Intro to Ayurvedic Medicine

When I told a friend who is a doctor that I read a book about Traditional Chinese Medicine, he at first retorted, oh, we [Western doctors] are taught to make fun of that stuff. But then he added more seriously that Asian medicines were developed over many centuries and have a solid basis, we just don’t understand it.

Dr. Stephen Fulder, the author of Ginger: The Ultimate Home Remedy, seems to have spent a fair amount of time delving into Asian medicine. Here’s how he explains the body types of Ayurvedic medicine, a system of medicine from India:

Vata type. This body type tends to be tall, thin and bony with dry, cool skin. These people generally are erratic in their habits, adaptable, indecisive, nervous and sensitive. They talk fast, sleep lightly, and generally do not sweat. They lean toward air-type illnesses, including nervous-system problems, arthritic and rheumatic complaints, and all kinds of pains.

Pitta type. This body type tends to be medium in build and muscular, with warm, rosy skin and soft hair. Pitta-type people are marked by moderate speech, a strong appetite and loose motions. They sweat more than normal, sleep soundly and are critical, argumentative and prone to anger. The ailments that tend to affect them include inflammations, infections, liver problems, ulcers and skin rashes.

Kapha type. This body type leans toward being heavier, stouter and slower than the other two, with a pale complexion, oily hair, and thick skin. These are people of constant habits, with a moderate digestion and a tendency to have mucus. They are likely to be calm and sentimental and are sometimes dull. They speak slowly and speak deeply. The illnesses that affect them include bronchial problems, edema, mucus problems, swollen glands, growths, stomach problems, and ear, nose and throat problems.

And what of ginger and these body types? Ayurveda recommends ginger in particular for Kapha types, as it helps to counterbalance too much sugar, too much dairy, too much alchohol, too much fruit and too much meat. In general, Fulder writes: “ginger is good for Kapha types to counteract a tendency toward lethargy, congestion and stagnation.”

Vata types can use ginger to help with digestive problems, since it helps absorption, warms the intestines and treats cramps, gas and colicky pain.

In contrast, he says, Pitta types do not do well with ginger because by nature they are fiery enough. Instead of ginger, Ayurveda recommends coriander, cumin, caraway or fennel.

Some of the techniques of Ayurvedic medicine, according to Fulder: “Ayurveda employs herbs and spices, oils, yoga, massage, dietary principles, colors, gems, minerals, and almost anything imaginable as a therapeutic tool.”

Do you see yourself or anyone you know in these body types? Any of the ailments seem familiar? Or does this seem totally foreign to you as a way to treat an ailment?

15 thoughts on “Intro to Ayurvedic Medicine

  • This is a fascinating. I always keep ginger around. There’s a piece in my freezer which I grate into a hot honey, lemon and ginger drink recipe that I got on line. It is very comforting when you get a cold but I like it so much that I make it often in the winter time. Not only are you getting the Vitamin C but a lot of other healthy properties. Thanks for the great post.

  • This is very interesting. So far I have never used ginger as a remedy but will definitely try. I’ll follow Denise’s advice about keeping a piece in the freezer.
    I’ll let you know if I find it helps cure anything.

  • I get the impression ginger is only one example… to really feel the healing, one would have to incorporate a variety of “things” into one’s life.

    I avoid blogging about the “don’ts”; I suppose because people are much more open to the “dos”.

  • During my yoga training the school had an Aryurvedic doctor come in and do a lecture. He also did things like take my pulse, look at the iris of my eyes, and gave out a detailed questionnaire. He told me I’m a combination of Vata and Kapha. I think he’s right. I don’t fit into just one of the categories and not much at all into the Pitta.
    It’s so interesting to look at both Eastern and Western approaches to compare the differences and similarities.

  • Jill, that’s so cool, that you’ve had real exposure to this. I want to do an investigation of warming and cooling foods, because that seems to enter into Asian medicine but is unheard of in the West (except for those who follow Aryurvedic, Chinese or macrobiotics).

  • Leora,

    About the do’s and don’t’s – even our ten commandments have both – so don’t be afraid. In macrobiotics, we feel life is all about seeking balance between two opposites, and just like can’t ever have perfect balance, also can’t have one opposite without the other.

  • Any kind of medicine that employs herbs and spices, oils, yoga, massage and gems is okay with me. 🙂

    Seriously, I think I am definitely Kapha…how ’bout some ideas of how to incorporate ginger into an everyday diet…

    Thanks for an informative post.

  • Klara, but if people eat ginger and broccoli fried in Crisco (or margarine), they are going to get sick, right? So I can’t just say this is what’s good and not say what’s bad.

    Baila, I put some ginger in my stuffed squash today. It seems to go with lots of foods. Glad you like this intro to Ayurveda!

  • sorry Leora, you lost me. Earlier you wrote: “I avoid blogging about the “don’ts”; I suppose because people are much more open to the “dos”.” and that’s what I was responding to. Now you write: “So I can’t just say this is what’s good and not say what’s bad.”

    btw, the crisco statement is interesting. When I first took macrobiotic cooking classes, I asked my teacher “but can I cook chicken soup with sesame oil” and her response was “every little bit helps.”

    Now my feeling is a little different – whatever steps are taken towards healthy eating is good – one doesn’t have to try to do it all at once – any change of habits sticks better when done slowly. Not sure if the stir fry you mention will cause disease but if people are adding more and more vegetables in their diet, it is on the right road towards healthier eating. Slowly, slowly, as the most used expression here in Israel goes.

  • Jack, always good to try it out! Seems like there is variety in the choices.

    Klara, I reacted with the “crisco” because my mother ate vegetables all her life and still died of cancer (she cooked with margarine, because she was told it was healthier). So I strongly feel certain foods are NOT ok. The moderation for trans-fats foods might be you are at a simcha, and all the desserts are made with trans-fats. So you taste one.

  • I’m sorry Leora. But the truth be told some who eat healthy also die of cancer. We don’t know all of the why’s. I’m in total agreement that certain foods are definitely not for human consumption – but food issues are big – and difficult for many to change over – so slow and steady makes it easier for some to adapt to different foods. From experience I know how hard it is to convince others.

  • >We don’t know all of the why’s

    Since no one with the $ to study this stuff is willing to study these “healthy” diets, it is hard to figure out what really does work and what doesn’t (actually, there is some Fed money that seems to be going toward studying macrobiotics). I say healthy in quotes because some (like Dr. Mercola) really warn against soy, for example, but it’s still part of some diets.

  • I saw a physician at the institute where I used to take yoga classes, but it was years ago and so much has happened since. I wonder if I still have the notes I took or the foods I was supposed to avoid..I will have to go look at my medical notes..interesting

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