What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is an Ancient Indian form of natural, holistic medicine that uses herbs, diet, yoga, exercise, mantras, aromas, meditation, oil treatments and Ayurvedic massage to promote good health and wellbeing.
Ayurveda claims that most people are born in a perfect state of balance but quickly lose it due to a variety of man-made factors, such as a poor diet and a stressful lifestyle. Ayurveda offers everyone the chance to rediscover for themselves what their optimal condition might be and thereby begin the journey towards achieving and maintaining good health.
Ayurveda states that nothing exists in isolation, so everything you interact with on a daily basis; your diet, family, work or relationships, has an effect on your health and wellbeing. One guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind and body are connected and that the mind has a profound influence over our health and wellbeing. Whilst conventional western medicine is still grounded in the paradigm of mind-body separation, Ayurveda holds that health is more than the absence of disease; it is a dynamic state of balance and integration of body, mind, and spirit.
Ayurveda therefore allows us to take control of our own destiny. We empower ourselves with consistent good health rather than relying on temporary fixes when we fall ill.
Ayurveda V’s Conventional Medicine
The major difference between Ayurvedic medicine and conventional medicine lies in the treatment method. Whilst most modern medical treatments operate at the symptomatic level, Ayurvedic medicine dictates that treatments work at much deeper causative levels. By regaining an individual’s perfect birth composition, the root of the problem is solved. Here are some key differences:
– Ayurvedic medicine considers human beings to be part of nature, and as such, employs all-natural treatment methods;
– Whilst modern medicine is based on germ theory, Ayurveda is based on the theory of biological humors and body energies. This helps Ayurvedic medicine to get to the root of the problem rather than simply addressing the symptoms;
– A fundamental aim of Ayurvedic medicine is to prevent illnesses by timely adherence to nature’s way. Conventional medicine usually plays no pre-emptive role except in certain specific situations;
– Modern medicine uses synthetic and chemical drugs whereas Ayurvedic medicine is totally natural. As a result, Ayurvedic remedies do not have harmful side-effects;
– Modern medicine has difficulty recognising disease which it can’t measure mechanically and it focuses on suppression of symptoms – usually by some form of treatment which destroys healthy tissue and organic functioning and poisons the body while it kills the ‘external invaders’. This makes it potentially very dangerous and in many cases its treatment may actually create new disease. In addition, the focus is often on treating the disease and not the person;
– Unlike with Ayurvedic medicine, treatment using modern medicine is seldom applied with any changes to the lifestyle or awareness of the patient.
Modern medicine is, however, an undoubtedly useful form of medicine for treating emergency situations, such as accidents and heart attack victims. Advances such as antibiotics and immunisation have also saved many lives. But we need to be aware that allopathic medicine does not have a long history of success. Many of its medicines are very new and haven’t had time to prove themselves as safe or enduring. Antibiotics are widely overused and used inappropriately. This is damaging our level of health. In addition, the use by date of antibiotics is just around the corner. Bacteria are adapting to, and becoming resistant to, antibiotics faster than we can develop new ones.
Ayurvedic medicine should not, therefore, be thought of as a total replacement for allopathic medicine. Each form of medicine has its own strengths. Ayurveda is about improving health and preventing illness through increased self awareness; not about treating car accident victims, for example.
Ayurveda and The Doshas
Ayurveda is a science of self-understanding. By understanding our own unique nature or constitution through knowledge learned from Ayurveda we can begin to understand how we interact with our environment and thus make choices that will lead us towards better health.
Ayurveda believes that an individual’s constitution (prakruti) is recorded at the time of conception as a genetic code that can be expressed physically and mentally as disease proneness and emotional response. This constitution is determined by three ‘doshas’, or psycho-physiological functional principles in Ayurveda; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. According to Ayurveda, we each have constitutions that include all three doshas, but the proportions and dominance of doshas varies from person to person.
Ayurveda defines disease as the natural end result of living out of harmony with our original constitution. Therefore, the Ayurveda approach is highly individualised since the path to optimal health is different for each person depending upon their unique constitution of dosha balance:
If we are predominantly Vata dosha, we tend to be thin, light and quick in our thoughts and actions. Change is a constant part of our lives. When Vata dosha is balanced we are creative, enthusiastic and lively. But if the Vata dosha becomes excessive, we may develop anxiety, insomnia or irregular digestion.
If Pitta dosha is most lively in our nature, we tend to be muscular, smart and determined. If balanced, we are warm, intelligent and a good leader. If out of balance, the Pitta dosha can make us critical, irritable and aggressive.
