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Ayurveda means "the science of life"(AYUS == LIFE/LONGEVITY VEDA == KNOWLEDGE/SCIENCE). It is more than 5000 years old ancient system of healing that focuses on the complete person which, includes the body, mind and spirit. Traditional medicine tends to focus on a specific symptom or disease. Ayurveda says that for complete wellness to occur, the body, mind and spirit must be in harmony with each other and naturally resistant to disease causing conditions.
The Ancient Literature
Current practice and knowledge of Ayurveda are based on three classic Sanskrit written texts, primarily the Charaka Samhita (circa 1500 BC) who has classified more than 200 diseases and 150 pathological conditions and congenital defects. This is remarkably consistent with WHO disease classification criteria (Mishra, Singh, Dagenais, 2001). The Sushruta Samhita (1500 BC) which describes 1,120 diseases and 127 different types of surgical instruments, and Ashtanga Hridayam (500 AD) are the other two classics which deal with surgery and internal medicine respectively.
The forms we have now date from far later, no earlier than the early centuries AD, as adaptations to new technology were incorporated.
Ayurveda laid the foundation for its validation process by emphasizing 'repeated observations' and acceptance of data as reliable only if of uniform consistency, without any contradictions.
Ayurveda and natural healing
The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda is based on a deep understanding of the forces at work within all of nature. Since we are part of nature, we are all created from the same basic elements. They are: space, air, fire, water and earth.
These are the elements of the environment and of ourselves. The forces influencing nature are the same forces within each of us. By understanding these forces, we come to understand our selves.
Taking care of your own health
Ayurveda provides the tools necessary to both restore and maintain health so that disease can no longer find a foothold within the body. This is accomplished through close attention to balance in one’s life. Balance is the natural order; imbalance is disorder. Health is order; disease is disorder. After creating an optimum environment that supports the body’s natural healing processes, the body will respond by healing itself. Cultivating an awareness of Ayurveda and its principles is very empowering, as it allows us to take charge of our own health and healing. As we gain an understanding of how to create balance according to our own individual constitution, we are able to make healthful choices and to understand the repercussions when we do not.
Creation of balance
Ayurveda brings balance by healing through opposites. For example, if you are overheated, your therapies may be cooling in nature. Excessive moisture might need to be dried out. If your life is too fast-paced, you may need to slow down. If your digestion is sluggish, it may need to be stimulated. If some health aspect were too variable, routine would be applied to bring regularity.
Methods to restore balance
Ayurveda uses a truly holistic approach to restore balance, addressing mind, body and spirit. This is accomplished through many healing modalities, which affect all five senses. Balance is cultivated through food programs, herbs, self-massage, aromatherapy, color and sound therapies, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and other lifestyle adjustments.
Relation of Ayurveda and Yoga
Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences and are intrinsically intertwined. Ayurveda is the healing side of Yoga, and Yoga is the spiritual side of Ayurveda. Both strive to help a person re-connect with their true nature. Together, they encompass a complete approach to the well-being of the body, mind and soul, resulting in a truly holistic medical system.
The Three Doshas
Ayurveda recognizes three primary life-forces in the body, or three biological humors called<strong> Vata, Pitta and Kapha,</strong> which correspond to the elements of air, fire and water. As the active or mobile elements, they determine the life processes of growth and decay.
The Ayurvedic term for humor is dosha, meaning that which darkens, spoils or causes things to decay. When out of balance, the doshas are the causative forces behind the disease process.
Vata - The energy of movement
Vata is the biological air humor, also translated as wind.
It means 'that which moves thing.' Vata dosha is the motivating force behind the other two doshas, which are 'lame,' incapable of movement without it. It governs sensory and mental balance and orientation, and promotes mental adaptability and comprehension.
Each dosha exists in a second element that serves as the medium for its manifestation, acting as its container. Vata, air, is contained in space. It resides in the empty spaces in the body and fills up the subtle channels.
Each dosha has its primary qualities by which one is able to recognize them.
Vata is dry, cold, light and irregular.
Vata is air contained in space
Pitta - The energy of digestion and metabolism
Pitta is the biological fire humor, also translated as bile. Its meaning is 'that which digests things.' Pitta dosha is responsible for all chemical and metabolic transformations in the body. It also governs our mental digestion, our capacity to perceive reality and understand things as they are.
Pitta, fire, is contained in the body by water or oil. It exists mainly in acid form, as fire cannot exist directly in the body without destroying it.
Pitta is hot, light, oily and irritable.
Pitta is fire contained in water
Kapha - The energy of lubrication
Kapha is the biological water humor, also translated as phlegm. It means 'that which holds things together.' Kapha dosha provides substance and gives support, and makes up the bulk of our bodily tissues. It also provides our emotional support in life, and relates to positive emotional traits like love, compassion, modesty, patience, and forgiveness.
Kapha, water, is contained in the body in the medium of earth. Our physical composition is mainly water contained within the boundaries of our skin and mucus membranes (earth).
Kapha is heavy, cool, wet and stable.
