A glimpse into this ancient Indian healing practice with Dr Zohreh Sadeghi, Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine and founder and director of Roha – Center for The Healing Arts
When I log in to our Zoom call, the first thing I notice about Dr Zohreh Sadeghi is her smile. Yes, she has lovely, brilliant teeth, but it’s more than that, I think. Something about her flows with ease, she exudes both strength and gentleness at once. She is knowledgeable and yet open to the new. She speaks with authority but listens with a soft ear. She’s in balance, I think to myself.
Sadeghi does not only have 12 years of experience with teaching and practising Ayurveda, she, herself is an embodiment of Ayurvedic teachings. And the ease and balance I see in front of me is the result of her coming in alignment with herself and her body constitution – the core of Ayurvedic principles.
I was blessed enough to spend an hour talking to her about this ancient healing system.
This is what Sadeghi can teach us:
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda means the “science of life” and is an Indian medical system that is one of the oldest forms of holistic medicine still used today.
According to Sadeghi, Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing not just focused on your physical body, but rather on ensuring you are in alignment with all the aspects of yourself. Health is often defined as the absence of disease, but Ayurveda takes it further and defines health as being in balance with yourself (internally) and the world you live in (externally) by taking care of and nurturing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of the self.
In Ayurveda, everything is seen as energy, including yourself and your body’s make-up (constitution). Ayurveda defines your body’s make-up through your dosha. So, to bring yourself in balance with your environment, you must take note of your energy (your dosha) and how it is affected by other energies around you and then alter and align these energies to bring yourself in harmony.
Doshas – your unique make-up
Your dosha is a type of bodily humour that determines your personality and health. An Ayurvedic practitioner can determine your dosha by looking at your physical, emotional, mental, and behavioural characteristics. Each person has their unique mix of dosha and practitioners use different ways of explaining that mix. One of Sadeghi’s mentors defines each person’s constitution by scoring each dosha out of three. For example, using this method, you could be Kapha 3, Vata 2 and Pitta 2.
When I asked Sadeghi what she thought my dosha was just by conversing with me she said I’m most likely a Pitta-Vata - meaning Pitta would be my dominant dosha and Vata my secondary dosha.
Below is a summary of each dosha.
The Three Doshas
Is made up of the elements air and space and is described as light, dry, cold, rough, moving, and subtle.
Vata people are imaginative and creative individuals with many original ideas who are more prone to having short attention spans. They also tend to become bored easily. Their bodies often run cold and have cold extremities, so Vata’s prefer heat and warmer climates.
A Vata person should follow a regular daily routine. Stress can be managed through calming activities, like meditation. Keeping warm is key, so avoiding cold weather and eating and drinking warm foods and drinks is good practice for Vata.
Pittas have tenacious personalities. This dosha comprises fire and water and is described as oily, hot, sharp, mobile, liquid and foul-smelling.
Pitta people are strong leaders who are highly motivated, goal-oriented, and competitive. Pitta people have very strong digestive fires. They have big appetites and can digest food quickly. Their digestive systems are also very sensitive and can become unbalanced by consuming food that is too heavy, too rich, too oily, and too spicy.
Pittas benefit from self-care and rest. They do well living in cooler climates and/or swimming regularly. Pittas do well eating freshly prepared food with cooling spices.
Kapha (pronounced ‘kuffa’) comprises earth and water and is described as heavy, unctuous, cool, slimy, slow, stable, sticky.
Kapha people have bigger bone structures. They are strong and sturdy, tend to gain weight easily, and have trouble losing it too. Their strong build means they make great athletes. Kaphas have loving and generous hearts and often enjoy engaging in acts of service. They tend to behave and act more slowly and methodically and have excellent long-term memories.
Kaphas benefit from a regular exercise routine that helps them sweat and increase their bodily circulation. A Kapha balancing diet focuses on light food that is easily digestible and consumed warm. Kaphas do well eating a wide variety of spices especially ginger, black pepper, clove, and nutmeg.
The Tools of Ayurveda
When your doshas are out of alignment, Ayurveda uses five tools to help balance you internally and externally:
1. Nutrition – knowing which kinds of foods are right for your unique body constitution.
2. Lifestyle – cultivating a daily regimen that enhances your quality of life, like eating your meals at the same time every day.
3. Internal herbs and medicines – each person’s body constitution responds differently to herbs and spices.
4. Therapeutic treatments – these include practices like Abhyanga (hot oil massage), Shirodhara (pouring warm medicated oil on the forehead) and Nasya (nasal oil therapy).
