Ayurveda: some readers are intimately familiar with it, and others may have never even heard the word. For some it conjures thoughts of kitchari and meditation. For others it invokes images of certain types of yoga poses. In our introductory blog, we hope to teach you about the core principles of Ayurveda and, by extension, share the ideas that give life and purpose to Bodhidevi.
In simple terms, Ayurveda is a wellness philosophy that originated in early Indian civilization over 5,000 years ago. Perhaps one of the first forms of holistic medicine, Ayurveda prescribes dietary and lifestyle changes in accordance with each individual’s unique body to promote health and balance. The practicing different types of yoga is one of Ayurveda’s primary prescriptions, the philosophy advocates various wellness practices.
But Ayurveda isn’t simply a diet or exercise regimen. It’s a philosophy designed to optimize every facet of the individual, including mind, emotions, and spirit. It encourages spiritual practice and engagement with nature in the interest of restoring our innate intimacy with ourselves and with the planet. When we practice Ayurveda, we become attuned to our most raw, pure, and divine form. When we become acquainted with the beauty of our innate self, we awaken to the interconnectedness of the self with all beings and energetic forces.
Ayurveda honors the sacredness of individuality.
Different individuals possess different physical and mental attributes. As each of our bodies and minds differ, so too do our nutritional, physical, and emotional needs. Ayurveda recognizes and respects each person’s bio-individuality and seeks to cater to the unique needs of each individual. Acknowledging that different people are prone to different diseases, digestive problems, psychological ailments, mental capacities, and energy levels, Ayurveda stipulates that understanding an individual’s unique body and mind absolutely must precede medicinal treatment.
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, we are born with a unique prakriti, or constitution. One’s praktiri consists of one’s unique balance of the three doshas, or energetic life forces. The first dosha, vatta, governs the breath, heart, nerves, consciousness, and happiness. The second, pitta, regulates appetite, digestion, nutrient absorption, intelligence, bravery, and drive. Finally, Kapha manages stability, order, grounding, growth, strength, energy, memory, empathy, water, and fat regulation. Different individuals possess different ratios of the three doshas, and thus have different praktiri.
It is essential to ascertain the nature of one’s praktiri before suggesting treatments or lifestyle changes, such as dietary changes of practicing different types of yoga or meditation. The balance between our doshas at birth is our point of homeostasis, the place in which our body thrives. Each individual possesses different needs in accordance with his or her praktiri. Therefore, according to Ayurveda, understanding your own inherent, optimal balance is the key to determining your medicinal and lifestyle needs.
Ayurveda inspires us to seek balance.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the doshas. However, years of unhealthy, stressful living can cause doshic excess, which, in turn, leads to distress and disease. Excessive vata is conducive to anxiety, emotional limitation, constipation, dry skin, poor circulation, insomnia, and malnourishment. Excessive pitta can cause rage, envy, reflux, overheating, diarrhea, headaches, skin conditions, inflammation, and insomnia. Attachment, stubbornness, lethargy, obesity, oversleeping, depression, edema, and sinus infections all indicate too much kapha. In general, if you stray too far from your praktiri, you will experience doshic imbalances that will damage your health.
The objective of Ayurveda is to treat disease and promote health by balancing the doshas and restoring your praktiri. In order to do so, you must balance the gunas—the basic qualities of objects and life forms. The gunas include hot vs. cold, dry vs. oily, dense vs. liquid, soft vs. hard, and heavy versus light. Certain gunas are associated with certain doshas. For example, dryness is associated with vatta. Thus, if you are experiencing excessive Vatta, you want to consume more oily foods to balance your dryness. This notion is based on the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and opposites balance. Restoring the gunas opposite to those which characterize your excessive dosha therefore establishes doshic balance.
Achieving doshic balance also requires living in accordance with the season. Eating in season not only means eating locally grown, in-seasons foods; it also requires that we balance the gunas of that season. For example: winter is characterized by excessive cold, so we should eat hot foods in the winter to balance that guna.
Ayurveda is a medicinal way of living.
Ayurveda seeks to promote the health of the entire person. Achieving doshic balance is not just a means of healing the body. Rather, Ayurveda understands that doshic balance is linked to mental, spiritual, and emotional health as well. Thus, Ayurveda does not simply treat ailments with food or supplements. Rather, it encourages us to lead a balanced lifestyle in accordance with our doshic make up. For some, that may mean getting more cardiovascular exercise and practicing deep breathing. For others, it may mean getting more sleep or practicing certain types of yoga. The objective of Ayurveda is help the individual discover the lifestyle patterns most conducive to health and happiness.
Oftentimes it is lifestyle choices in the first place that cause doshic imbalance. Restoring doshic balance and achieving svasthya, or the state of equilibrium in which we are most healthy, thus requires lifestyle alterations.
Though some lifestyle changes are relative to the individual, there are a few practices that Ayurveda believes are universally beneficial. Ayurveda unconditionally encourages the consumption of whole, nutrient rich foods. It also recommends regularly practicing certain types of yoga, meditation, and detoxification. It even encourages frequent massage to stimulate the lymphatic system, cleanse, and relieve tension.