Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world’s oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “The Science of Life.” It is based on ancient writings that rely on a “natural” and holistic approach to physical and mental health. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. The principles of many of the natural healing systems now familiar in the West have their roots in Ayurveda, including Homeopathy and Polarity Therapy.
In the United States, Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Followers of CAM therapy accept that everything in the universe – dead or alive – is connected. If your mind, body, and spirit are aligned with the universe, you have great health. When something disturbs this balance, you get unwell. Among the factors that can disturb this balance are hereditary or birth defects, injuries, environment and seasonal change, age, and your emotions.
Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle and the use of herbs. Herbs and other plants, including oils and common spices, are used extensively in Ayurvedic treatment.
The two main guiding principles of Ayurveda
The mind and the body are completely connected
Nothing has more power to heal and change the body than the mind
Freedom from illness depends upon developing our awareness, bringing it into balance, and then spreading that balance to the body. This process isn’t as complicated as it may sound.
For instance, when you meditate you effortlessly enter a state of increased awareness and internal quiet that heals the mind and revives balance. Because the mind and body are connected, the body is easily balanced through the habit of meditation.
According to Ayurveda, everyone is unique and treatments should be customized to each individual as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach. Unlike Western medicine, which commonly deals with symptoms, Ayurveda aims to treat the root cause, taking into account the whole, complete picture of a person.
Cultivating Inner Balance
Knowledge of Ayurveda enables one to understand how to create this balance of body, mind and consciousness according to one’s constitution and how to make lifestyle changes to bring about and maintain this balance. Those who practice Ayurveda believe every person is made of five basic elements found in the universe: space, air, fire, water, and earth.
Ayurveda groups the five elements into three basic types of functioning principles, which also are present everywhere, called the Three Doshas. They control how your body works. They are Vata dosha (space and air); Pitta dosha (fire and water); and Kapha dosha (water and earth). When they are in balance, they support life, and when they are not, they cause the dissolution of life. Each person has all three Doshas, but usually one or two dominate, determining one’s physiological and personality traits. Each one controls a different body function. It’s believed that your chances of getting sick — and the health issues you develop — are linked to the balance of your doshas.
The Three Doshas
Kapha (water + earth)
Those who practice Ayurveda believe this is the most powerful of all three doshas. Vata energy is associated with air and space, and is linked to bodily movement, including breathing and blood circulation. When out-of-balance, vata types can endure joint pain, constipation, dry skin, anxiety and other ailments. Things that can disrupt it include eating again too soon after a meal, fear, grief, and staying up too late. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility.
Pitta is made up of Fire and Water. People with pitta energy are considered fiery in temperament, intelligent and fast-paced. Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. This energy controls your digestion, metabolism (how well you break down foods), and certain hormones that are linked to your appetite. Things that can disrupt it are eating sour or spicy foods and spending too much time in the sun. When pitta energy is out of balance, ulcers, inflammation, digestive problems, anger, heartburn and arthritis can result. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence.
Kapha dosha is linked to earth and water. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. This life force controls muscle growth, body strength and stability, weight, and your immune system. Kapha types are considered strong and solid in constitution, and generally calm in nature. Out of balance, it leads to obesity, diabetes, sinus problems, attachment, greed and envy. You can disrupt it by sleeping during the day, eating too many sweet foods, and eating or drinking things that contain too much salt or water. In balance, kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness.
Factors such as stress, unhealthy diet, weather and strained relationships can all influence the balance that exists between a person’s doshas. While each dosha merits its exploration, the idea that you have a unique blend of mental, emotional, and physical characteristics thought to exist in balance encapsulates the holistic nature of Ayurveda. Mind, body, and spirit all have to function for all three to function together.
Understanding your unique dosha and the specific needs that derive from it, allows you to make optimal choices about diet, exercise, supplements, and all other aspects of your lifestyle. Ayurvedic physicians and healers use your dosha to help identify, customize, and prescribe lifestyle changes and remedies that will balance your energies, prevent disease, and preserve health.
The fundamental concept of Ayurveda is to maintain health. Ayurveda does not look at the disease. Many Ayurvedic treatments — like meditation and individualized diets — are therefore aimed at keeping a person healthy, not curing them of disease.
Digestion Is The Key
Ayurveda teaches us that an impaired agni (digestive fire) is at the root of every imbalance and disease. Aagni is the source of awareness, nutrition, and intelligence. It drives all types of transformation, digests thoughts and emotions, and coordinates countless physiological processes—including the digestion, absorption, and assimilation of foods, sensations, and experiences into energy. When our digestive energy is robust, we create healthy tissues, eliminate waste products efficiently and produce a subtle essence called ojas. Ojas, which may be envisioned as the source of our vitality, is the basis for clarity of perception, physical strength, and immunity.
Ayurveda identifies six major tastes we need in our diet every day—sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. Each of these tastes has specific health-giving effects. By including all six, we will be most completely nourished and satisfied. The six tastes affect the doshas differently. Different foods cause specific doshas either to increase or decrease. The doshas increase and decrease on the principle of “like attracts like.” If you have a predominance of vata, you tend to accumulate more vata. Foods that decrease a dosha are said to pacify that dosha, and foods that increase it aggravate it.
Sweet, sour, and salty foods pacify vata.
Sweet, pungent, and bitter foods decrease pitta.
Pungent, bitter, and astringent foods pacify kapha.
Understanding your unique dosha and the specific needs that derive from it, allows you to make optimal choices about diet, exercise, supplements, and all other aspects of your lifestyle.
As the original circadian medicine, Ayurveda holds the key to resolving dis-ease creating a disconnect. Ayurveda encourages you to find love in yourself instead of comparing yourself to other people. It wants you to understand that you are truly unique, and is designed so that you approach your individual life in the most tailored way possible. It encourages you to discover your individual needs, as well as grow, heal, and reflect on your life. The phrase “living in tune with nature” has a precise meaning in Ayurveda: having healthy desires that match what you need.
The Ayurveda Flow
As nature made you, what you need and what you want shouldn’t be in conflict. You flow in harmony with your body’s natural rhythms, getting restful sleep, feeding your senses with experiences, tastes, touch, aromas, sounds, and sights that uplift and nourish you. When you slip out of tune with nature, your desires become non-nurturing and you may crave junk food, neglect to sleep and exercise, and indulge in compulsive behaviors. Over time, a little imbalance can become a disorder and then a disease, bringing on more stress and neglect.
Ayurveda essentially means knowledge of life. It is a precise combination of science and the art of healthy living. Exercising, having an active lifestyle, adequate sun exposure, appropriate treatments, and emotional well-being helps to cleanse the mind and spirit. This leaves you with a healthy mind and glowing skin.
Ayurvedic medicine offers a multitude of herbs, vitamins, minerals, and proteins. These are mixed at an appropriate dosage and administered at an optimal time to prevent and combat immunity-related disorders. Ayurvedic herbs and essential oils help increase blood flow, compliment blood circulation, and draws out toxins from the body through the skin.
By being mindful of what we eat, the way we live, and the way we handle stress, we can maintain and promote the balance so vital to the dynamic expression of life. The regular practice of Ayurveda can manifest these benefits and many more in our lives. Always talk to your doctor before you try Ayurveda or any other alternative medical treatment.