by Dr. Vasant Lad
A Brief Introduction and Guide
(originally published at http://www.ayurveda.com/info/ayurintro.htm)
Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest
In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means "The Science of Life." Ayurvedic knowledge
originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is often called the
of All Healing." It stems from the ancient Vedic culture and was taught
for many thousands of years in an oral tradition from accomplished
to their disciples. Some of this knowledge was set to print a few
years ago, but much of it is inaccessible. The principles of many of
natural healing systems now familiar in the West have their roots in
including Homeopathy and Polarity Therapy.
Strategy: Your Constitution
and Its Inner Balance
Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the
of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right
diet, lifestyle and the use of herbs. Knowledge of Ayurveda enables one
to understand how to create this balance of body, mind and
according to one’s own individual constitution and how to make
changes to bring about and maintain this balance.
Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, each person has a
pattern of energy—an individual combination of physical, mental and
characteristics—which comprises their own constitution. This
is determined at conception by a number of factors and remains the same
throughout one’s life.
Many factors, both internal and external, act upon us to
balance and are reflected as a change in one’s constitution from the
state. Examples of these emotional and physical stresses include one’s
emotional state, diet and food choices, seasons and weather, physical
work and family relationships. Once these factors are understood, one
take appropriate actions to nullify or minimize their effects or
the causes of imbalance and re-establish one’s original constitution.
is the natural order; imbalance is disorder. Health is order; disease
disorder. Within the body there is a constant interaction between order
and disorder. When one understands the nature and structure of
one can re-establish order.
Balancing the Three Principle
Energies of the
Ayurveda identifies three basic types of energy or functional
that are present in everyone and everything. Since there are no single
words in English that convey these concepts, we use the original
words vata, pitta and kapha. These principles can be
to the basic biology of the body.
Energy is required to create movement so that fluids and
to the cells, enabling the body to function. Energy is also required to
metabolize the nutrients in the cells, and is called for to lubricate
maintain the structure of the cell. Vata is the energy of
the energy of digestion or metabolism and kapha, the energy of
and structure. All people have the qualities of vata, pitta and
but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third is usually
prominent. The cause of disease in Ayurveda is viewed as a lack of
cellular function due to an excess or deficiency of vata, pitta
or kapha. Disease can also be caused by the presence of toxins.
In Ayurveda, body, mind and consciousness work together in
balance. They are simply viewed as different facets of one’s being. To
learn how to balance the body, mind and consciousness requires an
of how vata, pitta and kapha work together.
to Ayurvedic philosophy the entire cosmos is an interplay of the
of the five great elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Vata,
pitta and kapha are combinations and permutations of these
elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation. In the
body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta the
of digestion and metabolism, and kapha the energy that forms
is the subtle energy associated with movement — composed of Space
Air. It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement,
of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. In
balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of
produces fear and anxiety.
expresses as the body’s metabolic system — made up of Fire and
It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism
body temperature. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and
Out of balance, pitta arouses anger, hatred and jealousy.
is the energy that forms the body’s structure — bones, muscles,
— and provides the "glue" that holds the cells together, formed from
and Water. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and
It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. In
balance, kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness.
of balance, it leads to attachment, greed and envy.
Life presents us with many challenges and opportunities.
is much over which we have little control, we do have the power to
about some things, such as diet and lifestyle. To maintain balance and
health, it is important to pay attention to these decisions. Diet and
appropriate to one’s individual constitution strengthen the body, mind
Ayurveda as a Complementary System
The basic difference between Ayurveda and Western
medicine is important to understand. Western allopathic medicine
tends to focus on symptomatology and disease, and primarily uses drugs
and surgery to rid the body of pathogens or diseased tissue. Many lives
have been saved by this approach. In fact, surgery is encompassed by
However, drugs, because of their toxicity, often weaken the body.
does not focus on disease. Rather, Ayurveda maintains that all life
be supported by energy in balance. When there is minimal stress and the
flow of energy within a person is balanced, the body’s natural defense
systems will be strong and can more easily defend against disease.
It must be emphasized that Ayurveda is not a
for Western allopathic medicine. There are many instances when the
process and acute conditions can best be treated with drugs or surgery.
Ayurveda can be used in conjunction with Western medicine to make a
stronger and less likely to be afflicted with disease and/or to rebuild
the body after being treated with drugs or surgery.
We all have times when we don’t feel well and
that we’re out of balance. Sometimes we go to the doctor only to be
there is nothing wrong. What is actually occurring is that this
has not yet become recognizable as a disease. Yet it is serious enough
to make us notice our discomfort. We may start to wonder whether it is
just our imagination. We may also begin to consider alternative
and actively seek to create balance in our body, mind and consciousness.
