What is Ayurveda?

In Sanskrit “ayuh” means “life” or “longevity” and “veda” means science or knowledge. Therefore, the word Ayurveda can be interpreted as the knowledge of life or the science of longevity.

Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga that helps a person realize their aptitude for wellness. Instead of addressing symptoms, Ayurveda emphasizes prevention of illness through daily self-care practices, a holistic lifestyle, and an appropriate diet.

With the knowledge of Ayurveda, we can create and maintain the balance of body, mind, and consciousness according to our unique individual constitution. While herbs and oils play an important role in Ayurvedic medicine, Ayurveda is an active journey of realization and awareness towards the needs of the body and the mind. It gives special importance to a connection between what is inside and outside and advocates the use of the right thinking and a thoughtful daily regimen to reunite us with our true inner nature.

Understanding Ayurveda

Each person is born with a unique physical and psychological constitution. Your constitution (called Prakriti) is established within you at the time of conception. It is a combination of physical, mental,  and emotional characteristics that are determined at conception and  remains the same throughout your life.

However, as we progress through life, our Prakriti is influenced by our choices, diet, lifestyle, and environment. Things like stress, poor eating habits, insufficient sleep, and extreme weather can alter the balance of doshas that will manifest in some mental or physical form. This ‘altered constitution’ is called Vikriti. Vikriti is the current state of your constitution that has been imbalanced due to the dietary, environmental, or lifestyle factors. So, to summarize, we’ve understood what the two states of dosha are:

  • Prakriti (the constitution you are born with)
  • Vikriti (the current state of your constitution)

A short history of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga that originated in the Vedic period of ancient India that dates back to 5000-6000 BC. Even though it took shape and form in India over thousands of years, Ayurveda began to lose its relevance in the sub-continent due to the constant invasions and the colonial British rule that lasted until the 1950s.

Ayurveda, despite its antiquity, has become the new-age mantra for living in accordance with nature. The past few decades have witnessed a resurrection of the practice in the wake of the stress and strain of our modern lifestyle. This ‘return to the roots’ movement has revived this wonderful science and it has now spread to every continent.

Today, many supporters of Ayurveda in India and the West practice these holistic traditions to improve their quality of life. It has gained unrivaled popularity on the internet and has resurfaced as a major system of alternative healthcare that has endured scientific scrutiny. Let us take a brief look at the core principles of Ayurveda, and how we can use them to create good health and balance in our life:

The core principles of Ayurveda

Ayurveda was created to cater to everyone without making any distinction of education, wealth, or social status. Because of this, it is structured in a manner that is very easy for everyone to understand and visualize. Understanding Ayurveda helps to restore the natural balance and a healthy state of mind, body & soul. To learn how to visualize things from an Ayurvedic perspective, the first step is to understand some key principles. When we understand it we can take necessary actions to minimize or eliminate the cause of imbalance from the root.

  • Meditate and live mindfully
  • Eat a colorful, flavorful, and seasonal diet
  • Strengthen your digestive power
  • Engage in daily exercise for well-rounded fitness
  • Get abundant restful sleep for regeneration
  • Identify and eliminate what is not serving you.
  • Live in tune with Nature (inner and outer nature)

Ayurveda stresses on building a strong foundation in the three pillars of good health (Trayostambh), which are diet, sleep, and sexual conduct. When one understands the essence of these three important aspects of health, one can establish balance by embodying them in their life.

The five elements

According to Ayurveda, the entire fabric of the universe is some combination of the five great elements (panch maha bhoot). Similarly, each human body also consists of these elements in different proportions.

Ether (Space)

Space is pure potential, infinite possibilities

Air

Air has the qualities of movement and change

Fire

Fire is hot, direct, and transformational

Water

Water is cohesive and protective

Earth

Earth is solid, grounded, and stable

The qualities or the gunas

Guna means quality or characteristic. In Ayurveda, everything has been given an inherent quality to help us identify whether it is right for us or not. Ayurveda follows the principle of ‘opposites balance’ and ‘like increases like’. For instance, if you have a burning sensation in the stomach (heat/fire), you would want to avoid hot/fiery food. You can appease the heat, or balance it, with cooling food. There are 20 qualities (10 sets) i.e. a quality and its opposite which balances it.

