Often referred to as yoga’s sister science, ayurveda originated in India more than 3,000 years ago. Over the last 50 years, there’s been a surge of interest outside India in this holistic practice as a complement to Western medicine.
One condition for which some have turned to ayurveda is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). CFS is characterized by extreme fatigue that precludes activities that caused an individual no strain prior to the illness. While Western medicine currently has no known cure, some people who have CFS have reported that ayurvedic practices have allowed them to feel better—and some even see these practices as providing a road to recovery!
According to ayurveda, illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and adrenal fatigue are imbalances of vata, one of the three doshas or dispositions that define our physical, mental, and emotional makeup. Ayurveda views good health as resulting from balance in these doshas.
The Three Doshas
(Each of us is composed of all three doshas, but one or two doshas are dominant for most individuals. You can take this quiz to help you identify your primary dosha, and this quiz to find out which, if any, doshas are out of balance.)
Kapha: Kapha dosha is an interweaving of the water and earth elements. Content and deliberate, people who have a lot of kapha in their constitutions generally have a wide, strong build, thick hair, and smooth skin. They tend to move slowly and enjoy nurturing those around them. Kaphas will be drawn to slow types of yoga like Yin and restorative yoga.
Pitta: Pitta dosha is a combination of fire and water. Fiery and intense, those with a dominance of pitta in their constitution are driven, intelligent, and quick to anger. They often have a medium build with yellowish or reddish skin and red hair and freckles. Because they are competitive and focused, pittas may be drawn to a vigorous yoga practice like Ashtanga.
Vata: Vata dosha is composed of ether and air. Airy and scattered, vatas love talking about many ideas and can never seem to get warm. They tend to have a thin build and often have knobby joints. Vatas resist routine and may be drawn to the quick movements of vinyasa.
Ayurvedic principles hold that when one dosha is out of balance (whatever balance may mean for an individual’s constitution), the imbalance can negatively affect the mind or body and eventually lead to illness. For example, when vata is out of balance, it can cause insomnia, anxiety, running thoughts, dry skin and nails, gas, bloating, brain fog, and a dislike of cold. To many with chronic fatigue syndrome, these symptoms will sound all too familiar. Insomnia, problems with memory, and trouble with digestion are all characteristic of CFS.
Using ayurvedic practices to balance vata, we may begin to decrease fatigue and bring the body back into balance.
Six Ayurvedic Tips for Countering Fatigue
1. Create a routine. An excess of vata can express as a feeling of distraction or spaciness, and establishing a routine may help counteract these feelings. Commit to a time to both go to bed and to arise each day. Eating meals at the same times and scheduling activities like work, study, and socializing may also help to reduce vata.
2. Get an ayurvedic massage. You can seek out an ayurvedic massage therapist or practice ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) at home. (Learn how to do self-massage here.) Choosing heavy oils like sesame, almond, and olive for massage will help reduce and calm vata.
3. Do a grounding yoga practice. When you’re experiencing extreme fatigue, exercise may be the last thing you want to do. But gentle exercise is important to keep your muscles and joints healthy. The right kind of practice can also help to reduce stress and replenish your energy stores.
Poses that focus on grounding and balance, and on the muladhara chakra, are considered best for balancing vata. If your CFS symptoms are severe, begin with a floor yoga practice that involves only seated and lying-down postures, and then gradually include standing poses. At that point, you might like to try this brief yoga practice for balancing vata.
The most important teacher to listen to when practicing yoga is yourself. Make sure you pay attention to your body during your practice, and gently come out of any poses that aren’t working for you.
4. Incorporate meditation and pranayama (breathwork) into your day. Western medicine is beginning to recognize the benefits of mindfulness meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. Meditation and pranayama can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress. (Try a mindfulness meditation or this vata-reducing relaxation-in-action practice.)
5. Reconsider your diet. According to ayurvedic philosophy, vata is related to the element of air. When vata is in excess, this can lead to symptoms such as bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, and constipation. To combat these effects, ayurveda recommends consuming warm and nourishing foods, and staying away from raw foods like smoothies and salads. Stick to warm soups, curries, rice dishes, and cooked vegetables.
Healthy fats and oils are recommended for decreasing vata dosha, and even a sweetener such as honey can be used in a hot ginger tea. Rice and wheat are considered the best grains for vata imbalance, while the best fruits are those that are more dense, such as bananas, avocados, mangoes, berries, and figs. Minimize bean consumption, as beans can cause gas. But cheese lovers can rejoice, because dairy is recommended for balancing vata!
6. Practice self-care for your mind, body, and soul. Vata dosha thrives on creativity. Help soothe the running thoughts in your mind by channeling them into a creative pursuit like journaling, painting, or photography. Taking the time to nourish your passions and artistic inspirations may help bring you into balance. Schedule times every day to pursue your passion.
Ayurveda offers many benefits for those who experience chronic fatigue. Implementing these ayurvedic tips can help to balance your vata dosha and bring the energy back into your life!