Happy and healthy new year everyone from HolaTomorrow! Have you listened very closely to your body recently? In the year of the pandemic, every little cough, every sore throat, was a cause for concern. I know I’m not the only one who has felt a tiny bit under the weather for a few hours and freaked out about it. Health is our main preoccupation these days, even for the younger generations.
What about prevention?
We have so many reasons to be grateful for modern medicine, now more than ever. It is hard to forget the images of brave doctors and medical staff fighting for their patients’ lives in the intensive care units around the globe. Modern medicine is a blessing when it comes to treating diseases. But what can we do to not get sick in the first place? How can we have the best possible immune response and stay healthy?
I always thought it was strange how everyone is concerned about getting sick, yet we hardly ever talk about prevention. (And I don’t just mean wearing a mask, washing your hands, not touching your face or getting vaccinated.)
For some time now, I’ve been studying the oldest holistic medical system in the world, Ayurveda. I’d like to give you a small and basic introduction, as well as a recipe at the end of the article for your personal Dosha Chai Tea for cold January days.
Āyur-veda is a Sanskrit word that translates to “the science of life.”: It was developed thousands of years ago on the Indian subcontinent where it is still practiced today. Ayurveda encompasses a variety of prophylactic (preventive) and healing (curative) methods. The emphasis lies in nutrition, herbal medicine, purification and drainage procedures, massages and manual treatments as well as yoga and meditation. The effectiveness of many of these methods has been scientifically proven according to Western standards. The WHO officially recognized Ayurveda as “traditional medicine” in 1976.
Ayurveda has a holistic approach to health and always seeks to see the individual patient rather than his or her symptoms. It teaches us the basic principles of how to live a balanced life in a harmonious relationship of body, mind, soul and the environment that surrounds us. Respect for nature and appreciation of life are the guidelines for a healthy body and a happy existence.
The first step is to comprehend our innate-nature and know our personal and unique constitution to better understand what our body needs to thrive.
According to Ayurveda, there are three principles (doshas) that each command a specific force in all living things and are associated with certain sensory qualities.
These 3 Doshas can be translated as “bioenergies” that lay behind all of our bodily functions: Vata (air and ether), Pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (earth and water). Each of us possesses a unique percentage of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Our Prakriti (Sanskrit: “nature,” “source”) is our very own permanent biological identity, the exact combination of doshas that rule in our body.
To find out which Dosha(s) predominates your constitution is the first step into seeing your body from a different perspective. This is a good source for a quick online quiz but does not replace a proper consultation by an ayurvedic practitioner.
In a nutshell, Ayurvedic teachings seek to maintain the balance of your Doshas to stay healthy (-> prevention) or to eliminate imbalances when you’re already feeling sick. Many people have a combination of two doshas, in which case, some of the recommendations might be contradictory, but the goal is to find out which Dosha is unbalanced at the moment. A Vata-Pitta person is more likely to have a Pitta induced imbalance during summer and a Vata induced imbalance during winter. This is a good example of how Ayurveda takes nature and your personal environment very seriously and isn’t a “one solution fits all” philosophy. You can also have an imbalance in a Dosha that is not predominant in your constitution, for example after life-changing or very stressful events.
Vata (air and ether)
If you have asked yourself why your funny and enthusiastic but sometimes anxious friend hates Winter and always has cold hands and feet it might have to do with his or her Vata constitution.
Vata Dosha represents movement in your body. From the air you breathe in and out to the blood circulation or your mental activity: Vata controls every subtle movement.
It is the most delicate Dosha of the three and much more unstable than the others, which means that regardless of our constitution, we all have to balance our Vata from time to time to not get “blown off our feet.” Vata is a bit too high in almost everyone these days since our stressful, hectic, urban life in front of too many screens and too little sleep aggravates this Dosha.
Vata characteristics are cold, light, dry and rough. Too much Vata in your body creates an imbalance that can lead to a variety of severe diseases, but it can start with anxiety, insomnia, headache, joint pain, dry skin, cold hands and feet, constipation or circulation problems. Vata people tend to be rather skinny and normally talk, move and think fast. In a balanced Vatha we see enthusiasm and a happy, creative and social character.
