Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term that translates to ‘the science of life’ or ‘the knowledge of life’. ‘Ayus’, means life and ‘veda’ means knowledge.
The goal of Ayurveda is to achieve balance and optimum health by following the laws of nature. When we are aware of the laws of nature, we can adjust our daily routines and behaviours to align with nature. Ayurveda improves our physical health and leads us toward the ultimate goal – spiritual enlightenment.
Ayurveda is over 5000 years old. This most ancient of healing systems pre-dates many other medical systems in the world. Health practices, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), modern naturopathy and aromatherapy, have their origins in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda teaches individuals to take ownership of their health by adopting healthy diet and lifestyle practices, and following daily and seasonal routines. The aim is not just to cure disease, but rather to maintain and preserve health, and strive for the perfect balance of a clear mind and an energetic body.
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, we experience perfect health. 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 three bodily intelligences (doshas): vata, pitta and kapha.
Mind-Body Constitutions (Doshas)
Vata—formed by air and earth
Vata in our bodies behaves with the same characteristics of air and ether. It is drying, cool, and light. It 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 presents in our bodies with the characteristics of fire and water, although fire is dominant. It is hot and oily. Pitta is responsible for transforming food into nutrients and waste, and for the metabolic functions in all our organs and tissues. Mentally, pitta represents fire in the temperament, commonly seen as passion and drive.
Kapha—formed by earth and water
Kapha presents in our bodies with the characteristics of earth and water—moist, heavy and cool. Kapha gives stability, structure, growth, protection, endurance, calmness and cohesion. Examples of kapha dosha in our body include the cerebral-spinal fluid, the structure of our cell walls and the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Mentally, kapha governs memory, learning capacity, and promotes the qualities of love and calm.
The doshas in the human body
Each dosha is responsible for different functions in the body. Every human body has each dosha represented in their body to some degree, even though most people show the characteristics of only one or two doshas. The balance of the three doshas is constantly in flux depending upon the season and even the time of day! The aim is to achieve balance in all three doshas. When they are out of balance, toxins accumulate, and disease can manifest.
Mind-Body constitution (prakruti) and imbalance (vikruti)
Prakruti is the combination of the doshas that a person in born with. It remains constant for the person’s life and is influenced by the doshas of their parents, including the mental and physical states of the parents at the time of conception, and the diet and lifestyle of their mother throughout the pregnancy.
The doshas that are dominant at birth determine physical characteristics, personality and any tendencies that may result in specific types of illnesses. The aim of Ayurveda is to keep the prakruti in balance with the original ‘set point’ at birth.
Vikruti is the result of our prakruti falling out of balance. Improper diet, lifestyle, stress levels, the seasons and other environmental factors can cause imbalance. The imbalance may present with the characteristics of a dosha that is different to your original prakruti. For example, you may be kapha prakruti but have a condition of dry skin which would be vata vikruti.
By knowing our prakruti and our vikruti, we can treat the cause of the illness or condition, as well as maintain balance with our original mind-body constitution. We can better understand why we have certain personality traits, emotional tendencies, likes and dislikes, and why we are susceptible to certain illnesses. The knowledge enables us to take practical steps to design a diet and lifestyle in harmony with our environment.
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
- Hot flushes
- Slow digestion
- Oily skin
- Sinus congestion and colds
- Chesty cough
- Allergies and hay fever
- Cysts and other growths