Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing and medicine that evolved in India 5-10,000 years ago. From the Sanskrit words 'ayus', meaning 'life', and 'veda'. meaning knowledge, 'Ayurveda' means 'the knowledge of life', or 'the science science of life.' Evolvoing alongside Yoga, and with its roots in Vedic philosophy, Ayurveda is often described as Yoga's sister science. It is the oldest written system of medicine in the world, bringing us the first written documentation of surgery, and its influence can be seen in many other systems of healing, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, Greek Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.
Ayurveda takes a holistic view of the human being, seeing all aspects of the body, mind, emotions, spirit and soul as connected, and it is recognised that we are not separate from the world we live in: our health and wellbeing are constantly being affected by internal and external factors including the food we eat, impressions we take in through our senses, the climate, environment and our lifestyles and relationships. Ayurvedic treatment works by identifying the factors in our lives that are causing or contibuting towards any illnesses or imbalances, and making the appropriate changes to correct these, giving the body and mind the most supportive environment in which to naturally restore balance and heal. Prevention is highly emphasised in Ayurveda: we can make the best choices in our diets, environments and lives for our own bodies, and prevent problems from occurring that could potentially lead to illness in the future.
The Three Doshas
Ayurveda identifies three bilological humours, called 'doshas,' which are the forces that control all of the functioning of the body and the mind. The 'vata' dosha, composed of the air and ether elements, is responsible for movement. Vata is the force behind all movement in the body: voluntary movement, involuntary movement, and even the movement of thought. Whenever something moves, it is initiated by the vata dosha. The 'pitta' dosha, composed of the fire and water elements, is responsible for heat and transformation. Pitta is especially connected to the digestive system, and is responsible for all transformative and metabolic processes in the body, and for the digestion and metabolism of thought and ideas, And the 'kapha' dosha, composed of the water and earth elements, is responsible for structure and stability. Kapha is responsible for our physical bodies and the liquids contained within them.
These three doshas work together in every one of us to allow our bodies and minds to function. We also all have our own unique combination of the doshas, which makes us the individuals that we are. This is known as our 'prakruti,' or constitution. We might have more of one dosha and less of the other two, more of two and less of the other one, or more equal amounts of all three. Each dosha has its own qualities and characteristics which are expressed in the body, mind and personality of the person: someone who is more vata will exhibit the light, cold and dry qualities of the vata dosha, perhaps through a smaller, lighter body frame, a colder body temperature and a tendency to be more mobile and active in life. Someone who is more pitta will tend towards a warmer body temperature, sharper features and a tendency to be more disciplined and goal-oriented, reflecting the hot and sharp qualities of pitta; and someone who is more kapha will tend towards a larger, heavier frame and a cooler body temperature with tendencies towards dampness, and will move through life more slowly and steadily, reflecting the heavy, cold, wet and stable qualities of kapha. Once we know our constitution, we are able to make intelligent and informed choices in our lifestyles to avoid aggravating the doshas that we have the most of, for our overall wellbeing.
One of the chief principles of Ayurveda is that applying the quality opposite to the quality of a problem will restore balance. Each of the doshas is composed of several qualities: vata is cold, light, dry, subtle and mobile; pitta is hot, light, sharp, oily and mobile; and kapha is cold, heavy, stable, wet and gross. When the doshas are exposed to too many factors similar to themselves, whether in the diet, the general lifestyle, environment or climate, they can increase and cause disturbances in the body, which eventually manifest as symptoms of illness and disease. To maintain good health, Ayurveda recommends that a person lives in harmony with their constitution by avoiding too much exposure to any of the qualities similar to the dosha(s) which they have the most of, and by favouring the opposite qualities to their main dosha(s). The optimal diet, daily routine, exercise and overall lifestyle is therefore different for each person, depending on their constitution. Someone who has a lot more vata dosha in the constitution will need to favour warmth and heaviness in their diet and lifestyle, where someone with with more pitta dosha will need coolness, and someone with more kapha will need movement and stimulation. This explains why sometimes a diet, treatment or method of physical exercise works very well for one person and not so well for another. The doshas are also affected by the seasons, climate and the time of life, so adjustments are also made accordingly to account for these.
When a dosha becomes imbalanced, symptoms occur due to the improper functioning of that dosha in the body. Ayurvedic treatment uses the principle of opposites to pacify the dosha which has increased and to bring it back to its usual level. A vata imbalance is treated by applying warm, heavy and moist qualities, a pitta imbalance is treated through introducing cool, stable and heavy qualities, and a kapha imbalance is treated with hot, light and dry qualities. Treatments can work with every aspect of a person's life: through all of the senses, the diet, the environment, and the lifestyle; and may include dietary changes, adjustments to the daily routine, physical exercise, lifestyle changes, herbal remedies, body therapies, aromatherapy, colour therapy, sound therapy, yoga, and meditation. Purification treatments can also be used to purge an excess dosha from the body when necessary. As the qualities and factors which caused the dosha to go out of balance are decreased, and the qualities which bring the dosha back into balance are increased, the body finds its way back to its natural state of balance and harmony. If more than one dosha has been affected, appropriate treatments are chosen to balance both, or even all three of them, together.
The Spiritual Science
Ayurveda is sometimes referred to as the 'spiritual science.' It teaches us that we are not separate from the world around us and gives us the tools to live intelligently and harmoniously with ourselves and with nature. We can learn to become more aware of ourselves, our life choices, and our surroundings, and deepen our connection with, and understanding of, our bodies and minds, and the process of life. Ayurveda teaches that true health is experienced when we remember our true nature as spritual beings, and that illness occurs when we begin to forget that truth of who we are. So in the journey back to health through Ayurveda, we also journey deeply into ourselves and have the opportunity to embark on a profound process of self-discovery and understanding.
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