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Ayurveda: An Holistic Approach to Health

Ayurveda: An Holistic Approach to Health

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

Poppy Pickles

Mini-śavāsana – Super Short Stress Reliever

Mini-śavāsana - Super Short Stress Reliever

Every yogi knows how delicious it is to truly relax in śavāsana – that wonderful sensation of calm and serenity as you gently emerge from your mat to engage with the rest of your day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to capture that sensation at other times of the day? Don’t you just want to be able to tap into that feeling of clarity and calm to help you more often. Not just when you have yoga class but every… single… day… forever… and ever. Shall I let you into a secret? You can! Read on and I’ll tell you how.

The Magic of Savāsana

Savāsana, or corpse pose, is one of the most powerful yoga poses we can do. Often it is thought of as ‘just relaxation’ but it is so, so much more. It has incredibly powerful effects upon the body and the way its systems work. These effects are often described as ‘soothing the nervous system’ because of the direct effect upon the parasympathetic (or calming) part of the nervous system. Sometimes called the ‘rest and digest’ response, these effects come from direct stimulation of the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves. It runs directly from the brain-stem (the most primitive part of the brain found in the base of the skull) to the heart and all the way on to the intestines. Stimulation of this nerve brings about some amazing changes in the body. It causes reduced heart rate and blood pressure; reduced skeletal muscular tension and increased muscular contractions of the gut which improve digestion; improved blood flow to the skin and reduction in secretion of stress hormones.

These changes are felt by us as calmness and clarity of mind; a feeling of well-being; improved digestion, sleep and often more emotional control. Even more important than making us feel good though, stimulation of the vagus nerve helps to reduce the damaging effects of prolonged stress on the body. It does this by reducing the risk of developing stress-related conditions like diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. It also helps to manage stress-related problems like insomnia, migraines, headaches, muscular aches and joint pains – with some sufferers reporting a really dramatic drop in their symptoms. Result!

The Savāsana Solution

Unfortunately knowing how śavāsana works doesn’t solve the problem of finding time to do it when we are all busy living our lives. But the good news is that you don’t need to relax for 10 or 15 minutes to gain all those benefits – a couple of minutes is enough when you know how. And you don’t even need to lie down: you can do śavāsana sitting down. I have even tried it standing up before, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

Now, may I introduce you to… (drum roll, drum roll…) – the mini-śavāsana. And what is a mini-śavāsana? I hear you cry! Well, a mini-śavāsana is your answer to all those stressed times at work and at home. Maybe the home-schooling is getting fraught or the boss is winding you up. Deadlines are looming and are you short on sleep? You need a mini-śavāsana. It is incredible – a real life-saver at times and SO easy to do.

So How Do I Mini-śavāsana?

Firstly – recognise when you need to mini-śavāsana. Are you feeling wound up? Or low on energy? Maybe you need a boost to get through a meeting. Or you need to clear your head. All of these will be solved by a mini-śavāsana. Have I convinced you yet? I DO hope so.

Next – where should I do it? Ideally somewhere private so you are not disturbed. A quiet room is ideal. You can lie down if you want to or sit if it is more convenient – on the floor or a chair, whichever you prefer. A park bench is great too if you are out and about. I have actually been known to sneak off to the toilet and sit there for a few minutes if there was no where else to go.

And then… close your eyes. Use a trick to help you relax. Maybe a quick body scan from the top of head to the tips of your toes where you consciously ‘let go’ of each part of the body as you move over it. Some folk can leg go of tension in the whole body at the same time and others work a system round arms, legs, trunk in turn. Maybe you’ll find another way to settle into a relaxed state. Have a go and see what works for you.

Once relaxed, focus on the breath or a colour or image that you like to help to still the mind and hold that for a short while. And enjoy …. 1 or 2 minutes really is enough to gain benefit, it is SO quick. You can set a timer if you want to or just see when your body is ready to come out of it naturally. And notice how you feel – I guarantee you’ll feel better. Calmer, cooler and things will be clearer.

Why I Love Mini-śavāsana

As a Tall Ship sailor many years ago, I learned a knack of closing my eyes for just a couple of minutes whenever the broken sleep and rigorous lifestyle got the better of me. I was not asleep – I knew exactly what was going on around me and could ‘snap out of it’ in a second and get back to work. Later in life I took up yoga and realised that all those years ago I had instinctively learned how to  do śavāsana and loved the longer relaxation that I discovered in my yoga classes. But I never let go of my mini-śavāsana’s – they still sustain me through some of life difficult and more challenging times. They are my little ‘fix’ of yoga when I need it to ground me. I do SO love them. And I think you will too. Namaste.

 

 

Sally Schofield

Yogi’s Guide: Posture

Yogi's Guide: Posture

I love people watching – I’m a physio, I can’t help it. For me, time waiting for trains is time spent checking out how people stand. Spotting the person with great posture becomes my passion. You know the one who stands tall; elegant, effortless and a delight to watch.

But why don’t we all move that way? And can we change that with yoga?

(more…)

Sally Schofield

Prince Charles says Yoga will help the NHS

Prince Charles yoga NHS

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, is the oldest and longest-serving heir apparent in Britain’s history, and, perhaps to help pass the time, he has come up with various ways of being controversial. (more…)

Poppy Pickles
When you\'re ready to go further

I’m a Yoga Teacher and I Eat Meat

Yoga Teacher Meat Diet

There is one thing that you can guarantee all yoga teachers will share: a love of yoga.  Apart from that, the only other thing you can guarantee is that they will be entirely different. And that’s what’s so great about them!

But, there is a clichéd view that if you’re a yoga teacher you should be a vegetarian (at the very least).  You should also be a teetotal, green-juice quaffing, new-age hipster, wearing mala beads and smelling gently of incense.

And if you ARE exactly like that, then how 100% cool, but if you’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a yoga teacher. Or does it?

I gave up eating meat in my twenties, but when I fell pregnant I started eating it again as my body was craving meat. Now, with a fast metabolism and a busy and active life, I still eat meat occasionally, but I do question whether this is in line with the principles of yoga. And I know I’m not alone.

So, does it go against the principles of yoga to eat meat? (more…)

Poppy Pickles