Ayurveda is one of India’s oldest practices, dating back over 5,000 years to the Vedic period. Known as the Mother of Healing and the sister science to yoga, Ayurveda works with the elements to examine the energies we perceive in the world. The five elements are earth, air, fire, water, and ether. These five elements create the three unique doshas, or energies, that provide our constitution.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are the three doshas that make up a person’s constitution. The doshas are reflected as Vata (movement), Pitta (digestion), and Kapha (stability) with unique characteristics and requirements to maintain equilibrium. Examining diet, movement patterns, work, relationships, environments, and habits—especially patterns that cause disease and imbalances—contribute to our overall constitution and lifestyle.
Ayurveda’s philosophy strives for balance through reflection and asking questions; the practice is rooted in the philosophy, like attracts like and opposite heals.
We sat down with Ayurvedic Counselor and author of Modern Ayurveda: Rituals, Recipes, and Remedies for Balance, Ali Cramer, to talk about how to live a life with more intention around Ayurvedic practices.
“Ayurveda is about being in a relationship and working to stay in harmony with the conditions that we find ourselves in. It asks that we examine our raw materials and how they interact with others’ raw materials and the environment. Ayurveda is a unique plan for self-care that can carry us through our lives. We’re constantly changing, and the world around us is constantly changing; Ayurveda honors being in the flow and allows us to stay open to the flow. Nothing is fixed in the world, so we can’t be fixed either”. – Ali Cramer.
Take our Living Ayurveda Quiz and discover your dosha
to see how you can implement Ayurveda into your routine.
Meet Ayurvedic Counselor, Ali Cramer
What’s your superpower?
AC— I would say cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was little, and I’m good at it. Cooking is such a beautiful way to connect; it’s such a nourishing experience to share with others. I remember standing on a stepstool and making breakfast for my grandfather. I recall scrambled eggs and toast. I progressed to making chocolate chip cookies for my dad; it was never complicated or fancy.
If you could choose any era to live in, what period would you choose?
AC—I think it would have been very interesting to be around in the late 19th century when Krishnamacharya was teaching his students because he was one of the first official yoga teachers that shaped the practice as we see it today in the modern yoga world.
What do you never leave the house without?
AC—Marty, my dog. I keep essential oils next to my keys, so I kind of douse myself before leaving the house. That’s my little protection against New York City, dousing myself with some oils. And then I take my phone. Those are the three practical, concrete items.
I’m in New York City; I’m going to be extremely truthful here and transparent and say being on my guard as a way of protection and being on my guard in terms of who needs help. The other two things I take with me are a generous frame of mind and an open and compassionate frame of mind with boundaries and attention.
What is Ayurveda, and how do you practice?
AC—I come from a dance background, and dance gave me a lot of really great habits like discipline and work ethic, but it didn’t talk much about self-care. I think things have changed since then; the bulk of my career was in the ’90s, and we weren’t talking about self-care at that time.
I stumbled on a yoga class because I had some dance injuries, and someone said that I should try yoga because yoga is good to help heal injuries. I loved it so much that I decided to do yoga teacher training, and in teacher training, we had one day of Ayurveda, and something about it made the world make sense. The lens of Ayurveda gives me a lot of compassion for people and compassion for myself because I understand where others are coming from.
Ayurveda was born in Southern India, and the whole system is based on the five great elements. The elements being earth, water, fire, air or wind, and ether. The five elements make up everything that we see and the world around us. They make up the food we eat, they make up the colors around us; they make up the sky. Ayurveda is about being in a relationship and working to stay in harmony with the conditions we find ourselves. For that to happen, we have to understand the conditions that we find ourselves in and understand the raw material that we’re working with to start. We also have to look at our raw materials and how they interact with others’ raw materials and the environment that we’re in, as they may be very different. Ayurveda is an individual and unique plan for self-care that can carry us literally through our lives.
We’re continually changing, and the world around us is constantly changing; Ayurveda honors being in the flow and allows us to stay open to the flow. Nothing is fixed in the world, so we can’t be fixed either.
What are the five elements, and how do they relate to the doshas?
AC—The doshas are a way of categorizing energies. Kapha dosha is associated with the elements of earth and water. So the kind of shorthand that I often give my students is if you think about putting together earth and water, what do you get? You get mud. We find mud in late winter and early spring when the ground starts to thaw, and water starts to come up out of the ground, and things get a little bit muddy, and we might even feel a little bit muddier, a little bit slower.
To balance earth and water, or Kapha dosha, Ayurveda uses the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective that like attracts like, and opposite balances. If we already have earth and water, we need to incorporate fire, air, or ether to balance. We’re in the spring season, so we know we need to charge up and get a little bit more heat. We know we need to get a little bit more movement so we don’t feel so slow. We know that we need to get moving because the energy of Kapha is very slow.
Pitta energy is water and fire, which would balance Kapha dosha and bring that movement and heat; we need to clear the mud. If you put water and fire together, you get steam. Usually, the season where we feel a little more steamy would be late spring into summer and perhaps early fall. Pitta energy can be very intense, but Pitta energy gives us focus and concentration and that laser-like ability to see through things.
