No need to fly to Bali – you can learn about this here in Bondi.
In Ayurveda, understanding what you need to do to achieve total health is as simple as understanding your dosha: Vata, Pitta and Kapha – the three fundamental principles of nature which govern the activities of your mind and body. Once you have found out your unique dosha body-type you can then balance it by changing your diet and lifestyle. We all have a certain amount of Vata, Pita and Kapha in our constitution and while all three of them are active, one or two usually dominate.
I’ve heard the word ayurveda bandied around for several years now.
My meditation teacher swears by the benefits of ayurveda, which translates roughly to “the science of life” and is the traditional health system of India.
I’ve also read Deepak Chopra’s book, Perfect Health, which is an interesting, if avant garde, look at wellness and ode to ayurveda.
I was curious, then, when asked if I’d be interested in trying out the ayurvedic program at Bali’s luscious COMO Shambhala Estate, the winner of multiple best destination spa awards. They tailor your stay, offering exercise and eating advice and even spa treatments to your body ‘type’.
Ayurveda is based on the idea that we are all born with a specific constitution or “dosha”. We can’t change it but we can use it in our favour and achieve optimal health by eating, exercising and living according to our unique makeup.
It is not a one-size-fits-all approach to living and health. In ayurveda, what is harmless or even healthy for one person can be harmful to the next.
As part of the Shambala’s ayurvedic program, I consult with the resident doctor to learn how to live in harmony with my “fire” dosha. It feels part horoscope-reading, part bespoke health plan. As a fire personality, movies will absorb and soothe my over-active mind, my doctor tells me.
“The best investment for you is a big screen TV and sound system,” Deepak Deginal tells me, adding with a chuckle. “I can write you a prescription.”
It’s a rather modern prescription for a 5000-year-old practice.
“Your mind non-stop thinking,” he continues, based on my pulse and by looking at me. “All the time. Even in your sleep your mind thinking – your boss should pay you double salary.”
Sure, I say, can he also write a prescription for that?
Despite 5½ years of study, which includes pharmacology, modern and traditional diagnostic techniques, ayurvedic doctors do not practice modern medicine.
Rather, they take your pulse, look at your body shape and ask about your lifestyle and family history to “prescribe” lifestyle tweaks and possibly herbal medicines. They also recommend the type of exercise and diet best suited to your body.
For instance, in ayurveda, the raw-food diet, so popular among many in the wellbeing industry, is problematic.
“If you eat raw at dinner, it will bloat you very badly,” Deginal says. “Fire personality’s best digestion is nine to five. You can eat anything for lunch. For dinner, soft-cooked is better.”
So steer clear of raw at night, check. Coffee, on the other hand. “You need coffee,” Denigal tells me to my palpable delight. “Fire personalities need coffee because it kick starts the day.
“One coffee is very good. For you, black coffee is very bad though, it starts irritating stomach wall and increases acid. Milk neutralises that acid. Don’t let anybody tell you that coffee is bad for you.”
Daily exercise is also prescribed for fires as their intense mental activity tends to create tension in the body. Yoga is also good, but not any type.
Bikram and ashtanga styles are beneficial for cooler water or air doshas as they create heat, are challenging and balancing, Denigal tells me. But not for fire.
“Vinyasa [flow] yoga is good,” he says. “Don’t try ashtanga or Bikram yoga. They increase more stiffness. For fire personalities, more stretching is good, it helps you in letting go.
“For fire personalities letting go is the hardest thing. More and more vinyasa you do, more easier on yourself you will be.”
There is nothing “woo woo” about the advice, a point worth mentioning simply because of a lack of Western research into the efficacy of the approach.
Denigal reminds me it is simply about becoming more attuned to our own nature so we can tend to ourselves correctly.
“If a person is fire they cannot change to air, air to fire, nothing,” he says. “But we can learn to use it in our favour instead of fighting with it the whole time.”
There is a saying in ayurveda: if you can let go of the imperfections, perfection will appear by itself.
The perfection of Shambhala Estate’s jungle-fringed magnificence aside, if a little coffee, yoga, a movie and some cooked food is part of the plan, letting perfection appear by itself seems pretty simple.