Medically review by Kim Langdon
Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced for centuries.
If you've been focused on holistic living in general, practice yoga regularly or know anything about your chakras or your dosha, you've likely heard of Ayurveda.
Even if you haven't, you might be more versed in the foundations of it when you begin to see some of the most effective practices.
Maybe you're already doing some of them regularly!
The mission behind Ayurveda drives home the importance of finding balance in life.
It takes into account learning to understand and cater to your body's very innate needs: eating, cooking, cleansing, detoxing and healing as our environment changes around us, shifting with the seasons.
The definition of Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing.
It's a simple formula that helps us tune in and provides a natural form of medicine as well.
Ayurveda also stresses the need to take our bio-individuality into account when choosing what the best "medicine" for us is.
It's different strokes for different folks when it comes down to it because we can't all expect one singular approach to be the best across the boards.
You'll see that many daily Ayurvedic practices have variations that will help YOU decide what's right for... well, for you!
You can learn more about determining your dosha with this quiz.
Pranayama means the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises.
?Basically, one of the foundational tools of Ayurveda is breathing - and breathing deeply.
Big belly breaths, meditation, and yoga all come together for some seriously transformative habits you could and should take on for overall health and wellbeing, plus a true sense of peace.
The benefits of deep breathing include clearing the lungs of carbon dioxide, effectively increasing overall oxygen intake and even providing stimulation for the metabolism!
Belly breaths can also help strengthen the digestive fire a.k.a. "Agni" in Ayurveda. It can act like a massage for our internal organs helping to get things moving - literally.
Finally, it can help strengthen your core a bit (forget sit-ups - right?!) if you keep the movement centralized.
Pranayama should be different for each dosha, as the exercise balance will focus on the opposite qualities to restore balance.
You can read more about specific breathing exercises for your dosha here.
2. Tongue scraping & oil pulling
This is the dynamic duo of oral hygiene according to Ayurvedic medicine.
Both practices are thought to draw out toxins from the mouth - a big goal of Ayurvedic medicine - better than a toothbrush and toothpaste.
The practice helps to eliminate Ama which is any "accumulation of toxic residue."
?Tongue scraping is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; it's scraping or brushing the tongue to remove bacteria which generally results in fresher breath as it harbors more gunk than the teeth and gums, plus quite a few other notable benefits.
You can use a stainless steel scraper for the best results.
Oil pulling is rather simple. It's effective because coconut oil is antimicrobial which helps rid the mouth of bacteria as well.
To get started, just pop one or two tablespoons of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around with a bit of vigor, pushing it through all the teeth, for about 20 minutes.
Spit it out into the trash so as not to clog the sink and rinse. It is even thought to be effective in treating digestive disorders and heart disease.
Finally, having a clean mouth presents little obstruction in terms of tasting your food as much as possible.
Diet is a big part of Ayurveda, and you'll learn more about the eating habits you can practice daily.
Tongue scraping and coconut oil can clear the taste buds for better quality and depth of flavor in foods.
Not only will this help you eat mindfully and identify the six tastes, but it can also lead to less overeating as there will be more clarity in strong flavors like salt and sugar.
3. Lunch large
Have you heard the saying, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper?"
Ayurveda might have it that you switch breakfast and lunch around so that lunch is your biggest meal of the day, but the saying holds true regardless.
Evidently, there are benefits to limiting your larger meals to the beginning half of the day.
Go big or go home at breakfast and lunch with warming, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods, and limit dinner to a much lighter meal.
Another key to eating the Ayurvedic diet is to eat at least three hours before bed.
This allows our bodies to rest when they are naturally inclined to, so matching up our eating times with circadian rhythm is highly beneficial.
When our digestion isn't ideal, our digestive system releases toxins. The gut and our overall gut health are vital to wellbeing, immunity, susceptibility to disease, weight and weight management and even our mood.
By making lunch the focus of garnering nutrition during our day, we can improve digestion and get better sleep, overall reinforcing that Ayurvedic balance and detox with our diet.
4. Sweat it out
Ah, yet another fine way to detox the all-natural way. Notice how Ayurveda isn't telling you to supplement or juice cleanse?
The body is fantastic at detoxing itself; some habits just help it along the way and make the process more powerful, more effective and more noticeable.
Sweating is one of those habits. Whether you opt for a sauna, hot tub, natural hot springs if you're lucky, hot baths or exercise, letting your skin breathe is the ultimate form of bodily detoxification.
Another Ayurvedic option is Swedana. This is a full-body massage with oil traditionally followed by a steam, increasing the detox properties even more (and the relaxation!).
Sweating allows our pores to open up more than they normally would which subsequently gives them an opportunity to release more toxins.
