While excited to begin my pursuit of an Ayurvedic hair care regimen, I wasn't sure what to expect during my first appointment with Ayurveda practitioner, Elena Irueta. Considering that my knowledge of the practice fell somewhere between shampooing your hair with herbs and healing blindness with an oily mixture poured into the eyes, I was a tad nervous to head into her office. I was immediately put at ease when I arrived at Elena's sunny and tranquil San Francisco office and she greeted me with a warm hug and had me sink into a comfortable chair.
She began by explaining the fundamental principles of Ayurveda of which there are three basic tiers:
- Elements: The foundation of all matter in the world. In Ayurveda these are believed to be Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
- Characteristics: These are the "feelings" associated with the various elements: cold/hot, moist/dry, mobile/static, heavy/light, dense/flowing, soft/hard, dull/sharp, smooth/rough, gross/subtle, cloudy/clear. These characteristics feed the next group of Ayurvedic principles: the doshas.
- Doshas: All people have a balance of the three doshas within in them. The three doshas are Vata (ether & air; cold, dry, light), Pitta (fire & water; hot, dry, sharp ) and Kapha (water & earth; cold, heavy). When one of these doshas is out of balance, illness occurs. The goal of ayurveda is to restore balance between these doshas.
Here, Elena explains the Doshas and how they work within our bodies.
A Fiery Composition
After going over the basics of ayurvedic composition, Elena had me fill out a short questionnaire asking me about my eating habits, explaining that one's primary Dosha is strongly linked to digestion. Pretty much everything checked out normal there, so we reviewed the intake form I had filled out prior to the appointment that inquired about my general medical history. "Ah! Eczema!," Elena exclaimed. "That's a very Pitta trait. But I had already guessed that when I saw your picture on NaturallyCurly." She proceeded to take my pulse and check out my tongue. Apparently the pink spots on my tongue (which I have always thought to be super taste buds) are also a sign of Pitta.
After a few further questions, Elena determined that I am primarily of Pitta-Kapha composition, with Pitta being the dominant Dosha within my body.
Eating for Healthy Hair
Elena explained that all bodily balance comes from making sure you are feeding and nourishing your body completely. In Ayurvedic thought, there are seven levels of tissues to feed and by eating food with sufficient nutrients, you will be able to feed all seven levels of tissues. If you eat something without sufficient nutrients (say a bag of Cheetos), you may stop right at level one or two. While skin is fed on the fourth level, hair is fed on the sixth, which as the second to last level, means that more whole nutrients must be consumed to ensure and promote healthy hair growth.
Each Dosha has particular foods that are better for it than others. Elena made specific dietary recommendations tailored for me, as a Pitta-Kapha, to follow including some particular points for me to help balance my overly-fiery composition:
Good foods for Pitta
- Basmati Rice
- Skim Milk
- Pumpkin seeds
Foods to Avoid for Pitta
- Lay off the "fire water" - Alcohol is known in Ayurveda as "fire water" as it has a heating effect on one's body. As a person with an overly fiery composition, it would be best to easy up on the consumption of alcohol.
- Go Gluten Free - In some cases eczema is related to some sort of gluten allergy and frankly, as a bread fiend (who isn't?) I eat an awful lot of it. I'll be doing a wheat elimination diet, meaning that for the next two weeks I'm going to be laying off bread, pitas, pastas, cereals and all other things that bring me carbohydrate joy in the world. Then after two weeks, eating a whole lot of it to see how my body reacts.
- Eat Thoughtfully - "Chew to an even consistency" Elena handed me a card to keep with me to be mindful about how I eat, making sure to thoroughly chew food before swallowing both in order to aid digestion, but also to to be thoughtful and slow as I eat.
- Hot Water - In Ayurveda it is believed that the belly is a fire and that cold food and drink extinguish this fire. In an effort to keep it "stoked," one should begin each day with a hot glass of water. To spice things up (literally), I can add a piece of raw ginger and brew DIY ginger tea and sip that throughout the day.
I'll be following the Ayurvedic eating guide for the next few weeks, which is the foundation for creating a healthy beauty regimen. Healthy hair, after all, comes from within and it's important to begin with proper nutrition and dietary habits. In case you didn't notice, I'm giving up gluten for a couple weeks, which for me is a pretty big lifestyle shift! Stay tuned for the next installment as I eat my way to healthy hair and skin!