Would you like more power, greater energy, and a deeper connection? Look no further than Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old “sister science” to yoga. The term "Ayurveda" comes from the Sanskrit words "Ayus," meaning life, and "Veda," meaning knowledge. Ayurveda is also known as the "science of life" or the "art of living." Ayurveda’s wisdom deepens your connection to who you are and aligns you with the natural world you call home.
The study and practice of Ayurveda is a journey to greater self-awareness. When you cultivate self-awareness, you increase your personal power. There is no greater empowerment than to know yourself well enough to make healthy choices that contribute to becoming the healthiest YOU in the body and mind.
Watch the video to learn more, or continue reading below for an introduction to Ayurvedic principles.
Watch my video to learn more or continue reading below for an introduction to Ayurvedic principles.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is an ancient system of holistic medicine that’s been used for over 5,000 years. It has its roots in the Hindu philosophical teachings called Vaisheshika and a school of logic called Nyaya. These schools taught that to treat a patient, one should have a thorough understanding of their condition. They also classified all aspects of experience into six types:REF#1632
- Dravya (substance), which includes earth, water, fire, air, and ether.
- Guna (quality), which includes color, taste, smell, number, and sound.
- Karma (activity), which includes upward and downward movement, contraction, and expansion.
- Samanya (generality), which includes qualities that are present in multiple substances.
- Vishesha (particularity), which describes individuality.
- Samavaya (inherence), which describes the relationship between cause and effect.
Later, a seventh category was added. This was Abhava, which describes the idea of non-existence.
It's believed that the Hindu God Brahma passed down Ayurvedic knowledge to the sages, who then passed it on to their disciples and the commoners through writings and oral narration.
The physical origins of Ayurveda are rooted in ancient Indian texts known as the Vedas. The Vedas are a collection of texts compiled over several centuries, beginning around 1500 BCE. Ayurveda is mentioned explicitly in the Atharvaveda, one of the four Vedas.REF#1632
The Rig Veda and Atharva Veda describe the use of medicinal plants attributed to Atreya, who received this knowledge from Lord Indra, who initially received it from Lord Brahma.REF#1632 Now, Dhanvantari is considered the God of Ayurveda.
Agnivesha, an ancient scholar, compiled the knowledge from the Vedas, later edited by Charaka and some other scholars and now called the Charaka Samhita. This text describes all aspects of Ayurvedic medicine, while the Sushruta Samhita specifically focuses on the Science of Surgery. These ancient texts are still used by practitioners of traditional medicine today.REF#1632
Over time, Ayurvedic principles were refined and developed by practitioners and scholars, leading to the creation of a comprehensive system of healthcare. Ayurveda was practiced and taught throughout India and eventually spread to other parts of the world.
Despite facing challenges throughout its history, including political and cultural upheavals and criticism from skeptics, Ayurveda has continued to evolve and adapt, remaining an integral part of Indian culture and healthcare.REF#1634
How Is Ayurveda Used Today?
People still widely use Ayurveda in India and other parts of the world and recognize it as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) system for addressing various health conditions and promoting general health and wellness.REF#1634
Ayurvedic treatments may include herbal medicine, dietary changes, massage and other body therapies, and yoga and meditation. Ayurvedic practitioners may also recommend lifestyle changes like stress reduction techniques and exercise.
Ayurveda has been used to address many health conditions, including digestive problems, joint concerns, skin conditions, respiratory problems, and mental health imbalances.REF#1633 It is used to support general health and wellness, and many people use Ayurvedic techniques in their daily routines to maintain their overall health and support their immune system.REF#1633
In recent years, Ayurveda has gained popularity in the West for those seeking help outside Western medicine. There are now many Ayurvedic practitioners and clinics worldwide.
However, it is imperative to note that while Ayurveda can be helpful for many people, it is not a substitute for conventional medical care. Consult your healthcare practitioner before pursuing Ayurvedic treatments, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking any medications that may have side effects.
What Does Ayurvedic Medicine Do?
Ayurveda can support the body's metabolic and natural healing processes by combining medicinal and physical remedies and life changes.
The basic principles of Ayurveda promote optimal health and well-being by balancing the human body, mind, and spirit. The focus is on an individual's unique constitution called Prakriti, which is said to determine how they might respond to medications, environmental factors, and diet. The Prakriti is comprised of a unique balance of three doshas.
