An Introduction to Ayurveda

Intro

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Ayurveda is over 5000 years old Indian natural healing system rooted in the knowledge of plants and herbs with medical properties, observation of nature, living creatures as well as the spiritual tradition of Yoga. On the photo you find variety of spices which have healing properties (Spice Market in Kochi, April 2019).

Following completion of a fantastic Yoga Teacher Training Course (TTC) at Mysore Krishnamacharr Yoga Foundation I’ve realised that Yoga and Ayurveda are closely linked and complement each other. The course was an eye opening experience and drastically changed my approach towards well-being! I’m writing this because I want to share with you what I’ve learned about Ayurveda and how it can be incorporated into your life to improve your every day well-being.

I’ve been inspired to learn about Ayurveda thanks to Kanchen Mala (Krishnamacharr Yoga Foundation manageress). Kanchen created a course which focused not only on Yoga but also on Ayurvedic practices, principles and massage techniques.

During the course I learnt that both Yoga and Ayurveda go hand in hand which was something new to me. Their shared objective is to enable us to live in harmony with our own physical, mental and spiritual constitutions and lead a healthy and well balanced life.

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Ayurvedic treatment methods for the mind include yogic practices for spiritual growth such as mantra and meditation. The Ayurvedic view of the mind derives form Yoga philosophy and its understanding of different levels of consciousness (Signpost, Varkala Cliff, Kerala, May 2019)

Despite Ayurvedic practices having ancient root it could not be more appropriate for  the present-day where so many people suffer from stress related conditions, obesity, chronic diseases etc. It can complement conventional medicine or where conventional medicine may not be available, due to socio-economic circumstances, can be a key healthcare system.

Ayurveda is not a quick fix, fundamentally it is a decision to become conscious of a daily habits and how these habits can be altered to improve well-being. It’s not focused solely on relieving the symptoms but bringing fact, which are out of balance back to the harmony. In Ayurveda the key is a holistic and individual approach in which health is promoted each and every day.

In this very first post about Ayurveda (there are many more to come) I share what I learnt about:

  • What Ayurveda is
  • The basic characteristics of three main body constitutions (called the Doshas)
  1. Vata
  2. Pitta
  3. Kapha
  • The titles of the books which I was recommended by Ayurvedic teachers and doctors I met during my stay in India

I hope you will enjoy this post and that it provides some benefit as well as inspiring you to learn more about Ayurveda.

Wishing you healthy reading!

1. What is Ayurveda?

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Ayurveda treatments such as rejuvenation massage, health programmes, panchakarma treatment, detoxifying therapies etc. are popular and available in most big cities and tourist destinations throughout India (Ayurveda Centre Signpost, Varkala Cliff, Kerala, May 2019)

Ayurveda is India’s traditional well-being and medical system. It aims to “Swasthasya swasthya rakshanam aathuraya vikar prashamanam” (Charak Samhita) , which translated means, “Protect the health of one who is healthy, cure the disease of unhealthy”.  

Ayurveda describes the do’s and don’ts in life, from simple activities such as brushing your teeth to curing life threatening diseases. It is rooted in the knowledge of plants and herbs with medical properties, observation of nature and living creatures as well as the spiritual tradition of Yoga.

In Ayurveda, the Vaidya (physician) approaches each person holistically and as a unique individual, thus there is no room for ‘one size fits all’ in this system.

Ayurveda covers aspects such as:

  • Daily lifestyle habits
  • Nutrition / Diet
  • Herbal remedies
  • Massage
  • Environmental factors
  • State of mind

Ayurveda also makes recommendations to incorporate the following into your daily habits:

  • Yoga
  • Pranayama (Breathing)
  • Dhyana (Meditation)

Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word (आयुर्वेद) which evolved from two words, “Ayush” (आयुस्) meaning life and “veda” (वेदः) meaning knowledge or science. As such, Ayurveda translates to “Knowledge/Science of Life”.

