A Guide To: Ayurveda

Curious about Ayurveda? Read on for our primer on the world’s oldest holistic practice, often referred to as the “mother of all healing”
3 Nov 2021
Words by: Aaina Bhargava

The most ancient of all health sciences in existence, Ayurveda, often referred to as the “mother of all healing”, originated in India over 5,000 years ago. The term can be translated as “life knowledge” (Ayur = life, veda = knowledge), and the premise of this way of life is founded upon achieving a balance between mind, body, and soul. Holistic in approach, the Ayurvedic practice emphasises prevention of illness and maintenance of good health through diet, lifestyle, mental well-being and all natural means.

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Photograph by Aaron Reed

The Five Elements

Founded on the principle that all the five natural elements – earth, water, air, fire and ether – constitute all organisms, Ayurveda maintains that all are physically, mentally and emotionally manifested within us, governing various body functions.

Earth represents the structural parts of our body – our strength and ability to endure. Air symbolises movement in our bodies, and correlates to the respiratory system, joint movements, as well as restlessness in the mind. Water is the fluid in our bodies – blood, mucus, tears – and is tied to our emotions. Fire is heat and transformation: our circulation, digestion, vision; in the mind it’s passion and anger, but also our intelligence and ability to focus. Ether refers to all the space between our organs, and is mentally equivalent to silence – it is most prominent during meditation. All elements are present in each of our bodies, but in varying proportions.

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Photography by Valeria Boltneva


This factors into our unique body constitution, the state of which is known as prakriti – our optimal elemental balance, which affects our likes, dislikes, mental and emotional characteristics, habits and tendencies, vulnerabilities and dispositions. While your prakriti never changes, it can go out of balance. Affected by numerous factors ranging from living environment to weather to diet, this leads to vikriti – the current state of imbalance.

Combinations of the elements are categorised into three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These identify which imbalances our bodies are naturally predisposed to. Our body gives physical indications – sometimes through inherent characteristics – identifying which dosha is more prominent. Often, our bodies can oscillate between two doshas, exhibiting qualities associated with two. Pairings of qualities (which ideally should be balanced) are used to determine each dosha, ie. hot and cold, rough and soft, wet and dry, and are attributed to environmental factors – foods, and our physical and physiological characteristics. Here is a general guide to help you better understand the three doshas, which can be helpful to us in optimising both external and internal environments to find our desired intrinsic balance.

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Photograph by javardh
fantastical illustration of a person's silhouette sitting crossed legged, as their body "vaporizes" into colorful particles that dot the sky above, creating a wave of patterns
Illustration by Dadu Shin, “NAUTILUS”


Vata is associated with the energy of movement, and is said to control breathing, heart function and muscle control. Those with predominant vata doshas should keep warm, stay calm, get plenty of rest and keep a stable routine. They should minimise or avoid cold, frozen or raw foods, and extreme cold environments.

  • Elemental constitution: Air & ether

  • Qualities: Dry, light, rough, subtle, mobile and clear

  • Physical characteristics: Slim, petite frame, longer limbs, smaller features. Difficulty gaining weight. Hair and skin are usually dry and thin. Usually speak, eat, think and move very fast.

  • When in balance: Creative, flexible, adaptable

  • When out of balance: Forgetful, scattered mind, indecisive, nervous, tendency towards anxiety


Pitta is strongly linked to fire, and as such is associated with intensity, and driven and passionate personalities. It governs the body’s metabolic, digestive and endocrine systems. Those with Pitta-predominant doshas should eat cooling, non-spicy foods, and expose themselves to cooler environments as much as possible. They should minimise oil and salt intake.

  • Elemental constitution: Fire & water

  • Qualities: Hot, sharp, light, moist and oily

  • Physical characteristics: Sharp, angular features, prominent eyes, medium in body build, complexion can be rosy because of fire in body

  • When in balance: Sharp, attentive, focused, productive, passionate

  • When out of balance: Agitation, irritation, aggression, stubbornness


Kapha is associated with a steady, stabilising energy leading to grounded and calm personalities, which when out of balance can be prone to sluggish and stagnant tendencies. It controls the body’s structural make-up: bones, tendons, muscles, water supply; lubricating joints, moisturising skin as well as the immune system. Those with predominant Kapha dosha should move around as much as possible, and minimise dairy, cold, and oily foods.

  • Elemental constitution: Earth & water

  • Qualities: Heavy, slow, smooth, cool and soft

  • Physical characteristics: Strong body structure (bone structure or physique), sturdier, rounder features, bigger eyes and lips, etc. Hair can be thick and oily, and skin is thick and moist. Slow and steady in thought and movement.

  • When in balance: Reliable, sturdy, strong, comforting

  • When out of balance: Stagnant, afraid of change, stubborn, tendency towards depression