The name Ayurveda is derived from Sanskrit, with “ayuh” meaning “life” or “longevity” and “veda” meaning “science” or “sacred knowledge.” Ayurveda’s focus is on preventative medicine and holistic healing, with the goal of achieving balance and harmony in the body and mind.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is one of the oldest holistic health systems in the world, dating back over 5,000 years to the Vedic period in ancient India. The earliest known references to Ayurveda and its sister science, Yoga, can be found in scholarly texts from the time known as the Vedas. Ayurveda is still practised today, and is as relevant and applicable today, as it was for ancient yogis.
Ayurveda is based on the idea that all living things are connected. This connection includes humans and plants, animals, and the elements of ether, air, water, fire, and earth.
Ayurveda focuses on the whole person, not just the physical body. It teaches how to maintain health and wellbeing by learning about the relationship between the mind and body, emotions, and environment, and how to apply those lessons to daily life.
Ayurveda’s Definition of Health
Ayurveda defines health – the balance of body, mind, and soul – as a state of balance among all three elements of our existence: physical, mental, and spiritual. This concept underlies Ayurveda’s practice of preventive care, which emphasises preventing disease and illness, rather than simply treating symptoms once they occur and encourages healthy living through proper nutrition, exercise, stress management, and spirituality. This preventative approach can help support the immune system and reduce stress levels, which often lead to imbalances and illness.
According to Ayurveda, everything in life is based on natural law and observation. This includes our everyday lives, like what we eat, drink, breathe, think, feel, and do. It also looks at the environment around us. All of these factors play a role in creating balance and harmony.
In order to understand how this ancient practice can help you, you must first learn to see yourself from an Ayurvedic perspective. The key is to understand some of the fundamental principles that guide Ayurvedic thinking. These principles can be thought of as lenses through which Ayurveda views the universe. By understanding these concepts, you will be able to start seeing yourself in a new light.
The Five Elements
The five elements are the foundation of Ayurveda. They are the basic building blocks of all things. These five elements represent the qualities that make up all living things, but one or two elements are typically predominant.
Each of these elements has its own characteristics:
Ether Element: Space State. Space is everywhere and is the source of all matter.
Air Element: Movement State. Air represents all of the forces in the world, such as gravity, thermodynamics, propulsion, and celestial forces.
Fire Element: Transformative State. Fire is the generator of energy within the body, just as the sun is the generator of energy for the Earth.
Water Element: Liquid State. Water represents fluidic matter, which is the cohesive principle of physics.
Earth Element: Solid State. Earth provides shape and structure to everything, including the human body.
The proportion of the five elements in our human bodies determines our constitution, our dosha.
As our minds and bodies are made up of five elements, we suffer from illness and diseases when these five elements are out of balance. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the qualities of each element so that we can understand when things are imbalanced.
The Twenty Qualities
Each element has unique properties, known as gunas, which make them unique. There are 20 essential gunas that describe the qualities and effects of material substances. These can be thought of as feelings, For example, fire feels hot, the water feels wet, the earth feels heavy, the air feels light, and the metal feels hard.
They are divided into ten opposites:
The doshas are based on the five elements of Ayurveda: ether (akasha), air (vayu), fire (tejas), water (jala), and earth (prithvi). Each dosha is made up of two of the five elements, which give the dosha its unique characteristics.
Ayurveda teaches that we are composed of three doshas — Vata, Pitta and Kapha — each having different characteristics, functions, and needs. These three doshas interact with one another throughout the day. Ayurveda helps you learn about yourself and become aware of what it takes to maintain health and wellness.
Vata is made up of air and ether. Vata governs the nervous system and the mind of movement and communication.
Pitta is made up of fire and water. Pitta oversees metabolism and digestion, transformation; intelligence and understanding.
Kapha is made up of water and earth. Kapha provides structure and lubrication; cohesion.
