Ayurveda is a holistic system of healing that originated in India thousands of years ago. The word Ayurveda literally translates to mean “the science of life”. The written documentation of this science is found in the oldest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. These sacred scriptures are more than five thousand years old and Ayurveda has been practiced long before they were documented. It is believed by many scholars that knowledge of Ayurveda spread out from India and influenced the ancient Chinese system of medicine, Unani medicine, and the humoral medicine practiced by Hippocrates in Greece. For this reason, Ayurveda is often referred to as the “Mother of all healing.”
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term, made up of the words “ayus” and “veda.” “Ayus” means life and “Veda” means knowledge or science. The term “ayurveda” thus means ‘the knowledge of life’ or ‘the science of life’. According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Charaka, “ayu” comprises the mind, body, senses and the soul. Therefore, owing its very meaning Ayurveda renders itself to be more than a system of medicine. Ayurveda is a philosophy of holistic healing which recognizes that we are all an inherent part of nature. Just as the animals and plants live in harmony with nature and utilize its laws to create health and balance within their beings, we too must adhere to the very same principles. The recognition and practice of the natural principles propounded by the Ayurvedic system helps a person maintain health by bringing them in harmony with nature and lead them into equilibrium with their true self.
PRINCIPLE OF AYURVEDIC HEALING
Ayurveda’s premise that mind, body, and spirit are intimately connected is revolutionizing the way Westerners understand their body and their health. Ayurveda teaches that separating mind and spirit from the body creates physical imbalance, which is the first step in the disease process. It naturally follows that re-integration of the three is the first step towards healing. Based on this principle, Ayurveda views disease as the natural end result of living out of harmony with the environment and symptoms of disease as the body’s normal way of communicating disharmony. Thus, Ayurveda’s approach to healing is to reestablish harmony between self and environment and create an optimal environment for health.
AYURVEDA AND FOOD
Ayurveda categorizes food into three basic types; sattvic (light and pure), tamasic (dulling) and rajasic (indulgent). An Ayurvedic diet is prescribed as per an individual’s constitution and Dosha (imbalance). According to Ayurveda, a wholesome diet is a combination of different types of food that are requisite for maintaining a person’s physical and mental equilibrium in keeping with their Dosha. Food that is not suitable for a person’s body type may affect their natural resistance and cause illness. Therefore, contrary to most western approaches to nutrition Ayurveda does not prescribe one diet as best for everyone. Food is selected based on its elemental balance, its taste, effects on the body and the quality of food like hot /cold, heavy/light, oily etc. An Ayuvedic diet is mainly vegetarian and prescribes an individualized approach to dietary and lifestyle practices that keeps people healthy and promotes longevity.
WHAT IS A DOSHA?
In Ayurveda, it is believed that every individual is made up of five primal elements. They are ether (space), earth, fire, water and air. Just as in nature, each one of us has these elements within. Therefore, the elements present in our environment influence and affect us. The kinds of food we eat or the weather are just a couple of examples of how the natural elements impact our bodies and environment. While we are a composite of these five primary elements, certain elements are seen to have an ability to combine to create various physiological functions called Doshas.
The word Dosha literally means “that which changes”. It is derived from the root dus which is equivalent to the English prefix dys- as in dystrophy or dysfunction. Therefore, in philosophical terms Dosha can be understood as an imperfection or transgression against the cosmic rhythm. In Ayurvedic thought Doshas are a requisite for life. They are constantly moving in dynamic balance, one with the others and each individual exhibits a distinct pattern. The pattern of Doshas or bio energies that an individual reveals depends on the specific combination of their physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is as unique as a person’s DNA and is completely distinct for every individual depending on their constitution, environment and the myriads of influences/changes in their everyday life.
TYPES OF DOSHAS
Vata pertains to air and ether elements. The proportions of ether and air determine how active Vata is. The word Vata literally means wind or that which moves or flows. Therefore, Vata governs the movements of the body ranging from pulsations of the heart and breathing to blinking of the eyelids. It also controls the flow of emotions. So, a sudden surge of feelings (fear, anxiety, or nervousness) are often the result of excess Vata. Its primary location in the body is the colon but it also resides in hips, thighs, pelvic cavity, large intestine and skin. Hence, if the body develops excess Vata, it accumulates in these areas.
A Vata imbalance may result in gas, constipation, nerve irritation, high blood pressure, nerve loss, confusion and thoughtlessness. Vata Dosha becomes more prominent in people as they age.
Pitta is a Dosha created by the dynamic interplay of fire and water. This might seem as an opposing juxtaposition at first but the relationship becomes clear when you think of the acids like HCL (hydrochloric acid) in our digestive juices. They are both liquid and fiery at the same time. As evident from the analogy, Pitta Dosha governs the digestive functions of the body. It regulates absorption, assimilation, nutrition, body temperature and metabolism. In addition, Pitta determines the skin coloration, luster of the eyes, intelligence and understanding. A predominance of this Dosha often arouses anger, hate, and jealousy. In our body Pitta resides in the small intestine, stomach, sweat glands, blood, fat, eyes and skin.
Excess Pitta can lead to ulcers, acne, consuming emotions like anger or hormonal imbalances while a lack of this Dosha can result in indigestion, sluggish metabolism and slow comprehension. Pitta is predominant in adults and teens.
Kapha represents the conceptual balance between the elements, water and earth. It can be visualized as the force the constantly attempts to bind two divergent elements together. Kapha cements the elements in the body together providing the material for physical structure, maintains body resistance and lubricates the joints.
An excess of Kapha often leads to aggravation in emotions like greed and envy. When in balance Kapha promotes the feeling of calmness, forgiveness and love. The chest is the seat of Kapha.
An imbalance in Kapha can result in mucous build-up in the sinus and nasal passages, the lungs and colon. It can also cause a lack in concentration, dry respiratory tract and burning stomach.