Ayurveda is India’s traditional medicine. It is the oldest continuously practiced health care system in the world and the sister science of yoga. Both originated about 5000 years ago in India and were traditionally used together for maximum benefits. “Ayur” means life, and “Veda” means knowledge. Ayurveda is the science of how to live a long and healthy life with the purpose of giving us enough time to reach Enlightenment. No kidding! To get you started on your Ayurvedic journey, here is an overview of Ayurvedic philosophy.
You And The World Out There: Made of The Same Stuff
The Five Elements
Ayurveda sees the entire universe, including us human beings, as made of the five elements. The elements are everywhere. They are everything! Me, you, the car you drive, the food you eat, the air you breathe. They are also in a constant state of flux and any change in one affects the others. This means we do not exist separately from our environment and that all the changes occurring “outside” of us are bound to affect how we feel “inside”. There is no such thing as the “world out there”, from an elemental perspective it’s all one and the same. That’s why Ayurveda tells us we should do our best to surround ourselves with people, things, colors, aromas, shapes, scents, sights that we find agreeable. They all contribute to making us feel better.
There's Nobody Like You
(Secretly you always knew it, now ayurvedic science confirms it!)
The Three Doshas
On one hand Ayurveda tells us all of creation is made of the same stuff, but on the other hand it also recognizes that no two people are alike. Hum.. how can that be? Well, the five elements combine in pairs to generate three distinct energies called the doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Ayurveda states that those three energies are present in everyone, in varying proportions. In addition, vata, pitta and kapha each display several qualities, also expressed in varying degrees in everyone. This gives rise to infinite possibilities of combinations, which explains the diversity in creation and the uniqueness of all that is. The Ayurvedic constitutional model offers a way to understand and appreciate our unique doshic nature, called prakriti, and to know what it needs in order to thrive. Looking at ourselves through the Ayurvedic lens we come to understand why some of us need 8 hours of sleep in order to function while others feel just fine on 6; why heavy exercise depletes us while it invigorates our best friend, or why we feel satisfied eating a creamy soup with bread and butter, while it leaves the same friend sluggish and full. With a refined understanding of our constitution and its needs we stop following one-size-fits-all protocols that only vaguely help, and instead choose to eat, exercise, work, play, do yoga, meditate, all in a way that suits our unique psycho-physical profile. That is how we come back to balance, not by following someone else's formula. In Ayurveda, optimum health of mind and body is considered a normal by-product of a life lived in harmony with our prakriti.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha in Details
Below is a description of the three doshas. Notice if one of them speaks to you more than the others. Most of us are a combination of two doshas. Purely single-dosha types and tri-doshic types are not as common.
VATA is the combination of the Ether and Air elements.
It is the subtle energy of movement. Vata governs movement of the body, the mind (thoughts), transport of nutrients, fluids, nerve impulses and wastes. The qualities of vata are light, cold, dry, rough, mobile. The vata individual is creative, flexible, enthusiastic, with a fertile imagination and ideas continuously popping up in their mind, ideas they may find difficult to implement for lack of tenacity. They learn quickly and often forget just as quickly! Vata gets imbalanced by too much talking, traveling, computer use, exposure to cold, dry and windy environments, not enough rest, eating dry, bitter and cold foods, and absence of routine. When out of balance the vata type feels overwhelmed and ungrounded, they multitask, expand too much energy in too many directions, go too long without stopping and end up crashing. Which they need in order to recover. Common vata imbalances: insomnia, restlessness, feeling fearful and anxious, dry skin, constipation, bloating.
PITTA is the combination of the Fire and Water elements.
It is the subtle energy of transformation. Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, metabolism, of food as well as of mental experiences. The qualities of pitta are hot, sharp, oily, soft, light, spreading.The pitta individual has a sharp intellect, is focused, intense and confident. Pittas are entrepreneurial and make charismatic leaders. Their power of concentration allows them to grasp information quickly and deeply, and to master any subject they choose to. Pitta gets aggravated by exposure to heat, eating too salty, sour and spicy foods, over-working, a brainy approach to life, alcohol, caffeine, competition, loud and aggressive sensory input. When out of balance Pitta types become irritable, impatient and angry (excess heat!). When their ambitious nature takes over they become overly focused on their goals and forget to enjoy the journey. They can become critical, cutting and abrasive with others. Common pitta imbalances: thinning hair, premature graying, skin sensitivity to sun, skin rashes, heartburn, inflammatory conditions, excessive sweating, irritability, anger, liver disorders, excess hunger and thirst, bad breath.
KAPHA is the combination of the Water and Earth elements
It governs structure. The kapha energy holds cells together, it lubricates joints and skin, promotes building of tissues, governs immunity and all healing processes. The qualities of kapha are heavy, dense, slow, cold, stable. The kapha individual is Stable, loyal, loving and forgiving, in short someone we love to have around! they Learn slowly but retain forever. Kapha gets aggravated by too much sleep, not enough exercise, too much routine, exposure to cold and damp environments, eating too many sweet and starchy foods. When out of balance the kapha person feels uninspired, lethargic, depressed, stuck in a rut, attached and greedy Common kapha imbalances: colds, sinus congestion, cysts, excess weight. Do you recognize yourself in some of the above descriptions? That's the beginning of getting to know yourself through the Ayurvedic paradigm. In part 2 of this article I'll look at how you can assess the state of your health more precisely, and give you tips on how to address any imbalance.
Until then, take care xo