Introduction to Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a 5000 year-old science from India. It means the science of life: ayur meaning life, veda meaning knowledge. Ayurveda heals the body, mind, and soul and treats dis-ease in both healthy and unhealthy people. Ayurveda states that we are a microcosm of the macrocosm; what occurs in our bodies and minds is a reflection of nature on a smaller scale. Cellular intelligence is a key concept of ayurvedic philosophy and healing. Similar to Five Element Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda states that everything is made up of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. In the body for instance, the spaces between cells and synapses would be viewed as ether; respiration and circulation are related to air movement; temperature and digestion are governed by the transformative fire element; plasma and serum are related to the water element, and the minerals in our bodies are from the earth.
An important concept in ayurveda is that of the three doshas. Doshas are not anything that can be seen or quantified. Our dosha- or prakruti- reflects our predominant character, which is determined at the time of conception. Our parents’ state of mind, health, and their own doshic qualities create our own dosha. This could be considered our genetic inheritance. Our doshas can become unbalanced from the time of conception until we die. Many factors can imbalance our dosha; stress, poor diet, exposure to negative/violent influences, toxins, etc. When people seek out an ayurvedic practitioner, their current state, or vikruti, is what is attended to.
There are three main doshas, and combinations of doshas. The Vata dosha is combined of the ether and air elements. People with Vata prakruti tend to be thin, small, have small darting eyes, are happy and busy. Vata people are more “airy” and spacey. They tend to do many things at once but often without finishing any one thing. They tend to be creative. Pitta dosha is combined of fire and water. These folks are intelligent, critical, perfectionist, quick to anger and of medium build. They are much more centered than vata people but intense because of the fire element. Kapha dosha is made of earth and water. Kapha people tend to have large frames, are more “sluggish,” sleep more and are very sweet and loving. They are hard to get moving both physically and mentally, from the stability of the earth element.
If a vata predominant person has an excess of vata quality, an ayurvedic provider may choose to use foods, herbs and practices of opposite quality to bring the excess ether and air influences under control. An example of this would be for this person to exercise more slowly, to practice seated meditation, to eat cooked vs. raw foods and to eat spicy foods for warming. If a person has too much pitta, they will be advised to exercise to half their capacity, decrease spicy foods, add some cooling foods and to laugh more and to lighten up. When there is too much kapha in a person, they should exercise more vigorously, eat less dense foods, eat spicier foods and utilize herbs which may increase their digestive capacity.
In Ayurveda, one can use the concepts of like treating like and also, that opposites heal or correct imbalances. If it is very hot, one should ingest cooling foods and in winter, more warming foods. As the seasons change, our vikruti will change as well and so seasonal foods are often used to balance a person.
Our dosha, when imbalanced, can lead to disease by excess of or depletion of, our doshic qualities. When this occurs, our tissues become affected and disease symptoms may begin to accumulate. A skilled ayurvedic provider will use multiple approaches to treat the person, frequently based on balancing the 5 elements in the body. So, dosha is based on nature and ayurveda tries to bring the body, mind and soul into harmony with one’s own nature and the nature that we all live in.