Fitness, September 1997
What's Your Mind-Body Type?
by Lauren Picker
With the pressures of raising two stepsons, Patricia Joyner has every reason to be stressed. Instead, the 39-year-old Maryland woman describes herself as "calmer and more energetic" than she has been in years. Alison May, a graduate student at Northwestern University, lost 10 pounds, cured her debilitating stomachaches and often gets complimented on her glowing skin and shiny hair. "I never get sick," the 22-year-old notes.
Both women insist that the key to their good health is Ayurveda.
An ancient system of natural healing from India, Ayurveda is suddenly attracting new believers around the globe. It has more than 3 million adherents in the United States, making it one of the fastest growing systems of alternative medicine e in the country. The enthusiasm for Ayurveda can be attributed in part to the popularity of Ayurveda physician Deepak Chopra, author of the best-selling book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (Amber-Allen, 1995). It also indicates a growing interest in tailoring one's lifestyle to one's unique mental and physical characteristics. "People are drawn to Ayurveda because it goes beyond a one-size-fits-all prescription for good health," says Chris Clark, M.D. medical director of The Raj, a Maharishi Ayurveda health center in Fairfield, Iowa. "It gives them a deep insight and understanding of their own bodies." There is compelling evidence that Ayurveda's personalized prescriptions do work: A recent study by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa found over an 11-year period that individuals who followed the Maharishi Ayurveda health program offered at The Raj decreased their doctor visits and medical costs by up to 92 percent compared with statewide norms.
To take advantage of these benefits, you first must understand one of the basic tenets of Ayurveda: your dosha, or mind-body type. There are three doshas - vata, pitta and kapha. Just as no two people have the same thumbprint, each person is a unique amalgam of all three doshas, though one or two doshas are usually dominant.
"Finding your dominant dosha and embracing the appropriate lifestyle can have a profound effect on your health and well-being," says David Frawley, director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
According to Ayurveda philosophy, when your doshas are in balance you will exhibit the positive traits associated with your dominant dosha and feel your best. when they're out of whack, the negative characteristics emerge and you get sick or stress-out.
Fortunately, once you have identified your dominant dosha, you can take steps to restore an imbalance - or, if you're already in a state of physical and mental equilibrium, remain on an even keel. Basically, achieving balance means understanding and working with your natural tendencies: Flighty vatas need grounding; driven pittas need to practice moderation; slow-moving kaphas need stimulation. The changes that Ayurveda prescribes - whether it's to your diet, exercise routine or sleep schedule - may initially seem frustrating, but they are well worth the health benefits, as Alison May, a kapha, can attest.
"It was difficult to stick to my workouts and eat my biggest meal in the middle of the day," she says. "But I feel so much better since I've made the changes that now I want to do them!"