Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
For some of you the word Ayurveda [ah-yer-VEY-duh] and its concepts are new. You might have heard a yoga teacher mention something about it, or perhaps a friend has been challenged with health problems and has turned to this ancient wisdom. Wherever you are on this spectrum, this article invites you to begin to build a foundation of Ayurvedic history and enable you to start on your path of holistic health and wellness practices.
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word translated as Ayur “life” and Veda “knowledge,” or the science of life. Originating as a verbal tradition, this body of science was recorded and called the Vedas (c.1500-500 BCE)1. These texts are 4,000 years old and are now being verified by modern science.
Ayurveda evolved from a deep connection to consciousness and an understanding that all qualities and substances on this earth uniquely interact with each other and every living organism.
Although it originated in India, Ayurveda is a universal medical system that seeks the root of health imbalances through a systematic approach. It focuses on preventing chronic disease, both mental and physical, by focusing on the individual’s ideal health. Ayurvedic practices see that no two people are alike and should be treated as such.
The uniqueness of each individual is known as a constitution or Dosha (physiological elements or body type). Understanding your Dosha allows for you to correct and effectively balance your health; mind, body, and spirit.
There are three Doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each person has a combination of these doshas and in most cases two are more prominent (e.g. vata-pitta or pitta-kapha).
Doshas are combinations of the elements: earth, water, fire, air and Ayurveda also recognizes space, known as ether, as an element. These elements dictate specific qualities each dosha is known for.
To know and understand your dosha gives you a key to unlocking Ayurvedic wisdom that can bring you to optimal health. Although Doshas represent unique elemental physiologies of everyone, they are also everything you see, touch, hear, taste and smell. Everything we know can be broken down into elements.
Vata: Air, Space. Qualities: Light, dry, cold, subtle, moving, clear, coarse, rough, changeable
Pitta: Fire, Water. Qualities: Hot, sharp, intense, slightly moving, fluid, pungent, sour
Kapha: Earth, Water. Qualities: Heavy, moist, cool, sticky, slimy, unctuous, smooth, steady
It’s important to know that Ayurveda stems from a culture of traditions, rituals, and medicinal practices. This deep and beautiful wisdom aligns itself to the rhythms of nature, Vedic divinities, as well as a profound understanding of consciousness and meditation. Ayurveda is an umbrella for practices like Panchakarma (detoxification), Jyotish (Vedic astrology), Rasayanas (herbal remedies), pules diagnostic, prayer, chanting, amulets and gems as well as many other healing modalities and tools.
There are many changes and challenges faced by the global Ayurvedic community. In 1970, the Central Council for Ayurveda in India was formed to oversee the standards and practice, as well as the rapid growth of new Ayurvedic pharmaceutical and herbal companies in India.
The National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA), was founded in 2000 to further regulate Ayurvedic medicines in the USA. There are political, cultural, scientific, and legislative conversations happening right now that continue to solidify Ayurveda as a common practice here in the United States.
“He whose doshas are in balance, whose appetite is good, whose dhatus (tissues) are functioning normally, whose malas (waste products) are in balance, and whose mind and senses remain full of bliss, is called a healthy person.” – Sushruta
Reference: 1. “Vedas.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. June 2018.
Alexandra Greenberg is an Integrative Holistic Health Coach specializing in Ayurvedic medicine for parents and children. See GreenTreeAyurveda.com for more.