Sweating also increases circulation and aids the body in shedding excess water weight.
Nobody can complain about being told to get a massage for your health. You're probably well aware of some of the benefits already.
Massage lowers blood pressure, increases muscle tone, reduces stress short- and long-term and increases lymphatic flow.
Ready to book your next sesh? Me too!
There are quite a few massage styles that are specific to Ayurveda that you could seek a professional masseuse.
Some examples include Shirodhara which works on the scalp and can improve mental clarity and overall focus and Abhyangam which is a full-body affair using medicated herbal oil which is used to release toxins, improve circulation and strengthen bones, joints, and muscles.
Ayurveda places huge stock in massage, and each variety has its own specific intention. You can read more about Ayurvedic massage here.
It can also be really helpful to massage at home. Many people don't practice self-massage regularly when it's a simple and effective Ayurvedic practice with hugely therapeutic advantages!
A simple abdominal massage - a part of the body very accessible to us for the full range of motion - can relieve constipation or menstrual cramps.
When massaging at home, you should generally follow circular movements on joints and long strokes on longer areas like the arms and legs.
You should also make it a point to spend time on parts of the body with lots of nerve endings, so the scalp, hands, and feet.
6. Find the six tastes in every meal
It will be good for you to know what these six tastes are. Look out for them, and better yet, be intentional about them.
You want a balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, and pungent.
It sounds like a lot of work - right?
Ayurveda is heavy on the spices. Not only are they delicious, but they're incredibly healing and medicinal.
Let's cover some ground with the foundational purposes of each taste.
Sweet: Balancing for Vata and Pitta. Grounding, nourishing. Promotes longevity, strength and healthy body tissue and fluids when eaten in moderation.
Good for those trying to gain weight. Associated with slow digestion. Commonly found in foods such as cereal, oats, dates, pumpkin, honey or maple syrup and licorice root.
Sour: Water + fire. Sparks emotion and thoughts. It can improve digestion and appetite. Aggressive to the body when consumed in excess.
Commonly found in foods like lemon, apple cider vinegar, and other vinegar varieties, fermented foods, wine and tamarind (common in Thai food).
Bitter: Air + space. Incredibly detoxifying. Cool and light compared to other Ayurvedic tastes. Most beneficial for Pitta. Mentally purifying.
Commonly found in foods such as many vegetables - especially green ones, turmeric, and most teas.
Astringent: Air + earth. This is a taste that is probably less easily identified than most. It can cause gas, so it should generally be used in moderation.
Pitta benefits the most from astringent food's coolness. Purifies and strengthens. Commonly found in foods such as legumes, green bananas, green grapes, pomegranates, sprouts, and okra.
Salty: Earth + fire. May aggravate Pitta and Kapha. Stimulates digestion. Balances electrolytes in the body. Cleanses tissues.
Pungent: Fire + air. The hottest of all tastes, so highly stimulating for digestion. Clears sinuses. Improves appetite. Heightens senses. Improves circulation of the blood.
It improves mental clarity and helps you to think clearly. Can aggravate Pitta. Most commonly found in foods such as ginger, onion, garlic, mustard, and hot peppers or spices derived from hot peppers.
7. Eat mindfully
At least avoid eating when you're heavily preoccupied with stress or negative emotions.
Heck - even positive stress can take away from the experience and be too distracting for us to sit down with our food.
It's also stressed to take your time while eating. Finally, it's helpful to eat in silence or without any intentional noise to distract the mind. Think of it as an extension of meditation.
In fact, apps like Headspace actually include meditations to use while eating to help guide you down the path of truly mindful consumption.
While there is a lot of emphasis on what we eat in modern-day diet culture, Ayurveda paints a big picture for us by dialing in on many aspects of what a meal is.
Between the emphasis on specific tastes and recognizing them - which is much easier done when eating mindfully - and avoiding heavy foods later in the day, to eating mostly hot, freshly cooked foods, it is very clearly a matter of connecting the mind and body with food rather than addressing them separately.
8. Strike a pose
You don't have to go for a full-on yoga sesh to take advantage of the benefits of striking a simple post.
Ideally, the pose of choice will open the heart, in which case you have a few options - including the pose shown above.
Another simple heart opener you can practice is to place a long body pillow lengthwise under the body, having the end meet the top of your buttocks near your tailbone.
This will give you chest a nice lift as you open it towards the sky, and provide support for your upper body while your lower body naturally rests below where the pillow rests.
What Ayurvedic practices do you think you'll work on first? Are you already doing any? Share with us YOUR experience, and share this article if you found it helpful! We'd love to spread the word of healing.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Dr. Kim Langdon, MD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She delivered over 2000 babies to mothers in a suburban Midwestern community.