By Lynn Goodwin / August 16, 2015
Ayurveda is often referred to as the sister science of yoga and, like yoga, originated in India over 5,000 years ago.
While yoga provides physical and spiritual practices designed to calm the chatter of the mind and reconnect us with our most authentic self, Ayurveda is an empowering system of healing that emphasizes food and lifestyle choices as means for living a balanced life. Yoga practices include physical postures or asanas, meditation, mindfulness, and self-study. Ayurvedic therapies are prescribed through food and lifestyle habits. Translated from the Sanskrit language, Ayurveda means “knowledge” or “science of life.” Knowledge is understood as true knowing from direct perception of everything in our sensory world. We experience life through what we perceive with our 5 senses. Ayurveda offers practical lifestyle choices that enable us to maintain optimal health and balance both physically and emotionally. Its focus is on addressing the root cause of disease as opposed to simply treating symptoms. Herbal remedies are also used to alleviate symptoms while adjustments are made to diet and lifestyle.
Achieving optimal health and balance is accomplished by incorporating health-supportive daily routines, engaging in appropriate exercise, getting quality sleep, eating with the seasons, slowing down, and eating mindfully. These are just a few examples from a comprehensive system of healing.
Essentially, Ayurveda is a healing science of health and longevity that provides both rejuvenating and cleansing therapies.
The ultimate goal is feeling well in body, mind, and spirit so that we can live in joy and happiness, having the best experience of life. This is perfect health.
A healthy body is one that has a strong immune system, digests food without any symptoms, assimilates nutrients, and eliminates toxins. Digestive issues are our first sign that something is out of balance in the body.
A healthy mind is one that is calm, enthusiastic, and clear.
The feeling of wholeness, fulfillment, and joy that transcends and is independent of external circumstances evidences a healthy spirit. It’s that feeling of equanimity, contentment, and connection to self and others.
Disease or imbalances can be felt in various ways; anything from heartburn to anxiety can impact your enjoyment of life.
Ayurveda prescribes treatment protocol that address imbalances on all levels of our being.
When we aren’t feeling well, whether its physical discomfort or stress, we look to the following areas for fine-tuning:
Food: eating nourishing foods to support optimal health
Sleep: getting the right amount of sleep – not too much, not too little
Energy Expenditure: observing how we are expending our energy. Are we feeling depleted from frequent travelling, intense workouts, an over packed schedule, or intense relationships? Or, are we choosing to take time to prepare for and recover from our commitments and take time to restore?
Since we use all of our five senses – taste, touch, sound, sight, and smell – to fully experience life: we look toward taking in the right sensory impressions that will enable us to feel our very best. We can choose the right types of food, music, colors, body oils, scents, and activities to complement our nature. Food, aromatherapy, massage, and music are all used to maintain health.
The 5 Element Theory is the foundation of Ayurveda. All of life is composed of earth, water, fire, air, and ether and their qualities. The 10 pairs of opposite qualities contained within the 5 elements can be observed within us, and in our environment. We are deeply connected to nature.
Ayurveda provides us with an understanding of nature, both externally and internally. The following qualities can be witnessed in everyone and everything.
10 Pairs of Opposite Qualities
Awareness of the nature of these the qualities that we take in through our 5 senses, is essential for making the food and lifestyle choices that will create balance or health.
We experience life by these qualities and what we take in through all 5 senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell.
Balance is living in harmony with our environment, taking in qualities that well best compliment our current state.
A general rule of Ayurveda is like increases like and opposites heal.
Cool alleviates hot, moist alleviates dry, heavy alleviates light, and so on.
The right balance of these elements/qualities equates to health in the body and mind.
Here are some practical examples of this:
I am someone who tends to feel hot and feel intense in my mind, eating foods that are fried or extra spicy will create excess heat. Most likely, I’ll initially feel this imbalance in my digestive system through a symptom such as heartburn. Cooling foods and spices will serve me best.
This is also why cooling foods like coconut, mint, and cucumber alleviate overheating in the summer.
If my skin is dry, then moist, oily foods like ghee and avocado will balance me.
Or, if I tend towards feeling hot, then I should favor cooling foods such as cucumber and coconut.
If I feel sluggish and heavy, then a large meal of meat and heavy grains and fats will bring me further into imbalance. Here, lighter, cleansing greens will benefit me.
The same principles can be applied to the mind:
The feeling of a scattered, anxious mind is balanced with grounded lifestyle practices such as slowing down the pace of my day, walking in nature, practicing yoga, or meditating rather than surfing the web.
Alternatively, feel dull and lethargic is best countered with invigorating exercise and lighter, fresh foods.
This all seems like common sense right? It is! Ayurveda is an intuitive science honoring what we already know to be true. It’s less about learning a new way of eating or healthy habit, and more about remembering what will best serve you.
In order to navigate the food and lifestyle habits that best suit each individual, Ayurveda teaches us that we each have a unique mind/body type or constitution based on the three dosha principle – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The doshas are characterized by the 5 elements and their qualities. Once we understand our nature or dosha, then we are able to eat the right foods and engage in the type of lifestyle that complement our genetics.
Stayed tuned for more detailed dosha blogs!