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In general, Western medicine is pretty compartmentalized. If your skin is broken out, you book it to the derm. If you’re feeling down after a breakup, you call a therapist. Ayurveda, however, is more about putting all the pieces together: "It is very important to consider a person in their entirety — meaning as physical, emotional, and spiritual beings,” says Jyothi Bhatt, faculty member at the Kripalu School of Ayurveda in Massachusetts. Ayurvedic practitioners are not a one-stop shop, but they do help you address several aspects of your life. “You find that problems can begin way before the symptoms manifest themselves," Bhatt explains.
During the initial visit, you’ll find out your dosha, a unique Ayurvedic constitution made up of three different types of energies called Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. "Everyone has all three energies," says Ayurvedic practitioner Anisha Durve, L.Ac, "but one or two are usually more prominent, even when you are in balance." Although only a practitioner can give you the most accurate breakdown of your constitution, you can take this quiz to get a sense.
The tradition holds that Vata people are super creative, ambitious, lively, and always on the go, says Durve. When out of balance, however, Vatas have a tendency to become fatigued and very vulnerable to stress. Ayurvedic tradition recommends pairing certain foods with certain imbalances.
The Pitta crew is bright, determined, and sharp, says Durve. If thrown out of whack, though, they can become edgy, angry, and moody.
“Individuals who are Kapha dominant are calm, patient, and physically and mentally strong,” says Durve. “When out of balance they have too much of the heavy 'earth' element and become depressed, unmotivated, or stubborn.”
Wouldn't it be nice to relocate to the desert for all of allergy season? Luckily, there’s an easy Ayurvedic way to battle the runny noses and itchy eyes caused by all that spring pollen: a neti pot. “Use it in the morning and evening to cleanse the nasal tract of mucus and other debris," suggests Bhatt. "After, apply some coconut oil to the inside of the nose. This acts as a protective barrier preventing allergens from coming into direct contact with the nasal mucosa.”
Get Your Slick On
Modern society is constantly fighting against oil — rigorously mattifying oily complexions and frowning upon the slightest slick of hair. Ayurveda, on the other hand, is oil friendly.
Abhayanga, or self-massage, uses warmed oils to slowly stroke the body for 15 minutes daily, followed by a 15-minute rest and a warm shower. "Physiologically, it promotes circulation and lymphatic drainage. Plus, massage is a very relaxing ritual, so people report falling asleep quicker and thus are more energized during the day," says Bhatt. A pilot study found that daily Abhyanga lowered heart rate and blood pressure and reduced overall stress. Since scheduling regular rubdowns can certainly cut into your weekend bottomless brunch funds, this can be an easy and cheap alternative.
Oil pulling — the act of swishing an oil (commonly sesame or coconut) in the mouth for 15 minutes per day and then spitting it out — is another oily ritual that has the entire Internet abuzz. Devotees swear it can clear skin, remove toxins, cure migraines, and improve digestion. While most of these claims still need more research, both Ayurvedic and Western medicine agree that it’s pretty effective for keeping chompers clean. “[Oil pulling] maintains the health of the oral cavity, strengthens the teeth, and reduces bacteria in the mouth," says Bhatt. One study found that it reduced mouth bacteria and plaque after just two weeks; another reported it reduced gingivitis after 10 days.
Focus On How You Eat
Regardless of your dosha, digestion is key. According to Ayurveda, many health issues stem from poor metabolism and elimination. Bhatt notes that “if you don’t digest properly, you get a buildup of waste products,” which can cause issues such as acne or depression.
Mindful eating is also key, and studies have found that how we eat is just as important as what we eat. “Make sure you eat in a calm manner," Khalsa advises, "away from electronic devices. And, take a deep breath to develop full awareness." So, time to power down your MacBook and spend some quality time with your macaroni.
Not A Quick Fix
More and more of us are looking to alternative therapies to supplement traditional medical treatments, and Ayurveda offers some easy natural remedies. Still, it’s important to note that you can’t eat a crappy diet or skimp on sleep and expect to fix things with one herb or yoga posture. “Nothing ever changes with that approach. You have to include multiple interventions. It’s a gradual and multifaceted change,” says Chaudhary.