Insights into Traditional Indian Medicine and Healing

Ayurvedic medicine, one of the world’s oldest systems of medicine, is becoming newly fashionable in the Western world. It’s no surprise given its literal meaning in Sanskrit — “the science of life.” To many, it seems exotic and difficult to understand — but, says John Douillard, DC, PhD, who for many years studied Ayurvedic medicine in India, it needn’t be so. Dr. Douillard, now an Ayurvedic provider and owner of LifeSpa, in Boulder, Colorado (, says that Ayurvedic teachings for optimal health are based on a few central and basic concepts.

The key principle of this ancient tradition is totally modern, pointing to stress as the major cause of disease. The Ayurvedic practice focuses on making the body resilient in order to respond calmly to stress. Food and diet are key in fueling the body’s resilience, with varying dietary needs based on seasonal and daily cycles and individual “type.”


In Ayurveda, the most important dietary rule is to eat with the seasons — emphasizing foods “in season.” Next comes the unique requirements of your body type. (More on how to identify your body type in just a moment.) In spring, the world delivers leafy greens, sprouts and fresh young vegetables that easily fall into the low-calorie, low-fat food recommended to provide the spring cleaning our bodies need to rebalance after the heavier foods of winter. Eat light, dry, warm foods as well as spicy, bitter and astringent ones… minimize sweet, salty and sour foods. Summer demands high energy and the summer bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables gives us that. Dr. Douillard says in summer focus on foods that are cool, sweet, bitter or astringent… minimize spicy, salty or sour foods that cause heat. In winter, food should represent the late fall harvest with root vegetables, nuts and seeds… also important is eating plenty of protein and fats to insulate against the cold. Foods such as stews and soups that are warm, heavy and oily are advised, as are sweet, sour and salty foods, which are the tastes associated with winter foods.


How and when you eat is also important. Dr. Douillard does not believe in grazing, but rather in eating three solid meals a day with no snacking in between. The reasoning for this Ayurvedic recommendation: The body will not use its fat as fuel — nor rid itself of the toxins in the fat — if you feed it every few hours. Ayurvedic practitioners also believe that the major meal should be at lunchtime when your digestion is most receptive. Eat all meals in a relaxed atmosphere without intrusion, be it the TV, newspaper or brooding on your worries of the day. Concentrate on the food — enjoy it and the company. This can make a significant difference to many Americans with our on-the-run lifestyle.


In Ayurveda, people are typed as vata, kapha and pitta. You may be strongly one type or, as is often the case, lean toward one with characteristics of another. Here is a brief description of the types:

  • Vata — although known as “winter types,” vata people dislike the cold. They have light, thin builds, move quickly, and tend toward dry skin, irregular hunger, constipation and digestion problems. Vatas are quick mentally but are often worried and anxious and may have trouble sleeping.
  • Kapha — “spring” people, are solid with heavier builds, have great strength and endurance and are slow, careful movers. They sleep well, have lots of thick hair and are tranquil and steady. Although they grasp new information slowly, they have excellent memories.
  • Pitta — “summer” people, have moderate builds, move and learn moderately quickly and have steady appetites. Hot weather makes them uncomfortable and they prefer cold food and drinks. Many have reddish hair and complexions and they may have trouble with irritability and anger, especially when hungry. They are enterprising and clever.

Knowing your type is valuable because it is the guide to what kind of food best fuels your body. Vatas, for example, should mostly avoid a raw diet because they are already cold and dry. With their highly flexible bodies, vatas favor yoga-type exercise, but they need to stabilize themselves with weight training as well. To give them structure, vatas need to eat regular meals, even though they seldom feel like it. Kaphas, because their systems tend to be sluggish, must be careful about foods that are sweet, sour or salty since these can lead to water retention. Kaphas gain weight easily and lose it slowly… if out of balance, normally muscular kaphas become heavy and lethargic. Kapha types require vigorous exercise, such as cardio or aerobic activities such as running, cycling or swimming. Pittas, on the other hand, metabolize rapidly and should eat on schedule. However pittas overheat easily and do best to avoid spicy foods and in summer, hot foods. When out of balance, pittas develop inflammation, ulcers, heartburn, excessive sweating and other heat-related conditions. Pitta types enjoy winter sports like skiing and skating, which help them stay cool. Pittas should balance individual activities with more team sports or less competitive activities like hiking and yoga to offset their over-zealous nature.

Grocery lists of the foods harvested in each of the three seasons, winter, summer and spring, can be downloaded from the articles section of Dr. Douillard’s Web site at


Interestingly, how you breathe makes an important contribution to your health too, says Dr. Douillard. We take about 28,000 breaths a day and each of them is an opportunity to open up the lower lobes of the lungs through what Dr. Douillard calls “whole lung breathing.” Shallow breathing reaches only the upper lungs and triggers the stress receptors. Whole lung breathing reaches the lower lobes and activates the calming receptors that reside there. It stimulates the lymphatic system so waste products can be efficiently carried from the body. Finally, breathing into the lower lobes allows the rib cage to be elastic and open.

Here is how to whole lung breathe: Breathe deeply through your nose only (the best way to activate the lower lung receptors) and inhale, filling up the lower lobes of the lungs, followed by the middle lobes and then the upper lobes. Then, squeeze out all the air, as best you can, as you exhale through the nose. This style of nasal breathing will ensure full respiratory capacity with each breath and is always recommended, even while doing moderate to vigorous exercise.

It’s helpful to the lymph system to drink hot water, says Dr. Douillard. Boil plain water — no added juice or even lemon slices that trigger digestion — and sip every 10 minutes throughout the day. Do this for two weeks. You may really like it… and if so, keep going. There is no reason to give up your hot water regimen.

An Ayurvedic diet is an easy-to-follow path that can help you find the way to feel your best, based on your unique needs. Of course, there is much more to Ayurvedic medicine and nutrition than what is described here, but this brief introduction should help you get started on the natural path it teaches. Detailed information about the seasons, the types and nutrition is in Dr. Douillard’s book, The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended. There are numerous other books as well that will take you much further in your study of an old system that fits remarkably well into life today.

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