If we have mostly Kapha dosha in our nature, we tend to have a heavier frame, think and move more leisurely, and are stable. When balanced, it creates calmness, sweetness and loyalty. When excessive, Kapha dosha can cause weight gain, congestion and resistance to healthy change.
Doshic Balance Disturbance
Doshic balance can be disturbed by many factors, both internal and external, and bring about changes in one’s original constitution leading to ailments, disorders and disease. Some of these factors include emotional and physical stresses, improper food combinations and choices, physical trauma, or seasonal and weather changes. Once we understand how these factors affect us on a constitutional level, we can take appropriate actions to nullify or minimise their effects and eliminate the causes of imbalance.
Understanding Doshas For A Healthier Life
From the time of birth until death, the body is engaged in maintaining life. Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas play an important role in the maintenance of cellular health and longevity.
The constitution of an individual is a dynamic force in Ayurveda, and Vata, Pitta, and Kapha doshas are dynamic energies that will change and be affected by the environment and other factors in various ways. An Ayurvedic lifestyle will enable the individual to gain more awareness and control over how those factors can be diminished or nullified, so as to improve and maintain optimal health and wellbeing.
Using the principles of Ayurveda we can identify our mind/body nature and use this understanding to make the most nourishing choices in our lives. It is common for people to have a blend of characteristics but usually one dosha tends to dominate. This is where Ayurvedic therapy comes in to its own.
Ayurveda’s Perspective On Illness
According to Ayurveda, illness is primarily caused by doshas that are too high or aggravated. Low doshas are not thought to possess the strength to cause illness, but they do have their symptoms. Disruption of your optimal balance of the three doshas is not the only cause of disease identified by Ayurveda, however; an accumulation of toxins can also impede good health. Ayurveda states that toxins may be produced through bad digestion, be absorbed into the body from the environment, or even be created by mental strain. Toxins gather in the cells and tissues, hindering their development, purification and proper nourishment.
Ayurveda also states that the doshas can damage one another by an excess dosha taking the illness site of another dosha. This often indicates a more severe condition, in which the dosha has already damaged its own sites. For example, high Kapha, after damaging the lungs, may then damage the nervous system, as in asthmatic wheezing or epilepsy due to phlegm blocking the channels, thus affecting Vata. The doshas affect each other, and in severe illnesses like cancer, all three doshas may be out of balance, making treatment very complicated.
Ayurveda’s Key Aim
With Ayurveda, it is not necessary to know the names or forms of illnesses; it is more important to know the attributes of the doshas and their states of imbalance behind different illnesses. From this standpoint, Ayurvedic therapy is simpler and more holistic. Once the aggravated dosha is ascertained along with its site of manifestation, an integral regime for reducing it can be implemented. It is the underlying energy of the illness which has to be countered, not merely its face that has to be identified. In Ayurveda, no new illnesses can be found; only variations in the same basic illness causing factors, which can always be attributed to the three doshas.
Ayurveda in the 21st Century
You tossed and turned all night. The alarm didn’t go off. You’re late for work and the train has been delayed. There’s a deadline to meet, but your computer is acting up. Three cups of coffee later, your head still throbs. Your back hurts. Your eyes sting each time you blink.
Sound familiar? The answer to our hectic lifestyle in the modern world is not simply to pop an aspirin in order to block the pain temporarily, but to seek a viable long-term solution. It would not be realistic to suggest that we all give up our stressful careers in order to live better and longer. But it is justified to say that with a little thought and attention, we can manage our health much better within our existing lifestyles. This can be achieved by taking measures as small and quick as consistently taking herbal supplements as well as following recommended dietary intakes to complement our personal doshic constitution. We only need to make a small investment in ourselves in order to make a big difference.
We are undergoing a fundamental shift in the way healthcare is provided. What we are experiencing today represents a move towards holism. The old medical establishment viewed the human being as a machine, with separate systems, organs, and tissues; it separates the mind and body into two distinct categories.
Modern thinking acknowledges the mutual interdependence of the physical body, mind, emotions, and the environment in creating health and disease. It has removed the absolute authority from the doctor and has re-fashioned a model of shared responsibility; primarily by the patient, but also by the physician to a lesser extent, in order to maintain good health.
At the centre of this shift is Ayurveda as it is a healing system that promotes health using natural, non-toxic substances and recognises the important role of the mind and emotions.
