How to Incorporate Ayurveda Into Your Modern-Day Lifestyle

Dr. Robert Graham | The Upside blog by Vitacost.com

by | Updated: June 3rd, 2022 | Read time: 8 minutes

Ayurvedic medicine is much more than just medicine, it’s a way of life or an “art of living.” This 5,000-year-old practice began in India and has since spread across the world—shaping and improving many lives. The earliest recorded texts on the practice, known as “The Vedas,” describe the transfer of knowledge and wisdom from gods to sages, then from sages to doctors.

In Sanskrit, the word Ayurveda translates to “the science of life.” In Western medicine, Ayurveda is classified as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Recent data show that around 38% of adults in the United States use CAM treatments like herbs, nutrition, acupuncture, massage and Ayurveda.

A Variety of Colorful Ayurvedic Herbs and Herbal Mixtures with Stethoscope | Vitacost.com/Blog

Ultimately, while Western medical practice primarily focuses on the management and treatment of disease, Ayurvedic medicine is focused on the prevention of disease. Ayurvedic practitioners focus on maintaining the balance of energy through diet, mindfulness, exercise, sleep and community that they believe is essential to overall health—similar to the principles of our practice, FRESH Medicine. FRESH is an acronym for our five ingredients, or recipe (Rx) to health: Food, Relaxation, Exercise, Sleep and Happiness. When it comes to medicine, we need a FRESH approach: “Let lifestyle be thy medicine.”

How to incorporate Ayurveda into your lifestyle

The core of Ayurveda is focused on prevention. It’s based on the concept that general health and wellness rely on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit. The Ayurvedic way of life focusses on balance of the three key aspects of life: physical, mental and spiritual.

Sadly, our modern-day lifestyles aren’t always supporting us for the better—especially when it comes to those of us who don’t make time for self-care or practicing balance. This neglect is causing serious dis-ease and health issues. Ayurveda plays an integral part in the treatment of illness caused by the imbalance of the modern-day lifestyle.

Ayurveda is based on the principle of maintaining a balance between the interrelated relationships within the body and mind. In Ayurvedic medicine, balance is everything—and is achieved by harmonizing the three doshas (health types or constitutions): Vata, Pitta and Kapha.

Our doshas specify how certain people should eat, sleep, exercise and what their emotional strengths and weaknesses may be. Think of each dosha like a two-way scale: when the scale is out of balance, it can cause physical and emotional distress. The goal is to get all your doshas back to the levels at which they naturally exist in your body. To begin, identify your dominant dosha. Take this online quiz to discover yours.

A FRESH perspective on the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda

Click here to learn more about Dr. Graham’s FRESH Medicine approach for holistic health.

Food

The Ayurvedic diet is an eating pattern focused on promoting balance within your body by following guidelines for your specific dosha, or body type.

According to two studies on Ayurnutrigenomics found here, these are some of the main characteristics for each dosha to help you determine which type matches you best:

  • Vata (space + air): Creative, energetic and lively. People with this dosha are usually thin with a light frame and may struggle with digestive issues, fatigue or anxiety when out of balance.
  • Pitta (fire + water): Intelligent, hard-working and decisive. This dosha generally has a medium physical build, short temper and may suffer from conditions like indigestion, heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • Kapha (water + earth): Naturally calm, grounded and loyal. Those with a kapha dosha often have a sturdier frame and may have issues with weight gain, asthma, depression or diabetes.

According to this diet, your dosha determines which foods you should eat to promote inner balance. For example, the vata dosha favors warm, moist and grounding foods while restricting dried fruits, bitter herbs and raw veggies. Meanwhile, the pitta dosha focuses on cooling, energizing foods and limits spices, nuts and seeds. Finally, the kapha dosha limits heavy foods like nuts, seeds and oils in favor of fruits, veggies and legumes.

In general, red meat, artificial sweeteners and processed ingredients are limited for all three doshas. Instead, the Ayurvedic diet encourages eating healthy whole foods.

Our FRESH food Rx (Latin for recipe) is: Eat more plants. Our diet should adapt as the seasons change to allow the body to get the specific nutrients it needs to thrive in a changing climate: Eat reasonably and seasonally.

Relaxation

In addition to what foods you eat, meditation is another major part of the Ayurvedic diet. Meditation, whether Transcendental or Mindfulness Meditation, is a practice that involves paying close attention to how you feel in the present moment. In particular, mindful eating emphasizes minimizing distractions during meals to focus on the taste, texture and smell of your food.

According to Ayurveda, we should chew our food at least 25 times before we initiate a swallow. This will not only help in the digestion of our food but also in the mindful eating practice of honoring and tasting the true essence of the food we are about to consume. Mindful eating may also enhance self-control and promote a healthy relationship with food.