The practice is one of the world’s oldest systems of natural healing, dating back to hunter/gather times (approximately 5000 years ago, with the archeological evidence dating back about 3500 years ago).

According to Indian mythology the god Brahma (Hindu god of creation) compiled the Ayurveda system and the god Dhwanathri (incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu – the god of protection) handed it onto ancient rishis or seers of India, so they could help humanity prevent and cure diseases.

Historically Ayurveda originated in North Indian and Pakistan regions. The ancient rishis dedicated their entire lives to understand the nature of the universe. The knowledge rishis possessed was initially passed orally from generation to generation and was eventually recorded in the Hindu Holy Scriptures called Vedas, in particular Atharva Veda (circa 1000 BCE).

The Vedic philosophy teaches that nature, including human beings, are composed of the Five Great Elements: Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The elements couple up forming three fundamental energy forces, these forces are called Doshas.

The three Doshas are:

  • Vata
  • Pitta
  • Kapha

Doshas shape our nature and are responsible for the way we look and function.

2. The basic characteristics of the three main Doshas

1. Vata

Vata pertains to Air and Ether elements. It is called ‘King of Doshas’ as it moves other doshas. It means “what blows” referring to the wind and it tends to get imbalanced first. It is a force which governs; movement in both mind and body, nerve impulses, circulation, respiration and elimination of waste.  

Vata people tend to display the following traits:

Body Type Digestion and metabolism Personality
  • Light body frame that struggles to hold their weight
  • Long limbs, fingers and facial features
  • Thin hair frequently brittle, wiry or curly
  • Dry skin and cracking joints
  • To feel cold due to poor circulation
  • Irregular appetite which goes up and down
  • To skip meals
  • Generally eats very little but experiences hunger attacks and at that time eats a lot
  • Prone to constipation, when metabolising foods
  • Doesn’t absorb nutrients fully
  • Good abstract thinkers, creative and artistic
  • Good short term memory,
  • Love being in motion and travelling
  • Makes friends easily and goes with the flow
  • Talks a lot and fast
  • Struggles to focus on one thing at the time
  • Prone to experience anxiety and fear

2. Pitta

Fire and Water elements. It means “what cooks”. Pitta is present in bodily fluids as blood and digestive juices. It is a force which governs digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food. It is a transformation force which at a mental level rules understanding, perceiving, judging and discriminating.

Pitta people tend to display the following traits:

Body Type Digestion and metabolism Personality
  • Medium or smaller frame with well-defined muscles
  • Average height and weight
  • Slightly oily skin and hair and loose joints
  • Prone to have problems with liver and blood (inflammation)
  • Strong appetite
  • Gets angry when hungry
  • Prone to have digestion problems such as heartburn & stomach ulcers
  • Has very good metabolism
  • Passionate, direct, motivated and focused to achieve goals
  • Initiator and doer
  • When unbalanced can get easily irritable, angry or judgemental and may lack empathy

3. Kapha

Water & Earth elements. It means “what sticks”. It governs the form and substance of the body and is in charge of growth, protection, weight, stability and cohesion. It is mainly present in bodily tissues and held in places where mucus accumulates, such us the head, lungs or stomach.

Kapha people tend to display the following traits:

Body Type Digestion and metabolism Personality
  • Larger and well developed body frame
  • Features tend to be round, smooth, chunkier, heavier
  • Tends to have oily skin and hair
  • Prone to have problems with lungs and mucus congestion
  • Has constant and steady appetite
  • Has sluggish digestion and metabolism so tends to feel sleepy after meals
  • Puts on weight easily and struggles to lose it
  • Down to earth, patient and compassionate
  • Doesn’t change opinion easily and frequently feels hesitancy towards change
  • Has good long term memory
  • When out of balance can become lethargic, possessive, jealous and attached

It is worth remembering that one can have a different mix of Doshas. As an example one can be Vata in terms of mind and Kapha in terms of body. Additionally, one can have one or two predominant Doshas ruling each part of the constitution. For example, someone can be governed by Vata & Pitta across Mind and Body. On rare occasions people have their constitution ruled equally by Vata, Pitta & Kapha Doshas (this constitution is known as Tridoshic).

