Ayurveda is a medical system that dates back more than 5,000 years to rural India. It can be used as preventative care and as a healing system. The word Ayurveda translates to the knowledge or science of life. 'Ayur' meaning life and 'veda' meaning knowledge or science. As more people are turning to holistic methods of healing, they are also discovering the benefits that Ayurveda offers.
As a sister science of yoga, Ayurveda provides deep insight into caring for the whole individual which includes tending to the mind, body and spirit. The ancient science places equal value on the health of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of a human-being. For example, emotional balance is just as important as physical health.
One important fundamental belief in Ayurveda is pragya aparadh, which means the “mistake of the intellect” or "crime against wisdom". This belief understands that imbalance or disease occurs when we live out of tune with nature's intelligence.
As an example of nature's intelligence, the Ayurvedic clock informs seasonal eating and daily eating patterns such as when to take the biggest meal of the day. When we tune to these cycles, and follow other Ayurvedic practices then we remain in flow wth nature's intelligence. This flow translates to ease, balance and greater health.
Another example, many animal species know it is time to mate because they sense longer days and shorter nights in the spring.
Health is More Than Absence of Disease
Health is not simply defined as the absence of disease in Ayurveda. Rather it is good digestion, proper sleep, healthy tissues, abundant energy, balanced emotions, graceful aging, and longevity. When one experiences true health, a vibrant and light energy shines from the inside-out. This is ojas. Ojas is the by product of perfect digestion and is the pure intelligence or essence of the tissues. It is the fluid of life, and it creates vitality, strength and immunity.
Strong, balanced digestion or agni is vital for good health. Agni is the digestive fire that processes food and experience. It is important that one maintains strong agni to reduce the risk of forming ama. Ama is toxic build-up from poorly digested foods and/or experiences. Ama blocks flow which disturbs the natural intelligence and normal functioning of tissues. This leads to dis-ease or disease.
Use Nature to Heal
Ayurveda is rich with natural modalities that bring balance and good health to the whole individual. The system uses diet, lifestyle, exercise, yoga, meditation, sound, touch, color, herbs and aromatherapy to heal.
Five Element Theory
Ayurveda is rooted in the following five elements: earth, water, fire, air and space (ether). Each element has inherent qualities. These qualities can be witnessed by witnessing the elements in nature. For example, earth is dense and static. Water is liquid and dense. Fire is hot and mobile. Air is mobile and clear. Space is subtle and expansive.
These five elements combine to create doshas, or unique mind-body types. There are three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. How the doshas appear in each individual inform physical characteristics, emotional and mental tendencies as well predispositions to specific ailments. When doshas are out of balance it causes dis-ease or disease.
The doshas advise proper diet, lifestyle, and self-care techniques for individuals. For example, have you tried a diet that doesn't work for you for various reasons? You may not be eating according to your dosha! Knowing and understanding your dosha is key to good health and happiness.
I’ve listed and briefly described each of the doshas below:
Vata is a combination of the air and space elements.
Vata controls movement. Movement of and within the body, movement of thoughts, movement of emotions. Vata is dryness and changeability of fall and early winter.
Vata is light, dry, coarse, rough, dark, changeable, moveable, subtle, cold and clear. A classic vata body frame is a light, thin build. Vata types are enthusiastic, vivacious and talkative.
Vata imbalances include: anxiety, fear, poor sleep, forgetfulness, excess air – gas/burps, bloating, constipation, general dryness, poor circulation and pain.
In my experience, vata is a common imbalance in our society. It is the most subtle of the three doshas which means it is generally the first to go out of balance. Vata relates to movement, so continuous simulation and movement creates imbalance.
Pitta is a combination of mostly fire and some water.
Pitta controls metabolism. Pitta relates to anything that changes form and structure such as digestion, transformation, and energy production. Pitta is the heat summer.
Pitta is hot, sharp, pungent, intense, flowing, sour and slightly oily. A classic pitta build is muscular with a medium frame. Pitta types are intense, analytical, focused, generous and goal-oriented.
Pitta imbalances include: irritability, anger, impatience, criticism, jealousy, intense hunger and thirst, acid, heat, loose stool, redness, rash, skin disorders, and inflammation.
Kapha is a combination of earth and water elements.
Kapha controls structure. Structure includes: muscle, fat, bones, and all small cells that create form. Kapha is the juiciness of spring.
Kapha is unctuous, slimy, cool, moist, sticky, heavy, stable, strong and soft. A classic kapha build is a large frame. Kapha types are jovial, sweet, loving and easy-going.
Kapha imbalances include: obesity, congestion, lethargy, colds/coughs, lymphatic congestion, cold clammy hands, profuse sweating, stuffy nose, cysts, high cholesterol, diabetes, and poor appetite.
Ayurveda may seem complicated, but living a balanced, wholesome life can be simpler than you think. There are many places to start your journey.
It is helpful to uncover your dosha to better understand the innate needs for your individual constitution. You can do that by taking a dosha test on ShriWellness.com.
Another recommendation is to begin slowing down. The process of slowing down encourages attuning the body to the rhythm of nature. It also supports increased awareness as well as intuition of actual physical, mental and emotional needs. Awareness of environment and self is necessary for individuals to know what creates greater balance or imbalance. It begins by slowing down.
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