5. Spiritual practices – like Yoga, meditation, Pranayama (breathing techniques) and chanting.
Clarifying Misconceptions around Ayurveda
We’ve all seen online dosha tests. If you’re like most, you’ll notice these tests often have conflicting results – one day you could be Pitta and the next Vata.
Sadeghi says this is because online tests are inherently flawed as you can only include a limited amount of information on what and how assessments are made.
To determine your true dosha, an Ayurvedic practitioner needs to do two assessments of your constitution.
The first reading is known as Prakriti and looks at your body’s natural constitution – so essentially the dosha your body is meant to have and/or has embodied for most of your life.
The second reading is called Vikruti, your state of imbalance. This reading looks at your current state of health which could be influenced by trauma, stress, your diet and other factors.
An Ayurvedic practitioner will use both readings to design a unique ‘recipe’ for you that will heal your state of imbalance. This recipe would comprise the five tools of Ayurveda (mentioned above) with nutrition being the focus.
For example, your Prakriti could be Pitta, but because you’re stressed and anxious, your Vikruti could be Vata. To heal this a practitioner would create a recipe that would calm down your Vata while keeping your original constitution in mind. The guidelines of your recipe would then be Vata-Pitta pacifying.
It’s important to look at the individual from all aspects when creating a client's unique recipe. Cooking the ideal foods may not be possible in everyone’s lifestyle and it’s also crucial to know the other ways the individual would be able to bring themselves to a state of balance. As Sadeghi points out “If a client were an artist with little spare time, it may be possible for them to use their art as a means of calming their Vata and bringing them into alignment.”
Because Ayurveda is an Indian healing practice, many assume it requires an Indian diet but any cuisine can be Ayurvedic, if the principles of Ayurvedic nutrition are followed.
“The most important thing about an Ayurvedic diet is digestion," says Sadeghi. "Ayurvedic food is first and foremost easy to digest, it is prepared fresh using local ingredients, and is mostly cooked and served warm. Salads and raw food are occasionally recommended depending on your dosha and state of imbalance.”
Healing through Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a self-healing tool. Once you understand the principles, practices, and how to apply them to your dosha, you’ll be able to realign and re-balance yourself. “Healing isn’t linear – there is no one path up the hill. But Ayurveda teaches you how to be more self-aware so when you face challenges, you’ll be able to assess yourself and the situation and determine how to bring yourself back in balance. And because of that, how you respond to challenges will be different.” Sadeghi says when she was in her 20s she’d often spiral into a depression when life became particularly challenging, but after discovering Ayurveda she learned how to hold difficulty with greater mastery. “Now when I have tough moments, I understand that it’s okay, it will pass, and things will change.”
Ayurveda as a Path to Enlightenment
For Sadeghi, enlightenment is being one with your entire being while knowing you are nothing but a fragment and extension of the universe. “When we do this, surrender happens and we drop into bliss that settles in the heart.” To achieve this Sadeghi believes we must unlock the wisdom that lives within us all. The first step is by becoming more conscious of the self. “Ayurveda teaches you that – to be more self-aware and to respond to the self with the awareness of how our choices affect the level of harmony you have with your internal and external worlds.”
Ayurveda is for anyone seeking a life-long practice to self-healing. Although it can seem overwhelming (the more you learn, the more you realise it’s an ocean of knowledge and principles), practising Ayurveda is simple and there is no need to do every and all the practices available. Remain open-minded and start gently and slowly.
Here are a few tips Sadeghi suggests to help begin your Ayurvedic journey.
Seven Ayurvedic tips by Dr. Zohreh Sadeghi
1. Start your morning by brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue, this will get rid of bacteria and toxins accumulated on your tongue overnight.
2. Drink a glass of warm water after brushing to cleanse your colon and activate your digestive system.
3. Exercise or do Yoga in the morning. It will help awaken your body, remove stagnation, and recharge you for the day.
4. Use spices in your diet daily - a few good ones to start with are turmeric, ginger, coriander, cumin and fennel. Spices will aid digestion and help fight inflammation in the body.
5. Use local and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Locally grown, seasonal produce is the healthiest and freshest option and an amazing source of healing and prana (life force).
6. Prepare your food from fresh ingredients. Food leftover in the fridge overnight and reheated becomes stale and lacks prana. It is also harder to digest. Freshly prepared meals eaten warm are the easiest on your digestive system.
7. Practice meditation. Ayurveda focuses on the overall health of your entire being, this includes not only the physical body but the emotional and mental bodies as well.
Meditation will help ground the mind, manage your emotions, and aid your growth as an individual.
Written by Taryn Nightingale