According to Vedic knowledge there is a concurrent and inherent relationship between the universe (macrocosm) and individual human being (microcosm) and that both are subject to constant changes. As such, in modern days our natural constitution (called Prakriti), given to us during conception in our mother’s womb, can become out of balance (Vikriti) due to environmental, seasonal, dietary, lifestyle, aging etc. changes. These changes can affect us on a daily basis and frequently are overwhelming, disturbing our body’s doshic balance, thus our well-being.

If one’s natural three doshic constitution is in a state of balance then the health thrives, when it is not, then health issues arise and when not addressed may lead to development of disease. As a result it is important to know one’s own natural Doshic constitution, understand what is happening with it at any given time, why and how it is thrown out of balance and how to bring it back to harmony. Once you know your own natural constitution you will be able to learn how to manage it so it stays in balance.

Having a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor is a great way to find out about both your Doshic constitution and any states of imbalance. If you cannot visit an Ayurvedic doctor for a consultation there are multiple Dosha Prakriti and Vikriti composition tests online which you can use.

Once you know your Prakriti and Vikriti and either have recommendations from an Ayurvedic practitioner or have done research on how to stay/get back to balance you can start pursuing your quest to achieve a lifelong state of well-being through practicing Ayurveda on a daily basis.

For now a rule of thumb on balancing Doshas you can aim to bring the opposite qualities of the Dosha, which is in the state of imbalance, into your life. As an example, for a Vata people to balance the cold, dry, mobile and unorganised qualities they could incorporate opposite qualities of Vata into the daily routine. They could wear warm clothes; eat mainly cooked and warming food; practice yoga, pranayama, meditation; follow organised daily routine; use warming up massage oils etc.

More detailed information about each of Doshas will appear in future posts. Keep an eye out for it or just get on with reading books about Ayurveda.

  1. The titles of the books which I was recommended by my Ayurvedic teachers and doctors are:
  • Prakruti:Your Ayurvedic Constitution, Robert Svaboda, 2002
  • Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra, 2001
  • The Natural Health Matrix: Eastern Wisdom for Western Minds – A Journey to Wellbeing, Thomas Mueller, 2014
  • Ayurveda and the Mind – the Healing of Consciousness, Dr. David Frawley, 1996

 

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A selection of books about Yoga & Ayurveda displayed in the book shop (Varkala Cliff, Kerala, May 2019)

 

Summing up, Ayurveda is a ‘Knowledge/Science of Life’ which aims to help you stay healthy and well by using natural healing methods. It focuses on treating each individual as a whole, complex, unique being and gives indications on how to perform everyday activities to stay in tune with own natural body-mind constitution and lead a fulfilling and joyful life.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

This post has been inspired and sourced from:

Anatomy and Ayurveda – 250 hours Yoga Teacher Training, Yoga Dhama, Indea Yoga, Own Notes, Mysore 2019

Ancient Ayurvedic Medicinal Practices: An insight from Geology and Archeology, K.R. Randive & Shraddha Hatekar, Eastern Geographer, January 2010,

Ayurveda – 200 hours Yoga Teacher Training, Krishnamacharr Yoga Foundation, Own notes, Mysore 2019

Ayurveda and the Min, Dr. David Frawley, 1996

Ayurveda Webinars, Agni Ayurveda, Maria Nowak-Szabat, agni-ajurweda.pl/en/about-us/, Accessed March – May 2019

Heal: The Most Powerful Healer is Within, Documentary Film, Kelly Noonan, 2017

Thrive: Self Healing with Ayurveda Video Series, Gaia.com, Accessed March- May 2019

 

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