It is important to know that the Vata inside us aggravates in the Vata season (late fall/winter), which makes it even more important to balance this Dosha in the cold, windy time of the year. Vata people are to avoid raw vegetables and caffeine and instead stick to grounding comfort food: cooked, moist and saucy (like in a stew), warm beverages and hot spices are ideal for warming you up from the inside. Also, the use of Ghee (clarified butter) in your dishes and warm sesame oil (applied on the soles of your feet before bedtime) are recommended to nourish and eliminate the dryness in the body.
Pitta (fire and water)
Do you know someone with rather light skin and/or freckles who is a born leader, eloquent and decisive but often suffers from acid reflux, Diarrhea or rashes? Maybe it’s because of his/her Pitta imbalance.
Pitta Dosha represents the abstract quality of metabolism and transformation. It is the “fire” that regulates your body temperature and that our digestion needs to convert food into energy. That is the reason why our digestion works best when the sun is at its peak. So people of all Doshas should have their main meal of the day around midday.
Pittas “hot” quality is responsible for a good vision, a sharp intellect, and glowing skin. Pitta people are competitive, perfectionists, and have a strong appetite. Heat conditions of the body aggravate Pitta, so in summer it is especially important to cool down from the inside (coconut water is an amazing remedy, as well as camomile and spices like fennel or coriander). An imbalanced Pitta (particularly under the influence of alcohol or too much caffeine) can become an angry hot-head, and their body can react with an acid stomach, sun sensitivity or rashes. Favour cool but not ice-cold beverages and avoid salty, spicy, fried and fermented foods that heat your body up even more. Also meditation is a good way to “cool” your mind and control your temper.
Kapha (earth and water)
We all want and need this type of friend: Loyal, laidback, joyful, loving and of a steady character. Solid as a rock. If you have a Kapha friend like this, you can call yourself lucky. He/She’ll need you to kick his or her butt from time to time though because your friend might need a little extra push to get up from the sofa.
Kapha dosha represents the quality of structure and gives us stability and strength. Potency and fertility are related to the Kapha Dosha as well as emotions like love, generosity and courage. It is the least likely of all Doshas to go out of balance and are also much more resistant to extreme temperatures. A typical Kapha person is rather large and strong and has well-developed muscles and teeth. They tend to have good health even though an imbalanced Kapha Dosha can lead to obesity and diabetes, respiratory problems like bronchitis and lethargy or depression.
Our main Kapha moment is the first third of our life and small children are the best example to understand how Kapha energy works: everything chubby and cuddly and expanding is driven by the Kapha Dosha. During pregnancy, Kapha rises and women who have a rather hot Pitta or a nervous Vata temper get softer and calmer.
To balance a Kapha predominance, physical activity is needed as well as a light, warm diet. Hot spices help to keep the digestion active and sweets should be avoided as much as possible.
Chai tea recipe for all Doshas
1L / 4 cups water
1 tablespoon grated ginger
10-12 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
12-15 black peppercorns
⅛ stick cinnamon
2 -3 tablespoons strong black tea, such as assam or ceylon
– Bring the water to a boil and add the ginger and spices you have smashed in a mortar
– Simmer for about 10 minutes
– Add tea and simmer for another 3-5 minutes
– Strain and add milk and sweetener to taste
Variation for Vatha Dosha:
This is the perfect tea for you! Ginger, cardamom and cinnamon are exactly what you need to balance your Dosha. You might want to use Rooibos tea instead of black tea if you’re very sensitive and please go easy on the peppercorns. Too spicy isn’t ideal for you. Add honey as a sweetener because of its warming effect.
Variation for Pitta Dosha:
Your tea should have a good amount of milk (if you choose a veggie option coconut milk suits perfectly) since its cool and sweet characteristics help you wind down. Also decrease the amount of cloves and black peppercorns and to add a teaspoon of fennel seeds instead to make your tea less pungy. Your sweetener should be maple sirup instead of honey because of its cooling effect.
Variation for Kapha Dosha:
Kapha thrives with hot spices so don’t hold back and give yourself some heat. The black tea is amazing for stimulation and you should use this effect by not simmering the black tea for too long (rather 3 than 5 minutes). Please use as little milk and sweetener as you can and prefer almond milk since cow milk aggravates Kapha Dosha.