Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine and differs from Western medicine in a couple of ways.
Western medicine is about zooming in. It divides things into groups like cardiology, nephrology, hepatology, infectious disease, psychiatry, endocrinology, pediatrics, OB/GYN, etc It divides medicine into lots of categories and people specialize in one category. We attempt to remove a lot of the individualities so that we can isolate the effect of the disease and the treatment. We treat depression, and not individuals, and we use randomization and controlling for variables to remove any individuality from the equation. Practically, this means that western medicine is not about treating people, it is about treating diseases. As a result, in Western medicine (or allopathy), the gold standard is a randomized controlled trial (RCT).
Example of an RCT: In a study of depression, 10,000 people are split into two groups: a control group and an intervention group. 5,000 people are given an antidepressant and 5,000 people are given a sugar pill. We call it “controlled” is because we try to minimize the differences between the groups and try to make them the same. We make them have the same socioeconomic status, the same average age, the same gender breakdowns.
If you have trained in Western medicine, you may think of that as the best way but as you learn clinical medicine, you begin to realize that people are fundamentally different. Dr. K, in his psychiatric practice, realized that even though antidepressants have a moderate improvement in clinical trials for people, an individual may or may not get better at all using them. There is a lot of individuality that enters medicine and Western medicine does not factor that into clinical trials.
Ayurveda is completely different to Western medicine. It is not about zooming in — it is about generating patterns from multiple data points. It looks at different dimensions of a person and makes correlations between their physical body and what goes on in their mind. It asks questions such as:
Ayurveda looks at lots of different dimensions of a person and tries to develop an overarching pattern that describes that individual. That is fundamentally different from Western medicine because, in the latter, we try to break patterns apart and zoom in and understand individual elements.
Ayurveda is not a rigorous definition of individual character, but rather it is a tool or framework for reflection and self exploration like Astrology, 5-Factor Model of Personality, and Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. However, Ayurveda is not just a personality framework, but also a framework that shows common identified traits or behavior that are related genetically. Ayurveda can have a multitude of application that can even be used in the workplace or other environments for understanding and conflict resolution.
Western psychology assumes that human beings have the same psychology, and leads to the study of different patterns of psychology rather than the study of different individuals. Therefore, topics such as motivation, habit, hedonics, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc are created and studied to create general principles of the mind are created. This is under the assumption that it works for everyone because everyone’s mind has cognition, emotion, expresses behaviors, and that these things are related.
In contrast, Ayurveda starts with the assumption that everyone’s mind is unique and requires determining the kind of mind the patient has, which influences what treatments and interventions are efficacious. Dr. Kanojia started to use the phrase “cognitive fingerprint” to define a person’s unique cognitive makeup because understanding someone’s unique cognitive fingerprint allows an Ayurvedic clinician to structure a life, diet, or environment that fits your cognitive fingerprint.
Before learning about Ayerveda and Doshas, Dr. Kanojia would struggled tremendously in college due to his Vata inclined mind. His easily excited and distractable mind would take on many courses and extracurriculars that interested him, but quickly drop or discontinue future courses, which impacted his grades. Even removing all the extracurriculars and reducing the work load would caused him to struggle more. Eventually, when he moved to India to figure things his life out and the monks gave him the insight that his Vata inclined mind, he then understood the work environment was the source of his struggle in college, and was able to cope with his weaknesses as a Vata inclined person.
Even workplace communication can be observed through the framework of Ayurveda and doshas. Often times pittas and kaphas do not want to diverge from rules and procedures, even when they become obsolete and damaging. As a result, you see many businesses that do not change their practices, and their inaction leads to breakdowns. In contrast, when Vatas see problems, they try to change, so it is good be aware of the concerns of Vatas despite them being frustrating, because it can give insight into what needs to be done.
Ayurveda is based on the idea of a doshic balance, which is the of three major patterns that govern people's characteristics and mind called Doshas. Every individual has a unique cognitive fingerprint and different people have different kinds of cognitive fingerprints.
There are three doshas in Ayurveda:
1. Vata (wind)
2. Pitta (fire)
3. Kapha (earth/water)
If we look at people’s physical bodies, we know that there are three types of people.
There are people with very fast metabolisms who can eat whatever they want to, and they will not gain a whole lot of weight. Then there are people with medium builds. There are also people whom we call “big-boned”. Vatas have fast metabolisms. Medium build people are Pittas and big-boned people are Kaphas. However, Vata and Kapha appear to be opposites but they are actually independent from each other. In addition, each person has each dosha, but not all people are the same in doshic balance. These doshas are like stats in an RPG, where some people can have more of a certain dosha than another person, and therefore more inclined for certain roles or classes. But higher stats do not necessarily mean better outcomes in terms of doshic balance.
