What is Ayurveda?
Yoga became a household name several decades ago. What remains more obscure in relation to yoga is its sister science, Ayurveda. Ayurveda translates from Sanksrit into “the science of life” and is the oldest holistic medicine in existence, dating back thousands of years. The ancient medicine is used to find balance between the body, mind, and soul and provides tenants of healthy living to promote youthfulness and longevity. Once you learn the basics of Ayurveda, you will be able to tailor it to your lifestyle and easily apply it gain benefit.
Ayurveda has various levels of usage including “household” Ayurveda, acting as a guideline for healthy living, and clinical usage to address the root cause of illness and promote healing. Much like any other household traditional medicine, people in tune with the tenants of Ayurveda use it in their daily lives to defend against illnesses and remedy less serious sicknesses like the common cold. As its backbone, Ayurveda provides a template for healthy living, dinacharya, translating to “daily routine,” which includes a morning routine, evening routine, and how to live in harmony with the seasons. If you follow these guidelines, you will prevent against the natural decline of the body and mind, keeping both agile. Lastly, Ayurveda categorizes illnesses according to their root cause and takes into account the natural constitution or physical/mental tendencies, prakruti, of the individual to provide remedies for illnesses.
In order to use Ayurveda for optimal benefit, it is best to start by understanding some of its basic core concepts and then move on to learning and applying dinacharya into your daily life. You will even be able to apply it to your yoga routine, practicing poses that are most suitable for your constitution, or prakruti, and targeted to your health goals.
Basic concepts of Ayurveda:
- Man is a miniature replica of the universe. In Ayurveda, the universe is understood to stem from consciousness which then is acted upon as a material to bring about the expression of life. At its most deduced form, life is separated into five elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Each of these five elements has attributed to it qualities, or gunas, which describe their nature such as hot, cold, sharp, slippery, and so on. Man is also made up of these elements. The individual balance of these five elements and their gunas create and define the unique constitution, or prakruti, of the individual.
- Each individual has a unique constitution made up of the three doshas, or energies of the Universe. The doshas are formed from the five elements of the Universe, with a predominance of two out of the five elements for each dosha. The three doshas are: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is comprised of space and air; Pitta of fire with some water; and Kapha of water and earth. People will generally have a higher combination of two of the doshas with one being far less dominant. For instance, an individual may have a Vata-Pitta constitution, meaning that Vata is the most dominant energy, with Pitta secondary, and little Kapha. This is assessed by taking a dosha quiz- or for more certainty, seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner- used to determine the characteristics of an individual’s constitution. The nature of each dosha is used as a context for understanding an individual’s constitution. For instance, a wider body structure would be considered more Kapha-like since Kapha is comprised of more water and earth and is more dense or solid while naturally crooked teeth would be considered Vata-like since Vata is comprised of air, considered to be erratic in nature. Once the individual constitution is determined, this is used as a foundational baseline for the individual’s point of health and for tailoring both dinacharya and remedies for illnesses.
- Health is the meeting point between wholesomeness and happiness. By this core concept, Ayurveda conveys two ideas: 1) Health is highly individualized with no one picture of health looking the same across individuals, and 2) it is important to be flexible with how we choose to follow a healthy lifestyle, making sure neither to overstretch wholesomeness to the point that happiness is lost, or to follow happiness so much that there is no wholesomeness. With the loss of either, health of body, mind, and spirit will be lost. Ayurveda takes great care to both nurture the spirit with this definition of health and to ensure that the rigorous pursuit and understanding of the root cause of illness within the individual takes place. What is healthy for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for another and it is important to understand this in order to keep the individual safe and in optimal health.
Ayurveda is compelling in its fundamental tenants which underlie and add a sense of simplicity to the art of life. It highlights some of the basic elephants in the room such as the importance of following a healthy diet, finding your personal definition of health, and living it daily in small measures. To maintain and revitalize health, Ayurveda uses daily routine, food, herbs, breathing exercises, mental exercises, oleation (the practice of using herb-infused oils to apply externally and internally to the body), panchakarma (cleansing techniques), and swastavrutta (“healthy behavior”). As a practice, it can range from a guiding tool in daily life to a more intensive experience with a practitioner in order to heal the body and mind. The most ingrained aspect of Ayurveda is that the body, mind, and spirit are inseparable. In order to flourish in life, you must nourish all three.
Calandra Center for Health and Wellness is located in Chicago’s South Loop and Arlington Heights Illinois. Ayurvedic Medicine sessions are available at the Chicago South Loop office only.
Written by Esther Kovacs