Ayurveda is one of the world’s most ancient holistic healing systems, originating in India around 1000 BC. Its genesis comes from the Atharvaveda, a Vedic text. Over the next millennia, as people observed how to tune their bodies in response to disease and disbalance, several additional texts further developed the system,including disease treatment, drug usage, and rejuvenative and even surgical medicine. Today Ayurveda continues to evolve/adapt and be researched while being followed by over a billion people.
Ayurveda believes that wellness comes from a balanced mind and body, which each person must take a highly individualized path to reach. Living a long, healthy life is the essence of Ayurveda, as captured in the shloka below: “Ayurveda may be considered a science in the knowledge of which life exists, or that which helps a person enjoy a longer duration of life.”
Why is Ayurveda relevant?
Modern science already has a lot to offer in terms of treating disease. What can we find in the Ayurvedic system to add to it?
Unlike traditional Western medicine, which focusses on specific signalling pathways using active drug molecules applied universally to resolve disease, Ayurveda’s approach to wellness is both integrative and individual. What that means is that it acknowledges each human as a mind-body system, with unique mental and physical characteristics and life stories. There is no “one size fits all” treatment in Ayurveda. This approach has the potential of both helping lead a healthier longer life as well as help tackle disease when combined sensibly along with other treatments.
The Ayurvedic approach to resolving disease is holistic rather than reductionist. It acknowledges the fact that human bodies exhibit dynamic equlibrium with the operating environment which mirrors the complexity of the universe. According to Ayurveda persistent deviation/disbalance of the equilibrium leads to emergence/manifestation of disease. For example, unlike simply resorting to pills to resolve gastric issues Ayurveda would dig deeper in the associated causative elements relating to both mind and nutrition/lifestyle.
Ayurveda basically tells us that when we are in perfect harmony with ourselves and our surrounding environment, health and happiness is a natural consequence.
How does Ayurveda define us?
In Ayurveda, each individual has a baseline constitution called their swabhav (similar to your genetic makeup), which is determined at conception and does not generally change. Your swabhav is generally fully manifested and best discernible in your childhood. It is made up of your ratios of physical and mental attributes, which are called doshas and gunas, respectively.
In Ayurveda, people are said to be made up of three different doshas, which can very roughly be understood as variables that characterize our physical and psychological nature. There are three doshas: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. We exhibit doshas in different proportions. Each has beneficial qualities when in line with our steady state, and detrimental qualities when it is out of balance from our steady state.
As we go through our lives, we deviate from our steady state. Our proportion of doshas changes with age, season, time of day, and environment. Persistent deviations manifest as physiological or psychological disturbances, which we call vikritti.
Ayurveda asks two main questions: (1) what is your individual baseline dosha, or constitution (your natural state), and (2) how are you out of balance from it?
How does Ayurveda achieve balance?
Ayurveda attempts to reduce and eliminate causes of disbalance. We live comfortable lives of abundance/excess, which leads to many forms of illness. For example, almost everyone can benefit from less sugar, less salt, less processed food, and less electronic noise.
Lifestyle changes involve use of breathwork, meditation, yoga and nutrition. These are often combined with appropriate use of spices, herbs and oleation therapies.
If your doshas are disbalanced, Ayurveda uses the concept of opposites to restore balance. Depending on your specific constitution, you may benefit from exposing yourself to more or less of certain foods or environments. For example, if you have excess Vata and want to improve digestion, ghee may be recommended. However, if you have excess Kapha, ghee may work negatively. Science is increasingly corroborating that food can affect people in different ways, for example causing blood sugar spikes in some, but not others.
In situations when more than one dosha is out of balance, we work on the dosha responsible for the most urgent problems. The body is connected and often the disbalances involve all the dohas. These conditions are often associated with grave diseases, which are best addressed with the help of your medical practitioner/doctor.
How does the Ayurvedic individualized framework work?
Ayurveda does not speak of food in terms of carbs, proteins, fats and micronutrients. It employs a simpler and stunningly effective concept of six tastes. Moreover, food is not simply physical food but also mental- food that comes by way of sensory stimuli.
The six primary tastes are individualized according to an individuals:
- Mind-body (Guna-dosha specific)
- Digestion/metabolic capacity/food habits (Agni)
- Age, health state of tissues/bones (Dhatu) and toxins or waste (Mala) removal
- Location, season and circadian patterns
Expert practitioners incorporate all these along with finer details about further classifications of vata, pitta and kapha to determine an ideal lifestyle regimen. This is outside the scope of this discussion.
Individuals can use simplified Ayurvedic models that help us to understand something incredibly complex: human health and wellness. Even though simplified models represent an approximation, they can be a powerful system for helping you optimize your health when used in conjunction with modern science.
All content is for educational purposes only. Please consult your medical practitioner before attempting any therapeutic, nutritional, exercise or meditation related activity. Exercise caution in use of any over the counter health supplements/herbs which in addition to quality issues can have interactions with drugs. Please follow USDA guidelines for recommended daily dosages of nutrients.