According to Ayurveda, when the doshas are in balance, a person experiences good health, while imbalances can lead to illness and disease. Therefore, Ayurveda aims to help people achieve and maintain balance in their doshas through various techniques and treatments.
Ayurveda also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation. By promoting overall health and well-being, Ayurveda aims to prevent illness and disease before they occur.
Ultimately, the goal of Ayurveda is not just to treat the symptoms of illness but to address the underlying imbalances that contribute to poor health. By helping people achieve balance and harmony in their bodies, minds, and spirits, Ayurveda aims to promote optimal health and a sense of well-being.
The Five Elements of Ayurveda
Ayurveda treats the body based on the five elements of Nature: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether (Space). Each element has an associated set of qualities. For example:
- Earth is heavy, cool, static, and dense.
- Water is cool, liquid, and heavy.
- Fire is hot, sharp, and light. Air is mobile, cold, rough, and dry.
- Ether is subtle, clear, and light.
Along with the five elements of Nature, there are 20 specific qualities of Nature, according to Ayurveda. The 20 qualities are a pair of 10 opposites: light/heavy, cold/hot, mobile/static, and so on.
The fire that is said to fuel the metabolism is called Agni, while the bodily tissues are called Sapta Dhatus, and specific channels of health within the body are called Srotas.
The Dhatus include:
- Rakta Dhatu: the blood and tissue that controls the blood
- Mamsa Dhatu: muscle tissue
- Meda Dhatu: fat tissue
- Majja Dhatu: bone tissue
In its simplest form, Ayurveda introduces opposite qualities and actions into your diet and lifestyle to counteract any current imbalance. The method of opposite action and quality is also essential for seasonal health.
The Three Doshas
Ayurveda organizes the five elements into three Doshas or constitutions that govern human beings. The three Doshas are Vata (Air and Ether), Pitta (Fire and Water), and Kapha (Earth and Water). "Dosha" means “that which is most likely to go out of balance.” your constitution never changes, but it can go out of balance due to diet and lifestyle choices.
According to Ayurveda, imbalances in the Tridosha can lead to illness and disease. Ayurvedic practitioners use various techniques to diagnose imbalances in the doshas, including pulse diagnosis, tongue examination, body temperature, and observation of physical and emotional traits.
Each of us has all three Doshas present in our bodies. Most of us have one predominant Dosha or two Doshas that are almost equal in portion (dual Doshic).
Incorporate opposite qualities and actions into each Dosha listed below to balance your body.
Elements: Air and Ether
Main function: Movement. Vata influences the nervous system and all movements in the body, including peristalsis (involuntary movements in the digestive tract), elimination, circulation, respiration, birthing, and the expression of emotions.
Qualities: Light, cold, dry, rough, mobile/erratic, clear, and subtle.
Time of Day: 2 – 6 a.m. and 2 – 6 p.m. This means that you want to focus this time of day on activities that pacify Vata. See tips to balance Vata below.
Season: Fall through early Winter. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Vata during this season, even if your predominant Dosha isn’t Vata.
Body Type: People with a predominant Vata Dosha tend to be small-framed, thin, and light. They tend toward low stamina and energy and often experience poor circulation, cold extremities, and dry skin.
In the Mind: Positive traits include creativity, enthusiasm, freedom, joy, vitality, adaptability, and generosity.
Vata Out of Balance: When Vata is aggravated, it can show up as gas, bloating, and constipation. Stiff muscles and joints, cramps, and spasms may indicate that Vata is high. In the mind, heightened fear, anxiety, worry, and scattered thoughts become more common. Lower immunity, insomnia, and mood fluctuations are also indications that Vata needs attention.
Tips to Balance Vata:
- Develop and maintain a steady daily routine around mealtimes, exercise, and sleep.
- Practice relaxing and mindful activities that are grounding, such as yoga, meditation, belly breathing, Yoga Nidra, and warm oil massage.
- Dress warmly and avoid the cold.
- Eat cooked, moist, and oily foods.
- Use digestive spices such as Ginger, Cinnamon, Cardamom, and Turmeric in teas and cooking.
- Use herbal formulas that include adaptogenic and nervine herbs such as Bacopa, Ashwagandha, and Ginseng for the mind.
- Moderate cold drinks, raw foods (like salads), and caffeine.
Elements: Fire and Water
Main Function: Transformation and digestion.
Qualities: Hot, sharp, light, oily, and liquid.
