Ayurveda is often translated as, ‘The Science of life’. This centuries old medical system originates from the Indian subcontinent and is a form of traditional healing that uses nature as a guide to maintaining the well being of the individual and a balanced relationship to the larger world itself. Ayurveda says that we as individuals are made up of the same basic elements of the universe (Earth, water, fire, air, and ether), and thus can use this knowledge as a tool for self inquiry. This fundamental tenant is referred to as the microcosm-macrocosm principle. Simply put, that which is outside of us is also contained within us. We use this mirror as a means to determine what will help us align more closely with nature and live a happier and more balanced life as we learn to flow with the natural cycles of life.
Ayurveda places a large emphasis on preventative medicine and the maintenance of health by paying particular attention to one’s dietary, lifestyle, and mental or emotional states. More specifically, Ayurveda shows us how to create balance between the physical body, mind, and consciousness by way of understanding the unique and individual characteristics we each possess. Each of us is born with our own specific combination of physical and mental traits that are determined at birth by various factors including our parents genetics, time of birth, place of birth, season, and other more subtle influences. This is known as our constitution (prakriti). This is the balanced and natural state of our individual self. Life however, has a tendency to disturb this balance and this state of disruption is known as vikriti, or our current state of imbalance. Factors such as diet, age, familial and work stress, physical stress, sleep patterns, mental/emotional state and seasonal influences amongst other things can all play a part in this vitiation. Ayurveda is both a science and an art form. Its purpose is to understand these principles and apply them in a way which can positively affect and improve our own well being. This self empowerment and greater awareness inevitably leads to greater health and happiness physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Ayurveda views the functional aspect of the human body and mind through the lens of three bodily humors (doshas); Vata, Pitta, and Kapha respectively. This intricate relationship influences how our body responds to the foods we take in, the environment we live in, and the emotional states we experience amongst other things. The doshas give us a diagnostic picture to look at when trying to determine which parts of our system may be in balance and which parts may be out of balance. We can use this knowledge to seek out the foods, environments, and medicines that bring us back to balance.
Vata dosha controls movement in the body. Breathing, the movement of blood, muscles, and nutrients in body, as well as the actions of the nervous system are all controlled by Vata. Vata is the energy of creativity, enthusiasm, and mental flexibility within us when in balance. Out of balance, Vata may bring fear, anxiety, and unsteadiness of the mind. It is said that the Vata element is the most easily vitiated of the three doshas.
Pitta dosha dominates our body’s transformative functions. Most notably the function of “cooking” and digesting the food we eat. Metabolism, absorption, assimilation, and the maintenance of body temperature are all components controlled by Pitta. Intelligence and understanding are the mental aspects of this dosha and also can be seen in the ‘luster’ of one’s eyes. When out of balance, Pitta can show as anger, jealousy, and irritability. Reflux and other inflammatory conditions in the body are often caused by imbalanced Pitta dosha.
Kapha is the dosha of structure and lubrication. All of the physical components of the body, bones, muscle, fluids, and nerves themselves are ruled by Kapha dosha. Kapha also provides the nourishing and lubricating functions of the body and maintains our immunity. The solidity and substance of Kapha binds the body together and creates our physical form. In balance, this shows as love, compassion, forgiveness. When unbalanced, it will express as greed and attachment. Many conditions involving edema, dull achy pain, and sinus congestion are rooted in Kapha imbalance.
All three of the doshas exist within each of us, but to varying degrees. The particular combination individual to each of us makes up our constitution (prakruti). This represents the normal activities of the body and gives us the model in which to use in the maintenance of our body through preventative measures. Attention to appropriate diet and lifestyle for one’s doshic makeup strengthens the body and mind and gives us a more balanced sense of self. Understanding the effects of various foods, herbs, and actions on the doshas themselves also gives us greater awareness of what we can use to correct imbalance when it inevitably arises.
Based on these findings, an Ayurvedic practitioner will suggest various therapies or practices to help return the client to optimal health. Techniques including pulse and tongue assessment, questioning, observation, and the evaluation of symptoms are typically used to determine the state of imbalance and arrive at the corrective measures. Typically dietary, herbal, and lifestyle recommendations are given as well as guidance through cleansing techniques when appropriate. Ayurveda is the science of life, it can be used to address acute conditions as well as in the management of more chronic conditions. Through continual refinement and experience, our internal faculties increase in awareness of what brings us better mental and physical health and how to maintain this state. Each individual is a unique picture and responds in their own individual way to the many aspects of life they will encounter. With this knowledge, we gain the tools to become our own healer.