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Most of you know that I am a huge advocate of practicing all of Yoga, not just the postures. That’s a lot of stuff, and if you’re new to the yogic lifestyle all of the information and new terms can be overwhelming. Asana, Pranayama, Namaste…what does that all mean? But one of the questions I get asked a lot is “What is Ayurveda?”
Ok. Let’s break this down.
Ayurveda is one of the three sisters related to yoga. These 3 sisters are 1. Yoga 2. Ayurveda 3. Sanskrit. It is the indigenous health system of India that explains health and disease within our bodies. It is a life knowledge using herbs, food & lifestyle modifications to address our health imbalances. This allows us to get closer to realizing our true nature.
Ayurveda treats the cause of a disease, not the symptoms. Which is typically an imbalance of the doshas. However, Ayurveda is most effective when used as preventative medicine. It is a paradigm that promotes a healthy body and mind that allows us to embrace our dharma more fully and with happiness.
The goal of Ayurveda is to live in harmony with the natural world.
What is Health?
Ayurveda theory views health as understanding our true nature and these 7 components.
- Being established in the Big Self (not identifying with our emotions)
- Balanced Dosha (Vault)
- Balanced Agni (Digestive Fire)
- Properly Formed Datius (Skin Layers)
- Properly formed Waste (Mala)
- Well-functioning body processes (Svasta)
- Ojas (Energy, Radiance)
What is Disease?
The disease of the body is viewed holistically and is understood to be the opposite of health: not understanding your true nature of spirit.
There are 3 main causes of disease
- Mis-use of the senses (Overindulgence or too severe restrictions)
- Failure of the intellect (ignoring the facts you know about healthy living)
- Parinama, (biological vs. linear time)
Five Great Elements
Ayurveda identifies the Five Great Elements as elements of Nature. The human body is comprised of all five elements, in some ratio, making each human unique.
- Earth: the Solid state of matter. Represents stability, fixity or rigidity
- Water: the Liquid state of matter. Represents change and fluidity. Water is substance without stability.
- Fire: the power that can convert a substance from solid to liquid to gas or vice versa. Fire is form without substance. It represents transformation.
- Air: the gaseous state of matter. Represents mobility. Aire is existence without form. Ether: Holds all the other elements. Eather has no physical existence; it exists only as of the distances that separate matter.
- Ether: hold all the other elements. Ether has no physical existence, it exists only as the distance that separate matter.
A main component of Ayurveda is the concept of the Doshas. The doshas are the physical components of our bodies, and we are made with at least a little of all three, with one typically more dominant than the others. Because these Doshas are so different in each of use, Ayurveda is very individualized to each of us.
Doshas are the interplay of the Five Elements. These also have governing aspects over the seasons and other aspects of our physical earth. When they are in balance, we thrive. When they are not in balance, we see distress and disease.
The Vata dosha is comprised of Air & Ether and helps to move the other doshas. Vata people are typically very thinly built, perhaps having difficulty putting on weight. They are the creative type, though maybe a bit spacy and have difficulty finishing projects. They are not often grounded, but most likely don’t notice because they are too busy dreaming and discovering new ideas.
Vata is most dominant in winter when there is less moisture in the air and the blow blows a little more fiercely.
Since most doshas like foods that are similar to their nature, Vata people love salads and lighter foods. However to help balance themselves they should eat food that is more heavy and hot such as oils and warmer spices.
Pitta peeps are the ones who may be firey…but they get shit done. This Dosha is made of fire & oil. Pittas can be very inflammatory, but they are the leaders and organizers. They take the creative ideas of the Vatas and make it happen. They are workaholics, and because of this are prone to congestive heart failures and heart attacks. Pitta can easily increase muscle mass and their bodies are solid, though may be prone to acne or rashes.
Summer is predominantly the pitta season with its heat and intensity.
Pitta people love the spice in their food but should eat more sweet foods to balance their nature.
Humans who are primarily Kapha are the Earth Mommas. The dosha is a combination of Earth and Water, and these people are solid in every way. Their bodies are round and earthy but may have a component of cold and sweaty, and because of this have increased mucus. They have slower digestion, and should only eat when they are hungry, or they tend to put on body weight very easily. They are strong and most likely have never broken a bone.
A true Kapha holds a sweet demeanor, and would never deceive, cheat or leave. They love emotional connections, both with people and things. These are the people we rely on to support us during the tough times, as they are always there with a hug and a cup to tea, to make us feel better.
In most places, Kapha qualities dominate primarily in the spring, when the earth is moist and returning to life.
Just the opposite of Pittas, these Kaphas reach for the sweeter types of foods but should incorporate spicier types of food to balance out their qualities.
Ok…I understand a little now
Stepping in the world of Ayurveda can feel a little overwhelming and confusing at times. Just remember the most important thing is to eat according to the season. If you have a Dosha imbalance from there, adjust your eating until you can return to eating for the right time of year.
I can totally speak about the importance of eating Ayurvedically. In my family, we switch up the foods we eat according to the seasons and have seen a huge improvement in digestive issues and overall energy level. It’s fun because we don’t eat the same food all year and switch up the spices up depending on what the season calls for. It keeps cooking exciting!
Just remember to keep everything in moderation which will keep you in balance.
If you’re interested in trying Ayurvedic cooking, check out this book for some amazing recipes.