Episode 34: The Basics of Ayurveda with Susan Weis-Bohlen

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In this episode, we get to talk about a topic that I've been long intrigued by - AYURVEDA! 

Susan Weis-Bohlen is an Ayurvedic expert and author the book Beginner's Guide to Ayurveda: Essential Ayurvedic Principles & Practices to Balance & Heal Naturally.    On the Ayurvedic side, she's officially a Chopra Center Certified Ayurvedic Consultant; but she's also a meditation teacher, vegetarian cooking teacher and leads sacred site tours around the world.  Oh yea, she also owns a quaint bookstore cafe in Baltimore, Maryland.  While there is much wisdom to be shared, we focus on Ayurveda in this episode.

Ayurveda is considered to be the world's oldest medical system, dating back to be 5,000-10,000 years old.  I gravitate toward it because it's a holistic approach to health - mind, body and spirit.  It’s an intelligent system that leverages our natural functions to balance and heal rather than using force to create desired outcomes.  But it’s also a complex system that has many layers to it.  Traditionally the knowledge has been passed down by song and word of mouth.  Understanding it can be difficult and for me, it was hard to know where to even start.  That's why this conversation with Susan is sooooo good!  She shares the basic essential concepts that you need to know so that you can start applying concepts of Ayurveda to your benefit right away.  To name a few nuggets, we go over the framework of the constituents (doshas - kapha, pitta, vata) that rule this practice, how our doshas affect what foods are right for us, and guidelines for Ayurvedic eating that is beneficial for everybody.

Key Nuggets:

