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by Tom Billings

Notes for a talk given in August 1997. These are notes only; a brief summary of major points. For more details, consult the references cited at the end.


Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term that translates as the science of life. Ayu=life, veda=knowledge.

- (oldest) active traditional health system of India - a complete medical/health system that began over 5000 years ago (but has many modern innovations - a genuine holistic health system with physical, mental, and spiritual components - classic Ayurveda developed surgery ('Sushruta Samhita') thousands of years ago - including plastic surgery, opthalmic (eyes), and periodontal (gums) surgery. (Some raw fooders object to surgery. Would you refuse surgery after an accident, to "patch you up"?)

Ayurveda is a QUALITATIVE, ATTRIBUTE BASED system. It models nature in terms of 3 "doshas", where dosha can be translated as "that which can go wrong".

Elements:               Dosha      Short Description   Function
Earth + Water       =   Kapha          Water           Stability/Structure
Fire + Water        =   Pitta          Fire            Transformation
Air + Ether (Space) =   Vata           Air             Movement

Note that ether is not really an element, but the property of empty space.

The doshas are often spoken of as being purely matter, but they are more than matter - they are a force, or energy as well. To make matters more complicated, the subtle energies behind the doshas are often discussed separately: vata (prana), pitta (tejas), kapha (ojas).

Doshas on the Physical Level
Dosha      Primary Site              Manifestations
Kapha      Stomach & Lungs           Mucus, cholesterol, etc.
Pitta      Small Intestine           Liver Bile (& Stomach Acid)
Vata       Colon                     Gas and Dissolved Gas

In Ayurveda, the vata-pitta-kapha model is used to analyze disease and health, foods and medicines.

The doshas have qualities (based on their constituent elements), and the increase or decrease of the doshas in the body, depends on the qualities of everything ingested (i.e., if the ingested item has similar or antagonistic qualities: similar items will increase the dosha, antagonistic items will decrease the dosha).

Qualities Associated with the Doshas:

Vata: dry, cold, light, mobile, clear, subtle, rough

Pitta: slightly oily, hot, intense, light, fluid, sour, mobile or liquid

Kapha: oily, cold, heavy, stable, smooth, viscid, and soft.

Body Types: Finding Your Type

Bodies are classified by types, according to which doshas are dominant in the person. Prakruti = your genetic constitution, the balance of your doshas at birth. Vikruti = the balance of the doshas in your body, right now. If the vikruti=prakruti, there is balance. Balance is required for optimal health. Most people are dual dosha, i.e. there is a dominant dosha, and a secondary dosha. However, everyone has all 3 doshas in your body.

The general body types are:

pitta-vata and vata-pitta, PV/VP pitta-kapha and kapha-pitta, PK/KP vata-kapha and kapha-vata, VK/KV

"pure" vata, pitta, kapha P, V, K vata=pitta=kapha (very rare, and these people are usually incredibly healthy) VPK

See references for tables of body types, to determine your vikruti and prakruti. The most reliable way to determine your body type is to have your pulse read by a qualified Ayurvedic health professional. Common mistakes with body type tables are:

* getting confused when you feel that you fit into more than one dosha. This is normal. Most people are dual dosha, e.g. vata-pitta, pitta- kapha, and so on. * confusing prakruti and vikruti. This is easy to do if you have been unbalanced for a long time, as some are. * seeing yourself as you want to be, rather than as you really are

When evaluating your body type, remember that: vata is cold, dry, irregular; pitta is hot, oily, irritable, kapha is cold, wet, stable.

Substances are classified according to their effect on the doshas (i.e., their effect on the body) when ingested. Ayurveda teaches that ANY substance on the planet can be used as medicine, if the dose/method is correct, and the substance is processed to detoxify it (required for toxic substances only). This is quite different from systems that teach that medicines don't exist!

Food, medicine, poisons: a logical approach.

Foods are those substances that nourish the body and mind. Medicines are those substances that assist digestion, thereby promoting good nutrition and the removal of toxins. Poisons are those substances that block digestion and/or prevent nutrition.

This can be viewed in terms of domination:

Poisons are those substances that (try to) dominate you.

Foods are those substances that you dominate (digest).

Medicines are those substances that assist you in dominating other substances.

Ama: Toxins

Ayurveda recognizes that toxins can be created in the body and mind. The word ama is used to describe toxins. Ama is not limited to the body; negative thoughts are regarded as a form of mental ama. Also, physical ama can occur in vata, pitta, kapha forms/manifestations.

