What is Ayurveda? A Brief Introduction and Guide
Ayur, meaning “life” and veda, “understanding” together form “The Science of Life”, or Ayurveda, which is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga! Ayurvedic knowledge has been passed down through the Vedic text for more than 5,000 years, but most Hindus consider the Vedas to be “apauruṣeya“, which means “not of a man” and “authorless”.
Tibetan medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine both have their roots in Ayurveda, as well as Herbology, Homeopathy and Polarity Therapy. Ayurveda is more than just a system of treating illness. It’s a body of wisdom that leads each person to realize their full potential through gentle loving care of the mind and body. Rather than just being a preventative care system, it’s a set of guidelines to live by to help achieve optimum health. All Vedic sciences are primarily teachings for the development of full human physical, mental, and spiritual potential
Ayurvedic has two main philosophies:
- The Mind and Body are inextricably connected
- The Mind has more power over anything to transform and heal the Body
Freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness and bringing it into balance, and then expanding that balance to the body
Ayurvedic Elements and Energies
Humans are part of our nature, and made up of the same elements as everything else on this planet. We are all formed from Space (ether), Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These elements make up 3 main energies: movement, transformation, and structure, also known as wind (vata), fire (pitta), and earth (kapha). Each of us has a unique proportion of these three forces that shapes our bodies and our minds. They are called our doshas. All people have the qualities of vata, pitta and kapha, but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third is usually least prominent.
Vata: Movement Energy
Vata is made up of ether and air elements and is the energy of movement. It’s the energy of wind. It controls blood flow, elimination of wastes, breathing and the movement of thoughts across the mind. That is why Vata types are commonly quick thinking, thin, and fast moving.
A Vata is active, creative, and gifted with a natural ability to express and communicate. They tend to always be on the go. Their energy comes in bursts, and they are likely to experience sudden bouts of fatigue. Vatas tend to have cold hands and feet,
When in balance, they are lively and enthusiastic creative-types. Vatas are prone to worry, anxiousness, nervousness, and often suffer from insomnia. Common signs of Vata imbalance include anxiety and bodily disorders related to dryness, such as dry skin and constipation.
Pitta: Transformational Energy
Pitta is made up of water and fire elements. It is the energy of transformation and change. It controls digestion, metabolism, and energy production. Like their elements, Pittas have fiery personalities. They love a good debate or sporting event where they can be competitive.
When in balance, pitta-people are good decision makers, teachers, and speakers. They are the lawyer-types and will argue, using logic until people see things their way.
Pittas tend to be on the warm side and are prone to “heated” imbalances like fevers, hypertension, pink eye, and skin problems (acne, eczema, rash).
Kapha: Lubrication and Structural Energy
Water and earth elements together form Kapha. Kapha is the energy of structure and cohesiveness. It’s soothing, grounding, and cooling. Kapha energy hydrates all cells and systems, controls immunity, protects the tissues and lubricates joints/ moisturizes skin.
Kaphas are known to be nurturing and supportive. They are the peacemakers, the joyous hosts, the listeners, and the nurturers. Their mind is steady, their attitude is positive and their bodies are very strong. They have strong joints, thick skin and strong bones.
When Kaphas are in balance, they are peaceful, grounded, and authentic. When Kaphas fall out of balance, they binge-eat and under-exercise, causing weight-gain and diabetes.
Your Unique Doshic Constitution
Each human is going to have a unique balance of the three energies within them. Your dosha depicts what and how you eat, how you exercise, when you sleep, and even where you prefer to live. Its passed down from your parents; If your mother was a thin, flighty vata, then you too will have those types of behaviors and physical traits.
The doshic constitution I was born with, or “prakruti” is Vata-Pitta. My body is probably about 50% Vata and 35–40% Pitta. My mind is even further skewed toward Vata.
This means that I tend to forget to eat, I have a thin figure, thin skin and nails that break easily, and a scattered mind. I’m a creative, but I often start projects and abandon them without finishing.
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Nature vs Nuture & Prakruti vs Vikruti
Lifestyle choices also lead towards a different doshic constitution, called your “vikruti”.Your prakruti and vikruti are similar to the concepts of nature vs nurture. You are born with a set of physiological characteristics, and based on the way you live, you might be out of balance and have one of your energies stronger or weaker than the way it was when you were born.
Regardless of a person’s constitution, anyone can have an imbalance in any dosha. Imbalances are created by the environment a person finds themselves in and their lifestyle.
Determining Your Dosha
To determine your doshic constitution, take one of these tests:
Banyan Botanicals was my favorite of the 3 above, because it tests your prakriti and gives you an idea if your doshas are imbalanced. The banyan botanical quiz gives dietary, lifestyle and herbal recommendations.
How to Balance your Doshas
Now that you have an idea of what your doshic constitution is, you might wonder how the heck you balance it. This is where ayurveda excels!
Ayurveda is a set of guidelines to follow to live a more balanced lifestyle. Based on what kind of energies you have in your body and what kind of symptoms you might be having, you can “play” with your diet and lifestyle.Here are some examples:
- If you are feeling lethargic after meals: eat more airy foods like
- You notice that you have a lot of irritability- time to reduce foods and activities high in pitta!
- You feel spacey and are high in anxiety- time to add more “Kapha” energy into your life through “grounding” aka spending time in nature, “earthing” (walking barefoot in nature), or eating more earthy foods, like potatoes and other root vegetables
- Noticing some bowel or digestive irritability? Perhaps a pitta-pacifying diet will releave your symptoms. Switch to cooling coconut oils, drink ginger tea, avoid spicy foods and cut back on the coffee.
Ayurveda is more than just a dietary regiment. It’s a lifestyle to follow so that we may regulate our physical bodies, our emotional bodies, our mental bodies and get in alignment with our spiritual bodies.
Ayurveda Lifestyle Habits
Ayurveda also recommends certain lifestyle habits for everyone, including:
- Daily tongue-scraping to remove “ama” or toxins from the body
- Daily body-oil massage, called “abhyanga“, which aids in detoxification through moving lymph
- Oil pulling, which helps remineralize teeth and pull ama from the inside of the mouth
- Elimination of alcohol and tobacco use, to purify the body
- Daily practice of yoga to stretch and move the body
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We balance our doshas, we oil our bodies and scrape our tongues so that it becomes easier to become closer to our highest selves. Ayurveda is not just a diet. Its a set of recommendations laid out to help you get on track with your dharma: your lifes purpose.
What is Ayurveda? A Brief Introduction and Guide was last modified: December 17th, 2018 by Cassy
Originally published at awaywestray.com on December 17, 2018.