To get a complete picture of your doshic balance, you should not look for an online quiz, but rather an ayurvedic physician who will do a complete body-mind analysis because your ayurvedic makeup expressed through your genetic make up.
Gamers face a similar problem where they assume that they are lazy and broken people because the world is fit for a cognitive fingerprint that does not suit them. The world sadly does not support creative, distractible, and easily excited people. Rather, the world supports focused, driven, and consistent people who can be in school every weekday for 8 hours, college and university for 4 years, and work 40 hours a week. So they struggle to be disciplined, focused, and something that they are not to meet that standard. Even though though you can try to increase your pitta to fit in and be a little more successful, a better path towards success begins with understanding your strengths, your weaknesses, your environment, and tailor your life to adapt to where you are, despite being in a Pitta inclined society.
Ayurveda says that there is more than just one route to success. If your cognitive fingerprint is different, then your path to being successful is to play to your strengths.
Those that are Vata inclined are usually innovators and they create new ideas. Those that are Pitta are often organizers that create groups. Finally, Kaphas are people that create structures, policies and procedures. Pitta may sound similar to Kaphas, but they are different.
There are also dosha hybrids where there is a dominant, primary dosha and a secondary dosha.
However, understand that there is no need to keep all doshas at the same level, so focus on specializing in a certain dosha that you are naturally inclined to.
Everyone has a natural or base level for their dosha levels, which is called Prakruti. Sadly, in Ayurveda, disease appears to come from too high or too low doshic levels. For example, if a person is high Vata, then their mind is very dynamic. But if that Vata level was increased, then their mind has gotten so dynamic that they cannot focus on any one thing for any significant period of time. If someone had naturally low Kapha levels and drops their Kapha more, then they might get sick very easily.
In western medicine, psychologists struggle to determine how depression manifests and there are three forms they observe. These three forms are:
As mentioned before, doshas are independent from each other and the manifest their imbalance in different ways. For example, people assume their issues with laziness stems from having low Pitta levels. But in reality, the issue could be that the mind is spread extremely thing because of their extremely high Vata levels. The high Vata could be creating large amounts of anxiety and increasing the ease of being distracted. As a result of not doing enough work, people assume they are lazy and they need to be focused like a Pitta.
In fact laziness is not really tied to doshas, and, like motivation, is actually a fluctuating energy state. In Ayurveda, there are 3 Gunas or energy forces:
Thankfully, these doshic base levels are not set in stone, and can be changed through many means; this is called Vikruti. As a result, treatments, in Ayurvedic medicine, works by modifying your doshic levels like temporary buffs or debuffs. For example, issues with anxiety, sleep, skin, and bowel movements are often caused by Vata imbalances and balancing this dosha will prevent these problems from arising.
In Western medicine, this concept is understood clinically, where if a patient has an illness, then that illness can influence and create other issues. In psychiatry, there is a saying that goes “All boats rise together.” The idea behind the saying is that like boats rising and falling together from the tide, when there is one disease or illness, there can be more diseases and illnesses that come. This also means that when one disease is treated, then other diseases will subside as well. That is why there are cases of people where their anxiety gets treated, and their IBS gets better. Or if someone’s depression gets treated, then their fibromyalgia gets better. People can observed that these illnesses are correlated with each other, but the Western medicine system looks at individual illnesses, and focuses on the illness rather than looking at overarching changes.
Ayurveda describes six tastes:
There are specific diets that are tailored to Vata, Pitta and Kaphas.
If you google an Ayurvedic diet, you will find some suggestions, which you can test yourself.
Doing things like “meal prep Sunday” is a good habit, because it forces you to make healthy food decisions throughout the week rather than getting some last-minute unhealthy choices.
Do what you can because your particular situation is up to your circumstances. It also depends on whether you prioritize eating healthy food over time.
People overestimate how long it takes to cook — it can take as little as five minutes to just prepare food.
Alternative medicine recommends eating more fresh food and less reheated food. Studies have shown that there is a minimal amount of difference between macronutrients in microwaved food and fresh food. But those studies do not look at micronutrients.
If you like reheated food, then your taste buds might have gotten accustomed to the taste of it.
Stress affects your mind differently based on your dosha.
When a Vata person undergoes stress, their mind becomes anxious. When a Pitta person undergoes stress, their mind becomes irritable or angry. When a Kapha person undergoes stress, they become depressive and isolative.