Evaluation and Treatment of
Ayurveda encompasses various techniques for assessing health. The
carefully evaluates key signs and symptoms of illness, especially in
to the origin and cause of an imbalance. They also consider the
suitability for various treatments. The practitioner arrives at
through direct questioning, observation and a physical exam, as well as
inference. Basic techniques such taking the pulse, observing the
eyes and physical form; and listening to the tone of the voice are
during an assessment.
Palliative and cleansing measures, when appropriate, can be
help eliminate an imbalance along with suggestions for eliminating or
the causes of the imbalance. Recommendations may include the
of lifestyle changes; starting and maintaining a suggested diet; and
use of herbs. In some cases, participating in a cleansing program,
panchakarma, is suggested to help the body rid itself of accumulated
to gain more benefit from the various suggested measures of treatment.
In summary, Ayurveda addresses all aspects of life—the body,
spirit. It recognizes that each of us is unique, each responds
to the many aspects of life, each possesses different strengths and
Through insight, understanding and experience Ayurveda presents a vast
wealth of information on the relationships between causes and their
both immediate and subtle, for each unique individual.
The Energy of Movement
Vata provides the essential motion for all bodily
is extremely vital for health. On an annual basis, vata is most
prominent in the fall and at the change of seasons, and these are the
important times to be careful of diet and lifestyle. One purpose of
considerations is stabilize this motion. Routine is very useful in
the vata individual to effectively ground all this moving
A person with vata predominant is blessed with a quick
flexibility and creativity. Mentally, they usually grasp concepts
but then forget them just as quickly. Alert, restless and very active, vata
people walk, talk and think fast, but are easily fatigued. They tend to
have less willpower, confidence, boldness and tolerance for fluctuation
than other types and often feel unstable and ungrounded. When
types may become fearful, nervous and anxious. In the external world, vata
types tend to earn money quickly and spend it quickly. They are not
planners and as a consequence may suffer economic hardship.
Vata types have variable appetite and digestion. They
attracted to astringent foods like salad and raw vegetables, but their
constitution is balanced by warm, cooked foods and sweet, sour and
tastes. With a tendency to produce little urine, their feces are often
hard, dry and small in size and quantity.
Vata resides in the colon, as well as the brain, ears,
joints, skin and thighs. Vata people are more susceptible to
involving the air principle, such as emphysema, pneumonia and
Other common vata disorders include flatulence, tics, twitches,
aching joints, dry skin and hair, nerve disorders, constipation, and
confusion. Vata in the body tends to increase with age as is
by the drying and wrinkling of the skin.
Since the attributes of vata are dry, light, cold,
mobile and clear, any of these qualities in excess can cause imbalance.
Frequent travel, especially by plane, loud noises, continual
drugs, sugar and alcohol all derange vata, as does exposure to
and cold liquids and foods. Like the wind, vata types have a
time becoming and staying grounded. Routine is difficult but essential
if vata is to be lowered and controlled. It is best for vata
types to go to bed by 10 pm as they need more rest than the other
In general, people with excessive vata respond most rapidly to
moist, slightly oily, heavy foods. Steam baths, humidifiers and
in general are helpful. Daily oil massage before bath or shower is also
General food guidelines for decreasing vata include warm,
unctuous foods. One should have small meals three or four times a day
may snack as needed while maintaining a two hour gap between each meal.
Regularity in meal times is important for vata. Those with vata-dominant
constitutions do well with one-pot meals such as soups, stews and
They can use more oil in cooking their foods than the other two doshas
and experience better digestion if they limit their intake of raw
Well-cooked oats and rice are good for vata because
not too drying when cooked with plenty of water and butter or ghee.
cooked vegetables are best for vata, the occasional salad with
good oily or creamy dressing is all right. Nightshades—tomatoes,
eggplants and peppers—as well as spinach should be avoided if the vata
person has stiff, aching joints or muscles. Sweet, ripe and juicy
are good for vata. The astringent and drying fruits, such as
pomegranates and raw apples, should be avoided. Fruit should always be
eaten by itself on an empty stomach.
Many vata people can satisfy their need for protein by
use of dairy products, but can also use eggs, chicken, turkey, fresh
and venison if they wish. Legumes are difficult to digest and should be
consumed in limited quantity by those trying to pacify vata.
legumes should be the split type and soaked before cooking. Cooking
with a little oil and spices, such as turmeric, cumin, coriander,
garlic and hing (asafoetida), will help prevent vata from being
All nuts and seeds are good for vata, but are best
used as butters
or milks. Ten almonds, soaked in water overnight with skins removed the
next morning, are a satisfying early morning food. Sesame oil is
for vata, but all oils are good. All dairy products are good
with hard cheese being eaten sparingly. All spices are good, but should
not be overused. Vatas can have half a glass of wine, diluted
water, during or after a meal. Since vata people tend to be
to addiction, they should avoid sugar, caffeine and tobacco. Intensity
itself can be intoxicating to vata, so one should seek
and meditation to reduce vata.
