What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old system of natural healing with roots in the Vedic Culture of India. The word Ayurveda originates from two Sanskrit words; Ayur meaning “life” & Veda meaning “knowledge” or “science.” This “Life Science”, or “Life Knowledge” is often described as Yoga’s sister science. It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vital while realizing their full human potential. Providing guidelines on ideal daily and seasonal routines, diet, behavior and the proper use of our senses, Ayurveda reminds us that health is the balanced and dynamic integration between our environment, body, mind, and spirit.
Ayurveda believes that everyone’s natural state is health and happiness; it focuses heavily on disease prevention and practices that develop self-awareness while empowering people with techniques for personal health maintenance & wellness.
Ayurvedic Views on Health & Disease
Ayurveda believes that you must treat the person, not just the condition or signs/symptoms.
Ayurveda says that 95% of diseases and ailments start first in the mind; they then affect our digestion (which is how we assimilate nutrients- if our digestion is poor, our body accumulates toxins and so the disease process begins!). Imbalances arise in our digestive systems, then they travel through our blood & plasma before finding a “home” somewhere in our bodies- this is where western medical models begin diagnosing disease conditions. Our hectic lives, high stress and anxiety levels, emotional turmoil, excess worry or mental turbulence, anger, and unresolved past issues most likely will, with time, affect the body and become physical problems. Our best medicine is prevention. Ayurveda empowers you to become your own healer and teaches you how to tune into your bodies unique needs. Ayurveda utilizes physical and mental healing through utilizing 5 sense therapies.
Five Sense Therapies
Humans have 5 senses; we can see, smell, hear, taste and touch. We take in information and impressions through our senses all of the time. Ayurveda uses our 5 senses as a means to bring complete health, or svastha, back to the body. This is most commonly done through diet and herbal supplements, but can also include healing through sound, colors, aromatherapy, massage and yoga/meditation.
Life According to the Five Elements of Nature: What’s a Dosha?
Ayurveda sees perfection in nature. Nature consists of 5 elements: earth, air, fire, water, and ether (space). Humans also consist of 5 elements– you see earth in our structure, air in our ability to breathe & move, fire in our metabolism, water as fluid in our bodies and ether (being the most subtle element) in our minds. Everyone has a unique elemental profile- just as different ecosystems have different expressions of the elements (ex: dry deserts, moist rainforests, cold northern areas, etc); some elements are more prevalent in us than other ones. Ayurveda uses the term dosha to help understand our personal elemental profiles.
There are three doshas, each consisting of two elements.
Vata Dosha: air and ether (responsible for motion)
Pitta Dosha: fire and water (responsible for digestion & metabolism)
Kapha Dosha: earth and water (responsible for structure & stability)
Just as we consist of all 5 elements, we too are all 3 doshas. Ayurveda calls the inherent ideal balance off these in a person’s body their Prakruti, or individual constitution. This constitution determines the physical and structural characteristics that define our bodies as well as our physiological tendencies. The doshas also affect our emotional tendencies and the expression of our personalities.
If Vata is the dominant dosha in our system, we tend to be lighthearted, joyful, enthusiastic, creative, social, energetic, spontaneous and physically lighter, thinner or smaller in size. If Pitta predominates in our nature, we tend to be intense, determined, intelligent, organized, enjoy following plans, love learning & make great teachers or leaders, are athletic, goal-oriented and we have a strong appetite for life. When Kapha prevails, we tend to be bigger boned, easy-going, methodical, loyal, grounded, nurturing & loving, they enjoy taking care of others and sometimes slower moving. Although each of us has all three forces, most people have one or two elements that predominate.
Each dosha has a balanced and imbalanced expression. When Vata is balanced, a person is lively and creative, but when there is too much movement in the system, a person tends to experience anxiety, overwhelm, insomnia, forgetfulness, difficulty focusing, dry skin, digestive pain or discomfort or constipation. When Pitta is functioning in a balanced manner, a person is warm, friendly, disciplined, a good leader/teacher, and a good speaker. When Pitta is out of balance, a person tends to feel compulsive, irritable, jealous, competitive, threatened, resentful, angry or may suffer from burning indigestion, loose stools or an inflammatory condition. When Kapha is balanced, a person is sweet, loving, supportive, and stable but when Kapha is out of balance, a person may experience depression, sluggishness, lethargy, weight gain, heaviness when eating or sinus congestion. The dosha that we have most prevalent in our Prakruti is the dosha that is more likely to become out of balance or challenge us- this is referred to as our “Vikruti,” or doshic imbalances.
Ayurveda is a science and approach to life that aims to keep the doshas in balance and harmony. Ayurveda utilizes the 5 sense therapies, (diet, herbs, massage/touch, color/sight, sound, aromatherapy & lifestyle rhythms/routines) to create balance within an individual. Ayurvedic recommendations take into consideration someone’s Prakruti (constitution) Vikruti (imbalances), their age, the season and climate they live in regards to what healing modalities to use.