If you've spent any time among the internet's very active wellness community over the past few years, you'll more than likely have come across the concept of "ayurveda".
But what if you've got this far and haven't actually figured out what "ayurveda" means yet? Is it something you should be paying attention to? Here, we try to break down what you need to know and figure out whether you too need to jump on (yet another) wellness bandwagon.
What is ayurveda?
It began to develop thousands of years ago in India and comes from the Sanskrit words for "life knowledge". Today, it is considered a "complementary medicine" which means that, in the UK at least, it should be used alongside (not in place of) conventional and mainstream medicines.
What is my ayurvedic body type?
There are three different body types – or "doshas" – in ayurveda. "Vata" is represented by water and air, and "pitta" by fire and water, while "kapha" is represented by earth and water. In most bodies, one or two doshas dominate, although it is possible to be tri-doshic and have a balance across all three.
In ayurveda, it is believed that if the doshas become imbalanced, symptoms can occur. For instance, according to Life Spa, if the vata is out of whack, you could get dry or rough skin, anxiety, insomnia and more. When it comes to the kapha being imbalanced, though, that can encourage oily skin, slow digestion and nasal allergies (among others). For an imbalance in pitta, you could expect rashes, stomach aches and diarrhoea.
People with one dosha more prominent than the others tend to share a certain set of traits. According to MindBodyGreen, vata-dominant people are physically tall and slender, have dry hair and skin and, personality-wise, are creative, emotional and excitable. Pitta-dominant people are fair, strong and sturdy. They are assertive, confident and dominant. Kapha-dominant people are soft – with soft skin, hair and eyes. They are easy-going and non-judgemental.
What are ayurvedic treatments?
Treatments in this area are not just fancy massages with the word "ayurvedic" slapped on top. No, they involve working with an ayurvedic practitioner on a "panchakarma" or, as the Ayurvedic Clinic in London calls it, the “Science of Rejuvenation”.
"In this process the body is purified of the degenerating influence of these foreign substances [toxic impurities] thus freeing it to naturally exercise its inherent rejuvenating abilities," they say. Your panchakarma might include a special diet and massages with personally curated oils and herbs. You may undergo a "Dhara Sweda" – a special steam bed – which will help the herbs and oils be absorbed by the skin more effectively.
The aim of panchakarma is to rid the body of toxins so the end result is, well, expelling those toxins. This might be through colonic irrigation, imbibing a natural concoction with laxative effects, or one that works upwardly – causing you to expel toxins through phlegm and coughing.
Does ayurvedic medicine work?
Well, as mentioned above, in the UK at least, it's considered a complementary therapy. That is, it comes with no official medical recommendations but, for some people, it may have holistic benefits. A 2006 study from York University about the effect of ayurvedic treatments on rheumatoid arthritis found "no clear evidence" that it was beneficial. A 2007 study from the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group, which analysed the use of ayurvedic medicine in treating the symptoms of schizophrenia found that it "may" be helpful to sufferers. A 2016 study of the effects of ayurvedic oil-dripping found it "may" help to improve sleep.
What is an ayurvedic diet?
We would only ever encourage you to eat a balanced diet of whole foods. Don't cut out anything you love for the sake of an inconclusive diet concept you read about on the internet. Listen to your body and feed it well, with the foods it needs.
If you are interested in learning what people are on about when they talk about the ayurvedic diet, though, let's take a little look.
An ayurvedic diet is tailored to your specific breakdown of doshas. To be clear, it is not for losing weight. Rather it is said to be used to help maintain the balance of energy in your body. According to ayurvedic principles, keeping this balance can maintain a healthy body and, some say, prevent illnesses*.
Essentially, an ayurvedic diet is about eating foods that oppose your dominant dosha. There's a really nice explanation of it on Ayurveda College but, in brief: to balance your vata, you are encouraged to eat warm, oily foods – cooked rice and vegetables, warm milk, and rich and warm spices; to bring balance to the pitta (remember this is fire and water, all about being warm and moist), you are told to eat dry and cold foods – raw veg, wheat, beans and bitter herbs; for kapha balance, it is recommended you eat "light and dry" foods like vegetables and steer clear of heavy things like nuts and dairy.
*We say, be very careful about anything that claims to prevent illnesses. Sure, healthy eating goes a long way to keeping your body ticking over but always rely on doctors' advice and scientifically proven medicine when it comes to specifically preventing or curing ailments.