  • Panchakarma  - an ayurvedic therapy that combines a number of modalities including herbal oils, singing bowls, massage….
  • That Sticky Feeling (Susan talks about feeling "sticky" before she did her very first Ayurvedic treatment)
    • In Ayurveda, it’s called “Ama”.  A sticky substance (toxic residue, undigested food) in the body that blocks your circulatory channels (“shrota”) and prevents you from absorbing nutrients in your food.  Also blocks your mental system of absorption of ideas, creativity and manifestation.  In summary, a lot of Ama blocks your ability to move forward   
      • Symptoms of excess Ama:  generalized fatigue, coating on your tongue, don’t feel rested in the morning and don’t sleep well, sour smell to skin
    • The opposite of Ama is “ Ojas”.  As Susan puts it, “The liquid essence of life”. 
      • Result of strong Ojas: Feeling light no matter what weight is, good complexion, feel rested when you wake up in the morning, ideas and desires are manifested, excited about life, absorbing nutrients in food. 
    • In talking about Amas and Ojas,  Ayurveda aims for a subtle detox 24/7 – building new cells, muscles, absorbing nutrients and then eliminating.
      • When we’re not healthy, waste products build up and we get sick mentally and physically.  We need to constantly get rid of Ama and build Oja.  Techincally, our body does this naturally but we need to do our part and make sure we’re eating right and minimizing the amount of toxins that we take in  
  • Ayurveda: “the science of life”
    • Considered the oldest medical system in the world, between 5,000-10,000 years old and was devised in India.
    • Takes on all aspects of medicine (ex. Pediatrics, surgery…..)
    • Comes from the Vedas, which is a system of life (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) and is also 5,000-10,000 years old. 
      • Vedas includes meditation, yoga, Ayurveda, astrology…..
    • Knowledge passed down through sutras (threads) and are often in the form of song.
  • Doshas  - means imbalance
    • 3 doshas comprised of 5 elements
    • Elements: space, air, fire, water, earth
    • Doshas: Vata, Pitta, Kapha
      • Vata: air and space
        • Dryness, changeability, spontaneous, creative, ungrounded
          • Tend to blame themselves
            • Routine is very important.  If unbalanced, will forget to eat.
      • Pitta: fire and water
        • Hot, intense, sharp, good communicators, opinionated
        • Tends to blame others
      • Kapha: earth and water
        • Like a big hug. Soft, sweet, everybody’s best friend.
        • Tend to take care of others at their own expense.  Withdraws because they don’t want anyone to worry about them.
        • Everyone has all 3 doshas but oftentimes one dominates
  • Tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, astringent, bitter
    • Use different tastes to build doshas
    • Vata: eat sweet, salty and sour. Dense calories and warming foods to ground.
    • Pitta: sweet.  Reduce anything that adds heat like spicy foods and sour foods (ex. Coffee, yogurt….)
    • Kapha: lighten up with bitter, pungent and astringent foods.  Also need warm foods b/c they are usually cold.
    • The discernment of these tastes in food is complex (ex. a raw onion versus a cooked onion are considered different "tastes") so guides are recommended.  There are plenty of food lists available online to help understand how to eat for you dosha.  Susan herself includes a list in her book, The Ayurveda Beginner's Guide.
  • It’s good to know your dosha but don’t lead with it.  The goal is to be the healthiest that you can be and lead with that.  
  • Dosha is part of everything (ex. Time of day , seasons) so you need to look at big picture.
    • SEASONS:
      • Vata = fall and early winter. Dry, leaves fall to the ground.
      • Kapha = late winter and early spring.  Snow melts, heavy wet earth.
      • Pitta = spring and summer.  Everything is super hot and things (like plants) need a bit more water.
      • During transition phases from seasons, you need to give your digestion a break because it’s so changeable.  Look for easy meals on the body – light and warming.  
      • If we are in va t a season then everybody needs to pacify for that dosha no matter what theirs is.
  • We have doshas for everything: time of day, time of day and time of life.
  • Kapha = Babies.  .
  • Pitta = Puberty onward. Hormones going crazy and then we are driving to move forward with life
  • Vata = Senior years. We get creative, take time to do things we love.  Synovial fluids also begin to dry up, skin dries up.
    • TIME OF DAY:
  • Pitta Day = 10am-2pm: When the sun is highest in the sky.  Have the largest meal of your day because it’s good time for digestion. A good meal will help you sail through Vata time.
  • Vata Day = 2pm-6pm: If we had a good meal, we can be super focused and productive.  If not, then you crash and you feel like you need coffee and junk food.
  • Kapha Day = 6pm-10pm: have a light meal.  Kapha doesn’t have as much heat and doesn’t digest food as quickly as it would during the day.  Great time for exercise because it helps you get through this time.  Also a great time to get ready for bed.  Don’t do things that excite the mind too much.
  • Pitta Night - 10pm-2am:  A very important time because it's a time for digesting everything that happened throughout the day including food, people, experiences….. Also a time where there is preparation for elimination.  Getting to bed at by this time is important!
    • This is where Ama (that sticky build up of toxins) begins.  If you have a heavy meal or you don’t give yourself the time to sleep during this time, it will start to clog up.
  • Vata Night = 2am-6am: If you're still up, you'll feel like you got a second wind or renewed energy.  If you don’t sleep on time then the vata time will take over and it’ll be hard for you to sleep.  If you're asleep then this is a time where you have vivid dreams to help detox mind.
  • Kapha Night = 6am-10am: Try to get out of bed before this time you can use the winds of vata to help you get up.  Otherwise the kapha energy gets you all groggy. 
  • Tips for Ayurvedic eating for every dosha.  Practices that you can take into your life right away!
    • Eat veggies within season. 
      • Ex. Winter = root veggies.  Our agni (digestive powers) is high and root veggies are really hearty and filling. 
      • Spring/Summer = agni decreases (we’re not as hungry) and the foods that grow in that season are lighter like melons.
    • A meal is considered 2 handfuls (2/3 of stomach for most people).  We only fill part f the stomach to make sure to leave room for digestion!  Susan gives the analogy of a fire - if you stuff a fire up with logs, the logs will smother it and end up putting out the fire.
    • An easy way to tell what foods you should avoid: FLUNC
      • F = frozen foods and meals that are loaded with preservatives, chemicals and sugar (frozen organic veggies and berries are good though).  Also no ice in drinks – too cold will reduce digestive fires.
      • L = leftovers.  The longer food sits, the more nutrients it loses.  Susan suggests leaving food for 24-36hrs max. 
      • U = unnatural foods.  Processed foods. 
      • N = nuked.  Avoid microwaving food because it kills the nutrients in the food.  Better to heat up on stovetop or oven.  Using a thermos is an option if you want to bring hot food to work.
      • C = canned.  Store bought canned food and sauces that have a lot of sugars or chemical coating on the can (bisphenol A is carcinogenic).  (Home canned foods are good though)
    • In summary, 3 meals per day, 2 handfuls per meal and avoid FLUNC foods.
    •  E ven small changes like the ones Susan suggests can have big impact on how you feel.

One of Your Biggest Lessons So Far:

 Notice what’s right for you.  Know that you don’t need to push yourself.  That you can sit back, listen, and take time to figure out what the next move might be.  Don’t forget to miss all the wonderful things around you that’s along the way.  Be humble and restful.  Everything can be fixed, everything will have it’s time.  Relax into it.  Be present and available with what is.                                                       


If you have any questions for Susan or want to learn more, connect with her through:

Website:   www.breatheayurveda.com

Email: susan@breatheayurveda.com





Instagram: @susanweisbohlen

Call or Text : 401-979-2096


Susan provides food lists, food guidelines, and a quiz to find out your dosha among much more valuable information about Ayurveda in her book Beginner's Guide to Ayurveda: Essential Ayurvedic Principles & Practices to Balance & Heal Naturally.   

Websites she recommended to learn more about Ayurveda include ayurveda.com and banyanbotanicals.com