Once you understand how these qualities affect you, you can use them to get rid of any imbalances in your mind and body.

For instance – If you are feeling restless or anxious this means there is a lot of movement and no stability in the mind. So how do you ground yourself and anchor your thoughts? You can do this by slowing down to a stable and steady pace (the opposite of restless movement). To achieve this you can sit mindfully in one place and listen to soothing music, or do some calming and easygoing yoga or even have a cup of warm milk or herbal tea as you read a nice book of your choice.

HeavyLight
Slow (Dull)Sharp (Penetrating)
ColdHot
OilyDry
SmoothRough
DenseLiquid
SoftHard
StableMobile
GrossSubtle
Cloudy (Sticky)Clear

 

The three primary doshas

KalyaVeda-Doshas-Green

The Ayurvedic system is based on the concept of the three doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Every human being is born with a unique combination of these three doshas.

Vata (Ether + Air)
Pitta (Fire + Water)
Kapha (Water + Earth)

The doshas are a combination of the five great elements Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. However, each of them contains two primary elements as those two have the most influence on them.

Some people may be born with one dosha (eg: Pitta dosha), or others may even have a dual dosha (combination of two) like Pitta-Vata dosha. The combination of doshas one is born with is also known as ‘constitution by birth’ or Prakriti (natural or inherent constitution).

The seven constitutions

According to Ayurveda, each human is born with a combination of kapha, pitta, and vata. When the doshas of our constitution are balanced, we are in our Prakriti state or a Tridoshic state (Harmony of all three doshas). If any of our doshas are imbalanced, it’s referred to as Vikriti. If an imbalance is present, we can determine which doshas need to be balanced by taking a simple online Dosha quiz. The quiz involves a few question with multiple-choice answers that can be answered in a matter of minutes. The results usually vary among the 7 types of constitutions:

  • Vata Dosha: Imbalanced vata
  • Pitta Dosha: Imbalanced pitta
  • Kapha Dosha: Imbalanced kapha
  • Vata-Pitta or Pitta-Vata: Imbalanced vata and pitta
  • Pitta-Kapha or Kapha-Pitta: Elevated pitta and kapha
  • Kapha-Vata or Vata-Kapha: Elevated vata and kapha.
  • Tridoshic or Vata-Pitta-Kapha: Equal amounts of all 3 doshas (perfect balance)

Once a dosha imbalance (Vikruti) is determined, we can use various Ayurvedic treatments and small lifestyle changes to bring balance back to our constitution. The first step to bringing balance is to find your primary dosha and understand what is causing the disturbance. We encourage you to take our free dosha quiz as the first step to achieving a healthy body, mind, and soul. The primary goals of an Ayurvedic practice involve understanding which of these apply to you and how to bring balance in your current state and life. Ayurveda recommends dietary & lifestyle choices that will help you return to a tri-doshic balance – a natural harmony. It also recommends simple self-care practices and remedies that can cure imbalances and counter the influence of stress, extreme weather or mental instability. Most of these are straightforward things that can be added at your own pace to a daily routine (called Dinchariya). Similarly, Ayurveda also recommends a few modifications to the diet and lifestyle based on the season of the years. Since Ayurveda was made for everyone from a peasant to a King, it is easy to visualize and simple to follow. Even if your practice is limited to the basics of Ayurveda, it can lead to a better quality of life and better emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Benefits of applying Ayurveda to your medical treatment

The beauty of the Ayurvedic approach is that it is as elegant and intuitive to the novice as it is the seasoned Ayurvedic practitioner. For those relatively new to Ayurveda, the tradition offers a clear path to improved wellness and vitality. The same set of principles guides the skilled Ayurvedic practitioner in directing potent remedies to specific organs, tissues, and channels throughout the physical and energetic bodies.
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