What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda, literally the ‘science or knowledge of life’, is a 5000 year old Indian medical practice that encompasses a range of treatments, including Herbal Medicine, appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, meditation, massage and Yoga, tailored towards one’s specific unique constitution, or body type, to maintain or restore health.
This system of natural healing that originated in India, has a rich history of oral and written traditions which have been passed down for thousands of years. It is the oldest documented system of medicine in the world.
The word Ayurveda is derived from the words Ayus meaning life and longevity and Veda meaning science or knowledge. Originating in India, founded by ancient ‘seers’ or rishis, it then spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, Tibet, China, Russia, Japan, and is the cornerstone of many other traditional systems of medicine. But more than just a system of medicine, it is a way to promote longevity and the harmonious integration of body, mind, senses and spirit. Ayurveda is the most senior, continuously practised, complete healing and health care system on the planet.
Principles of Ayurveda
According to ayurvedic philosophy, the environment in which we live is made of five elements – earth, air, fire, ether and water. When the five elements in our bodies are in harmony with our outside environment, we experience perfect health. When we are not in balance with our environment, our health deteriorates, and disease can occur.
The five elements are present in our bodies as three bodily intelligences (doshas): vata, pitta and kapha.
Mind-Body Constitutions (Doshas)
Vata—formed by air and earth
Vata in our bodies behaves with the same characteristics of air and ether. It is drying, cool, and light. It is responsible for movement including circulation, elimination, nerve impulses, and breathing. Mentally, it can be seen in the flow of thoughts.
Pitta—formed by Fire and Water
Pitta presents in our bodies with the characteristics of fire and water, although fire is dominant. It is hot and oily. Pitta is responsible for transforming food into nutrients and waste, and for the metabolic functions in all our organs and tissues. Mentally, pitta represents fire in the temperament, commonly seen as passion and drive.
Kapha—formed by earth and water
Kapha presents in our bodies with the characteristics of earth and water—moist, heavy and cool. Kapha gives stability, structure, growth, protection, endurance, calmness and cohesion. Examples of kapha dosha in our body include the cerebral-spinal fluid, the structure of our cell walls and the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Mentally, kapha governs memory, learning capacity, and promotes the qualities of love and calm.
Mind-Body constitution (prakruti) and imbalance (vikruti)
Prakruti is the combination of the doshas that a person in born with. It remains constant for the person’s life and is influenced by the doshas of their parents, including the mental and physical states of the parents at the time of conception, and the diet and lifestyle of their mother throughout the pregnancy.
The doshas that are dominant at birth determine physical characteristics, personality and any tendencies that may result in specific types of illnesses. The aim of Ayurveda is to keep the prakrutiin balance with the original ‘set point’ at birth.
Vikruti is the result of our prakruti falling out of balance. Improper diet, lifestyle, stress levels, the seasons and other environmental factors can cause imbalance. The imbalance may present with the characteristics of a dosha that is different to your original prakruti. For example, you may be kapha prakruti but have a condition of dry skin which would be vata vikruti.
By knowing our prakruti and our vikruti, we can treat the cause of the illness or condition, as well as maintain balance with our original mind-body constitution. We can better understand why we have certain personality traits, emotional tendencies, likes and dislikes, and why we are susceptible to certain illnesses. The knowledge enables us to take practical steps to design a diet and lifestyle in harmony with our environment.
Common symptoms of imbalanced Doshas:
Dryness of the skin
Anxiety and worry
Skin irritation and rash
Indigestion and heartburn
High blood pressure and other circulatory problems
Sinus congestion and colds
Allergies and hay fever
Cysts and other growths
Ayurvedic principles helps you create harmony in the body, mind and spirit, thereby prolonging life and eliminating the causes of disease and dysfunction.
The microcosm and macrocosm reflect each other
Every cause has an effect…and every effect has a cause
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
Like increases like
A quality is decreased by its opposite quality
There is no pain in the body without vata, no inflammation in the body without pitta and no oedema in the body without kapha
Balance and health for each individual is unique – one size/treatment/medicine/regime etc. does not fit all.