Kapha is water contained in earth
Your Own Unique Constitution - Prakruti
Each one of us possesses all three doshas in our physical makeup. Kapha makes up our flesh and our secretions, the water in our body. Pitta gives us our warmth and capacity to transform substances in the body, our fire. Vata governs our energies and activities, giving us our air. We each replicate the great cosmic forces and through them our physiology is part of the cosmic dance. However, the proportion of each of the doshas varies according to the individual. This is called your constitution or prakruti. For example a person could have a prakruti of Vata 2, Pitta 3, and Kapha 1. The numbers here are relative proprotions of each of the doshas. This represents a pitta constitution with a secondary vata. Maybe a fiery red head who has thin tall build.
This unique balance of energy was determined at the moment of conception and is with you the rest of your life. Our unique characteristics are said to be related to the constitutions of each of our parents, their thoughts and emotional attitudes, the time of year and the environment. Your are considered perfect at the moment of conception. Your constitution determines what is in harmony with your nature and what will cause you to become out of balance, sick, and diseased. Knowledge of your constitution is essential to developing optimal health.
This constitutional approach is the essence of Ayurveda. It gives Ayurveda broad powers for disease prevention, health maintenance and longevity enhancement, as well as for the treatment of disease. The natural constitution is most easily revealed by the fixed attributes of the physical body like frame, weight and complexion. Life-long habits, proclivities, and life-long disease tendency are also important. Your prakruti is one of the things that will be assessed during your intake appointment.
The Patterns of Imbalance - Vikruti
Diseases reflect the predominant dosha that produces them. Ayurveda understands the nature of a disease, like that of physical constitution, according to the doshic attributes that it presents. The current state of imbalance in an individual is called their vikruti.
From the moment of conception onward, the doshas may become imbalanced, increasing in quantity and if not taken care of will manifest as an imbalance or disease. Ayurveda treats the excessive dosha with remedies appropriate for the dosha involved to reduce the imbalanced dosha back to the level it was at conception. For example, suppose the person above has a vikruti of Vata 4, Pitta 3, and Kapha 1. This indicated that excess vata is present. Perhaps the red head has constipation and anxiety. The dosha in excess is always reduced. In this case a vata pacifying treatment programs would be suggested.
Some diseases are characteristically of one dosha or another. The majority of diseases are of a Vata nature, as Vata tends towards decay. Vata diseases show up as pain or debility. They include most nervous system disorders, insomnia, tremors, epilepsy, paralysis, and arthritis. The main attributes of Vata disorders are dryness, cold, impaired or abnormal movement, and wasting away of tissues. Vata people may become confused and overwhelmed; have difficulty focusing or making decisions, and trouble sleeping. This becomes more apparent when the person is under stress. Vata emotions are the cool emotions such as worry, fear and anxiety. In order to bring balance to vata, programs are designed that emphasize the opposing qualities of warmth, heaviness(nourishment), moistness and stability.
Pitta diseases are indicated by fever or burning sensation. Pitta imbalances include most infectious diseases, ulcers, acidity, boils, skin rashes, diarrhea, skin rashes, and weakness in the liver, blood and spleen. The main attributes of Pitta disorders are heat, redness and oiliness. Pitta people are more likely to experience more heated emotions such as anger, resentment, jealousy, envy and to become more critical and judgmental. The idea of a "hot temper" is a common colloquialism reflecting the fiery heat of these emotions. They can become aggressive, ambitious and often impose their will on others. In order to restore balance to pitta, programs are designed to emphasize the opposing qualities of coolness, heaviness (nourishment), moderation, and decreased stimulation to chill out the nervous system.
Kapha diseases are characterized primarily by phlegm. Kapha imbalances include most respiratory disorders, colds, flus, asthma, bronchitis, swollen glands, and benign tumors. Sluggishness, excess weight, diabetes, water retention, lethargy and headaches are also common. The main attributes of Kapha disorders are dampness, excessive tissue growth and cold. Kapha people are stable, somewhat slow, and tend to be complacent. Attachment to a stable, enjoyable status quo makes Kapha people averse to change and may lead them to become greedy, stubborn or reactionary. Common kapha emotions are lethargy, sadness or depression. In order to bring balance to a kapha nature, the opposing qualities of lightness, dryness and warmth are recommended. Exercise, stimulating activity and weight control are also encouraged.
Balancing the Doshas
According to Ayurveda, though diseases are of many kinds and pathogens are of many varieties, they are mainly produced by disharmonies of the three doshas of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ayurvedic treatment aims at balancing the doshas to neutralize the disease process. It is not, as with western medicine, so concerned with the classification of disease or with the identification of pathogens. In merely treating external pathogens only the symptoms, not the underlying causes, are dealt with. In balancing the doshas the root of the disease process is cut off. The fundamental treatment for the doshas is not clinical but comes from our own right living methods. In this way Ayurveda always brings us back to self-healing.
The basic rule is - whatever we can do for ourselves to improve our own health is more effective in the long run than what another person can do for us. There is no substitute for our own right living. It cannot be bought at any price, and another person cannot provide it for us. As long as we are not living in harmony with our constitution, we cannot expect to be really healed by any method. The beauty of Ayurveda is that it gives each one of us the knowledge and the means to live in balance. It provides the right regimen for our particular type covering all aspects of our nature, physical, psychological and spiritual. But Ayurveda can only succeed with your own time and effort, devotion and dedication.