General guidelines for balancing
||Eat warm foods and spices
||Keep a regular routine
|Avoid cold, frozen or
||Get plenty of rest
|Avoid extreme cold
The Energy of Digestion and Metabolism
Pitta types have many of the qualities of fire. Fire is
sharp and agitating. Similarly, pitta people have warm bodies,
ideas and sharp intelligence. When out of balance, they can become very
agitated and short-tempered. The pitta body type is one of
height and build, with ruddy or coppery skin. They may have many moles
and freckles. Their skin is warm and less wrinkled than vata
Their hair tends to be silky and they often experience premature
or hair loss. Their eyes are of medium size and the conjunctiva is
The nose is sharp and the tip tends to be reddish.
Those with pitta-dominant constitutions have a strong
good digestion and strong appetites. They like plenty of food and
and tend to love hot spices and cold drinks. However, their
is balanced by sweet, bitter and astringent tastes. Pitta
sleep is sound and of medium duration. They produce large quantities of
urine and feces, which tend to be yellowish, soft and plentiful. They
easily and their hands and feet stay warm. Pitta people have a
tolerance for sunlight, heat and hard physical work.
Mentally, pitta types are alert and intelligent and
powers of comprehension. However, they are easily agitated and
and tend toward hate, anger and jealousy when imbalanced. In the
world, pitta people like to be leaders and planners and seek
prosperity. They like to exhibit their wealth and possessions. Pitta
people tend to have diseases involving the fire principle such as
inflammatory diseases and jaundice. Common symptoms include skin
burning sensation, ulceration, fever, inflammations or irritations such
as conjunctivitis, colitis or sore throats.
Since the attributes of pitta are oily, hot, light,
and liquid, an excess of any of these qualities aggravates pitta.
Summer is a time of heat, the pitta season. Sunburn, poison
prickly heat and short tempers are common. These kinds of pitta
disorders tend to calm down as the weather gets cooler. The diet and
changes emphasize coolness—cool foods, avoidance of chilies and spices
(especially difficult for New Mexicans), and cool climates. People with
excessive pitta need to exercise at the coolest part of the
General food guidelines for pacifying pitta include avoiding
salty and pungent foods. Vegetarianism is best for pitta people
and they should refrain from eating meat, eggs, alcohol and salt. To
calm their natural aggressiveness and compulsiveness, it is beneficial
to incorporate sweet, cooling and bitter foods and tastes into their
Barley, rice, oats and wheat are good grains for pitta
individuals and vegetables should form a substantial part of their
Tomatoes, radishes, chilies, garlic and raw onions should all be
In fact, any vegetable that is too sour or hot will aggravate pitta,
but most other vegetables will help to calm it. Daikon radishes are
for the liver when pitta is in balance but should be avoided
Salads and raw vegetables are good for pitta types in the
and summer as are any sweet fruits. Sour fruits should be avoided with
the exception of limes, used sparingly.
Animal foods, especially seafood and eggs, should only be
taken in moderation
by pitta types. Chicken, turkey, rabbit and venison are all
All legumes except red and yellow lentils are good in small amounts,
black lentils, chickpeas and mung beans being the best.
Most nuts and seeds have too much oil and are heating for pitta.
However, coconut is cooling and sunflower and pumpkin seeds are all
occasionally. Small amounts of coconut, olive and sunflower oils are
good for pitta.
Sweet dairy products are good and include milk, unsalted
and soft, unsalted cheeses. Yogurt can be used if it is blended with
a little sweetener and water. In fact, pitta people can use a
better than the other two doshas because it relieves pitta.
However, they should avoid hot spices, using cardamom, cinnamon,
fennel and turmeric predominantly, with small amounts of cumin and
Coffee, alcohol and tobacco should be completely avoided
occasional beer may be relaxing for a pitta person. Black tea
also be used occasionally with a little milk and a pinch of cardamom.
General guidelines for balancing
|Avoid excessive heat
||Eat cooling, non-spicy
|Avoid excessive oil
||Exercise during the
cooler part of the
|Avoid excessive steam
|Limit salt intake
The Energy of Lubrication
Kapha types are blessed with strength, endurance and
balance, they tend to have sweet, loving dispositions and be stable and
grounded. Their skin is oily and smooth. Physically, kapha
may gain weight easily and have a slow metabolism. They tend to shun
They have thick skin and their bodies and muscles are well developed.
eyes are large and attractive with thick, long lashes and brows. Kapha
people evacuate slowly and feces tend to be soft, pale and oily.
is moderate. Sleep is deep and prolonged. Kapha types are
to sweet, salty and oily foods, but their constitutions are most
by bitter, astringent and pungent tastes.
