Ayurveda is the ancient Indian healing system based on achieving mental and physical harmony. It is one of the oldest forms of medical science known to man and has been practised for more than 5000 years; ‘Ayur‘ means ‘life’ and’ Veda’ means knowledge or science. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga.
Ayurveda treats the mind and body, and spirit of a person and works on the basis that the mind and body are linked and together they can restore balance and overcome disease. By assessing all aspects of our life from our diet to our daily/seasonal routine and incorporating some basic Yoga, meditation and rest into our lives, Ayurveda can restore harmony and balance.
Ayurveda sees everything in the universe being composed of 5 basic elements: Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. These 5 elements in turn combine within each other to give rise to 3 bio-physical forces known as Doshas. VATA = Air and Space; PITTA = Fire and Water; KAPHA = Water and Earth.
Everyone has within themselves all 3 Doshas but it is the dominance of any one or two, or all three, that make up a person’s body constitution. Ayurveda seeks to treat mind and body according to a person’s Dosha using a system combining diet, yoga, herbal remedies, detoxification, Ayurvedic massage and lifestyle routine.
Basic Principles of Ayurveda
While Ayurvedic principles can be used to explain the complexity of not only health, but also the world around us, there are several simple basics that become the building blocks for everything else:
• Ayurveda’s fundamental approach to well-being is that you must reach your unique state of balance in your whole being—body, mind, and spirit.
• Ayurveda views the world in light of 3 constitutional principles; vata , pitta and kalpha. These are explained in more detail below.
• The first line of defense in combating imbalances is to remove the cause of the problem. If the trouble-maker is out of the picture, the body starts being able to heal itself. For example, if pollutants are bothering your nasal passages and sinuses, rinse them out with a traditional Ayurvedic remedy, the neti pot
• If there are any lingering imbalances after removing the inciting cause, then bring balance by using opposites. For example, the Ayurvedic remedy to excess heat is to use something cooling. So for excess heat or acidity in the digestive system, you could use cooling and soothing herbs like Shatavari.
• Always support the digestive fire so that nutrition can be absorbed and waste materials can be eliminated.
Once you put on the lens of Ayurveda and see things in terms of vata, pitta, kapha, and combinations thereof, the whole world comes alive in a new way. Look at the world around you! The doshas take form in endlessly interesting ways.
Composed of air and space, vata is dry, light, cold, rough, subtle/pervasive, mobile, and clear. As such, vata regulates the principle of movement. Any bodily motion—chewing, swallowing, nerve impulses, breathing, muscle movements, thinking, peristalsis, bowel movements, urination, menstruation—requires balanced vata. When vata is out of balance, any number of these movements may be deleteriously affected.
Pitta brings forth the qualities of fire and water. It is sharp, penetrating, hot, light, liquid, mobile, and oily. Pitta’s domain is the principal of transformation. Just as fire transforms anything it touches, pitta is in play any time the body converts or processes something. So pitta oversees digestion, metabolism, temperature maintenance, sensory perception, and comprehension. Imbalanced pitta can lead to sharpness and inflammation in these areas in particular.
Kapha, composed of earth and water, is heavy, cold, dull, oily, smooth, dense, soft, static, liquid, cloudy, hard, and gross (in the sense of dense or thick). As kapha governs stability and structure, it forms the substance of the human body, from the skeleton to various organs to the fatty molecules (lipids) that support the body. An excess of kapha leads to an overabundance of density, heaviness, and excess in the body.
Your Unique Constitution
The key to Ayurvedic wellness and healing is the knowledge that health is not a “one size fits all” proposition. One must understand the unique nature of each person and situation, taking into account the individual, the season, the geography, and so on.
Each person has an Ayurvedic constitution that is specific to him or her, and movement away from that constitution creates health imbalances; if such imbalances are not addressed, Ayurveda says that illness may develop. So, the early signs of imbalance serve as a wakeup call to make gentle and natural shifts in behavior to return to balance—such as adjusting diet, modifying daily activities and taking herbal remedies for a time.
Determining your prakriti—your fundamental balanced constitution—requires an assessment of your most natural state. Consider your physical structure as well as mental and emotional tendencies. Remember to think of what is most natural to you, rather than what you’re like when you are stressed or ill. Ayurveda says you can understand your basic nature and tendencies by understanding your balanced state.
Dosha imbalances (your vikruti, or current condition) can manifest in various stages, from a general feeling of “something is not right” all the way to diagnosed illnesses with serious complications. To address this, Ayurveda presents a vast toolbox of treatment modalities to choose from; but whatever the treatment, the goal is to reestablish your natural balance of vata, pitta, and kapha.