The Ayurvedic Holistic Approach to Wellbeing

Let’s look at the ancient health system of Ayurvedic wellbeing today and see whether it can still be useful to us.

You might ask, “Why do we need to talk about some exotic, possibly outdated, system when you can tell us about good diet, exercise, etc.?”

Here are 3 good reasons:

  1. Modern day mainstream medical knowledge about health is dominated by a materialistic, so-called scientific paradigm of the world. This is an effective perspective, but it has great limitations. It ignores the more subtle aspects, such as prana (bio-energy), mind, soul, consciousness, which also influence our health and disease.
  2. Ayurveda, Yoga and other ancient systems have a more comprehensive understanding of the world – including the seen and the unseen – which is being increasingly validated by the latest studies. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from these ancient sages, rather than painfully reinventing the wheel!
  3. Ultimately, both Ayurveda and modern medicine are expressions of the truth. They are models for us to understand the health and disease process. Professor Edward Denning, the systems analyst who helped reconstruct Japan’s economy after the War, said, “All models are wrong, but some are more useful than others.”

Ayurveda has proven to be useful for 3,000-5,000 years and thus is likely to remain useful for another 3,000. In fact, many people now believe that Ayurveda has a lot to contribute to medical knowledge and healthcare.

Observing Nature

ayurveda wellbeing by observing natureThe ancient sages probably had lots of time to observe Nature. They agreed that there were some qualities of Nature – such as hot/cold, dry/moist, static/mobile, rough/smooth, dense/subtle – that were useful to describe what they observed. These same qualities were found in the body and mind, and in diseases.

They found that qualities in Nature increased similar qualities in the body: For instance, a naturally “warm” person, on a hot summer day, having a spicy lunch, would break out in sweat. And if repeated daily, that person might then break out in rashes or other inflammation. Then someone would prescribe “cooling” food and herbs, and the rashes would clear.

Thus, the use of OPPOSITE qualities became the basic principle of therapy, or maintaining balance of health.

Later, a theory of five elements evolved — ether (empty space), air, fire, water and earth. This was a convenient way of grouping qualities, so you could say something or someone was “airy” in nature rather than saying they expressed mobile, cold and light qualities.

The Three Body Types

Finally, the five elements were perceived by the ayurvedic observers to conveniently group themselves into three practical principles, called humours or doshas. The doshas are the principles by which ayurvedic medicine has been practised until today.

Everyone has the three doshas — But the ratios in each person are different from birth.

ayurvedic wellbeing vata girlVata – ether and air

Vata governs movement in the body, such as breath, digestion, nerves and muscles, elimination and childbirth. The qualities of Vata are cold, light, mobile, dry and rough. A person with predominance of Vata is lightly built, active (physically and mentally), creative and enthusiastic.

Excessive Vata leads to anxiety, indecision, insomnia, wind, constipation, dry skin, cramps, and nervous and bone problems. Using the opposite qualities, Vata is balanced by warm climate, taking warm nourishing foods, warm and sweet spices, using oils internally and externally to combat dryness, and bringing stability into one’s lifestyle.

ayurvedic wellbeing pitta girlPitta –  fire and water

Pitta governs digestion and metabolism in the gut and in every cell; its qualities are hot, sharp, light, slightly oily, and flowing. A Pitta person has a flushed appearance, and is cheerful, passionate, intelligent, organised.

Excessive Pitta leads to irritabilty and anger, impatience, inflammations, skin problems, loose stools, eye and hair problems. The keyword for balancing Pitta is “cooling.” They should eat cooling foods with fresh, bitter tastes, and do calming activities like yoga, meditation and walking in nature.

ayurvedic wellbeing kapha girlKapha – earth and water

Kapha governs structure, growth and fluid metabolism in the body. Its qualities are cool, heavy, static, soft, dense, sticky. Kapha people are usually large, with great strength, endurance and fertility. They are caring, loving, patient, and have a deep understanding of people.

When excessive, Kapha causes possessiveness, heavy depression, mucus and phlegm. Their combination of weak digestion, love of food, and tendency to inactivity often causes problems with excess weight. To balance, they need to eat warm, dry, light, spicy foods; and need – according to the ancients  regular, vigorous exercise and and other activity!

Using the Concept of Doshas for Ayurvedic Wellbeing

By gaining an understanding of yourself and your predominant doshas – and observing how these fluctuate through the day and through the seasons – you can get an intuitive sense of what you need to do to maintain balance. This is a most powerful tool for staying healthy throughout your life.

Ayurvedic practitioners use the concept of doshas and other ayurvedic principles to analyse the type of symptoms presenting in a disease, and to determine the best diet, lifestyle, body therapy and herbal formulations to balance the body back to health.

If you are basically healthy, it is easy to use the ayurvedic concepts of doshas to keep yourself balanced and healthy. If you are ill, however, it would be a good idea to consult an ayurvedic practitioner, who has the experience and knowledge to deal with the complexity of disease.

Dr Priya Punjabi has had many years of experience using these principles, in hospitals and clinics in India, and now in New Zealand and the USA. Contact her for more information if you need further assistance.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha illustrations are from “Ayurveda: A Life of Balance” by Maya Tiwari, available from

Meet the Author

Dr Priya Punjabi

Dr. Priya Punjabi is a ranked Ayurvedic practitioner in New Zealand, having represented the nation on National TV and at the International Health Convention. Dr. Punjabi earned her Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) degree in 1989, at the prestigious University of Pune, under the Tilak Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya School.