Ayurvedic Theory II

When we last discussed Ayurvedic diets, I wrote about doshas, tastes, and energy (oh my!). I’ll add a few more helpful details in this post.

Use All Six Flavors

Last time, we discussed the six flavors (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent). It is important to try and incorporate all six tastes in each meal, even when one of those tastes might already be aggravated in your body.

This is because you need all six flavors and the elements they bring to your body. Your body is a complex system. Just because you have dry skin, doesn’t mean you should eat only oily things. It just means you need to rebalance your food intake to account for your condition. If you’ve been sleeping too much, it doesn’t mean you need to stop sleeping altogether.

Below: The six flavors, as pictured in the book Eat Taste Heal (our Ayurvedic texbook and an award-winning one, at that).

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The Gunas

Gunas are known as the “doshas of the mind.” Gunas are qualities that we see in our mental states and are affected by food, just like doshas. The gunas are:

  • Sattva – clarity, brightness, calmness
  • Raja – stimulation, movement
  • Tama – groundedness, heaviness, inertia

Just like doshas, the gunas can be out of balance. You can experience excess stimulation (rajas) or be overly settled and reach a point of stagnation and decay (tamas). What types of foods affect gunas?

  • Sattva – vegetables, fruit, very good dairy foods, fresh foods
  • Raja – meat, spicy foods, garlic
  • Tama – sweets, fats, alcohol, mushrooms, stale foods

It doesn’t mean that tamasic foods (foods that produce tamas) are bad – just something to be wary of. Usually, people strive for sattvic energy and foods producing sattva because clarity and calm are valued.

Doshas and the Seasons

Certain energies – doshas – are more active during certain times of year. Summer is hot and sultry – pitta is strong at this time. Fall and early winter is windy and change is in the air – vata energy is strongest. And late winter and spring has grounding, but steady energy – the growth regulating energy of kapha takes the lead.

Below: Cacao nibs are primarily bitter in flavor.

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With doshas varying by season, it’s important to avoid aggravating the dosha that is already naturally high in that season. So, in summer, it’s important to avoid hot, pungent foods, especially for someone with a strong pitta constitution. If not, such a pitta person might experience symptoms indicating too much pitta energy (e.g., inflammation, irritability).

Doshas and the Daily Cycle

Each time of day is associated with doshic energy. For example, the middle of the day is when our digestive fires are burning strongest and when the heat of the day is at it’s peak – that would be a time when pitta energy is more strong in the environment relative to the others. And how about when people generally feel most productive and have the steadiest energy for work? Morning (6 – 10am) and late afternoon (after 6pm). I know those times are when I feel most productive and those are kapha times, since kapha is about steady energy. Inconsistent, variable vata is highest in mid afternoon and in the very early morning (2 – 6am).

Random: On a break from class, I saw this walking stick in the parking lot.

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