Leading An Ayurvedic Lifestyle
Ayurveda is a truly holistic system that embraces the healing of all aspects of our being (body, mind, and consciousness) through diet, lifestyle (including exercise, yoga, Ayurvedic massage and meditation), Ayurvedic herbs and herbal preparations, as well as Ayurvedic cleansing and rejuvenating programmes and therapies. A balanced Ayurvedic lifestyle that takes into consideration regularity in food, sleeping habits and bowel movements, as well as following daily routines and practices such as yoga and meditation, will bring discipline and help maintain the harmony of the doshas; promoting overall good health. Here are the key elements that are considered:
Ayurveda and Diet
Core practices when following an Ayurvedic diet:
– Cooking foods properly and avoiding combinations that will create toxins in the body, while learning some of the basic concepts behind Ayurvedic cooking;
– Acknowledging the importance of cooking with respect and love;
– Learning about the fundamental spices of an Ayurvedic kitchen and how to use them to make your food more digestible according to your constitution;
– Understanding why certain eating habits can disturb your health (by deranging the doshas), when to eat what type of food, and how else to improve digestion;
– Learning how the seasons can affect your digestion and health and how to adjust your habits accordingly;
– Understanding why the change from one season to another may require shifting your diet for a period of time to restore balance, and how you can benefit from specific therapies at the beginning of each season.
Ayurveda and Exercise
Ayurveda encourages understanding of why exercise should be suited to your specific constitution, including which kind and how much exercise you should perform to stimulate digestive fire (agni), improve your digestion, relieve constipation, and induce relaxation. It also promotes understanding of how to avoid dehydration, breathlessness, muscle aches, chest pain, and other problems such as arthritis, sciatica, or heart conditions, caused by over exercising.
Walking is probably the best exercise for all constitutions, as is traditional hatha yoga. Ayurveda suggests a workout at half the body’s capacity, just until one breaks a sweat. Kapha-dominant individuals can perform the most strenuous type of exercise. Pitta people should do a medium amount of exercise and only during the coolest time of day. Those with a Vata constitution should do the gentlest type of exercise; even though they love to jump and jog, better choices are yoga, stretching and T’ai Chi.
Ayurveda and Relationships
In Ayurveda it is vital to understand why the relationships you develop with others, as well as the relationship you have with yourself, plays a major role in your state of health and wellbeing, and how suppressed or unresolved emotions can poison your body just as much as bad food combining. The cultivation of clear, compassionate and loving relationships is therefore another important aspect of a healthy Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Ayurveda and Bowel Movements
A key feature in the practice of Ayurveda is that wastes should be eliminated from the body first thing in the morning. This helps to revitalise and prepare the body to receive more nutrients. According to Ayurveda, one should have at least one bowel movement a day. If not, the toxins can be reabsorbed into the tissues. To avoid this, it is important to eat enough fibre-rich food and good quality oils, such as flax, olive or sesame oil, and avoid excessive amounts of raw foods and chilled drinks. There are also traditional Ayurvedic herbal compounds that help restore and maintain the tone of the colon whilst gently cleansing it on a daily basis. In the case of excessive toxins, Ayurveda’s ultimate cleansing programme Panchakarma can work wonders for detoxifying not just the body, but the mind and soul too.
Ayurveda and Bathing
Early morning bathing is another basic Ayurvedic practice. In yogic traditions, bathing symbolises the purification of the soul. From an Ayurveda perspective, it also washes the sweat residue from the pores of the skin, leaving a healthy, radiant glow. Gentle herbal soaps or powders can be used. The daily practice of rubbing the body with oil (abhyanga) can further nourish the skin and deeper tissues. Vata constitutions should use sesame oil, Pitta should use coconut oil and Kapha are best with corn oil.
Ayurveda and Meditation
When following an Ayurvedic Lifestyle, one should wake with or before the sun for meditation. In the Vedic tradition, the pre-dawn hours are known as Brahma murta. This quiet, calm time, when the earth and its inhabitants are still asleep, is most conducive to a meditation practice. Even if it cannot be done before dawn, regular meditation is essential for the maintenance of health. It helps rejuvenate and purify the entire nervous system, as well as calm the mind so one can experience deeper awareness, peace and joy.
Ayurveda and Tongue Brushing
Another early morning Ayurvedic practice is to gently brush the teeth and scrape the tongue. A thick coating on the tongue indicates that there is ama (toxins) from improperly digested food in the gastro-intestinal tract. One should scrape off this coating with a metallic tongue scraper several times prior to brushing the teeth.
To find out how Ayurveda could help enhance your life why not book a consultation with one of our Ayurvedic Practitioners.
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