What is Ayurveda?
Ancient Healing for Modern Day Challenges
In Sanskrit, Ayurveda is an ancient Sanskrit word that means “The Science of Life.” Many scholars consider this “science of life” to be one of the oldest healing sciences. Ayurvedic wisdom has its origins in India more than 5,000 years ago. Its wisdom grows out of ancient Vedic culture. For thousands of years, it was passed on largely as an oral tradition from accomplished practitioners to their students and fortunately, some of the knowledge was put into print form. Many of the natural healing systems now familiar throughout the world are deeply influenced by Ayurveda, such as Homeopathy and Polarity Therapy.
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Your Individual Constitution and Maintaining Balance
Ayurveda places emphasis on prevention of disease by promoting balanced health through equanimity in the mind, appropriate intake of food, rejuvenative lifestyle practices and the use of herbs. In Ayurveda, creating this balance of body and mind is based on one’s individual constitution. What may be healthy for one person may not be ideal for another person.
Each person is unique, with an individualized pattern of energy, a specific blend of physical, mental and emotional characteristics that creates a unique constitution. In Ayurveda, this unique constitution is understood to be determined at conception, remaining consistent throughout one’s life. In Ayurveda, this original constitution is called one’s prakruti. However, this unique, individual constitution can become disturbed by many factors and bring one away from a balanced state. The imbalanced present state is called the vikruti. Ayurvedic clinicians strive to bring balance to the current state so that one can live in more harmony with their ideal balance of natural elements (prakruti).
There are a variety of different factors that can bring one out of a balanced state. These stressors can include traumatic experiences, emotional dysregulation, improper food choices, seasons and weather, addictive behaviors, and challenging work and family relationships. Ayurvedic treatment involves understanding the causes of the imbalances so that appropriate remedies can be created to reduce or eliminate the sources of imbalance. At its essence, while Ayurvedic treatment addresses the symptoms, its most profound and important contribution is to address the root cause of imbalance and disease.
Balancing the Three Principal Energies of the Body
In Ayurvedic wisdom, there are three types of bioenergetic patterns that are present in all people and things. The English language does not have words that effectively embody these principles, so the original Sanskrit words are used - vata, pitta and kapha. These are called the doshas. All creation, according to Ayurveda, is an interplay of the energies of the five great elements—Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Vata, pitta and kapha are combinations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation.
Vata is the energy of movement, which is necessary in all life so that fluids and nutrients can be shared with the cells. Pitta is the energy of digestion or metabolism, allowing for items to be broken down and turned into usable nutrients. Kapha is the source of lubrication and structure, providing the body and mind protection and stability.
All people have the qualities of the three doshas, but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third is usually less prominent. While less common, some individuals may be fairly equal in the three doshas and some may have two doshas that are equal and one present in much smaller amounts. While the doshas reflect three basic bioenergetic patterns, they manifest in an unlimited number of combinations in humans and all forms of life. Each individual has their own unique and ideal balance of elements.
In Ayurveda, healing starts by exploring the source of disease. In Ayurveda, this is understood through the lens of excess or deficiency of vata, pitta or kapha in relation to the ideal balance for that particular person. In addition to imbalances in the doshas, disease can also be caused by the presence of toxins, the reason why Ayurveda places great emphasis on properly functioning detoxification pathways.
Vata, subtle energy of movement, consists of ether and air. It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
Pitta reflects the body’s metabolic system, consisting of fire and water. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta arouses anger, hatred and jealousy.
Kapha, energy of structure and stability, consists of earth and water. Reflected in bones, muscles, and tendons, it provides the “glue” that holds the cells together, formed from Earth and Water. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. In balance, kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to attachment, greed and envy.
Although there is much in life we may not be able to control, we can make choices about diet and lifestyle. For optimum balance and health, these decisions are essential to strengthen the body, mind and consciousness.
A Complementary System of Healing
Ayurveda can be used on its own or work in conjunction with western allopathic medicine. Western allopathic medicine currently often focuses on symptoms and disease, primarily using drugs and surgery to remove pathogens and damaged tissue. Many lives have been saved by this approach
Drugs or surgery may sometimes be the best treatment option. (Surgery actually has its roots in ancient Ayurvedic medicine!) However, even when using drugs or surgery, Ayurveda can be used to help strengthen the body, support faster recovery and prevent a relapse of chronic symptoms.
Toxicity in drugs can sometimes weaken the body, so it is often helpful to start with less invasive approaches. Ayurveda addresses symptoms, but it also looks at the root cause of the disease. When stress on the body is reduced and the body’s pathways are balanced, the body’s natural immunity will be stronger and can better protect itself against disease.
The first signs of imbalances are important to observe and identify. Sometimes we may feel symptoms, but we are told that nothing is wrong, even though there is discomfort. This is actually an important place to start an Ayurvedic healing program, to explore alternative measures to restore balance to the body and mind before it has evolved into chronic disease.
Assessment and Treatment
Ayurveda includes various techniques to assess health and imbalances. The practitioner observes important signs and symptoms of illness, paying special attention to understanding the cause of the discomfort. The first assessment tools are listening, observation and connecting deeply to a patient’s needs. The next assessment tools include an assessment of the pulse, tongue, eyes and the physical form. An Ayurvedic practitioner also considers what treatments are compatible for each client.
The Ayo Ayurveda program has its roots in Ayurveda, motivational counseling/coaching and modern somatic therapies for healing trauma.
Recommendations may include lifestyle changes; nutritional recommendations, Ayurvedic body therapies and herbs. In some cases, participating in a cleansing program, called Panchakarma, is suggested to help remove toxins stored in bodily tissues. In particular, the Ayo Ayurveda program places special emphasis on coaching patients to identify and accomplish their health goals. Ayo Ayurveda’s herbal pharmacy also allows for herbal preparations to be individualized for each client’s needs.