayurveda and yoga lend themselves to nutritional applications. 

Sankhya Philosophy Simplified

Purusha & Prakriti come together to manifest through Universal Consciousness. This manifestation moves through individual intelligence and finally through the ego and the mind. You could say that spirit is Purusha and the container is Prakriti, and that these two merge moving through universal consciousness, individual consciousness, and ego. The realization that I am individual, separate, or unique is a projection of the mind when in truth we are that which is living through the lens of consciousness. We perceive ourselves as the doer; but in reality, life lives through us, and we are just witnessing what is arising in our field of awareness.

The mind experiences life through the senses and these senses process information through organs of action. The sensory experiences that come into our field of awareness impact our preferences. In addition to this, there are forces of nature that impact our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual being. These forces are called Gunas. In Ayurveda, there are additional Gunas we will look at, but for now, we’ll focus on rajas, tamas, and sattva. Rajas is the doing, or the kinetic energy of the world. Tamas is the potential energy or the not doing, and sattva is a balance between the doing and not doing. These are energetic forces that push and pull us in and out of balance.

Our sensory experiences are largely impacted by the elemental properties of things. In Ayurveda, we look at the five elements to explain the constitution of different things. These five elements include earth, water, fire, air, and ether. The five elements make up our dosha or constitution. Essentially, our Prakriti is made up of these elements and the qualities of the elements are what dictate our experience. Everything around us is also made up of these elements and therefore has its own dosha. When Prakriti interacts with other forms of Prakriti, a karmic interaction takes place. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is that like elements increase like elements. For example, if I have fire and I add more fire to it, the initial fire will burn hotter. Or, if I have water and I add more water, I will have increased the water. On the contrary, if I have fire and I add water it will dampen the fire; or if I have fire and I add air, it will increase the fire. These simple principles are the karmic interactions between the elements. The second karmic influence on Prakriti is that of the gunas. The gunas impact the Prakriti by either increasing its elemental qualities or decreasing its elemental qualities, both of which impact the overall experience.

The Doshas

The five elements come together to create doshas. The word dosha means constitution, and reflects the unique mix of elemental characteristics that are at play in manifestation. Everything can have a dosha because everything is made up of elements. For example, the seasons follow the qualities of the doshas. Everything has a dosha from the food we eat to the landscape outside, to our own personality, and even the phases of our life. First, let’s look at the seasons and evaluate how the doshas impact the seasons. As we move through the year and the seasons change, we see certain shifts in our environment in our physical bodies. 

When we identify our elemental constitution we are identifying our dosha. Dosha identification entails more than a questionnaire. In fact, our true constitution is influenced by the planets in our birth chart and by our karma. Some people are tridoshic, and some people experience life through the lens of a primary dosha. Regardless, everyone is influenced by the doshas. Each dosha takes on the qualities of the elements that make it up. Balancing our doshas with food, environmental adjustments, seasonal changes, and personal practices helps us to efficiently process and store nutrients. Understanding one’s dosha requires that we look at the individual through all four energetic bodies including the physical body, intellectual body, emotional body, and spiritual body.

With an Ayurvedic Diet, the goal is to maintain balance. Balance is achieved by balancing the elemental chemical compounds within one’s constitution. When an individual is balanced, they are in a state of homeostasis. When an individual is imbalanced, they are at risk for disease. The tridoshic system functions on the principle of like increasing like; where adding any element to itself will yield an excess of that element. A Pitta dosha, for example, might enjoy things that reflect their Pitta qualities, but adding Pitta to Pitta can cause imbalances when the other doshas are not increased. Vata individuals experience qualities of Vata. When they are in balance they might feel in touch with their Vata constitution while still feeling grounded, secure, motivated, and stimulated. If a Vata is drawn to Vata foods, environments, times of day, or seasons they may experience an excess in Vata yielding an anxious, disorganized, ungrounded, and perhaps even frazzled experience. Vata can be balanced with Pitta and Kapha depending on what qualities are needed to bring about balance. Pitta doshas experience qualities of Pitta including hot, oily, soft, smooth, sharp, and mobile. If a Pitta is craving Pitta foods or environments, they will exacerbate their Pitta and might find themselves in an imbalance. To balance Pitta, we turn to Kapha when there is too much mobility, movement, anxiety, or oil, and to Vatta when there is too much heat. A Kapha dosha experiences qualities of Kapha including cool, wet, oily, heavy, dense, static, and stable. When Kaphas consume a lot of heavy, dense, oily food they increase the qualities of Kapha which can make them feel more tamasic and decrease energy. To balance Kapha we turn to Pitta and Vata foods to help to initiate digestion and increase energy. Kapha doshas experience qualities of Kapha including cool, wet, oily, heavy, dense, static, and stable. When Kaphas consume a lot of heavy, dense, oily food they increase the qualities of Kapha which can make them feel more tamasic and decrease energy. To balance Kapha we turn to Pitta and Vata foods to help to initiate digestion and increase energy.

A famous Ayurvedic preparation is Golden Milk. Hop on over to this blog article to find out how to prepare this ancient beverage

If you’re interested in learning more about this subtle science and how to apply its wisdom and tools to bring about more balance in your life, you might consider My Vinyasa Practice’s Ayurvedic Nutrition Certification. You will also get a taste of how you might apply these principles to working with clients if you took your education all the way to dietician or nutritionist. Alternatively, you can book a consultation with an Ayurvedic Nutritionist on the MVP app.

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