Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science. In Sanskrit, Ayurveda means “The Science of Life.” (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge)Ayurvedic knowledge originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is often called the “Mother of All Healing.” Ayurveda continues to be one of the world’s most sophisticated and powerful mind-body health systems.
There are two main guiding principles of Ayurveda:
Firstly, that the mind and the body are inextricably connected, and secondly that nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind itself.
Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life. Knowledge of Ayurveda enables one to understand how to create this balance of body, mind and consciousness according to one’s own individual constitution. Freedom from illness depends upon expanding our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body.
Many factors, both internal and external, act upon us to disturb this balance. Examples of these emotional and physical stresses include one’s emotional state, diet and food choices, seasons and weather, physical trauma, work and family relationships. Balance is the natural order; imbalance is disorder. Health is order; disease is disorder. Within the body there is a constant interaction between order and disorder. When one understands the nature and structure of disorder, one can re-establish order.
How to find balance?
When you meditate you effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner quiet that refreshes the mind and restores balance. Since the mind and body are inseparable, the body is naturally balanced through the practice of meditation.
In the state of restful awareness created through meditation, your heart rate and breath slow, your body decreases the production of “stress” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and you increase the production of neurotransmitters that enhance wellbeing, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
After breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function. To maintain, or create, a balanced state, food must be nourishing. Ideally, we should consume a variety of fresh foods that are prepared and eaten with awareness.
A simple way to ensure you are getting a balanced diet is to include the six Ayurvedic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) in each meal. In this way all the major food groups and nutrients will be represented. If you do this, you should find that you feel more satisfied and the urge to snack and overeat will diminish. Another trick is to include as many natural and vibrant colours on your plate as possible. Foods that are deep red, green, orange, blue, yellow or purple tend to have more antioxidents and nutrients.
Ayurveda teaches that good health is dependent upon our capability to fully metabolize the nutritional, emotional, and sensory information that we ingest. This requires strong digestive energy, known as Agni (fire). If agni is weak, digestion is not complete which leads to an accumulation of toxic residue known as Ama. The build up of ama in the body and mind leads to obstructions in the flow of energy, information, and nourishment, and is the basis of all disease.
The importance of sleep.
During sleep, our body repairs and rejuvenates itself. A lack of restful sleep disrupts the body’s natural balance, weakens our immune system, and speeds up the aging process. Most adults need between six and eight hours of restful sleep each night.
Restful sleep means that you’re not using aids such as medication or alcohol to get to sleep but drifting off easily once you turn off the light and sleeping through the night without waking.
You will know if you have had restful sleep as you will feel full of energy when you wake up.
Listen to your body.
You can keep in harmony with your inner intelligence and rhythms by listening to your body. The body expresses itself through signals of comfort and discomfort.
When choosing a certain path or behaviour, ask yourself “How do I feel about this?” If your body sends a signal of physical or emotional distress or discomfort, pay attention and consider a different choice. If your body sends a signal of comfort and eagerness, you may proceed.
Discover Your Dosha
“Doshas" are the foundation for Ayurveda. Doshas express unique blends of physical, emotional, and mental characteristics.
The three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, are derived from the five elements of nature, which are: Space (akasha), Air (vayu), Fire (tejas), Water (jala), and Earth (prithivi). Read more about the doshas Read more about the doshas here.
Ayurveda as a complement to Western Medicine
Modern Western medicine tends to focus on symptoms and disease, and mainly uses drugs and surgery to rid the body of pathogens or diseased tissue. Many lives have been saved by this approach. However, drugs often weaken the body. Ayurveda does not focus on disease but maintains that minimal stress and a balanced flow of energy will allow a person’s natural defences to protect against disease more efficiently.
Of course Ayurveda is not a substitute for Western medicine but it can be used effectively in conjunction with it to help prevent disease or rebuild strength after treatments with drugs or surgery.
We have all experienced feeling unwell and being told by a health professional that nothing is wrong. This is because the imbalance has not yet become an identifiable disease. This is when we may wish to use Ayurvedic practices to restore the balance in our body and mind. Once balanced is restored, we can continue the practices in order to maintain it and prevent future imbalances.
Life presents us with many challenges and opportunities. Some things we cannot control but we do have the power to decide about some things, such as diet and lifestyle. To maintain balance and health, it is important to pay attention to these decisions.