Ayurveda is an incredibly potent, transformative, empowering and inclusive ancient healing system that dates back thousands of years. It is informed by the ancient spiritual texts of India, known as the Vedas. Directly translated, ‘Ayus’ means life and ‘Veda’ means knowledge or science. Therefore, Ayurveda is essentially the ‘science/knowledge of life’. It is a system of healing that teaches us, or reminds us rather, how to live a harmonious life that is in sync with the natural cycles of nature. It also teaches us how to accept, embrace and seek to change with the dynamic nature of life itself. Life is our biggest teacher. Ayurveda just reminds us that we already speak the language of Life.
In Ayurveda, the concept of ‘life’ extends far beyond its’ physical, form-based manifestation. From the viewpoint of Ayurveda, ‘life’ refers to the eternal life force energy that precedes and underpins everything in existence. Ayurveda recognizes that every aspect of life has an innate subtle energy and that by deepening your understanding of, and awareness to, these aspects of life we can greatly enhance our quality of life and of our inner wellbeing.
Further, ‘life’ speaks to the union of mind, body & spirit and the dynamic relationship of how we relate to the constantly evolving present moment. This is one of the reasons why Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences and go hand-in-hand. As in Yoga (where we move from a largely physical and mental way of relating to ourselves and life through asana) we eventually move into the subtler realms of understanding our own inner constellations of subtle energy, this is mirrored in the art and science of Ayurveda. Ayurveda offers us a very enriching journey of taking our form-based understanding of life to a much deeper level of awareness, understanding and engagement of how all of the subtler energetic aspects of life have a very direct and tangible effect on us.
In a world where there is a highly predominant focus on everything that is MACRO, the world of the subtle is tragically overlooked and undermined. But, it is in the landscape of the subtle that true balance and vibrancy live. When we can connect to these subtle aspects of our daily realities, we are empowered to engage in a much deeper, more intimate relationship with our lives and ourselves. This is the crux of conscious living.
Ayurveda essentially offers us a framework or guide map to understanding ourselves as we are placed within this macrocosm of life. Ayurveda is one of the most empowering systems of healing because it takes off the blinders to our own self-healing capabilities and connects us to deep inner resources of self-directed, conscious living and healing.
The very fact that Ayurveda has stood the trial of time and is just as, if not more, relevant in today’s world – and particularly in the West - speaks volumes to the innate and immediate value of what this healing system has to offer us. In my opinion, it also speaks to Ayurveda’s capacity to span beyond the confines & limits of cultures, religions and traditional systems into all corners of the world today. It has a very vast applicability because this system is not based on religious (or other) bias, but is rather based on the elements and their corresponding elemental qualities which have very real and tangible effects on our minds, bodies and lives.
Ayurveda recognises 5 basic elements that make up every single aspect of everything in existence (of organic & inorganic matter). These elements are: earth, fire, water, air and ether.
Everything that we perceive as matter in the world; are simply different ratios and expressions of these basic elements. And since human beings are simply smaller versions of the macrocosm, we reflect these elements and the corresponding qualities within our own underlying make-up. These elements and their differing ratios are what essentially comprise us as human beings (they are the energetic building blocks of our being). The important thing to remember here is that as with other matter that is comprised of different ratios of these elements, individuals have varying ratios and expressions of these elements, too. From an Ayurvedic perspective, this is what accounts for the prevalence of human variability & individuality. It is for that reason that this principle is core in understanding why balance means something different to every person at any given moment: we all come to the present moment with different energetic make-ups, different life experiences which affect our energetic balance and different psychological dispositions.
Different combinations of these elements are what create the doshas, which are essentially “… biological energies found throughout the human body and mind. They govern all physical & mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health & fulfilment.”
The elemental make-up for any one particular dosha determines the energetic qualities held/expressed by those with that dosha as their primary one. These qualities express themselves differently in balanced or imbalanced states.
Essentially, the three different doshas (namely: Vata, Pitta and Kapha) are derived from different combinations of the above mentioned elements and their corresponding qualities.
There are three different doshic states: balanced, increased (excessive or aggravated) or decreased (depleted). This informs your own state of balance and wellbeing. Imbalance (either excessive or depleted) result in the manifestations of symptoms that correspond to the primary dosha that is out of balance.
You will notice, some of the qualities are seemingly more positive and others are seemingly more negative. The ‘positive’ ones represent some of the qualities expressed by that dosha in a balanced state, while the negative characteristics represent qualities of a particular dosha in an imbalanced state. These qualities are not “good or bad” but fall on a spectrum of being functional or dysfunctional according to the state of balance a person is in, at any given moment. For example, the passionate, fire-y nature of Pitta can be super functional and ‘positive’. However, if Pitta is in excess it can easily cross over to become over-bearing, too intense or highly rigid.
Elements: Ether & Air
A few characteristics: flighty, impulsive, creative, dynamic, drawn to movement & being busy, multi-taskers, spurts of energy, prone to coldness, often slight in frame, prone to anxiety, inclined towards spirituality, prone to hyper-activity.
Elements:Earth & Fire
A few characteristics: fiery, hot, quick-tempered, impulsive, passionate, competitive, type A personality, achievement-orientated, very active, medium-strong build.
Elements:Water & Earth
A few characteristics: calm, soothing personalities, compassionate, relaxed, lethargic, prone to depression, more prone to hypo-activity, inertia, stillness, stagnant energy, prone to phlegm & mucous.
These are just very basic characteristics of some expressions of each dosha. You will likely find (and rightfully so!) that you identify with aspects of each dosha and this is normal because remember, we have all three doshas within us but simply in different ratios!
Because doshas are dynamic energies their ratios are constantly changing as they are influenced by the environments we find ourselves in, the people we connect with, the sensory input we are exposed to, the seasons, the foods we eat, the thoughts we think and the activities we do. Depending on the particular qualities of a dosha, certain things will aggravate or balance it.
Every single thing in life can be seen from an Ayurvedic perspective. People often misunderstand Ayurveda and think that to live according to Ayurvedic principles they need to eat only curries and dhal. This is sorely misguided. Every single food item, every single lifestyle choice or activity can be seen through an Ayurvedic lens: it is not about which foods are deemed “Ayurvedic or not”, “good” or “bad”, but more so about conscious living and understanding the core principles of the system so that your choices fully support you.
Ayurveda does however, use many healing spices and herbs which are “micro-nutrients” as a means of restoring balance on subtler levels, restoring or/and increasing mental and digestive health. Ayurveda also focuses on eating predominantly Sattvic foods, which are balancing foods that promote inner peace and wellbeing. But, the process of coming to decide what to eat in order to restore balance also depends on various factors like:
In Ayurveda, three distinct aspects are taken into consideration when trying to decipher whether a particular food or activity is good for your mind-body. These are, how food/exercise affects: the mind, your doshas/doshic balance and your digestion.
What Ayurveda teaches us to do is to learn how to read the signs of your own energy body so that you can take the best course of corrective action in any given moment to better support yourself in the journey of balance. Balance = inner harmony and alignment = expression of your own unique blue print of health and wellbeing = living your highest potentiality as an individual. It is quite tragic that many people are willing to give up their highest expression of health, for the convenience of following what has worked for someone else.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog, and I hope it's given you atleast a small insight into what Ayurveda has to offer. If you would like to learn more about this ancient healing system, I will be exploring much more on this topic in the upcoming talk on Ayurveda and Macrobiotics hosted at Nourish'd Observatory on the 4th July 2019.
Maria Praeg of The Healing Root.
Reading Source: Eat, Taste, Heal by Thomas Yarema, Daniel Rhoda and Chef Johnny Brannigan