Considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science, Ayurveda is a holistic approach to health that is designed to help people live long, healthy, and well-balanced lives. It has been practiced in India for at least 5,000 years, is the basis for Tibetan Medicine, is practiced in parts of Southeast Asia and has most recently been embraced by Western culture. The basic principle of Ayurveda is to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind, and consciousness through proper diet, lifestyle, herbal remedies, self-awareness, cultivation of harmonious relationships and alignment with nature.
Ayurvedic holds that disease results from an imbalance in one or more systems of a person. The word “Ayurveda” (pronounced I YOUR VAY DUH) means “The Science of Life” in its language of origin (Sanskrit) and it is, truly, just that. To heal and possess good health balance must be restored. Establishing balance is where Ayurveda excels. As a life science it possesses a unique and intuitive understanding of how rhythms, dictated by nature, determine our sense of well-being. Knowing what those rhythms are and why it is beneficial to be in alignment with them is transformational in itself.
How does Ayurveda work? Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, according to Ayurvedic beliefs, each person has a distinct pattern of energy — a specific combination of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics. It is also believed that there are three basic energy types called doshas, present in every person:
- Vata — energy that controls bodily, mental and emotional functions and processes associated with movement:
- intake, as in of air and food
- absorption of what has been brought in, for example: food and sensory impressions
- circulation, as in oxygen and blood
- expression of energy put to use, as in work or creativity
- elimination of waste
When looking at the emotional component of vata, balanced energy shows up as creativity and vitality. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
- Pitta — energy that controls the bodily, mental and emotional metabolic functions and processes, such as digestion of food, sensory impressions and experience. Pitta is the manifestation of heat and light. It transforms, heats and/or illuminates. Pitta manifests as the acidic bile that breaks down foods for assimilation in the body, or the visual process that digests light frequencies and transforms them into discernible impressions, among other things. In balance, the emotional component of pitta leads to warmth and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta can show up as anger, hatred and jealousy.
- Kapha — energy that controls growth and structure in the body. It is the lubrication and structure of the body. Bones, cell walls, synovial fluid and plasma are examples of Kapha. In balance, kapha is shows as nurturence, peacefulness and acceptance. Out of balance, kapha manifests as greed and envy.
Everyone has vata, pitta, and kapha, but usually 1 or 2 are dominant in a particular person. Knowing the unique makeup of a person allows for focused treatment. A rule of opposites is utilized. If a person has the characteristics of too much heat and moisture (pitta and kapha), than cooling and drying herbs, therapies and practices are applied. If the condition is one of dryness and cold (vata), than moisture and warmth are introduced into the system. The possible combinations are endless.
Skill is required in understanding a person, their condition and in creating a plan for correction of imbalance. Many things can disturb the energy balance, such as stress, an unhealthy diet, the weather or strained family relationships. The disturbance shows up as disease. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatments to bring the doshas back into balance.
From a Western medical perspective, stress relief seems to be one of the ways Ayurveda works to help fight illness. Other studies have found that Ayurveda lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, slows the aging process, and speeds recovery from illness. Many herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine have antioxidant effects, which means that they may help protect against long-term illnesses such as heart disease and arthritis.