June 22, 2020
AYURVEDA: An Ancient Healing System For Modern Times
Ayurveda, known as the ‘science of life,’ is a healing system from India dating back over 5,000 years. Ayurveda is the sister science of yoga. Ayurveda medicine is the traditional healing system of yoga that views the human being as an interplay of body, mind, and spirit.
As you might already know from our 6 human dimensions discussion, this is the way that we are as human beings. We’re not just the body, we have multiple layers and facets of who we really are.
Ayurveda recognizes that and uses different treatment protocols and lifestyle techniques as a way of creating harmony within who we truly are. Its purpose is to heal and maintain quality and longevity of life.
You hear out there, “Everybody should go paleo. Everybody should go vegan. Everybody should stop eating fat.” Now people are saying, “You should be eating more fat, you should go raw…,” and the list goes on and on. We’re bombarded by all these different perspectives as to what to eat, how to diet, and it’s frankly overwhelming.
According to Ayurveda, everyone is unique and therefore treatment should be customized to each individual, so it’s the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach which we often see in Western culture.
A full discussion of Ayurveda would take up several volumes of books and can’t be covered in a simple article, but for now, let’s cover some of the basic principles.
It all starts with what’s called the five elements, and in Ayurveda, that’s known as the maha bhutas. Maha means great, and bhuta means element, so the great elements. In Ayurveda, they believe that the five elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether – ether is another way of saying space – and that these five elements, they exist throughout the entire universe.
They exist within our body. They exist within this planet. They exist within the stars up in the sky. These five elements make up everything.
When we understand the five elements, we can take that understanding and begin to understand the next key concept of ayurvedic medicine, which is called the three doshas. Dosha is another way of saying a constitution or a characteristic. These five elements are what compose and create the doshas.
The first dosha is called Vata dosha, and Vata is made up of the two elements of air and ether, spaciousness and lightness.
The next dosha is Pitta and is composed of the element of mostly fire, but also water. Pitta is naturally more penetrating, fiery and intense.
The third dosha is called the Kapha dosha, and Kapha is composed of the two most dense elements, water, but mostly earth. This symbolizes qualities like heaviness, stability and solidity.
Vata, Pitta, and Kapha translate into bodily characteristics and also personality traits, so you can look at these doshas not just on a physical level but also on a psychological level.
Let’s break down the Vata constitution first. Vatas on a physical level are going to be body types that are smaller boned and slender. Psychologically, Vata if you remember is the element of air and ether, so there’s a lot of movement happening. Vatas tend to be more creative. They can think out of the box. But when the Vata gets imbalanced, their heads are in the clouds and you have to ground and center theme. They always want to be traveling. They always want to be moving. They never want to settle down.
Pitta, Pitta physically are going to be people that have more of a medium build, typically more athletic and muscular. Psychologically, Pitta is really good with being a leader. They’re fiery, and they can use this fire as a way to inspire and motivate. But when the Pitta gets out of balance, they’re the ones that get angry, irritable and hostile.
The third dosha Kapha, physically, they’re the ones that are going to be bigger boned, so they have a larger frame. They’re typically heavier people. Psychologically, a Kapha person, because they’re more earth and water, they have a tendency to get stuck and stagnant and comfortable and attached to things.
If you’re curious where you fit in, you can try this quick online quiz. Obviously, it’s much more complicated than just a quick questionnaire, but this can be a helpful starting point.
In Ayurveda, once you figure out your dosha type (you can be a mix of multiple doshas), then you know how to proceed forward with specific herbs, diet, treatments and lifestyle that work for your specific nature.
For example, if you’re a Pitta person, you need to cool yourself down. Coconut water, aloe vera juice and watermelon are good. Stay away from spicy and other stimulating food. For Pittas, it might actually be what you love and are drawn to and you need to balance that out.
For Vatas, you want to balance yourself out by eating warm, nutritious and heavier meals. Interestingly enough, you’ll see that Vatas are typically the ones that are going raw. If you take this too far, you could be aggravating your Vata and creating imbalance.
For the Kaphas out there, you should work on scaling back on the quantity of food and moving away from heavy foods. Eat lighter meals with smaller portions to find your balance.
Besides diet adjustments, it’s important to harmonize yourself with the rhythms of nature. Go to bed earlier. Wake up when the sun is rising. Be present to these cycles of nature, because the cycles of nature also exist within you. Especially as the seasons change, the five elements in nature will shift and that will also affect the elements present within your body.
If you’re interested in exploring further, here are some recommended yoga practices that focus on Ayurveda: