Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term and translates to ‘the science of life’ or ‘the knowledge of life’. It is made up of the terms ‘ayus’, meaning life and ‘veda’ meaning knowledge. Ayurveda is a holistic science that incorporates the body, mind, soul and the 5 senses.
The goal of Ayurveda is to achieve balance in our life and optimum health by following the laws of nature. By being aware of these laws of nature, we can adjust our daily routines and behaviors to follow these laws – this leads us to physical health and to the ultimate goal – spiritual enlightenment.
Ayurveda is over 5000 years old, and perhaps much older than this, and is the most ancient of healing systems. In fact, it not only pre-dates all other medical systems in the world, but many health practices including Chinese medicine, modern naturopathy and aromatherapy have their origins in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is unique in that it is entirely individualized and includes the use of herbs, dietary adjustments, daily exercise, daily hygiene and other daily routines. Ayurveda is heavily focused on empowering individuals to take ownership over their health by following these daily routines, not just to cure disease but to maintain and preserve health, giving the perfect balance of a clear mind and an energetic body.
As opposed to modern day medicine, Ayurveda treats the body and mind as one, and knows that each one affects the other and cannot be treated separately. Ayurveda teaches that there is no use having a strong body if the mind is depressed, angry or suffering from any other mental imbalance. A clear and peaceful mind is the aim, at the same time as a healthy body.
Basic principles of Ayurveda
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the environment in which we live is made of five elements – earth, air, fire, ether and water. When the five elements in our bodies are in harmony with our outside environment, health is present, when we are not in balance with our environment, our health deteriorates and disease can occur. The five elements are present in our bodies as the three bodily intelligences, or what we call ‘doshas’, Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Vata formed by Air and Ether
Vata in our bodies behaves with the same characteristics of Air and ether, it is drying, cool, light and is responsible for movement including circulation, elimination, nerve impulses and breathing. Mentally it can be seen in the flow of thoughts.
Pitta formed by Fire and Water
Pitta is represented with the characteristics of fire and water, but mostly fire element is dominant. It is hot and dry and is responsible for our metabolism and the transforming of food into nutrients and waste and the metabolic functions in all our organs and tissues. Mentally, pitta represents as a fiery temperament with passion and drive.
Kapha formed by Earth and Water
Kapha presents in our bodies with the same characteristics of Earth and Water – moist, heavy and cool. Kapha gives stability, structure, growth, protection, endurance, calmness and cohesion. An example of kapha within our body is the cerebral-spinal fluid, the structure of all our cell walls and the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract.
The doshas in the human body
Each dosha is present in every body as each is responsible for different functions, however, each person will show characteristics more dominant with one or two of these doshas. The balance of the three doshas is constantly in flux depending upon the seasons and even the time of day! The aim is to achieve balance in our three doshas, for when they are out of balance is when the build up of toxins occurs and disease can manifest.
Common symptoms of Imbalanced doshas
Dryness of the skin
Anxiety and worry
Skin irritation and rash
Indigestion and heartburn
High blood pressure and other circulatory problems
Sinus congestion and colds
Allergies and hay fever
Cysts and other growths
Mind-Body Constitution & Imbalances (Prakruti and Vikruti)
Prakruti(Mind-Body Constitution) is the combination of the doshas that a person in born with – this remains constant for the person’s life and is influenced by the doshas of the parents, mental state and physical state at the time of conception and diet and lifestyle throughout the pregnancy. The doshas that are more predominant at birth will determine your physical characteristics, personality and your tendency to develop specific types of illnesses. The aim of Ayurveda is to keep your prakruti in balance with the original ‘set point’.
Vikruti(Imbalance) is the result of our prakruti falling out of balance through our diet, lifestyle, stress levels, the seasons and other environmental factors. This imbalance will present itself with the characteristics of a particular dosha, giving you your vikruiti, which may be different to your original prakruti. For example, you may be kapha prakruti but have developed dryness of the skin which would be vata vikruti.
By knowing what our prakruti is as well as our vikruti, we can treat the immediate cause of the illness or condition as well as aiming to maintain balance with your original dosha combination or, prakruti. By knowing the prakruti and vikruti, we can gain a better understanding of why we are susceptible to the types of illnesses, why we have certain personality traits, emotional tendencies, likes and dislikes and what practical steps we can take to adjust our lifestyle to live more in harmony with our environment.
Ayurvedic Perspective of Healthy Eating
Ayurveda recognises that our digestion is the key factor in the development of poor health. When we eat the incorrect foods, too much or too little or in the wrong combinations we not only decrease our digestive fire (agni) but undigested food creates toxins in our body, which then travel through the bodily channels, resulting in various diseases and illnesses.
Depending on our unique body type, each person will require a different type of diet. For example, a person with a strong vata constitution or suffering vata imbalances may be trying to counteract the effects of dryness in the body by focussing on moist foods. A person who is dominant in kapha may be trying to counteract the heaviness of kapha with light and easy to digest foods. Your diet will also depend upon the time of day, as digestion can be stronger at times than others, and also the different seasons will require different eating patterns.
Some general dietary guidelines to follow are:-
*Eat as fresh as possible, try to cook just as much as you need for the day or at the most, the next day as well – old food has very little or no life force or prana.
*Avoid canned, preserved, frozen or microwave foods wherever possible, always eat the freshest food that is available to you.
*Be mindful of how your body feels and the strength of your appetite. Eat enough light foods to only just satisfy your appetite, do not keep eating and feel like you need to finish your plate. If you are eating heavy foods, eat enough to satisfy your appetite by half as foods that are heavy are difficult to digest. If you are ill, then only eat light foods.
Different foods have different effects on our body for example; foods can be heavy, light, heating, cooling, hot, cold etc. The combinations of food we eat are very important as the wrong combination of foods reduces the digestive fire and create toxins immediately.
*Do not mix milk and fruit or yoghurt and milk
*Avoid having milk when eating radishes, cherries, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, melons, fish, meat, eggs, citrus fruits and bread.
*Do not mix any type of melon with other foods
*Avoid eating fresh fruit with any other meals; cooked fruits can be eaten with cooked meals
*Avoid eating different types of proteins together ie: Milk and eggs, meat and cheese etc.
*Avoid eating heavy and light foods in the same meal – some examples of heavy and light foods are:
– Heavy: Wheat, nuts and seeds, oats, salt, brown rice, salt, cucumber, onion, most fruits, beans, beef, fish, lamb, pork, eggs.
– Light: Buckwheat, corn, rye, lettuce, potato, tomato, apple, lentils, chicken, rabbit, cow’s milk.
Ayurveda recognises that foods and substances have different effects on the body and mind, and these can be grouped into three categories – Satvic, Rajasic and Tamasic.
Satva – Promotes clarity, harmony and balance in our body and mind.
*All spices, freshly cooked foods, fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and seeds, honey and jaggery, herbal teas, salads and fresh fruit juices.
Rajas – Increases energy and promotes action, promotes attachment, indulgence and gratification of the senses.
*Onion, garlic, salty food, ready to eat canned food, paneer, ice-cream, yeast, sour cream, basmati rice, pickles, vinegar, sugar.
Tamas – promotes dullness, inertia, heaviness and ignorance.
*Microwave foods, tea, coffee, drugs, beef, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, mushrooms, fried foods and frozen foods.
Ayurvedic Daily Routines
As we know, one of the aims of Ayurveda is to live in harmony with our surrounding environment, and to get us back into the rhythm of nature, there are many daily routines we can follow.
Sleeping and waking up
The times of the day can be broken down into 6 parts, from sunrise until 10am is kapha time and has the qualities of kapha dosha, 10am – 2pm is pitta and from 2pm until the sun sets is Vata time, when we feel the most active and light, then the cycle repeats again, sunset – 10pm is kapha time, 10pm – 2am is pitta and 2am – sunrise is vata time.
The best time to go to sleep is in the kapha time in the evening as this is when we are feeling heavy and will be the easiest time to fall asleep.
The best time to wake is just before sunrise or in the vata time, as this is a time of lightness, it is easier to wake with energy, this is also the best time for meditation. You might find that if you wake up during the kapha time of morning, you may feel a heaviness that carries on throughout the day.
After waking up
Going for a short walk around outside to appreciate nature is wonderful for our mental state and increases our energy. Taking a walk on the grass in bare feet is fantastic for our health as the morning dew is soaked up from the soles of your feet and lowers our body’s pH level.
It is best to empty your bladder and colon first thing in the morning. If this is left until later in the day, or if elimination is not possible every day, toxins that should be eliminated will be re-absorbed back into your system.
During the night, toxins build up in our mouth – these must be eliminated in the morning to prevent them from re-entering our system. Soon after waking, brush and floss your teeth and scrape your tongue with a tongue scraper – don’t scrape your tongue with your toothbrush as this may injure your tongue. Oil pulling or gargling with warmed sesame oil is also very effective at removing toxins.
Dryness of the skin and tissues is one of the main reasons for premature ageing, and as our skin is our largest sense organ and is exposed to all the elements, it makes sense to protect it. Daily massage with warm sesame oil is wonderful nourishment for our skin and nervous system. Do this each morning or as often as you can, at least once per week, and leave the oil on for 20-30 minutes before having a warm shower.
Exercise is essential for energy throughout the day and general good health. You should choose an exercise regime that is compatible with your body type as you may be more suited to gentle exercises like yoga or tai-chi as opposed to vigorous exercises that could be quite damaging to the body.
Meditation calms our mind and increases our ability to cope with the daily events that can often cause stress to our body and mind. It increases our concentration and helps to create a clear mind and gives us energy for the day. The benefits of meditation do not end when you finish your meditation – the effects are long lasting and profound.
You should always try and have something for breakfast, although if you do not feel hungry, just have something small and light and then something more substantial later on in the morning. Try and have minimal calories but maximum nutrients, some good ideas are porridge and fresh vegetable juices – avoid fruit smoothies with milk and fruit as these are incompatible!
Lunch time is during the pitta time of day and when our digestion is at its strongest so this should be your main meal of the day. This is the time of day that our body will best able to digest raw foods like lettuce and sprouts. After lunch try and have a short walk for 5 minutes or so to help with the digestive process.
The best time to have dinner is between 6-7pm, around the time of sunset, although this is not always possible, as a general rule you should eat a light meal in the evening time as our digestion has weakened over the afternoon. Try to leave a gap of at least 2 hours between eating dinner and going to bed so digestion has completed before you sleep.
Going to bed
The time in the evening is a time to relax and spend time with you family winding down after the day. It is an important time to calm your nervous system prior to going to bed, listen to some relaxing music or listen to some music. Try to avoid using the computer or watching TV or movies as this is stimulating for the nervous system and sleep will be more difficult and not as restful.