Ama is formed when one eats the wrong foods, and/or engages in crimes against wisdom, prajnaparada. [Note: the word sin implies guilt, there are no emotions attached to prajnaparada.] One can view prajnaparada as going against common sense.

Emotions Associated with the Doshas

Vata: fear/anxiety Pitta: anger Kapha: greed.

Causes of disease: "perversity of mind" is the ultimate cause of every disease (negative thoughts). The physical toxins that occur are a symptom, not the actual cause, of most disease.

In treating disorders, Ayurveda first seeks to restore health on the physical level by balancing the doshas via diet, herbs, etc. Then, the mental and spiritual problems are addressed with meditation and yoga. The ultimate goal of Ayurvedic treatment is to heal the entire person: body, mind, spirit. Unfortunately, most people nowadays are primarily interested in the body, and ignore the spirit and mind. Also, treatment in Ayurveda is specific to the individual; it is not a "1 treatment cures all", "1 diet cures all" type of system.

Ayurvedic Dietetics

Foods are analyzed by their qualities, and their effect on the doshas.

Rasa: taste - the start of digestion - sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent, salty

Virya - during digestion - heating or cooling effect

Vipak - after digestion (assimilation) - the effect after digestion, i.e., the energy (in rasa or taste terms) during assimilation

Prabhav - exceptions to the rule. A food that has one of rasa, virya, vipak that is different from the usual effects. Example: honey has sweet rasa, and sweet vipak. Normally the virya would be cooling, as sugar is cooling. However, honey has virya=heating, and can aggravate pitta if consumed in excess.

Note: the best set of food tables is in the Lad and Lad cookbook cited in the list of references.

Examples of food analyses in Ayurveda:

Cilantro Rasa: Astringent, sweet Virya: Cooling Vipak: Sweet Tridoshic: decreases V, P, K

Cayenne Pepper Rasa: Pungent Virya: Heating Vipak: Pungent Decreases V, K; greatly increases P

Goat milk Rasa: Sweet Virya: Cooling Vipak: Pungent Tridoshic: reduces V, P, K Promotes strength, and *decreases* mucus (if consumed properly)

Eating Ayurvedic Style

Many people think that an "Ayurvedic diet" is a diet of spicy Indian food. Not necessarily - an Ayurvedic diet is a diet that matches your body type to the foods consumed - eating those foods that sustain your body type, to avoid unbalancing your prakruti (natural tendencies). Ayurveda includes countermeasures to let you "cheat" now and then, without harming yourself. (That is, although Ayurveda recommends foods per your body type, there is no undue emphasis on "dietary purity" or "dietary discipline".)

Eating according to Ayurveda is a learning process, that involves: + learning the properties of foods + listening to your body, to see not only the reaction to certain foods, but also the signs of possible imbalance + matching the foods you eat to your individual state and needs.

Foods for Vata Constitutions

Good: most sweet, sour, salty tastes Avoid: bitter, pungent, astringent Vata people generally have weak/irregular digestions. Raw foods diets are hardest for such people. (Discussed later.)

Fruits: most sweet fruits are good for vata. However, avoid/minimize dried fruit. Overconsumption of sweet foods will increase/aggravate vata, rather than soothe/reduce it. Excess fruit consumption can increase ungroundedness.

Vegetables: most vata people find cooked vegetables easier to digest than raw. See discussion later on this. Avoid dried, frozen veggies.

Grains: wheat is best for vata, but it is heavy and some are allergic to it. Sprouted oats are OK. Most other grains are drying and are not good for vata. Cooked, with oil or butter, they are not so drying and may be easier for vata to handle. Sprouted and made into milk substitutes, they are similarly easier for vata.

Legumes: only mung beans, adzuki beans, and small lentils are OK for vata (and spices may be necessary to help digest them).

Nuts and Seeds: pretty much all nuts, seeds are OK for vata, but one must be careful and consume only what one can digest!

Oils: sesame oil, ghee are good for vata. Ghee is a digestant, sattvic, considered the best oil. Again, eat only as much as one can digest.

Dairy: all good for vata, if you are not allergic.

Sweeteners: in moderation, sweeteners reduces vata. In excess, they aggravate both pitta and vata.

Spices: all, in small quantities, are good for vata

Note: vata people are prone to addiction, including sugar and alcohol (alcohol has vipak=super sweet).

