The Basics of Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a philosophy that resonates with me and that has woven around me for many years. It seems to present itself with more and more frequency in my life, as I continually strive, ever more fervorously, for balance. Ayurvedic medicine continues to come in and out of modern popularity and I occasionally see it referenced in an herbal article or research paper. As a Naturopath who utilizes herbal remedies as a main modality, Ayurvedic philosophy and body typing are an indispensable tool. Understanding an individual’s biochemical characteristics, as well as the phytochemical characteristics of herbs, allows accurate pairing of herbs with people.

The simple explanation of Ayurveda is that it wholly encompasses a means of practicing natural medicine. It use natural substances, natural means and the energy of nature with the energy of the human body, mind and spirit, to bring about balance and healing. We learn from the ancient Ayurvedic reference, the Caraka Samhita, that in order for a remedy to be considered Ayurvedic, it must meet three criteria. First, the health care provider must know the Prakruti/nature of the individual, the Vikruti/nature of the imbalance or dis-ease and the Dravya guna/nature, of the remedies or qualities of the substances. This reveals so much more about what Ayurveda really holds, which is an understanding of natural harmony. The understanding that in order to be in balance; to be truly healthy in every sense, one must be in harmony with one’s own body, mind and spirit. In order to really achieve that though, one must also be in harmony with the substances that nourish and protect, that bring fulfillment and joy. To attain this balance really means to be in harmony with all of nature.

Ayurveda is believed to date back 5,000 years to the Vedic period of the Himalayan Mountains of ancient India. The oldest known reference to Ayurveda is in the Vedas; a compilation of knowledge based hymns, and other sacred, mystical or spiritual science texts, written in Vedic Sanskrit. Sanskrit is the literary language for the educated of ancient and medieval India, as well as the main liturgical language of Hinduism and Buddhism, though Ayurveda is not a religion. As a side note; many, including myself, do not view Buddhism as a religion, but rather a way of life. I see Ayurveda similarly, as a way in which to view the world. Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayus, which means “life” and veda, which means “knowledge or science” and together means “knowledge of life”. 

Following its origins and a thriving period of growth, Ayurveda struggled to overcome suppression during an extended period of almost 1,000 years, while India was invaded by other countries, most notably, the British Empire. Those that continued to teach and share Ayurveda, were finally rewarded, when India gained independence in 1947. It was then, that an embrace of Ayurveda was found, and it became a major system of healthcare that exists still today in India. Ayurveda began to move west during the 20th Century and has grown in popularity. 

Ayurveda healthcare is holistic, meaning that it considers the whole person; energy, body, mind and emotion. This is very different from the Western, modern or Allopathic medicine Americans are familiar with, which is intent on alleviating symptoms and focuses on singular conditions. Ayurveda is a natural means of healing, meaning that it uses things from nature and aims to attain healing by bringing the whole person into balance with nature, by nourishing, supporting and aiding the body’s own ability to heal. It’s basis is to protect health, eliminate disease & bodily dysfunction and prolong life. There is an emphasis on prevention of illness rather than cure. 

The basic principles of Ayurveda are tied into the 5 elements of the universe; air, fire, water, earth and ether or space. These elements are represented in humans as doshas or energies. Each person possesses all 3 doshas or bio-energies, with different ratios of each. Health is seen as a balance of the Tridosha. Each dosha represents a body type, as well as physical, biochemical and emotional characteristics. Most people are a combination, with 1 dominant, 1 secondary and 1 least prominent dosha. The 3 doshas include Vata, Kapha and Pitta. Vata is connected to the elements of ether or energy of movement; life force. It affects nerve impulses, circulation, respiration, elimination, flexibility, sensory perception and connection to consciousness. Kapha is connected to the elements of water and earth; energy of lubrication and structure. It represents harmony, grounding and stability. Kapha is associated with nourishment, it represents rebuilding, healing, regulation of fluids, memory, endurance, compassion, forgiveness and feelings of contentment. Pitta is connected to the elements of fire and water; energy of digestion and metabolism. It is associated with hunger, digestion, assimilation, absorption, itelligence, magnetism and ambition. Pitta is the processing of sustenance and environmental input as well as the promotion of intelligence and understanding needed to learn.

According to Ayurvedic philosophy, each person is born with a body type or constitution, a set ratio of the 3 doshas. Each individual combination is the Prakruti/nature; pra meaning original, kruti meaning creation. Prakruti is determined by the doshas, genetics, diet, lifestyle and emotions of the parents, as well as environmental factors. This constitution remains constant throughout one’s life and also represents the natural state of balance and the path to health and wellness. This means balance is achieved by maintaining or achieving the kraputi. The constitution also affects the physiology, personality, emotional and mental responses and tendencies toward imbalance and disease. Balance reflects the energy of each dosha in the individual. The current state of doshas reflects the current state of health, known as the Vikruti. Vikruti; vi meaning after, kruti meaning creation. This balance is ever changing, affected by climate, the seasons and the changing stages of life. When the current state is balance, the Vikruti and the Prakruti are the same. Despite an individual’s constitutional make-up/Prakruti, an imbalance might be found in any of the 3 doshas, creating the Vikruti or current state of health or reflection of imbalance . An absence of balance is created through a compilation of the environment one exists within as well as the whole of their lifestyle. 
The Prakruti is best assessed by an individual’s most constant or stable characteristics, revealing their deepest qualities. Physical structure possesses the most obvious evidence of constitutional qualities, along with the nature of the individual’s voice and general personality. With the exception of body weight, though it can be affected by imbalance, structure is generally consistent. When looking for lifelong patterns, functional indicators such as patterns of digestion, elimination or sleep are useful, though they are generally a more reliable indicator of Vikruti than Prakruti.

The revelations of Ayurvedic body typing can be surprising in how much it is able to explain about an individual. When all of the pieces are layed out in a way, that what is missing or out of place becomes obvious, the “how” of balancing becomes understood and the “why” of harmony with nature becomes attainable.

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