According to a Harvard Nutrition Source, practicing mindful eating reduced body weight, depression, stress and binge eating.

Our FRESH relaxation Rx is: Relax for 10 minutes a day. Breathe, pray and/or practice some sort of mindful eating throughout your day.

Exercise

Ayurveda places a critical emphasis on exercise and moving your body throughout the day. According to the Ayurvedic concept of dinacharya, or a daily wellness regime, an individual must dedicate time every day for exercise. Ayurveda does not specify a detailed exercise regimen; it gives recommendations with an emphasis on the individual’s capacity.

There is an immense respect for individuality in this ancient science. Though Ayurveda asks for discipline and a daily commitment to exercise, it also recommends a balance. The three primary doshas in Ayurveda are linked not only to the human body and mind but also to the day. The entire day is divided into phases based on the doshas: the first phase is the kapha phase, followed by the pitta phase and then the vata phase.

Though it’s best to embrace a morning routine of moderate exercise, it’s better to stick to the discipline of daily exercise! Balance is not always about reaching a destination, but a constantly evolving process of practice.

Our FRESH exercise Rx is: Move 30 minutes a day.

Sleep

Sleep problems, like other health issues, arise from an imbalance of doshas/energies in the body. Ayurvedic medicine points to sleeplessness and insomnia being caused by excess vata and pitta energies. Pitta out of balance is also associated with intense, potentially disruptive dreaming. Excess kapha, on the other hand, is associated with oversleeping. The source of these imbalances can be any number of factors, including dietstress, lack of physical activity, and other illnesses.

A study from 2015 in India assessed dosha values and sleep patterns for a group of nearly 1,000 adults, and found people with higher vata scores experienced more symptoms of insomnia, including taking longer to fall asleep and feeling less rested in the morning. People with higher kapha scores had more daytime fatigue and sleepiness and took longer naps during the day. Other recent research has also shown a dominance of vata linked to more frequent awakenings throughout the night, and an excess of kapha to fatigue.

We recommend a breathing exercise as part of a pre-sleep routine like alternate nostril breathing to lower excess vata, to balance the left and right sides of the brain, and to help with sleeplessness. A simple practice such as rubbing an Ayurvedic oil, like jasmine or coconut oil on your temples has a calming effect that could lull you to sleep. Our FRESH sleep Rx is: Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

Happiness

Unfortunately, many people find themselves distressed or unhappy. According to Ayurveda, to be happy and satisfied, one needs to lead a balanced life, free from deprivation or overindulgence. Ayurveda has pointed out the connection between happiness and health, sorrow and disease.

Not only does health create happiness, but happiness also creates health. The Charaka Samhitā distinguishes between the happy and salutary life. The happy life (sukham āyu) leads to personal happiness whereas the salutary life (hitam. āyu) is focused on higher meaning and purpose in life, well-being of the universe. Simply, if you want to have a good life, you must seek out a path to get there. These three tips will get you started.

1. Choose long-term health benefits over short-term pleasures: Ayurveda says that we have two choices in life: You may choose the things that give you pleasure but do not make you happy; or you can choose what makes you truly happy. As a doctor, I have observed that some folks are mostly unhappy because they don’t make the right choices, rather they pursue the quick fix instead of the pursuit of happiness. Practice mindful decision making for ultimate health and happiness.

2. Have a healthy routine: For happiness, Ayurveda suggests you have a healthy routine, or dinacharya, with a fixed time to wake up, eat and do other important things. Even modern science has supported the benefits of having a routine—known to be good for mental health. It is also recommended to be in sync with nature and consume seasonal foods.

3. Develop a tribe of healthy people: With stress affecting every aspect of our daily life, it is important to choose a way of life that brings happiness and satisfaction to us, that philosophy extends to our friends. Social networks are contagious, surround yourself with people who care, are healthy and successful.

Our FRESH Happiness Rx is: “Other people matter,” because according to research in Positive Psychology, above all things, it’s people—not goals or things—that make us the happiest.

We really hope these FRESH concept tips offer you a balanced approach to obtain Swastha (health), the integration of the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda into our modern-day lives.

Richard Lamarita | Vitacost.com/Blog

This article was co-written by Richard LaMarita—a student and practitioner of Ayurveda for 35 years and a chef instructor for 25 years. He has been working as a chef instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City since 1994, and has extensive professional culinary experience. He served in the kitchens at New York City restaurants like Tabla and Savoy, and also as a private chef for well-known families and individuals.

LaMarita has studied Ayurveda in the United States and India, with accomplished masters and vaidyas, including Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He frequently leads workshops and retreats on Ayurveda and Ayurvedic diet.