Considered one of the oldest healing sciences, Ayurveda is the longest continuously practiced medical system in the world. With its origins in ancient Sanskrit texts and Indian traditions, today Ayurveda is recognized as an advanced system of health care by the World Health Organization and as a modern form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Key Ayurveda Concepts
The name "Ayurveda" comes from the Sanskrit terms "ayus" (life or lifespan) and "veda" (knowledge). Ayurveda is thus often referred to as the Science of Life.
Ayurveda's holistic approach to health and wellness is designed to help you live a balanced life: mind, body, and spirit. Key concepts in Ayurveda include the uniqueness of individuals, the human body as self-correcting, homeostatic balance, mind-body balance, prana (the life force), the three doshas, and more.
Ayurveda Body Types (Doshas)
The doshas are life forces or energies present in all of us that combine in unique ways to form our basic constitution and influence us in multiple ways.
The three doshas, also known as body types, are:
In most people, one dosha is dominant or the most influential. However additional Ayurvedic concepts include double-dosha and tri-dosha personalities, where two or more doshas exert equal influence. The doshas account for many of our physical attributes, personality traits, temperaments, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and natural tendencies. They are also affected by the environment, the weather (four seasons), and our lifestyle habits. You can discover your dosha by taking our online Dosha Quiz.
Ayurvedic Concept of Balance
According to Ayurveda, a balanced mind-body represents the ultimate state of health. As stated in passages from the Sushruta Samhita, an ancient Ayurvedic text:
"He (she) whose doshas are in balance, whose appetite is good, whose dhatus are functioning normally, whose malas are in balance and whose Self, mind and senses remain full of bliss, is called a healthy person."
Ayurveda's View of Nutrition
So how can you achieve optimal personal wellness? Ayurveda philosophies point to the foundational roles of:
- A strong digestive system
- A systematized daily living routine
- A dosha-friendly exercise regimen
- Other factors contributing to a healthy lifestyle
If you are new to Ayurveda, you can determine your body type by taking the online Dosha Quiz. You will subsequently receive a report that will guide you in creating a personalized treatment plan focused on restoring balance to one or more doshas and that includes an individualized diet plan, dosha-friendly ingredients and recipes, meditation guides, Yoga and exercise advice, as well as recommended herbs, essential oils, and massages.
Additional Ayurvedic Terms
Some additional concepts you will come across when learning about the Science of Life include terminologies such as:
- Prakruti: A Sanskrit word meaning "nature" or "first creation." Prakruti refers to the constitution you were born with, which is your base point. This base point, in turn, is comprised of a unique combination of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The Ayurvedic concept of Prakruti explains why no two persons are alike and why two individuals react differently (in subtle or more overt ways) to the same external stimuli or environment. In other words, in Ayurvedic philosophy, you could say that your Prakruti is your one-of-a-kind fingerprint!
- Vikruti: A Sanskrit word referring to your current condition. As your body type (Prakruti) strives to maintain homeostatic balance and balance with the environment, it is continually influenced by life's inevitable changes, The degree to which your Vikruti differs from your Prakruti determines the amount of imbalance present.
- Balance/Imbalance: In a state of balance, your Vakruti (current condition) will match your Prakruti (inborn constitution) as closely as possible. In reality, we are all subject to interactions with each other, with our environment, with the weather, and even with the effects of the time of day and our age. How we react to life's ebb and flow determines our current state of imbalance or illness.
- Ayurvedic Diet: Ayurveda practitioners teach that your health is greatly effected by what you eat and that imbalances can be significantly corrected by means of a 'dosha-friendly' diet, i.e. dosha-friendly ingredients, herbs, and spices.
- Gunas: A key concept in Hindu and Ayurvedic philosophy, the Sanskrit term guṇa has several meanings, including 'a thread' that weaves materials together, 'merit' or 'excellence,' and an 'attribute', 'quality', or 'peculiarity.' The viewpoint states that there are three gunas present in varying proportions in everything and in everyone. These three gunas (or merits/attributes/qualities) are:
- Satava, meaning harmonious, good, constructive
- Rajas, meaning, active, passionate, confused
- Tamas, meaning dark, destructive, chaotic
The particular combination and interactivity of the gunas gives rise to one's character and how one copes with the world around them.
Correcting Imbalances with "The Opposite"
In Ayurveda, dosha imbalances are corrected by inviting in opposing gunas. For example, Pitta doshas are hot and fiery by nature and thus Pitta individuals tend to enjoy warm weather, spicy food, compete in extreme sports, and be constantly on-the-go. However, these same innate tendencies can lead to an excess of Pitta in the body, causing heightened agitation, aggravation, anger, loose bowels, skin rash, inflammation, and mental or physical burnout.
To bring Pitta back into balance, we invite in the opposite, i.e. cooling foods and cooling activities that calm and soothe. For instance, if your body type is Pitta, be sure to include sweet, bitter and astringent tastes in your diet, which are known to decrease Pitta. Additional strategies for reducing excess Pitta include 'moderation' and 'surrender. '
Optimal Health the Ayurvedic Way
As you learn more about Ayurvedic concepts and how to achieve optimal health, you will discover that almost everything has a quality which can be used to your personal advantage. This includes not only foods and tastes but certain types of essential oils and massages, Yoga postures, seasonal changes, colors, gems, and even the daily cycles of time.
Bonus Ayurveda Tip: As you expand your repertoire of Ayurveda terminologies, learn about "balaardh," the practice of using only half your strength or capacity when exercising. Contrary to expectation, over time your strength will consistently increase, you will enjoy exercising more, and you will stick to it longer without burning or dropping out!
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