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An Introduction to Ayurveda

Ayurvedic expert Sonja Shah-Williams introduces the basic principles of this ancient system of holistic healing.

  • 01

    What is Ayurveda?

    Developed in India 5,000 years ago, Ayurveda remains one of the oldest medicinal practices in the world. Dedicated to the holistic treatment of mind, body and spirit, Ayurveda is a system of healing that considers numerous lifestyle and biological factors that cause imbalance within the body. By assessing the unique profile of each individual, Ayurveda uses diet, movement and massage to bring the mind and body into balance.

  • 02

    Find Your Dosha

    The science of Ayurveda varies from individual to individual. To balance the elements within the body it is important to consider factors such as diet, exercise, change of the seasons, age, and body type.To begin, find your dosha.

    Once you have identified your dosha, choose foods and spices suited to your specific dosha for optimal digestive support.

  • 03

    Choose the Right Meal Times

    7-9am: Breakfast should be had by 9am at latest. If you have a slow metabolism, or have enjoyed a large meal the night before, opt for a fruit-based breakfast.

    12-2pm: The midday meal should be the largest. This is when your digestive fire (Agni) is at its strongest. Meat, fish, raw food including salads should be eaten at lunch time instead.

    3-5pm: Vata and Pitta types should have a healthy snack in the afternoon.

    6-7.30pm: The later the mealtime, the lighter your meal should be. Soups and cooked vegetables with grains are light.

  • 04

    Supplement Your Digestion

    Adding spices like ginger, coriander or cumin to your diet help to strengthen and support the digestive fire.

  • 05

    Follow Your Dosha

    Scroll for the dietary and exercise choices that are suited to each Dosha.

  • 01


    Warm, smooth and grounding foods are best for the vata profile. Foods to include are milk, fruits, grains, root vegetables, fresh yoghurt, seeds, nuts and eggs.

    Sour tastes are good additions to the diet. These include lemon, lime, vinegar, hard cheese and sour fruits. Green grapes, oranges and pineapple are also vata balancing.

    Minimise pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. These are aggravating and are extremely drying to Vata profiles. These include foods such as kale, artichokes and pomegranate. Strong spices may be used in moderation.

    Gentler exercises ground vata’s naturally overactive profile. Relaxing, rhythmic activity like yoga, tai chi, walking and swimming are preferable for this type. Heat-generating practices are also good to combat vata’s naturally cold and dry profile.

    Choose heat-generating practices to counteract vata’s cold and dry profile.

    A glass of rose wine arranged with plates of fruit
  • 02


    Fresh, whole foods that are cooling, relatively dry and high in carbohydrates are the best for pacifying pitta. They decrease internal heat, regulate digestion and prevent inflammation. They also serve to ground the body and absorb any excess liquid and oil. Raw foods are more easily managed by pitta types

    Choose dense grounding foods, and naturally sweet food such as milk, grains, root vegetables, seeds, cooling oils and ghee. Oats, beans, potatoes, corn, pasta and most vegetables are all great choices as they have drying qualities

    Spices like cumin, turmeric, saffron, coriander, dill, fennel and basil are also cooling to the pitta profile.

    Avoid an excess of pungent, sharp food. Alcohol and caffeine exacerbate pitta.
    Too much oily, heavy food such as eggs, hard cheese and nuts and sharp tastes such as citrus, pickles and vinegar should also be avoided.

    Pitta types benefit from flowing or a restorative practice to cool, calm and relax. Although pitta elements thrive in competitive and challenging sports, they need to be careful not to increase their stress levels. Water and winter sports like swimming, surfing, diving and snowboarding help to cool the mind and relieve tension.

    A bowl of gnocchi presented with a branch of leaves and grey linen cloth
  • 03


    Light, warm or hot foods all help keep the kapha profile balanced. They should ideally have smaller meals with little or no snacking in between.

    Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables provide the rough quality that kapha requires. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and leafy greens have a rough quality that keep kapha in balance. However, it is better for the digestion if they are lightly cooked.

    Kapha types favour dry foods over moist, so beans, white potatoes, dried fruit, and rice cakes are a good choice.

    It is important for kapha dominant types to keep active to avoid becoming emotionally heavy or dull. Strenuous endurance sports like dance, long distance running and rowing. Aerobic activity helps to clear congestion and revitalise the body.

    Leaves of kale on a wooden board with sprinkles of salt and oil
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Sonja Shah-Williams

Sonja Shah-Williams, founder of Anala, is an Ayurvedic practitioner, teacher, and writer. She has recently finished writing her debut non-fiction book, a memoir which includes regional Indian recipes. Sonja offers private consultations in London and creates individualised nutrition and lifestyle programmes for her clients. She also runs small group workshops that offer building blocks of knowledge that participants can incorporate into their lives.  Passionate about the uniqueness and validity of Ayurveda in today’s society, Sonja believes the future health paradigm requires a shift towards preventative, self-managed healthcare through knowledge and understanding of this amazing science. Visit her site here for more information.

Follow Sonja:

Instagram: @analaayurvedichealth