Updated: Aug 3, 2020
New to Ayurveda? Read this post to get an idea of the basics of this ancient healing system.
Ayurveda is an extensive health practice that originates from India. It is over 5000 years old and is still practiced in India today. In the last 30 years it has spread to other parts of the world as well, including North-America and Europe.
Ayurveda is written in the old Indian language of Sanskrit and translates to 'knowledge of life' (ayu=life, veda=knowledge). It is often referred to as Yoga's sister science. While yoga focuses more on transcending the body and connecting with Spirit, Ayurveda focuses on the body, preventing diseases and improving health through diet and lifestyle.
Ayurveda translates to knowledge of life. It works with systems that help you understand your body and mind and provides diet and lifestyle advice to prevent disease and help support healing.
Ayurveda's goal is to prevent disease and provide support in healing disease. In order to do this, you need to get to know your body and mind. Ayurveda provides systems to do so. Let's take a look at three of them.
1. Doshas: Your Body Type
What is your Dosha?
The system of doshas can determine what constitution someone has, or you could call it a "body type". There are three types, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. You have all three of them in you, but usually one or two are more dominant. The dosha you are born with is your blue print (prakruti) and the aim is to stay in alignment with this dosha. If you do not and get out of balance, your dosha(s) can change (vikruti) and disease can develop. 'Wrong' choices in lifestyle and diet can cause you to get out of balance. This is why Ayurveda starts with lifestyle and diet advice to bring you back into balance. Your goal is to stay in alignment with the dosha(s) you were born with.
2. Gunas: Qualities of Nature
How to determine your Dosha?
A dosha is a collection of gunas. Gunas are qualities of nature, like hot and cold, heavy and light, oily and dry. They work in opposites. Each dosha has its own set of gunas. Vata is cold, dry, light, mobile; Pitta is hot, oily, light; Kapha is heavy, cool, stable, just to name a few. Knowing which gunas are prevalent in your body now, can help in figuring out what you need to do to get back into balance.
3. Like Increases Like and Opposites Balance
How to balance your Dosha? This might be the most important practice in Ayurveda. Like increases like and opposites balance. Once you have determined the gunas that are currently prevalent, you can apply the opposite gunas to bring about balance. For example if you are experiencing dry skin, to balance this we can apply oil to the skin and add more healthy oils to our diet. This can balance the quality of dryness. But if we are not aware, and we are doing things that increase our dryness (i.e.: we're eating dry foods, not drinking enough water, spend a lot of time in air conditioned environments, etc.), then the dryness we're experiencing will increase. Even more simply put, consider this: when you are feeling cold, put on a warm sweater! But many of us are not aware of being cold, so we go on and drink iced water, don't dress appropriately for the cold weather, so we increase our cold quality instead of balancing it with hot/warm foods or activities. Obviously it is not always as simple as this example, but learning this language of gunas can be a major step in understanding your body and learning to become your own healer.
"Start creating a stillness practice to raise awareness of your body and mind by going into nature, learning to meditate, or simply turning of your phone during the day to reduce distractions".
Where to Start? A Practice of Awareness
Learning about Ayurveda is a practice of awareness. You need to be able to know what you are experiencing in your body and mind in order to work with it. Developing a language to describe sensations in your body (which translate to the gunas) is a foundational first step. Practices like Yoga can help with this, since its focus is on becoming aware of physical sensations, your breath and your mind. This basically comes down to slowing down the pace of one's life so you can start to observe all of these things. Being still is no longer common in our society since our schedules are crammed. We have a constant stream of information coming through our phones and our list of responsibilities and expectations is growing every day. Starting practices like going into nature, learning to meditate, taking a yoga class, taking more time to rest or turning off your phone will get you started on this journey of getting back into balance and moving towards health.
Learning about Ayurveda is a journey; it takes time! Take the time reading about it, go to see an Ayurvedic Counsellor and mostly become familiar with yourself.