What Is Ayurveda?

History and Uses

“Ayur” (life) “Veda” (knowledge) is the science of health, awareness, and self-realization. It is the Mother of Healing because it is the oldest of holistic systems and the source to nearly all of them. Like individual rivers that each drain a common glacier, Ayurveda has many versions, many layers, and many faces.

Ayurveda”s documented beginnings reach 5,000 years into the past. It”s early authors were the great sages of India whose patient observation of the universal elements and their role in the well being of humans led to an elaborate and highly detailed health system known as Ayurveda.

At the core of Ayurveda is the understanding that health is established and preserved through balance and counterbalances. If one is too dry, then one requires water. In considering the vast intricacies of the human body, this simple principle has many complex consequences. Each individual is unique so harmony must be brought forth from within.

This individualized approach to medicine is what resonates so well to ”individualized” Westerners. It acknowledges their “I” by custom”I”zing each treatment to each individual. It is based on a philosophy of self-preservation and centring oneself in one”s individuality.

Ayurvedic medicine and philosophy have long been popular in the West due, in part, to the growing popularity of yoga. In many of the finest and well-known Health Spas and Yoga Centres around the world, Ayurveda is now the governing principal behind integrating treatments and developing lifestyle management programs.

Ayurvedic Body Types, or Doshas

Ayurvedic treatments are customized according to one”s individual body type, known as “Dosha”. There are 3 main doshas, which characterize most people, they are Vata (air/ether), Pitta (fire/water), and Kapha (earth/water). These 3 doshas make up the rudiments of Ayurveda. Most people are a combination of all three doshas with either one or two doshas predominating.

By understanding a person”s nature or disposition, one can better understand how to offset its extremes. It is like balancing thousands of tiny scales, all functioning together as part of a whole. When harmony is brought to the various channels, centres, and doshas, the human organism performs like a well-tuned lute.

Good Ayurveda is about understanding things in a day to day way. It is being aware of what best to eat, drink, what exercise and how much, what part of the monthly cycle it is, etc. By obeying your own constitution, the most suitable lifestyle for you develops with ease. There are many lifestyles and the key is to find the right one for you. Once in the flow of well being, Ayurveda becomes simply preventative maintenance.

If there is a lack of well being, the role of Ayurveda is to restore the natural rhythms of the mind/body through various methods. These include herbal preparations, wholesome foods, yoga, meditation, mantras, massage, medicated oils, gemstones, Vedic astrology and daily self care rituals. Ayurveda is not limited to any one method since illness can occur on multiple levels, and must be balanced accordingly.

How It Works

A typical Ayurvedic consultation will begin with a pulse diagnosis that often reveals your constitution. Analyzing the tongue, nails, skin and eyes is like reading a portrait, to the trained Ayurvedic practitioner. From this, a person”s fundamental nature, or “Prakriti”, is established. This Prakriti is the sum of unique physiological and mental characteristics that define an individual.

The understanding behind Ayurveda is that we are all part of the same universe, made up of the same stuff, yet it is the unique proportion of elements to one another that define any given individual. For example, a lady may out of 10 points, be: 5 points Vata, 4 points Pitta, 1 point Kapha. We may define her as high Vata, or Vata/Pitta. One thing is for sure, she will most likely be thin.

Everyone”s unique body structure and mental attitude and awareness is what ultimately defines them as an individual. When you think of an acquaintance, what is the first thing that comes to you? Is it her shape, face, personality, laugh, habits? All these characteristics are the result of how the elements interplay in the body and in the more ethereal mind, of which there are many levels.

What you take in, from food, to air, to what you look at and listen to all define who you are and can either be intensified through repetition or modified with counterweights. They make up the physiology of you and affect the governing frequencies of your metabolism. You can”t take the salt out of the soup, but you can water the soup down.

These are the dynamic forces within our bodies. They are our energy, vitality and metabolic nature. The more aware we are of them, the more likely we can achieve a healthy balance without pharmaceuticals. In understanding Ayurveda, we recognize that equilibrium is essential for good health. It begins with self-awareness. Thus good health is really the result of good self-awareness, and self-awareness always begins with honesty.

To find out your body type, take our Dosha Quiz!

Information compiled from articles Andrea Olivera contributed to:
“Passage to India,” FLARE Magazine, September 2000
“Vata? Pitta? Kapha?” Weekend Post