The “like increases like” and “opposites create balance” principles are key in Ayurveda. This means that our food, thoughts, daily routines, and environment all impact how we feel and whether we experience balance or imbalance in our lives. For example, increasing the qualities of pitta in our bodies can also increase pitta’s influence on our minds and spirits. Pitta is naturally associated with heat, so hot weather, spicy foods, and active times of day can all contribute to its increase.
The Maha Gunas
There are three great gunas. They are Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.
They describe the environmental factors that affect our minds. These three qualities are present in all forms of matter in the universe, and their effects can be seen in the way they influence our thoughts and actions.
The world is constantly fluctuating between them. You’ll notice the peace and clarity of sattva in the mornings when you wake. You’ll experience the rajas of activity as you begin your day. And in the evening you’ll enjoy some tamas as you prepare for sleep.
The gunas are an important part of Ayurveda and having awareness of them will make it easier to flow with them.
An Ayurvedic Lifestyle
Ayurvedic wisdom is about bringing ourselves back into balance with Nature. One of the most simple ways we can do this is by adjusting our daily routines and rituals to become more supportive of the elements of nature around and within us.
Ayurveda’s most powerful tool is Dinacharya; daily Ayurvedic routine or ritual. Dinacharya provides you with tools for caring for your body and mind, and can help you identify which doshas are out of balance. By paying attention to your eyes, skin, stools, and tongue, you can take steps to restore balance.
Ayurveda recommends taking into account the season, stage of life, and current state of imbalance when choosing which practices to adopt for a personalised Dinacharya. However, there are several things that are good for all of us to consider when it comes to our daily routine.
It is important to maintain a healthy sleep schedule in order to wake up with the sun. The most beneficial time for meditation and yoga practice is during the quiet predawn hours for all types of people. When you wake up, take a few moments of awareness or set an intention for your day.
In your morning cleansing routine, take notice of the qualities of your eliminations, skin, eyes, and tongue. This can guide you to what food, movement, and self-care practices you need to restore or maintain balance.
Wash your face and cleanse your eyes by splashing water on them while they are open.
The practice of oil pulling can help remove bacteria from your teeth and improve gum health. Use a tongue scraper to scrape your tongue and remove the excess bacteria and oil. Finish your mouth-care routine by brushing your teeth.
Jala Neti and Nasya oil are two traditional remedies that can help to clean the sinuses and relieve congestion. Jala Neti involves rinsing the nasal passages with purified water, while Nasya oil involves placing a drop of oil in the nostril and gently massaging the inner walls of the nasal passage.
Drink one to two glasses of hot water in the morning to stimulate digestion and help with bowel movements.
Abhyanga is the perfect way to relax and rejuvenate your body! This ancient Indian practice involves massaging your body with warm, luxurious oils. It’s said to be beneficial for supporting all three doshas, calming inflammation, and stimulating the lymph. Plus, it feels amazing!
Regular light exercise has many benefits for the body, including increased muscle strength and endurance, better appetite, and overall improved health.
Meditation is an awesome way to decrease stress and anxiety. It can also help clear and calm the mind, leaving you better equipped to deal with life’s challenges.
If you want to stay healthy and happy, it’s important to eat consciously! That means making mealtimes a priority and being thoughtful about what you’re eating. Your digestive system will thank you!
According to Ayurveda, the best time to have lunch is when the sun is at its highest. For individuals with a Vata constitution, lunch should be enjoyed between 11 am and 12 pm, and those with a Pitta constitution should enjoy lunch around 1 pm. Finally, those with a Kapha constitution should enjoy lunch between 12 pm and 1 pm.
Eating mindfully can help you enjoy your meal more and be grateful for the food your body is receiving. Try to eat in good company and with soothing music where possible. Allow your food to settle by taking a gentle walk after eating.
Living in harmony with nature and our own health is the key to right living. This means making decisions based on what is best for us, rather than succumbing to harmful behaviours. Though it can be difficult to resist societal pressure to “enjoy every moment,” it is essential to remember our goals and act accordingly.