All the doses have positive and negative aspects to them. Finally, Vata dosha is air and ether. The season for Vata is fall through autumn and in early winter. Vata captures a period where there’s so much change: you’re going from a time that is very hot to a time where one day it’s cold, and one day it’s warmer, and then the next day it’s raining.
The name in Ayurveda for late fall, Vata season, is Yama Damstra. It’s late November and early December. It’s considered the most precarious time for our health. It’s when we’re meant to accentuate and affirm our self-care, and yoga is such an important part of that.
A quick core-strengthening class that fires up the gluteal muscles and deep core stabilizers to support the low back. You’ll build heat and break a sweat with repetitive poses to get the blood pumping to warm the body. Squats, sit-ups, chaturanga push-ups, and work with a resistant band to stimulate the inner heat and encourage the digestive fires to pacify Kapha dosha. This class is ideal for anyone who’s looking to strengthen and tone the body, specifically, the legs and glutes.
How do we prepare for Vata season and Yama Dramstra?
AC—Yama is the Lord of death, so Yama Damstra reflects the time of year when the veil between our world and the spirit world is very thin. Across so many traditions, this is a magical time of the year, an unearthly kind of time. Vata is part of this realm, being very imaginative and ethereal.
In this season, the veil is very thin. So this is the time for creativity and spirituality. This is a time to journal, to meditate, to practice yoga, especially between the hours of 2-6 AM or PM, because that’s Vata’s time of the day. This is the peak port of the day where you want to create. It’s magical, and it is a time where keeping a meditation practice will help ground. When we ritualize a practice, it has a grounding effect. The yoga practice, or whatever it is you decide to do, is meant to keep us connected, to keep us grounded in something consistent.
What are simple practices to start living Ayurveda?
AC—This is what I try to get across to my clients:
- Right sleep,
- Right nutrition,
- Right Hydration,
- Right movement.
Movement should be something that feels healthy and enjoyable. One of the things I usually ask my clients is, does your current lifestyle make you happy?
How do you nourish the doshas?
AC—In Vata season, what we’re all experiencing right now, there’s lots of energy moving very fast. It’s light as opposed to heavy, dry, and irregular. So if it’s fast, then we need to move a little bit slower. Give ourselves a little bit more time to do things. Vata tends to be cold, so we need to make sure that we stay warm.
Vata is dry, so we need to add a little bit more oil, which could look like adding another slice of avocado to your meal or incorporating some good fats.
Once we know the qualities of the season, we can observe the opposite side of what we’re currently experiencing to balance us out a little bit. That’s a universal tactic to balance the doshas. It requires self-reflection every day. Each day is different; self-reflection and accepting that we are unique beings and need different things at different times.
CRO—The center’s always moving; our point of reference is always shifting, which is so fun and entertaining and overwhelming all at the same time. I like to ask, how am I doing right now? Am I feeling good about what I’m doing right now? And if I am awesome, then I keep going. And if not, I need to pacify those particular things because I’m feeling out of balance with my constitution.
What’s the difference between Vrikriti and Prakriti?
CRO— Prakriti is what you are born with; it’s shaped by your parents’ constitutions and what was happening when you were conceived when you were in utero and the first two years of being on earth. Vikruti is where you are right now, what you deal with each and every day. Sometimes our Prakriti and Vrikriti are the same, and yet they don’t have to be.
The main thing to understand is that we have all three of the doshas within us because we are all made up of the five great elements. Some of the elements and energies are more dominant than others, based on what we’re feeling on any given day.
Age and what we’re experiencing profoundly affect our constitution, our body, and our overall energy. We’re always degrading once we’re born. One way to think of it is that the Virkriti is always changing as it represents what’s going on right now, so it may not be the same as it was some years beforehand.
Why are we drawn to things that throw us out of balance?
AC—I’ve had a bunch of incredible Ayurveda teachers. My primary teacher is Dr. Vassant Lad from the Ayurvedic Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When I first started studying, I asked him, why are we drawn to the things that we know throw us out of balance? For myself, I love popcorn, and it’s not great for me because it’s light, and it’s dry and hard and brittle and all of those things that are not good for Vata. It’s also acidic, which is not good for Pitta, and I have a lot of Pitta in my constitution. I asked him why I was drawn to these things—to things that are not good for me. This is what he said:
The system is full of Ama, which are toxins in the body. The toxins could be from our food or the air we breathe, or even the toxins that we perceive on violent TV shows or media. Toxins could also be a fight we had with a friend or stress from work. The toxins build up in the body and clog the steady-state of flow; our bodies need to remain in harmony with the flow of the universe. When there’s a big buildup of Ama, we’re drawn to other things that bring us out of balance. Whereas once the Ama is cleared, we make better decisions.
The thing I always think of is when I don’t get enough sleep, and when I wake up in the morning and make a poor breakfast choice because I’m fatigued and I can’t make as good of choices for myself. This leads to a slippery slope of degradation. However, we can always come back up by making small, simple choices toward living in better health. We can take many small actions that bring us back to harmony, such as drinking water, going to bed earlier, and not snacking between meals.
The best advertisement for self-care is: when you take care of yourself, you’re better able to take care of the people around you.
Teacher of Yoga, Mantra & Meditation
Seeker of the Sacred.
Facilitator of conscious movement.