Since I was a child, I knew what foods felt right for my body. I also knew which ones did not feel correct and sent my body and mind into a funk. Yet, when I told my parents, I did not receive any support or confirmation that my self awareness was correct or valid. Yet, years later when I studied Ayurveda, all of my experiences as a child were confirmed and explained.
Does this story of mine resonate with you? Have you had self awareness experiences that medicine does not acknowledge? If yes, you may be interested in what Ayurvedic medicine has to say on health, our bodies and self care.
In 1995, when I participated in my first Yoga Teacher certification, I was introduced to the principles of Ayurveda. My instructors at Kripalu pointed out that each one of us has a unique body/mind constitution which requires specific care. The Ayurvedic system acknowledges these constitutions. It describes us a specific combination of 5 elements (Maha Bhutas) which combine into 3 constitutions (Doshas). When I studied this approach, it confirmed my food choices as a child and aligned with what I was experiencing as an adult.
This article will introduce you to Ayurveda and its foundational principles. If you want to know how to use Ayurvedic wisdom for winter health, click here – Ayurvedic Self Care in Winter.
We strive for a healthy body and mind. But with the amount of stress that most of us experience in our day-to-day life; the poor diets that we follow; the chaotic schedules we ask of ourselves; the packaged foods that we eat which are loaded with fat and preservatives; the pollution and hydrocarbons in the air; alarming levels of toxins in crops and household products…staying disease-free and healthy has become a Herculean task for many of us.
Ayurveda and Yoga have shown the path to good health for centuries. Through advocating a balanced and nutritious diet, a calm and peaceful mind, and a fit body, we can be the inheritance of the health and inner medicine that resides in all of us.
Ayurveda, “the science of life”, is the traditional natural medicine of India dating back over five thousand years.It is a science, or way of knowledge about life, its powers and its resources.Yet Ayurveda is not a science artificially imposed upon living beings.Its basis is not found in mere chemistry, or in mechanistic and materialistic view of the human body.Ayurveda is based upon a profound understanding of the movement of the vital force and its manifestations within our entire psychophysical system.
As such, Ayurveda presents a striking alternative to the biochemical model medicine, the limitations of which are becoming increasingly evident through time.We are not simply an accident or a design of chemistry but an expression of a living consciousness that is universal in nature – which is inherently wise and which has the power to balance and transform itself once its nature is understood.Reclaiming that connection with life as a whole is the real basis of healing, not manipulating the life force with drugs, however useful they may be.
Ayurveda is truly a holistic medicine which great wealth we have just begun to explore in the Western world.It is not merely a kind of antiquated folk medicine as it is sometimes considered to be. It is a science in its own right, with its own rationality and way of experimentation that is extraordinarily intricate and complete.Ayurveda is based upon the observation of living beings and their actual reactions to their environment, not on mere laboratory experiments that seldom address the living being.
Ayurveda classifies all the factors of our lives in an organic and energetic language that reflects the entire living biosphere around us.It shows how our individual constitution and disease tendencies reflect the forces of nature.It presents how foods, herbs, emotions, climates and lifestyles impact the dynamics of our own physiology and psychology that may be different for each person.This enables us to interact with life in an optimal manner both for our own benefit and that of the greater world in a symbiotic manner. “
Excerpt from Nature’s Medicine from Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Subhash Ranada
In Ayurveda, each one of us are a unique combination of forces. Because of this, the factors which support health are:
Food and Diet
Seasons and their effects
Mental and Emotional Disposition
The principles of Ayurveda which balance these forces so individual can navigate homeostasis are:
* respiration to be at ease in your mind and body
* understanding one’s constitution
* eating the correct food to balance one’s constitution
* receiving natural and restful sleep
* taking time to do appropriate exercise for one’s constitution
* reducing stress levels through breathing, meditation and life planning
* building nurturing and healthy relationships
* when balanced, being adaptable to change
The Three Doshas and The Five Great Elements
In the Ayurvedic viewpoint, all elements in the universe are relationship to all the other elements. Depending on the make-up of the individual, depends on how the elements in that being relate. To describe these relationships, the sages of Ayurveda used the five element theory and their component combinations called the Doshas.
In this description of the human and her/his/their health, a human is a microcosm of nature and as such contains the five basic elements present in nature and all matter. The five elements – Pancha Mahabhuta – are ether (space), air, fire, water and earth.
Ether or Space element is found in the many spaces of the human body: the mouth, nose, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory system, abdomen, thorax, capillaries, lymphatic system, tissues and cells.
Air element is the second of the five elements. Air manifests in larger movements of the muscles, pulsations of the heart, expansion and contraction of the lungs and the movement of the stomach wall and intestines. All movements of the central nervous system are governed by air.
Fire element is the next element and relates to the source of heat and light in the solar system, the sun. In the human body, the source of fire is the metabolism. In the grey matter of the brain, fire manifests as intelligence. Fire activates the retina, which perceives light. Enzyme systems are controlled by the fire principle.
The Water element manifests in the body in the secretion of digestive juices and salivary glands. Water is also present in the mucus membranes, the blood plasma and the cytoplasm. Another clue of water is the body’s ability to rest and for muscles to release. Water is absolutely vital for the functioning of all the body’s tissues and for sustaining life.
Life is possible on this physical plane because earth holds all substances to it’s solid surface. The Earth element provides a structure for all the elements to play off of. Earth manifests itself as the solid structures of the body – bone, cartilage, nails, muscles fibres, tendons, skin and hair.
Pancha Mahabhuta and its Qualities
Space or Ether : Space is empty, light, subtle, non-moving and formless. We need space in order to live, move and grow.
Air: Air is dry, light, clear, and mobile. air moves in space and carries potential.
Fire: Fire is hot, dry, sharp, penetrating and luminous. Fire is radiant energy.
Water: Water is fluid, heavy, soft, cold, dense and cohesive.
Earth: Earth is heavy, hard, firm, dense, slow moving and bulky.
The five elements continue into three basic combinations which are present in varying degrees in everything and every being. They arrange into the three doshas of Vata (space and air), Pitta (fire and water) and Kapha (water and earth). These three doshas (energies) govern our psychobiological functioning. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are present in every cell, tissue and organ. When in balance, health is present. When out of balance, disease and illness is the result.
These doshas are responsible for everything from our choices of food to our modes of relations to others. They govern the biological and psychological processes of our body, mind and consciousness. They regulate the creation, maintenance and destruction of the body tissue and the elimination of bodily waste. They govern our emotions. When in balance, you will see the qualities such as reasoning, clarity of thought, joy, compassion and love. When the balance is disturbed, this gives rise to negative emotions, such as anger, fear, and greed.
All persons have all three doshas. Yet, one of them is usually in predominance. Then a second one is secondary in influence and the third has the least influence. Each person has a particular pattern of energy – an individual combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics that conjoin to create their constitution or prakriti. Health is in maintaining this unique, individual balance. Balance is the natural order – imbalance provokes disorder. The state of balance is called vikriti. Any prakriti can be any vikriti.
I hope this article peaks you interest. My next blog will outline what common herbs, spices and oils are helpful for each dosha.
Until then, in Metta,
Allison Ulan B.F.A.