A question often asked, “What is Ayurveda?”
The easy answer is that Ayurveda is the 5000-year-old traditional science that was designed to bring the body back into balance in order to heal itself from ailment—that in itself is amazing—but underneath that, Ayurveda is so much more…
Ayurveda is a Vedic science. Another Vedic science, often called Ayurveda’s sister science, is Yoga. All Vedic sciences are primarily teachings for the development of full human physical, mental, and spiritual potential.
Ayurveda’s base of knowledge was recorded in a large body of Sanskrit literature that originated in India, called the Vedas. The Vedas are considered to be the oldest written recordings that describe, often in metaphors, ancient principles, practices and spirituality.
You may have heard of the Vedic warriors—such as Ram, Lakshman, Arjuna, Krishna. These warriors represent beings that have achieved their full spiritual potential, achieved superior physical abilities and fearlessness through mental and emotional freedom.
What Is Ayurveda? | Ayurvedic Body Types
In Ayurveda, one’s individual nature is mirrored in their body type, aka dosha. The doshas reflect 3 main governing principles of nature, vata (air), pitta (fire), and kapha (earth-water).
Each person is a unique combination of these 3 principles or doshas, with different proportions of each existing within.
One’s dosha depicts what and how they eat, how they exercise, when they sleep, and even where they prefer to live.
Being aware of your dosha will allow you to identify Ayurvedic protocols to align your internal nature with the larger cycles of nature, such as the daily rhythms and seasonal cycles, our circadian rhythms. It’s like having a roadmap that leads you closer to your best self, so that you can reach your true potential, and be more radiant and joyful.
What Is Ayurveda? | Prevention is King
In Ayurvedic medicine, optimal health and even one’s spiritual growth starts with prevention. Prevention is based on a balanced lifestyle that is in harmony with the cycles of nature.
Ayurveda recognizes that all living creatures, whether human, plant or animal, must live in harmony with nature in order to survive. Like the owner’s manual of your car prescribes maintenance schedules for the long-term health of your car, Ayurveda speaks of daily and seasonal routines that ensure maximal health, mental clarity, and longevity.
For example, birds fly south in the winter. Their survival depends on it. In the fall, leaves turn red and fall off the trees. It’s a law of nature.
We tend to insulate ourselves away from much participation in the changes that take place from one season to the next. We don’t realize that, just like the birds, our survival depends on it, and that simply putting on or taking off a sweater and eating the same foods 365 days a year is not in keeping with the original human design.
Going to sleep and rising with the sun, eating seasonal foods for your region, and building your activities around the natural rhythms of the day are all simple and profound ways to stay in harmony with nature.
What Is Ayurveda? | The Ayurvedic Diet
According to Ayurveda, there are three major guidelines when it comes to eating. They focus on HOW, WHEN and WHAT you eat.
In the west, we incessantly obsess over what to eat, constantly arguing over which is “the best” diet, while ignoring the value of how you eat and when you eat. We generally eat on the run, while driving, late at night, throughout the day or in a rush. Many eat basically the same foods year-round.
We have made eating very complicated – there are more modern theories on eating than there are days in a month. While animals seem to balance their nutritional needs quite well without the technical knowledge of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, we incessantly count calories and measure grams of fat, only to find out about the latest study, which tells us that the rules of eating have changed once again.
While changing what you eat to be in sync with the seasons and when you eat to be in sync with the light/dark circadian cycles is critical, according to Ayurveda, how you eat, not when or what you eat is considered the most important.
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In Ayurveda, the rules remain constant: As the seasons change and different foods are harvested, we change the foods we eat in accordance.
During the winter, for example, squirrels eat nuts as a good source of protein and fat. This is a perfect food to help combat the cold and dry weather in the winter months (vata season). Grains, which are harvested in the fall and cooked in the winter, are also a perfect winter food. Cooked grains provide a warm, heavy nutritional base that helps us adapt to the cold of winter.
Come spring, after eating heavy nuts and grains during the long, cold, sedentary winter, nature again provides us with the perfect food. Light, leafy green veggies and berries are the first foods harvested in the spring (kapha season) and are the natural antidote for the allergy season.
As the days get warmer in July and August, nature provides cooling fruits and vegetables, like watermelon and bell peppers, to balance the heat of summer (pitta season).
In Ayurveda, exercise is not only about losing weight, winning races, and staying healthy. Exercise provides a kind of physical stress that can be used to teach us how to deal with all kinds of stress (mental, emotional and social) with an internal sense of composure.
I published my first book back in the 90s, Body Mind, and Sport, and from the research in that book, I integrated a specific nasal breathing technique I call “Darth Vader Breathing” into a basic exercise routine. Darth Vader Breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama, as it is called in Yoga and Ayurveda) allows a deep sense of calm to co-exist with the movement and intensity of exercise, making it an enjoyable experience rather than a workout.
After learning nasal breathing, tennis star Billie Jean King told me that she hadn’t enjoyed exercise that much since she was a child. I have used this technique with world-class athletes like Martina Navratilova, with the aging population who want safe and enjoyable exercise, and as a therapy for people who have difficulty handling stress.
Simply breathing deeply through your nose while walking fast for 20 minutes can teach you to handle stressful situations. (Here’s a tip: while walking fast, if you have to breathe through your mouth, you are walking too fast!)
With 80% of all diseases linked to stress, learning how to take an experience of calm into dynamic activity is an integral part of Ayurveda. The ability to know exactly how much exercise is good for you and how much is harmful becomes more automatic as you learn to listen to your body.
Nasal breathing during exercise provides numerous health benefits, including a natural experience of calm that we require for self-healing and growth.
What Is Ayurveda? | Ayurvedic Healing
“As within, so without.” Ayurveda believes that healing starts from within. The idea of giving an herb to sedate you for insomnia, or a laxative to relieve constipation, is contrary to the Ayurvedic philosophy.
When fully balanced, living a lifestyle in harmony with nature and one’s type, stilling the mind with techniques like yoga, breathing and meditation along with proper diet, exercise, and herbal support, as needed, one can set the stage for optimal health and emotional growth.
Ayurveda attributes 80% of all disease to imbalances of the digestive system and, therefore, much attention is given to its maintenance.
In Ayurveda, as the digestive system is also our detoxification system, when the digestion breaks down, so does the ability to detox.
Five thousand years ago, in a non-toxic world, Ayurvedic experts thought it important, even then, to design one of the most sophisticated detoxification programs in the world, called Panchakarma. Today, with digestive-compromising stress and environmental toxicity at an all-time high, resetting digestive strength and regular detoxification is more important than ever.
What Is Ayurveda? | The Essence of Ayurveda
It is unique in this day and age to find a system of medicine that is over 5000 years old and, still today, one of the largest on the planet. Ayurvedic medicine, although in its infancy here in America, has over 300,000 Indian doctors in the All Indian Ayurvedic Congress, making it the largest medical organization in the world.
Perhaps the reason for Ayurveda’s unrivaled longevity is its basis in truth.
What is Ayurveda to you?