Psychologically, kapha people tend to be calm,
tolerant and forgiving.
However, they may become lethargic. While they may be slow to
their long term memory is excellent. When out of balance, kaphas
tend to experience greed, envy, attachment and possessiveness. In the
world, kapha tendencies toward groundedness, stability and
help them to earn and hold onto money.
They are more likely to have diseases connected to the water
such as flu, sinus congestion, and other diseases involving mucous.
excess weight, diabetes, water retention, and headaches are also
can become more aggravated as the moon gets full because there is a
for water retention at that time. Winter is the time of greatest kapha
accumulation and following the kapha-balancing dietary and
changes are most important during that season.
Dietary guidelines for kapha people stress bitter, astringent
pungent tastes. They actually need foods that will invigorate their
while limiting their overall consumption of food. They should avoid
products and fats of any kind, especially fried or greasy foods. and
Those with kapha dominant constitutions need less
grain than pitta
or vata constitutions with buckwheat and millet (more heating)
optimal grains for them followed by barley, rice and corn. Roasted or
cooked grains are best. All vegetables are good for kapha but
should emphasize leafy greens and vegetables grown above ground more
root vegetables while avoiding very sweet, sour or juicy vegetables.
kapha people can eat raw vegetables although steamed or stir-fried
are easier to digest. Very sweet or sour fruits should be avoided with
the more astringent and drying fruits being preferable such as apples,
apricots, cranberries, mangoes, peaches and pears.
Only rarely do kapha people need animal foods and,
do, it should be dry cooked—baked, roasted, broiled—never fried. They
eat chicken, eggs, rabbit, seafood and venison. As their bodies do not
require large amounts of protein, they also should not overeat legumes
although these are better for them than meat because of the lack of
Black beans, mung beans, pinto beans and red lentils are best for kapha
The heavy qualities of nuts and seeds aggravate kapha
the oil in them. Occasional sunflower and pumpkin seeds are all right.
Almond, corn, safflower or sunflower oils can be used in small amounts
as well. The same holds true for dairy products: in general, kapha
people should avoid the heavy, cooling, sweet qualities of dairy. A
for cooking and some consumption of goat’s milk is good for kapha
Since kapha people should avoid sweets, the only
should use is raw honey, which is heating. However, they can use all
except salt, with ginger and garlic being best for them. A person whose
dominant dosha is kapha and who has very little
from the other two doshas can benefit from the occasional use
stimulants such as coffee and tea. They are also not as harmed by
and hard liquor. However, they really do not need alcohol at all. If
elect to use alcohol, wine is their best choice.
General guidelines for balancing
|Get plenty of exercise
||Vary your routine
|Avoid heavy foods
||Avoid fatty, oily foods
||Eat light, dry food
||No daytime naps
|Avoid iced food or drinks
Remember that your progress toward balance and health is
to how well you stick to the guidelines of diet and lifestyle. Old
sometimes die hard and your changes may be very gradual but, to achieve
progress, the changes need to be made. You are in charge of your own
If you wish to learn more about Ayurveda, there is a
the end of this booklet. We highly recommend Dr. Lad’s Ayurveda:
Science of Self-Healing for a conceptual understanding of Vata,
Pitta and Kapha. For guidelines and explanations about the
approach to food and healing, we also recommend Usha Lad and Dr. Lad’s
cookbook, Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing.
Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing. Lotus
Santa Fe, 1984.
Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing.
2d ed. The Ayurvedic Press: Albuquerque, 1997.
Morrison, Judith H. The Book of Ayurveda: A Holistic Approach to
Health and Longevity. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1995, A
Svoboda, Robert E. The Hidden Secret of Ayurveda. Pune, India,
1980; reprint, The Ayurvedic Press: Albuquerque, 1994.
Svoboda, Robert E. Prakruti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution.
Limited: Albuquerque, 1989.
Svoboda, Robert E. Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity.
Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies.
Books: New York, 1998.
Lad, Vasant. Secrets of the Pulse: The Ancient Art of Ayurvedic
Pulse Diagnosis. The Ayurvedic Press: Albuquerque, 1996.
Frawley, David, and Vasant Lad. The Yoga of Herbs. Lotus Press:
Santa Fe, 1986.
Frawley, David. Ayurvedic Healing. Morson Publishing: Salt Lake
The above books are recommended in an order of the simplest to the
most complex, that is, from those containing basic Ayurvedic knowledge
to those with resource and reference information.
For more information on Ayurveda and services offered,
The Ayurvedic Institute
11311 Menaul NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87112
(505) 291-9698 FAX: (505) 294-7572