Time of Day: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. – 2 a.m. This means you want to focus this time of day on activities that pacify Pitta. See tips to balance Pitta below.
Season: Late Spring through Summer. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Pitta during this season, even if you’re predominant Dosha isn’t Pitta.
Body Type: People with predominant Pitta Dosha tend to be of medium, muscular build, strong, and naturally athletic. They typically experience strong digestion, steady energy, and good circulation.
In the Mind: Driven, ambitious, focused, strong-willed, confident, courageous, and intelligent are words that can be used to describe someone with a predominant Pitta Dosha. They enjoy gaining knowledge and experience, and have an aptitude for self-study and growth.
Pitta Out of Balance: When Pitta is out of balance in the body, it can show up as inflammation, infection, skin irritation and breakouts, fever, bleeding, loose stool, and burning sensations. Feelings of anger, jealousy, hyper-competitiveness, and narcissism can manifest in the mind with increased Pitta.
Tips to Balance Pitta:
- Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, cilantro, coconut, pomegranate, and bitter greens.
- Use herbal formulas that include cooling herbs such as Aloe, Dandelion, Lavender, Passionflower, and Saffron.
- Practice relaxation and meditation to cool excess Pitta in the mind and body.
- Exercise during the coolest times of the day during the summer season.
- Moderate alcohol, hot/spicy foods, fermented foods, salt, caffeine, and sugar intake.
- Avoid staying up too late (no later than 10 p.m.).
- Limit intense, competitive, and hot forms of exercise/exertion.
- Enjoy water sports and swimming holes in the summer.
Elements: Water and Earth
Main Function: Structure and lubrication.
Qualities: Heavy, cold, oily, slow, slimy, soft, static, dense, and liquid.
Time of day: 6 – 10 a.m. and 6 – 10 p.m. This means you want to focus this time of day on activities that pacify Kapha. See tips to balance Kapha below.
Season: Late Winter through early Spring. You should focus on a diet and lifestyle that pacifies Kapha during this season, even if you’re predominant Dosha isn’t Kapha.
Body Type: Kapha types have large bone structure, round bodies, and tend to gain weight quickly. They have large, lustrous eyes and glistening hair. Someone with a predominant Kapha Dosha moves more slowly, but with great endurance and stamina.
In the Mind: Caring, compassionate, nurturing, grounded, patient, supportive, and centered are common traits of a person with a predominant Kapha Dosha.
Kapha Out of Balance: When Kapha is out of balance, it can lead to depression, lethargy, excess mucous, low appetite, swelling, obesity, sweet cravings, and even high cholesterol. Feelings of attachment, aversion to change, greed, stubbornness, and clouded thinking can manifest in the mind when there is excess Kapha.
Tips to Balance Kapha:
- Exercise daily (vigorous exercise is good).
- Wake up early (between 5 – 6 a.m.).
- Avoid cold drinks and food.
- Drink warm water with lemon throughout the day.
- Eat warming foods with digestive spices such as Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Turmeric, and Black Pepper.
- Moderate dairy, wheat, sugar, salt, and snacking between meals.
- Avoid sleeping during the day and sleeping in.
How To Incorporate Ayurvedic Practices Into Your Everyday Life
Uncovering Your Constitution
You were born with a unique combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in your body. Knowledge and understanding of this unique combination are vital in optimizing your health, well-being, and immunity.
Once you know the qualities in your body and mind that are most likely to go out of balance (Dosha), you can incorporate foods, routines, and activities of the opposite qualities to restore balance and energy.
To begin your journey, you can practice self-study by taking a Dosha quiz online and reading books and articles (like this one). You can also start noticing the qualities in Nature around you and your body and mind. Pause and ask yourself from time to time: What are the qualities of this moment?
Another excellent step for deeper understanding, customizing, and optimizing your health is consulting with an Ayurveda Health Coach during one-on-one or group coaching.
There’s so much to discover about yourself through the lens of Ayurveda. May your journey be fruitful, powerful, and healing.
TOP PHOTO: SCOTT MARTIN
Anna is the author of Yoga for Paddling and an internationally celebrated mental agility, paddling, and Ayurvedic health coach. She creates empowering experiences that help women build courage and confidence through mind, body, and adventure. Anna has been featured in mainstream publications such as Outside Magazine, Time, Shape and Self and was named one of the most inspirational paddlers alive by Canoe and Kayak Magazine. Anna lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Andrew, and adventure Schnoodle, Ceiba.
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