Our health is always a top priority. But in these last few months, the Covid-19 crisis has made many of us realise how important (and precious) our health is.
Those who are physically stronger, at a healthy weight and with a more resilient immune system are more likely to beat the virus if they catch it.
And in order to be in peak health, we can turn to the ancient science of Ayurveda for help.
How Ayurveda Can Help
Yoga is all about balance. Ayurveda, its sister science, is likewise focused on health as balance. This 5,000-year-old practice began in India and has spread throughout the world as an alternative form of medicine. It is a holistic approach to health.
A holistic approach means that it is a style of medicine that takes into consideration each individual as a whole, including their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
In contrast, western-style medicine is focused on waiting for something to go wrong and then treating the symptoms of the disease. Ayurvedic medicine is a complete system that creates a lifestyle that increases and maintains your overall health.
So let’s look into how Ayurveda works because this ancient system goes hand in hand with the practice of yoga.
Ayurveda and Balance
Balanced energies, balanced state of fire, balanced tissues, and excretions, peace of soul, senses and mind – this is called health.
– Susruta Samhita / sutra sthana xv 33
So says the ancient work, Sushruta Samhita, considered a foundational text of Ayurveda.
But what makes this ancient system of medicine so interesting is how there is no ‘one size fits all’ system of healing. Each individual is treated differently according to their makeup, which is a mixture of your genetic inheritance, your way of life, your stress levels, your personality and all the other differential factors, such as gender, age, and racial heritage.
All these different factors affect your energetic makeup, which is a balance of three types of energy – these are the doshas.
The Three Doshas
Fundamental to Ayurveda are the principles of the three doshas, or energies – referred to in the quote above. These are vata, pitta and kapha. These are combinations of the five elements that make up all living things: earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Vata is a combination of the qualities of the elements of space and air. It is a subtle energy associated with movements, such as breathing, muscle and tissue movement, and the heartbeat.
Pitta is a combination of the elements of fire and water. It drives the body’s metabolic system and governs digestion, absorption of nutrients and the body temperature.
Kapha is a combination of the elements of earth and water. It forms the body’s structure, holds the cells together and provides water for all the bodily functions.
In relation to the physical body, the three doshas can be seen as the three types of energy needed to keep the body alive: vata is kinetic energy, pitta is metabolic energy and kapha is homeostatic energy.
When these three energies are working in balance, the body functions optimally, and we feel full of vitality and energy. When one or more is out of balance, the eventual result is disease.
How do we know if the doshas are out of balance?
An imbalance in each dosha will have a different effect on the body. As an individual, you will be a combination of all three doshas, but you will have one that is your dominant dosha.
Too much vata causes aches and pains, dry and cold skin, bloating, gas, constipation, dehydration and weight loss. Its effect on the mind is to cause restlessness, dizziness, and a sense of feeling ungrounded. On the emotional level, when vata is in balance, it promotes creativity and flexibility, when it is out of balance, it causes fear and anxiety.
High pitta can cause excessive thirst or hunger, hot flushes, skin rashes and acne, and a disturbed tummy and loose bowels. When pitta is in balance it promotes intelligence and understanding, when it is out of balance, it causes anger, aggression and jealousy.
Too much kapha produces excess mucous, thick, white tongue coat, slow, sticky, sluggish bowel movements and carrying excess weight. It can affect the mind by making you feel sluggish, slow and lethargic, as well as overly sentimental and stubborn. When kapha is in balance it promotes love, a sense of calm and forgiveness, when it is out of balance it causes attachment and greed.
How do we create balance in the doshas?
When you go to an Ayurvedic doctor (who incidentally will have studied for just as long as Western-style doctors), you will be prescribed a whole host of things. In Ayurvedic medicine, herbs are used widely, as well as dietary recommendations, exercise – usually yoga or walking, breathing exercises, massage (called abhyanga) and meditation.
The principle of healing in Ayurveda is the ‘like induces like’. So if your predominant dosha is pitta, for example, you will have a tendency to be quick to anger, impatient and perhaps suffer from heartburn. To balance yourself you need to introduce things with the opposite qualities – so avoid fiery, hot foods, slow things down by introducing a meditation or pranayama practice first thing in the morning, and avoid eating late at night which will increase your pitta.
This is not a quick fix approach to health, but a long-term understanding of how your energies work, and consequently how to balance them to achieve overall health, increased energy levels and a better quality of life.
We have Ayurveda specialist courses coming up soon, take a look at our workshops for details