Ayurveda: An Introduction

Ayurveda is one of the most ancient scientific approaches to holistic healing in human history. As one of the first collected systems of medicinal practice, the roots of Ayurveda can be found in Tibetan, Traditional Chinese, and Early Greek medicine. Originating in India between five and six thousand years ago, Ayurveda is a holistic form of medicine fundamentally based upon the laws of nature to treat the body, mind and spirit. Originally an oral tradition taught directly from teacher to pupil, the unique approach Ayurveda offers focuses on establishing harmony and balance within an individual through the assistance of diet, as well as daily and seasonal routines. Based on the principles of the Veda, one of the oldest, existing literatures known in human history, Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word literally translating as “the wisdom of life” or “the knowledge of longevity”.

Ayurveda’s principal belief is that the Universe, as well as everything within it, is made up of five elements: air, fire, water, earth and ether (or space). Following this, the combinations of these elements give rise to three energies, known as “doshas”. The three doshas are recognized as Vata, Pitta and Kapha and are composed of two main elements. All three doshas are found in the body but each individual generally has one predominating dosha that determines characteristics attributed to the body and mind. Depending upon your constitution, there exists preferable qualities of food, climate and lifestyle that are beneficial to your unique physical, mental and spiritual make-up, as well as specific areas to pay attention to that are susceptible to imbalances and disease tendencies.

Vata is comprised of air and space and embodies the quality of movement in the body, governing functions such as circulation, respiration and elimination. When in balance, if Vata pre-dominates, a person tends to be thin, sensitive, deeply creative, light, energetic and enthusiastic. Out of balance, Vata tends to experience insomnia, anxiety, dry skin and a difficulty focusing.

The dosha of Pitta is a combination of the contrasting elements of fire and water, which manifests as transformation. In the body, this affects processes such as the regulation of temperature, chemical reactions and metabolism. An individual with a primarily Pitta constitution has an inclination towards having a medium physical build and being intensely passionate, intelligent and driven in nature. When balanced, Pitta exemplifies warmth, friendliness and functions extremely well as a strong, dedicated leader. A Pitta imbalance (excess of heat) reflects easy irritability and a strong temper. A person may suffer from indigestion or other inflammatory conditions as a result.

Kapha dosha combines the elements of water and earth and is responsible for lubrication, protection and growth. Physiologically, this is expressed as the flow of water to all body parts and organs in addition to maintenance of the proper functioning of the immune system. When Kapha dominates, a balanced individual has a tendency towards being easygoing, nurturing, the supportive and stable “peace keeper”. Out of balance, Kapha expresses itself as laziness, depression, congestion and sluggishness.

When a person’s doshas are equalized, their body, mind and spirit are as well. Ayurveda is a complete healing system in that it takes into account an individual’s unique constitution rather than a one-size-fits-all mentality towards health. The practice discusses the diagnosis and treatment of various ailments and diseases with an approach that is focused on purification and rejuvenation. While modern day Western medicine tends to focus on treating the symptoms, Ayurveda works to first identify and then remove the cause of the problem, which is creating the disparity. This is exercised in part by utilizing elemental opposites to bring forth balance. For example: excess heat creating a Pitta imbalance may be treated with a cooling-based diet. Ayurveda recognizes the first place these discrepancies occur is in the digestive tract, and are therefore understandably affected primarily by that which we consume. Early signs of imbalance can occur in various stages as a general feeling that “something is off” and if we are paying attention, can serve as a wake-up call of sorts to shift our behavior and habits. Adjusting our diet and daily activities, and taking herbal supplements, cleanses and remedies are all tools used to restore an individual to optimal health. If left untreated, these imbalances are likely to develop into serious illnesses, usually in the form of the predictable ailments their dosha is predisposed to be susceptible to.

In order to support the longevity of our health, it is absolutely essential to seek balance in all aspects of our lives in consideration of our unique nature. Ayurveda takes into account the root cause of all ailments with the firm understanding that our dietary and lifestyle choices are the key to the preservation of our wellbeing and, ultimately, our happiness and peace of mind.

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