A simple introduction to Ayurveda
Ayurveda is the oldest healthcare system in the world, dating back to 5000 years ago in India. In Sanskrit, AYUR means Life and VEDA means Science or Knowledge. Thus AYURVEDA means the 'knowledge of life'. However it can be also translated as the 'science of longevity' (one of the objective of Ayurveda is to increase life span), therefore it is anti-ageing.
The Sanskrit word for healthy is swastha which means 'to be established in yourself'. Ayurveda seeks to establish balance and equilibrium at all levels of a person's being.
Ayurveda has a holistic approach of the human being, looking not only at the physical body but also the mind and the soul. Besides that, the specificity of Ayurveda is that it is individualised i.e. it takes into account the uniqueness of each individual and provides personalised solutions.
Health is defined in Ayurveda as a:
- balanced state of the doshas (the three body & mind consitutions)
- balanced state of Agni (fire, especially digestive fire)
- balanced state of Dhatus (the tissues that consititute the body)
- balanced state of Mala (the 3 eliminations of the body)
- joyful state of the Indriyas (the 5 sense organs)
- joyful state of the Manas (the mental status)
- joyful state of the Atma (the soul)
Therefore, true health is not merely the absence of physical symptoms but a complete harmony of all aspects of being. Inversely, imbalances lead to disharmony, which ultimately leads to disease.
The objective of Ayurveda is two fold
Preventive - Keep healthy
Curative - Cure the diseases
Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention, maintenance of good health and immunity through a balanced diet, lifestyle and mindset.
For a deeper understanding, let's go through the main principles of Ayurveda.
PANCHA MAHABHUTAS - the five elements
In Ayurveda, the universe is made out of five basic elements:
- Akash (Space or Cosmos) is vast, cold, empty, light, clear and subtle.
It enables other things to take form, similar to empty space.
- Vayu (Air) is cold, light, dry, rough and mobile.
It enables things to move, similar to the wind.
- Agni (Fire) is hot, dry, sharp and mobile.
It enable things to be transformed, similar to the Sun.
- Apas (Water) is cold, mobile, heavy, soft and liquid.
It enable things to be kept together, similar to the ocean.
- Prithvi (Earth) is cold, heavy, stable and dry.
It enables things to take shape, similar to the soil.
Man is a macrocosm of the cosmos so these five elements present in all matter also exist within each individual. However, the proportions of these elements will be unique to each individual.
Vata is cold, dry, light,rough, irregular and mobile. Any bodily motion—chewing, swallowing, nerve impulses, breathing, muscle movements, thinking, peristalsis, bowel movements, urination, menstruation—requires balanced vata.
Vata people are full of energy, fast and flexible. They change and adapt themselves very quickly. The Vata mind is very imaginative, creative and full of ideas. However they can jump from one idea to another without completing them. Vata people love talking and travelling.
Their bodies are slim, rough, cold and dry. Insomnia, constipation, gas, low immunity anxiety, indecisiveness, hyperactivity are some of Vata's problems.
If you have recognized yourself here, here are some simple suggestions:
- establish a regular routine
- eat warm, nourishing and grounding food and avoid raw & cold food
- drink hot ginger tea to warm up
- enjoy Ayurvedic oil body massages
- practise gentle yoga
Pitta is sharp, penetrating, hot, light, liquid, mobile, and oily. Just as fire transforms anything it touches, Pitta is in play any time the body converts or processes something. Therefore, Pitta oversees digestion, metabolism, thermal regulation, sensory perception, and comprehension.
Pitta people are highly intelligent, efficient and organised, which often makes them perfectionist and goal oriented. Their mind is sharp and focused. However, if life doesn't go their way, they tend to loose temper easily. They are also irritated by hunger and disagreement.
Heat, physical or mental, governs this dosha. Pitta bodies are of medium structure and have a very good digestion. Pittas gain and loose weight easily. Their skin is warm and a bit oily and their eyes are sharp.
Acne, heartburn, inflammation, migraine, jealousy, anger are some of Pitta's problems.
If you are Pitta, here are some simple suggestions:
- avoid stimulants such as cafeine, chocolate alcohol and sugar
- slow down and reconnect with Nature
- when stressed, focus on deep breathing
- drink mint tea to cool down
- practise meditation daily
Kapha is heavy, cold, dull, oily, smooth, dense, soft, static, liquid, cloudy, hard, and gross (in the sense of dense or thick). As kapha governs stability and structure, it forms the substance of the human body, from the skeleton to various organs to the fatty molecules (lipids) that support the body.
Kapha people are chilled out as they like a slow and relaxed life. They are calm, soft, patient, loyal with a forgiving nature. Kaphas also have a very good sense of humour.
Physically, kapha people are solidly built and can gain weight easily and loose it with difficulty unless they exercise regularly. Their eyes are big, hair is thick and skin is cool and smooth. Lethargy, attachment, resistance to change, weight gain, mucus and congestion are some of Kaphas problems.
If you have recognized yourself in this description, here are some suggestions:
- vary your routine
- wake up early and start your day with physical exercise
- eat warm and light food
- avoid sweets, cheese and other heavy foods
- exercise daily, preferably some dynamic activity such as dance
GUNAS - the 3 qualities or energies
The Gunas are the energies that are present in all things and beings in the world, whether it is some food, a thought, an emotion or a reaction.
Sattva is associated with harmony, balance and purity. This is the energy that brings us calmness and peace. Sattvic food is freshly picked, made with love, ideally vegetarian and easy to digest.
Rajas evokes action, passion and movement. A rajasic state means you feel passionate, hyper active, the mind keeps going, not being able to stop. Rajasic food contains garlic, meat, alcohol, fermented or canned foods.
Tamas represents darkness, ignorance, illusion and inaction. When we feel tamasic we can’t get out of bed, feeling unmotivated, dragging ourselves through the day. Tamasic food has lost its life quality and includes onions, leftovers, microwaved or frozen foods.
HOW TO BE HEALTHY ACCORDING TO AYURVEDA?
Ayurveda recognises three main pillars for mainting good health:
1. Ahara i.e. diet
2. Vihara i.e. lifestyle
3. Manovyapara i.e. state of mind
1. AHARA - diet
'You are what you eat' says Ayurveda. Our food make up all the tissues of our body.
Therefore, a diet that is free of toxins, that is pure, homecooked with fresh ingredients (unprocessed) and cooked with love is the best form of diet. This Satvic (pure) diet will also raise your vibrational level because besides assimilating the nutrients from our food, ayurveda says that we also absorb the energy of the food.
It is also important to adapt our diets to our doshas, the time of the day and the seasons. Our food is our medicine and health starts with eating a healthy diet, suitable to our consititution.
2. VIHARA - lifestyle
The Ayurvedic Mum is all about applying Ayurveda everyday through daily rituals that support a healthy body and a healthy mind. This is called Dinacharya, our daily routine.
Sleep (especially sleeping before 10pm), massage, yoga, pranayama, meals, work, creative activity, meditation...are all tools that can help us structure our day. Discover the Ayurvedic daily routine here.
3. MANOVYAPARA - state of mind
Our thoughts and our emotions have a direct impact on our health and wellbeing. Ayurveda says that nothing is more powerful than the mind to heal the body. Many studies have been done today to discover this truth written thousands of years ago in the vedas.
Yoga, pranayama (breath work) and meditation are extremely useful techniques to reconnect with our inner selves.
These recommendations are for information purpose only and do not replace an Ayurvedic consultant's advise. You can book a consultation with me for more personnalised advise.