There is always plenty of guidance for women suffering the menopause and so it was with interest to read about the practice of Ayurveda, an ancient Hindu 5000 year science which, it seems, is having a resurgence thanks to the interest from high profile celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston. For those who are not familiar with Ayurveda it is a practice designed to balance the body, mind and spirit to prevent or heal ailments and also has applications to treat symptoms of the menopause as its therapies and guidance have been integrated in general wellness regimes and in some cases, considered as “alternative” medicine.
Ayurveda identifies three “doshas” which are biological energies which represent the energy pattern which makes up our physical and mental being, known as pitta, vita and kapha. These principles can be related to the basic biology of the body.
Pitta is largely composed of fire and water, it is the energy of digestion or metabolism as it governs digestion, absorption, nutrition, and body temperature. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta raises anger, hatred and jealousy.
Vata air and space, is the energy of movement. It governs breathing, muscle and tissue movement, heartbeat, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
Kapha mainly water and earth. it is the energy of lubrication and the principle that forms the body’s structure, bones, muscles and tendons. Kapha supplies the water for all the body’s parts and lubricates the joints and moisturises skin. In balance kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to insecurity, greed and envy.
Each dosha is prone to certain symptoms around the menopause and as we all have a unique combination of these elements, one dosha may be dominant within us, we don’t all fit neatly into any one in particular.
According to Ayurveda expert, Jody Vassallo, this practice should be embraced in midlife and she works on the premis of womens’ build being key to how changes are made to lifestyle to create the perfect balance in life. Read below her guidance on how best to work with Ayurveda
Vata (Air /Space)
BODY TYPE: Naturally thin and wiry. Typical menopause symptoms include anxiety, insecurity, sensitivity, joint pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus and gut issues.
Vata people generally are busy with high levels of energy but during the menopause they can become despondent and lethargic. They are full of vitality: busy, talkative and constantly moving. In menopause, they can become driven by nervous energy. Their constitution is dry, light, cold and brittle, so they may experience issues with arthritis and stiffness.
WHAT TO DO: Gentle exercise — long, relaxing walks and focused movement, such as Pilates and yin yoga. Weight-bearing exercise to strengthen is important, too.
WHAT TO EAT: Soft, warm foods, including soups and stews, as well as almond, coconut or soy milk (spiced and hot), or carrot, orange or pineapple juice.
This type benefits from having all food cooked, where possible, such as moist, slow-cooked vegetable dishes and roasted veg salads with oily dressings.
PITTA (fire, water)
BODY TYPE: Medium weight and height and athletic. Prone to hot flushes, insomnia, heartburn, itchy skin and digestive issues. The hottest parts of the day for Pitta are 10am to 2pm and 10pm to 2am.
WHAT TO DO: Walking, swimming in fresh water, Pilates and tai chi. Yin yoga is beneficial, as it activates your parasympathetic nervous system — responsible for rest and good digestion repair. It soothes the Pitta and cools the whole body.
WHAT TO EAT: Instead of tea or coffee, add fresh mint to boiled water and cool before drinking. Other cooling herbs include coriander and parsley. Cooling fruits and vegetables include avocado and cucumber. Fennel and saffron are effective spices.
Avoid heating foods, such as red meat, aged cheeses and red wine. Go easy on grains (though brown basmati rice suits Pitta).
Artichoke, asparagus and cooked beetroot, are cooling, as is dairy, except if it’s fermented or soured so fresh cheeses such as cottage cheese or ricotta are preferable to yoghurt. Sweet fruits, such as berries and watermelon.
HOW TO LIVE: Pittas are often successful leaders, and it can be fulfilling for them to be part of their community.
KAPHA (water, earth)
BODY TYPE: Larger build and wide hips and shoulders. Symptoms include weight gain, low mood and fluid retention. Their dominant elements are earth and water: if these are imbalanced, they can become lethargic or suffer respiratory issues.
WHAT TO DO: Kaphas need to monitor and raise the heart rate along with working the lungs to add warmth to the body. Rise early and take a long, brisk walk where hill walking is ideal. For a gym fan, a boxing class or similar would suit.
Kapha’s biggest problem is starting, but, once they do, their staying power is impressive. If Kaphas struggle with weight, it is usually because of not moving enough, rather than their diet.
WHAT TO EAT: Hot water with lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper is a good start, as spicy foods are beneficial.
Eating a solid meal soon after waking doesn’t necessarily suit Kaphas. They may feel lighter if they eat a larger meal between 10am and 2pm and start the day with a smoothie — blend celery, spinach, coconut water and water, adding pear/apple, dates, avocado, ginger and chia seeds.
Kapha types often crave sweet foods (porridge with honey, toast and jam) and white foods such as potatoes and pasta. But these foods do not suit their constitution, as they don’t have a fast, fiery metabolism. Cold foods such as ice cream and yoghurt don’t suit, either, while sour and salty tastes aggravate.
Grains such as brown rice aren’t a good fit. Go for quinoa, buckwheat, corn or millet. Chicken and freshwater fish are a good choice, and pungent and astringent foods will calm — try asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek and pepper.
HOW TO LIVE: Kapha’s focus is taking care of others. They can become low around menopause, especially if faced with an empty nest. Learning to nurture themselves and taking time to reflect are beneficial, as is stepping out of their comfort zone, rather than standing back, cheering on everyone else.
Once changes are made to their regime it will be a welcome surprise to see how fast their body changes.
So check out your Dosha and join the A Listers in their quest for a perfectly balanced lifestyle.