Mind-Body Balance: Burning Questions About Ayurveda

By Meagan McCrary

Ayurveda is a holistic, complimentary health-care system designed to restore and maintain balance in the mind and body. Known as yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda is considered the world’s oldest healing modality—providing a path of health and wellness that continues to help people stay vibrant and thriving. At its core is the principle of balance across three elemental mind-body states called doshas. The doshas each are associated with elements: Vata is associated with air and ether, pitta is associated with fire and water, and kapha is associated with earth and water.

Despite Ayurveda’s ancient roots, there are plenty of people who are unfamiliar with Ayurvedic principles. So 24Life asked Erin Casperson, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda and an Ayurveda health counselor, to answer some burning questions.

24Life: How does someone begin to learn about Ayurveda? Are online quizzes and tests a good place to start so that you can begin to understand what your mind-body (or dosha) type is?

Erin Casperson: The tests present a very Americanized version of Ayurveda, which is fine because that’s where we are and I think all of us love little tests. They ask about someone’s constitution or current state of being, or usually a mix of both. … So I don’t think the tests themselves are a problem. My issue with them is that there is never a step two. What do you do with that information?

[When a prospective client comes to me having taken a test], it shows me that somebody is interested, they’ve done a little research, they found some things out [and now they want to know] what to do with that information.

24Life: What are the benefits of working one-on-one with an Ayurvedic health counselor?

EC: A counselor will be able to identify which of your qualities are out of balance and which are in balance. Most people will go [see a counselor] either because they are curious about Ayurveda and want to know more or they come in with some sort of imbalance that they’re hoping to work with. Then the Ayurvedic health counselor will be able to provide individualized diet and lifestyle plans for that person.

Ayurvedic counselors will give you the recommendations that you need specifically for you, tailored for your needs. They can either promote balance or, if you’re balanced, help you maintain it. Often, I’ll see clients who just want to fine-tune their health.

24Life: Does Ayurveda require a complete life makeover?

EC: I love Ayurveda because it’s not all or nothing, but someone could make it all or nothing depending on his or her psychology. I love it because I’m a middle path kind of person, and [Ayurveda] is a middle path. It was never meant to be extreme.

Ayurveda is thousands of years old. [The world back then was] nothing like it is today. These practices were accessible to anyone of any lifestyle. Now we live in a world where most people are much busier, super exhausted, under-slept and over-scheduled. We don’t need to add any more extremes or complication to a world that’s already complicated.

What I’ve always appreciated about Ayurveda is that I can still live my regular, day-to-day life. It’s busy, so I have to be able to prioritize the practices that I need for myself in the morning and throughout the day. I can carve out some time in the morning to do a little meditation, some scent care, drink some hot water, make sure I’m eating some cooked foods throughout the day. You don’t have to turn the contents of your life upside down to cook a meal every couple of days, to scrape your tongue, to drink some hot water instead of cold water in the winter, to make a cup of tea, to take a breath and walk outside for a couple of minutes. You can sprinkle in practices throughout the day.

24Life: How long might it take to experience a change?

EC: The ambiguous answer in Ayurveda is that it depends. It really will depend on how long the imbalance has been present. In Ayurveda, there are six stages of disease, and we know that the first few stages of disease mostly take the form of mild disease or imbalance, typically of the digestive system. These conditions are really easy to treat. But depending on how long-standing the imbalance is, the strength of the imbalance, the strength of the person and the strength of the treatment, recovery might happen sooner—or take longer. Patience is a virtue in ayurveda.

24Life: It’s winter, or vata season, and Ayurveda practitioners advise seasonal changes in your diet and daily regimen. If someone is primarily a pitta or kapha type, how do the season’s ayurvedic principles apply?

EC: In Ayurveda, there are three main causes of disease. Two of them originate in the mind, and the third is temporal change such as the change in season or changes in life. (What I need as a baby is very different from what I need at midlife versus what I need when I’m in my older stages of life.)

Ayurveda says that each season brings a certain quality that affects all of us [regardless of type], so none of us are impervious to the change. We know that no matter what your constitution is, whether you’re vata, pitta or kapha, you’re generally going to experience some dryness in the winter because it’s the most predominate quality that we notice (or coldness).

But there’s a spectrum: If I have more of a vata constitution, which is considered dry, cold and mobile, I’m going to experience the winter changes much more deeply and probably more quickly than someone who has more pitta or kapha aspects in them. If you have more vata in your constitution, you’ll be more sensitive to [the discomfort] of this change [compared to] someone who is a pitta or kapha type. In summer, someone who has more pita or heat in his or her body will be less comfortable than a cooler vata type.

Video credit: dzamikhoff, Adobe Stock
Photo credit: Игор Чусь, Adobe Stock; voinsveta, Adobe Stock; scharfsinn86, Adobe Stock; Jeanette Dietl, Adobe Stock


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Meagan McCrary

Meagan McCrary is an experienced yoga teacher, freelance writer and author of "Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga". She has been featured in Yoga Journal, Om Yoga Magazine, Mantra Yoga Magazine and Sweat Equity Magazine, and regularly contributes to Highly knowledgeable in biomechanics and posture alignment, as well as restorative yoga practices, she has a passion for helping people find more ease, comfort and functionality in their bodies through a variety of modalities. Living and teaching in Southern California, Meagan teachers and works with a variety of clients specializing in yoga therapeutics, postural awareness, pain relief and prenatal yoga. You can also join her on one of her popular retreats.