Originating in India over 5000 years ago, Ayurveda is one of the oldest and most comprehensive systems of healing in the world.
Ayurvedic is more than a mere medical system to treat disease, but a way of life that promotes abundant health, vitality and energy.
Ayurveda, pronounced ‘are-you-veda’, means ‘the science of life’ (Ayu means ‘life’ and Veda means ‘knowledge’ or ‘science’ in the ancient language of Sanskrit), and is the science by which the totality of life is understood. It can also be translated as the ‘science of longevity’, ‘the art or life’ or ‘the wisdom of life’.
Ayurvedic teachings stem from the ancient body of knowledge known as the Vedas, which also brought us Yoga, meditation and various other eastern Philosophies. Ayurveda is actually Yoga’s sister science and they work beautifully when practiced together.
Ayurveda describes the diet, medicine and lifestyle behaviour’s that are beneficial to life and consciousness as well as those that are damaging. Ayurveda gives you the knowledge and tools to obtain optimal health and wellbeing. It aids you in living a long, happy, and fulfilled life, helping you to reach your full human and spiritual potential.
Ayurveda is truly a holistic form of medicine and views health as not merely the absence of disease, but the harmony between mind, body, spirit and the world around us. The aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to create a healthy body, peaceful mind, vital spirit, and a balance in the 3 vital forces in the body and mind, known as doshas. This view is such a strong contrast to the biochemical model of modern medicine that views the body in a deconstructed chemical and mechanistic way. Ayurveda believes we are an expression of a living consciousness that has the power to balance and heal itself given the right circumstances.
Ayurveda is a natural medicine so uses foods, herbal medicine, body treatments such as massage, scrubs, etc., and lifestyle practices such as Yoga, meditation and purification programs to restore vitality and balance to the individual. But it really is more than a mere medical system, it is a way of life. Ayurveda offers tremendous insight into how we can live in harmony every day for optimal health and disease prevention.
Basic principles of Ayurvedic medicine
Ayurveda has stood the test of time as a medical system as it is based on the laws of nature, which themselves are unchanging. Ayurveda views the human being as part of nature – we are composed of the same elements as the world around us and governed by the same natural forces. These elements are space, air, wind, water and earth, and they make up everything in the universe: organic and inorganic; animate and inanimate; nature, food, stars, planets, animals and ourselves.
Therefore, certain changes in our environment or food, for example, can result in similar changes in our body. There is a beautiful saying in Ayurveda that sums this up – ‘as it the atom, so is the universe. As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm. As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.’
These five elements combine in various ways to form three constitutional principles, or vital forces, known in Ayurveda as Doshas. These Doshas play a vital role in the functioning of our body.
The Space and Air elements combine to form the Vata dosha. Vata is said to be our ‘wind’ element and is responsible for all movement in our body from the beating of our heart, nerve impulses, peristalsis, respiration, circulation, and so on. It governs the nervous system and resides in the large colon.
Fire and a little Water make up the Pitta dosha. Pitta is our ‘fire’ and our energy of transformation. Pitta governs metabolism, digestion and transforms food into the nutrients or energy that the body needs. It governs the liver, blood and small intestines.
Water and Earth elements combine to create our Kapha dosha. Kapha is responsible for all strength, stamina and structure in the physical body, as well as emotional strength, and relates to the positive emotions of peace, love, generosity and compassion. Kapha is our protective dosha and produces all lubrication to protect the brain, spine, joints, mucosal lining and tissues.
Prakriti – Your natural state of balance
Something that is unique to Ayurveda is that it does not have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to health. We know that different people respond differently to foods, exercises, daily routines, weather, and environments. We all have each of these Doshas within us, but we each have a different proportion of them that gives us our own unique make up. This unique combination is known as our constitution or mind/body type, and is like our DNA. This is called our Prakriti in Sanskrit, and is responsible for everything from our habits, emotions, likes and dislikes to our bodily structure, reaction to foods or propensity to certain illnesses or conditions. Knowing your constitution is like having a blue print for life – each dosha has its own ‘personality’ with its respective strengths and areas of weaknesses. We are mainly a Vata (Air) type, Pitta (Fire) type or Kapha (Earth) type.
This is quite a profound idea to realise: what’s right for one constitution isn’t necessarily right for the other. We don’t all have to fit into the same box of how we should look, think, feel, and even learn. For example, some people actually function better with a little more weight on their body, and for them this is completely healthy. And when these body types spend their energy on trying to have a thinner or more muscular body frame they are actually forcing their body into an unnatural state, which can create disease. Everyone is different and everyone is beautiful! It’s sad that many of us spend so much time and energy on trying to change the unique gifts we have been given!
Ayurveda teaches us to understand our unique mind/ body type, to love our unique mind/body type and learn to love the differences between us.
Awareness of your Dosha or constitution is the key to health in Ayurveda. It helps you to make better choices, particularly in regard to diet and lifestyle, which enhance theses strengths to promote health, whilst avoiding your inherent weaknesses that have a propensity towards a certain diseases.
Next article we will look at the different mind body types and their unique traits.