Foods for Pitta Constitution

Good: sweet, bitter, astringent Avoid: sour, salty, pungent Pitta people generally have strong digestion and can do well on raw food diets.

Fruits: avoid sour fruits, sweet fruits are OK. Pomegranate reduces pitta and is one of the best foods for pitta. Bananas, papayas should be used only occasionally - they are too "hot" for pitta.

Vegetables: all veggies, except salty ones (tomatoes) and pungent ones (e.g., radishes) are good for pitta.

Grains: wheat, barley, oats, rice are good,. Other grains are heating and should be eaten only occasionally.

Legumes: pitta can best digest them, but their gas production is still a problem. Mung beans are best; pitta can eat any legumes (in small amounts) except for lentils.

Nuts and Seeds: most are too hot, too oily for pitta. Coconut, pumpkin, sunflower are OK.

Oils: avoid oils; small amounts of olive oil, ghee are OK.

Dairy: sweet and/or non-fermented dairy is good. Milk, butter, ghee are good; cheese, yoghurt, sour cream, are not.

Sweeteners: sweet is cooling, so pitta can tolerate sweet better than others. Honey is heating - use sparingly.

Spices: cooling/mild spices only: coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, small amounts of cumin, ginger.

Foods for Kapha Constitutions

Good: bitter, pungent, astringent Avoid: sweet, sour, salty Kapha should limit their food intake, and avoid fat.

Fruit: avoid very sweet, very sour fruits. Dried fruits are OK. Astringent fruits are good. Vegetables: pungent and bitter vegetables are good; avoid sweet vegetables (sweet potatos).

Grains: hot, drying grains like millet, buckwheat are good. Wheat is heavy, hard for many kapha people to tolerate in large quantities.

Legumes: avoid heavy legumes like soy, kidney beans. Mung beans, red lentils are OK.

Nuts and seeds: too oily, heavy. Can eat small amounts of sunflower and pumpkin seeds on occasion.

Oils: generally avoid. Small amounts of ghee, sunflower oil OK.

Dairy: small amounts of goats milk, ghee OK. Otherwise avoid - most dairy is too heavy & oily for kapha.

Sweeteners: avoid, as they increase kapha. Raw honey is the exception - it reduces kapha.

Spices: any/all are OK, except salt.

Managing Dual Dosha Prakrutis

Dual dosha refers to those with 2 dominant doshas - this is actually very common, as people who are nearly "purely" one dosha, are rare. For example, a VP person is one whose vata dosha is dominant, pitta secondary, and kapha a distant third.

In order to manage dual doshas, one needs to know that the seasons can be characterized by doshas as well (and also times of day):

Doshas are most active in the seasons: Winter is kapha season Early Spring: kapha season Late Spring and all of Summer: Pitta season Fall is Vata season

Doshas are predominant at certain times of day (times are approximate) 9 AM - 3 PM Pitta 3 PM - 6 PM Vata 6 PM - 9 PM Kapha 9 PM - 3 AM Pitta 3 AM - 6 AM Vata 6 AM - 9 AM Pitta

Returning to the topic of managing dual doshas; the basic idea is to follow a diet that reduces the dosha that is dominant in the season. Specifically:

* a PV/VP person should follow anti-vata diet in Fall/Winter, and anti-pitta diet in Spring/Summer. Tastes: avoid pungent foods (aggravates P & V), favor sweet foods (sweet reduces both P & V). Caution on sugar: avoid psychological dependence on sugar/sweet foods; work to develop sweetness in your entire life, not just your diet. "Favor sweet foods" here means to eat foods (not alcohol) whose vipak is sweet, not the rasa. Many foods have sweet vipak, but the rasa is not sweet.

* a PK/KP person should follow anti-pitta diet in Spring/Summer, and anti-kapha diet in Fall/Winter. Tastes: bitter & astringent reduce K, so are the best tastes. Sour and salty both aggravate P & K - avoid.

* a VK/KV person should follow anti-vata diet in Summer/Fall, and anti-kapha diet in Winter/Spring. Tastes: "hot" tastes preferred - sour, salty, pungent. "Cold" tastes to be minimized: sweet, bitter, astringent. You can balance sour and salty tastes with sweet; pungent with bitter and astringent.

Raw Foods Diets

Raw foods are in general considered cold and some of them are difficult to digest. Pitta predominant people, with their innately strong digestions, can generally do well on raw foods diets.

