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.
Ayurveda is completely different. 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.
The other big difference between Ayurveda and Western medicine is in the gold standard of knowledge in each system of medicine. 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.
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.
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.
When we think of Western psychology, we tend to think that human beings have the same psychology. We do not study an individual, we study different patterns of psychology. We study motivation, habit, hedonics, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc. We study general principles of the mind and assume that it works for everyone because everyone’s mind has cognition, emotion, expresses behaviors, and that these things are related.
Ayurveda starts by saying that everyone’s mind is unique. To help people, we have to understand what kind of mind they have because the treatments and interventions we use depends on that. Dr. Kanojia started to use the phrase “cognitive fingerprint” to define a person’s unique cognitive makeup because once we understand someone’s unique cognitive fingerprint, we can structure your life, diet, or environment to fit with your cognitive fingerprint.
One of the biggest problems that gamers run into is that they assume that they’re lazy and are not functional. They think that they do a bad job because they are using a gold standard of cognitive fingerprint that does not necessarily suit them very well. They think that they should be disciplined, focused, and should walk up at the same time every day. They think that these are the things that lead to success.
Ayurveda says that there is more than just one route to success. If your cognitive fingerprint is different, then the way that you can be successful is to play to your strengths.
Ayurveda treats a person instead of a disease. It presumes that all human beings are different and that to help someone, you have to understand how they function individually.
Ayurveda has a concept called the doshic balance. Doshas are the three major patterns that govern what people are like. Every individual has a unique cognitive fingerprint and different people have different kinds of cognitive fingerprints.
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.
Some people are bi-doshic or tri-doshic and they are no better or worse than other people. Considering the gaming analogy of Vatas being mages, Pittas being DPS and Kaphas being tanks, if someone is a battlemage, then they are not going to be as good of a spellcaster as a straight mage, but they will be a better melee DPS than one. They will also not have the same weaknesses.
If you are a battle mage, then you are a Kapha-Pitta-Vata (tri-doshic). You do some spellcasting, you do some DPS and you can somewhat tank. You’re not going to be as extreme as any people who are Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, but you are going to be well rounded.
In a sense, everyone is tridoshic — everyone has some level of each dosha. If you think of these as stats, then everyone has a certain number of each stat. Higher numbers do not necessarily mean better things.
Disease in Ayurveda arises when one of your dosha levels is either too high or too low. For example, if a person is high Vata, then their mind is very dynamic. But if that Vata score were to climb 10 points higher, than they would be ADHD. It would mean that their mind has gotten so dynamic that they cannot focus on any one thing for any significant period. If they have low Kapha naturally, and it drops a few more points, then they might get sick very easily.
If you do have an autoimmune disease, and if you do Vata-lowering treatments, your autoimmune disease should get better. Everyone has a Prakriti (nature), which is the genetic amount of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha that you possess.
Ayurvedic treatment works by modifying your levels of the three doshas. It gives you buffs or debuffs that raise or lower your levels of the three doshas. The amount that your Vata, Pitta, and Kapha have deviated from the norm is called the Vikriti.
According to Ayurveda, some foods will lower or raise your levels of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. There are lifestyle changes that will do the same.
If a person balances their Vata, all the problems that arise due to high levels of Vata are going to get better. Their anxiety, sleep, skin, and bowel movements will get better. The same goes for Pitta and Kapha doshas. In Western medicine, this concept is understood clinically. If a person has depression and addictions, when one thing goes bad, everything goes bad.
In psychiatry, there is a saying: “All boats rise together”. The water level determines the state of all of your disease processes. We know that if you treat someone’s anxiety, their IBS gets better. If you treat someone’s depression, their fibromyalgia gets better.
We know that these things are clinically correlated, but the system of Western medicine looks at individual things and tunnels down and does not look at patterns and overarching changes. But sometimes, while the system is not designed with this in mind, we see evidence for this idea.
Good examples for this idea are exercise and meditation as they seem to improve everything.
The reason they work so broadly is that there are some overarching principles behind human health and wellness and upon accessing those principles through these practices, everything about a person gets better. We know this through experience — if you ask people how they improved they are mental health and controlled their addictions, a very common answer is exercise.
¶ If I want to succeed do I need to increase my Pitta qualities?
Yes. Remember that problems in Ayurveda arise when things are too high or too low. If your ambition is too low or you’re not moving anywhere in life it will help to increase that. But more importantly, increase your Rajas (passions).
It can get even more complicated though because it might not be the Pitta throwing you off, but your Vata might be too high. People assume the problem might be that you need to work harder or be more Pitta, but you might just be spreading yourself too thin. Vatas get stuck because they think they need to be more disciplined whereas the problem is that they spend their energy in too many different places.
There isn’t a singular way to be successful. Ask yourself what is getting in the way of your success. Do you need to be more conscientious, or more social? Figure that out — there isn’t a set personality build that you need to have.
Ayurveda is very low-hanging fruit. One can make a lot of changes in their life, just by adopting some Ayurvedic principles. The first-line treatment for mental health problems in Ayurveda is dietary change. If you change your diet, your anxiety, depression, and anger will get better.
Ayurveda describes six tastes:
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.