Written by John Immel,
Ayurveda offers you simple, practical ways to manage your health using the biocharacteristics theory of medicine. This method can help you understand your body and how to prevent or minimize disease. Ayurveda helps you experience the medicine of food, understand its effects on your body, and naturally crave and choose the foods that are right for you. We've organized Ayurveda's approach to food on this website for your convenience. The practice of biocharacteristics medicine was ubiquitous throughout the ancient and medieval world until the 1650s.
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What are Biocharacteristics?Where modern medicine focuses on the biochemistry of disease, biocharacteristics medicine categorizes and treats the qualities of disease (i.e. its heat, cold, wetness, dryness, fluid thickness, thinness, etc.). Ayurveda uses 20 biocharacteristics (called gunas in Ayurveda).
This classification gives clinicians a whole body perspective on imbalance that is user friendly, enabling clients to better manage their health at home.
Biocharacteristics are experiential - they are used to classify your experiences of 1) disease & dysfunction, 2) environment, food & herbs, 3) mental state. Biocharacteristics classify your most basic experiences of being alive. The best way to get started in Ayurveda is by knowing these biocharacteristics.
The first 8 are heavy and light, sharp and dull, hot and cold, oily and dry. For example bread makes you feel heavy but salads feel light. Black pepper is sharp on your tongue but cheese is dull. Chilies heat up your body but cucumbers cool your body down. Butter is oily but popcorn is drying. On Joyful Belly we've selected only those gunas that are most useful in cooking. The study of Ayurvedic Pharmacology details all the ways Ayurveda classifies food, herbs, and diseases.
The Three Body Types (Doshas)Ayurveda groups people into three general body types called Dosha. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The doshas are three basic metabolic patterns of how you use energy. Vata spends energy. Pitta manages it. Kapha stores it. Dosha predicts the symptoms and diseases you are most vulnerable to, and gives you a means to restore balance. Vata tends to suffer from deficiency. Pitta from heat disorders. And Kapha tends to suffer from stagnancy and conditions of excess.
The Six TastesIn Ayurveda, nutrition is based on the six tastes (western nutrition identifies only four tastes). Each taste affects your body in a unique way that can make you feel better, or worse, depending upon the person. Bitter is light and drying. Astringent is tightening and drying. Pungent is sharp and dry. Salty taste is liquefying and hot. Sour is hot, liquefying, and heavy. Sweet taste is heavy, gooey, and cold. Every season has a different taste and diet.
DigestionGood circulation, good digestion and well nourished tissue are three cornerstones of good health. By the process of digestion, when you eat an apple it becomes a part of your body. Whether the food you eat is heating or cooling, acidic or basic, sugary or bitter, your body has to transform these qualities into the qualities of a human being. This processing takes work. That's why digestion is often used to measure the resilience of a person in Ayurveda. Some signs of indigestion include gas, burping, acid reflux, diarrhea and constipation.