Recall that kapha is cold, so raw foods may increase kapha in such persons. Kapha people, by using some countermeasures, can usually succeed on a high raw diet - if they eat intelligently.

Classic Ayurveda says that vata predominant people should eat cooked food, as their digestion is irregular and weak. Gabriel Cousens reports good results with raw food diets for vata people, by using the standard Ayurvedic recommendations for vata, applied to raw foods. Some of these measures can also be used by kapha people to make raw easier for them:

* one dish meals. The foods come together and become one food for the stomach. In raw foods, this means: raw soups (e.g. Ann Wigmore's energy soup, and the blended salads of Dr. Stanley Bass), raw stews (sprouts/avo, with raw soup poured over them), and one bowl salads where the ingredients are in small pieces.

* using spices to enhance and strengthen digestion - mostly hot spices, to counteract the cold of vata/kapha - ginger, peppers (hot/black), nutmeg, etc.

* warming the food to around 118 degrees F (some suggest lower temps)

* (not for kapha) using oily dressings, and or oily foods (such as avocados) to increase the time the food takes in digestion, thereby improving digestion. Oil strongly decreases vata, but aggravates kapha.

Additionally, there are a number of other countermeasures one can use to help keep the doshas in balance:

* regular oil massage (daily if possible). For vata, use sesame oil, for kapha, use mustard or corn oil, for pitta, use castor or sunflower oil.

* herbs. You can get a formula from an Ayurvedic practicioner, but most people also take triphala churna. This is the most commonly used herb in Ayurveda. "Triphala churna" translates literally as "3 fruit powder" - it is 3 dried fruits, ground up. I (and millions of other people) take it daily. Dose: 1/2 tsp dry with warm water at night, or (the method I use) 1 tsp soaked in 1 cup of water overnight, drink in morning.

* yoga postures. Each pose has a doshic effect. The lotus pose is tridoshic. Most backward bends reduce pitta, most forward bends reduce vata, and surya namaskar (sun salutation) reduces kapha.

Dealing with Imbalance

* anti-doshic diet to reduce the excess doshas

* herbs to reduce the dohas

* regular yoga and meditation

* oil massage

* Pancha karma - a cleansing procedure that is highly effective in removing ama and reducing excess doshas. Primary techniques of Pancha karma are: oleation - oil massage & oil ingestion, to get excess doshas to return to their "homes", their principal sites in the body, after which the doshas are eliminated by the following: emesis (therapeutic vomiting) - get rid of kapha, purgation to get rid of pitta, and enemas to eliminate vata. Pancha karma is less stressful to the body, and often more effective than long fasts. (Long fasts usually aggravate vata.)

* other procedures

The Most Difficult Imbalance for Raw Fooders?

Probably a PV or VP person with both P & V out of balance. This is difficult, because the measures used to reduce vata (spices), may aggravate pitta. The restriction to a raw vegan diet makes things challenging here.

In this case, one must be willing and able to thrive on a very limited diet, as raw vegan foods that are tridoshic and/or P-, V- are few and far between. In order to get balanced under such conditions, discipline, routine, and extra measures (e.g., castor oil enemas, herbs) may be required.

Life is much simpler in this case if one admits raw dairy to the diet. Raw milk is a complete food, and is P-, V-. A raw diet that includes raw milk will be much easier to achieve balance on.

Other Aspects of Ayurveda of Interest to Raw Fooders

Tongue diagnosis. By looking at your tongue, you can check for: - toxins (ama) in the colon and G.I. tract - malabsorbption of nutrients (a topic of great interest to raw fooders) - the condition of other internal organs.

This info is also available through pulse diagnosis, but reading radial pulses, Ayurvedic style, is both an art and a science - much practice required. Fingernail diagnosis, and eye diagnosis, also can provide information on the conditions of your internal organs and possible imbalances. These diagnostic systems are illustrated in the first book by Dr. Lad, listed below.

Recommended Reading in Ayurveda

Prakruti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution, by Robert Svoboda

Ayurveda: Life, Health, Longevity, by Robert Svoboda

Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, by Vasant D. Lad

Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing, by Vasant D. Lad and Usha Lad

Ayurvedic Healing, by David Frawley

And other books by Vasant Lad, Robert Svoboda, David Frawley, Bhagwan Dash, Maya Tiwari.



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