The Vata depression is called anxious depression, which is the state in which a person’s mind is moving very fast and they have difficulty sleeping. The Kapha depression which is called a neuro-vegetative depression is one in which people have hypersomnia — they sleep too much — they move very slowly, and their thoughts are very slow. Oddly enough, Western medicine classifies both of these as depression.
In psychiatry, if you look at the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) criteria for depression, you can have insomnia OR hypersomnia. It is called sleep disturbance, and they say that depression is the same, whether you sleep too much or sleep too little.
Appetite change is another DSM-V criteria for depression. That includes both eating too much, and eating too little. Both of those qualify as depression. It is baffling that a disease in which you eat too much is the same as a disease in which you eat too little. Those are two different diseases.
There is a Vata depression (anxious depression) and a Kapha depression (neuro-vegetative depression). Clinicians understand this — there are two classes of antidepressants. There are activating antidepressants, which give people a pep in their step, and there are calming antidepressants which help the mind settle down. Some antidepressants are also anti-anxiety medications and some antidepressants are not anti-anxiety medications.
There is also a Pitta depression — depression with anger attacks. The neurotransmitter profile of depression with anger attacks is different from the neurotransmitter profile of anxious depression and neuro-vegetative depression. **
The hottest topic in medicine right now is brain-gut. It is the idea that if you change your gut bacteria, your mental health will change. Ayurveda has been saying that for thousands of years. Now we have scientific evidence that correlates what happens in our gut and what happens in our brain.
Different gut bacteria have different digestive enzymes. Lactobacillus eats lactose, so if you eat a lot of lactose, the bacteria is going to grow. Some bacteria eat simple sugars, while others eat complex carbohydrates, fiber, or proteins. If you change your diet, you are going to be feeding certain bacteria and starving off other kinds of bacteria.
Diet improves depression by starving those bacteria that are sending inflammatory signals to your brain that cause depression. There was a study in which people with depression were given anti-inflammatory substances and their depression got better. Some bacteria, such as those that digest processed food, create a lot of inflammation. When they create inflammation, it causes depression. Two kinds of bacteria have been identified in people who have high levels of anxiety. Furthermore, two different kinds of bacteria have been identified in people with low anxiety.
In a study, the stool was extracted from several depressed rats and transplanted into healthy rats. The result was that the healthy rats became depressed, simply from a stool transplant.
Gluten sensitivity is a prime example of Western thinking. It says that one individual compound is THE problem for everyone. While gluten allergy is common in Vatas, if you pacify your Vata levels, your ability to tolerate gluten should get better.
There is some correlation between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test and Ayurveda. MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s work, which is based on Ayurveda and Hindu philosophy.
Western psychology assumed that the mind and body are uniform; the heart functions in a particular way, the mind functions in a particular way, etc. Then Myers-Briggs comes along and says that people are fundamentally different. It is so contrary to the rest of western psychology because it is based on Jung, who said that people are fundamentally different. Jung studied a lot of Indian psychology, philosophy, and medicine and derived a lot of his work from them.
¶ Cognitive Bias
It is possible that the Ayurveda test creates a cognitive bias, but it is unlikely because people do not know anything about it. A cognitive bias requires knowledge ahead of time, and Ayurveda seems to have scientific merit due to the genetic testing that is statistically significant.
There’s an emerging field called Ayurgenomics. Researchers in this field took people of different Prakriti (Vata/Pitta/Kapha) and checked if there were any statistically significant correlations between their genes and their doshas.
If we think about this, it makes sense. People who have a certain type of metabolism, whether it is fast (Vata), medium (Pitta), or slow (Kapha) have to share certain traits. It is possible to find any person on the street and identify whether a person is thin, big-boned, or medium build. Not only that, we can even identify a person who does not appear naturally thin but takes care of themself. That implies that there has to be physiology behind it.
The second study linked above correlates Prakriti with different kinds of metabolism and the likelihood of developing chronic diseases. For example, Vatas are prone to autoimmune diseases, Pittas are prone to skin ailments and Kaphas are prone to type 2 diabetes.
There was a study done by the Benson-Henry Institute, which looked at something called MGUS (Monoclonal Gammopathy of Unknown Significance), which is a precancerous state. The study taught meditation to people in this state and then assessed their genetic activity. They found that the pro-cancerous genes are less active after you learn how to meditate. This is an interesting data point that suggests that meditation can prevent the progression of cancer.
There is a huge area of research emerging in Ayurveda, and the more that we scientifically study and analyze it, the more correct it turns out to be.