Although it’s more than 5,000 years old, the traditional practice of Ayurveda is enjoying a resurgence, thanks to a host of A-list fans.
Admirers include Gwyneth Paltrow, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston, while celebrity cook Jasmine Hemsley’s latest bestseller, East By West, is based on its principles.
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian healing system meaning ‘science of life’. Using food as medicine, it is based on the principle that the five elements — earth, fire, water, air and space — combine within us to form our constitution.
Aiming to balance mind, body and spirit, it has found new popularity as a wellness tool.
In Ayurveda, there are three ‘doshas’, which represent the unique energy patterns within us that govern our physical and mental processes. Pitta is largely composed of fire and water, Vata predominantly air and space, and Kapha mainly water and earth.
Each dosha is prone to certain symptoms. However, we all have a unique combination of elements and, while one dosha may be dominant, we don’t all fit neatly into a single category.
We might be a Kapha, prone to weight gain and low mood, but be Pitta-imbalanced and so suffering hot flushes. Ayurveda treats imbalances with opposites. If there’s overheating in the body, the aim is to cool it down.
Here, we explain how each dosha is often affected by the peri-menopause and menopause and how Ayurvedic lifestyle and diet choices can help...
1. VATA (air, space)
BODY TYPE: Naturally thin and wiry. Typical menopause symptoms include anxiety, insecurity, sensitivity, joint pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus and gut issues.
Vata people are full of vitality: busy, talkative and on the go. In menopause, they can become depleted and driven by nervous energy. Their constitution is dry, light, cold and brittle, so they may experience issues with arthritis and stiffness.
WHAT TO DO: Gentle exercise suits at this time — long, relaxing walks in nature and focused movement, such as Pilates and yin yoga (a gentle form of hatha yoga). Weight-bearing exercise to strengthen is important, too. Women with a Vata body shape can ease anxiety by writing things down and finding a creative outlet
WHAT TO EAT: Soft, warm foods, including soups and stews, as well as almond, coconut or soy milk (spiced and hot), or carrot, orange or pineapple juice.
This type benefits from having all food cooked, where possible, such as moist, slow-cooked vegetable dishes and roasted veg salads with oily dressings.
Bloating can be an issue, so be wary of foods that cause gas.
Dairy is good for Vata, as it’s naturally sweet. Warm milk with ghee, cardamom and cinnamon before bed will help with sleep. However, Vata is prone to waking with a busy mind.
HOW TO LIVE: Spiralling thoughts may increase Vata’s anxiety, so writing things down is a memory aid and promotes calmness. Rise at the same time every day and don’t skip meals.
A creative outlet is beneficial, as is calming music. Silence can exacerbate Vata’s mind chatter. Try guided meditation instead.
2. PITTA (fire, water)
BODY TYPE: Medium weight and height and athletic. Prone to hot flushes, insomnia, heartburn, itchy skin and digestive issues. The hottest parts of the day for Pitta are 10am to 2pm and 10pm to 2am.
WHAT TO DO: Walking, swimming in fresh water, Pilates and tai chi. Yin yoga is beneficial, as it activates your parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for rest and good digestion repair. It soothes the Pitta and cools the whole body.
We advise those with a pitta body shape to swap tea and coffee for fresh mint with boiled water.
WHAT TO EAT: Instead of tea or coffee, add fresh mint to boiled water and cool before drinking. Other cooling herbs include coriander and parsley. Cooling fruits and vegetables include avocado and cucumber. Fennel and saffron are effective spices.
Avoid heating foods, such as red meat, aged cheeses and red wine. Go easy on grains (though brown basmati rice suits Pitta).
Sweet and bitter veg, such as artichoke, asparagus and cooked beetroot, are cooling, as is dairy, except if it’s fermented or soured — fresh cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta are preferable to yoghurt. Opt for sweet fruits, such as berries and watermelon. Iced foods can affect digestion.
HOW TO LIVE: Pittas are often successful leaders, and it can be fulfilling for them to be part of their community.
3. KAPHA (water, earth)
BODY TYPE: Larger build and wide hips and shoulders. Symptoms include weight gain, low mood and fluid retention. Their dominant elements are earth and water: if these are imbalanced, they can become lethargic or suffer respiratory issues.
WHAT TO DO: Kapha needs to get the heart rate up and the lungs working to add warmth to the body. So rise early and take a long, brisk walk — hill walking is ideal. For a gym fan, a boxing class or similar would suit.
Kapha’s biggest problem is starting, but, once they do, their staying power is impressive. If Kaphas struggle with weight, it is usually because of not moving enough, rather than their diet.
WHAT TO EAT: Hot water with lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper is a good start, as spicy foods are beneficial.
Eating a solid meal soon after waking doesn’t necessarily suit Kaphas. They may feel lighter if they eat a larger meal between 10am and 2pm and start the day with a smoothie — blend celery, spinach, coconut water and water, adding pear/apple, dates, avocado, ginger and chia seeds.
Kapha types often crave sweet foods (porridge with honey, toast and jam) and white foods such as potatoes and pasta. But none of these suit their constitution, as they don’t have a fast, fiery metabolism. Cold foods such as ice cream and yoghurt don’t suit, either, while sour and salty tastes aggravate.
Grains such as brown rice aren’t a good fit. Go for quinoa, buckwheat, corn or millet. Chicken and freshwater fish are a good choice, and pungent and astringent foods will calm — try asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek and pepper.
HOW TO LIVE: Kapha’s focus is taking care of others. They can become low around menopause, especially if faced with an empty nest. Learning to nurture themselves and taking time to reflect are beneficial, as is stepping out of their comfort zone, rather than standing back, cheering on everyone else.
Once they get moving, they’ll be surprised at how fast their body changes.
For more information on Ayurvedic training and treatments at the suite, please contact Steve.