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Published: June 8, 2024

What is Ayurveda? An Introduction to the Ancient Healing System

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Ayurveda is an ancient Sanskrit word that means “the science of life,” but how can it make you healthier and happier? 

Ayurveda and its teachings were recorded in Sanskrit by Sushruta Samhita in a series of four sacred texts where Dhanvantari, the Hindu God of Ayurveda, incarnated himself on earth to teach medicine to a group of physicians. Thus, Ayurvedic medicine was documented to be shared with the world! 

As a form of holistic and preventative medicine that focuses on creating health and harmony through the connection between mind, body, and spirit, Ayurveda is especially important in today’s high-stress world. Ayurvedic traditions say that the human body is made of the very same materials and elements as the ones that make up the entire universe, which means it's very important to balance these universal elements within ourselves to also experience outer harmony. 

As you might imagine, Ayurveda is a well-respected tool and tradition that many embrace today for better overall well-being. To utilize and enjoy Ayurveda on your own healing journey, it is important to know its principles – both to use them properly and out of respect for Ayurveda’s sacred nature.

Principles of Ayurveda 

Doshas: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha 

There are three doshas, or energies, that circulate throughout the human body known as Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each dosha is believed to be responsible for different aspects of your physical, mental, and spiritual health.  

  • Vata consists of the elements air and space. It is described as cold, light, dry, rough, flowing, and spacious. People with a dominant Vata dosha usually are described to be slim, energetic, creative, sensitive to cold temperatures, and do well with environments and foods that are warm in nature.  
  • Pitta consists of the fire element. Pitta is hot, sharp, intense, light, bitter, and spreading. People with Pitta as their dominant dosha are usually described as intelligent, witty, logical, have good muscle tone, are sensitive to hot temperatures, and do well with moderation.
  • Kapha consists of the water and earth elements. Those with Kapha as their dominant energy are described as steady, stable, heavy, slow, soft, and cold. People with a Kapha dosha are typically described to be strong, thick-boned, caring, thorough, and possess great endurance. 

It is very common to have one dominant dosha, while the others may be less prominent or only apply to certain areas of your life. Determining your dosha can be as simple as reading up on each and seeing which aligns most with your physical, mental, and spiritual being, or you can take a quiz 

This is the beauty of Ayurveda – you find what resonates most with you and your unique body makeup!

Elements 

Ayurvedic teachings say the universe is composed of Five Great Elements: Space, water, earth, air, and fire. Imbalances of these elements can cause unwanted symptoms, disease, and discomfort. To balance your body through Ayurveda, you observe which elements are overworked and which ones are underutilized. From there, Ayurvedic practices and treatments exist that can calm the extremeness of overworked elements and bring more attention to those that are underworked.

Gunas or Qualities 

Gunas are the qualities you observe using your senses. Out of 20 total gunas in Ayurveda, the tradition focuses on three main gunas, which are Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva: 

  • Tamas embodies stability, inertia, stillness, and materialism. Energetically, it is slow, thick, and associated with depression and focusing on the past. Creating movement in the body, like shaking your hands above your head or dancing, can balance Tamas.
  • Rajas is what transforms darkness into light. It is activity, change, and future directed. Grounding practices like breathwork, yoga, and slowing down when eating can balance Rajas. 
  • Sattva is consciousness, harmony, truth, compassion, and selflessness. Sattva is only present when there is balance with all other gunas, as it is the highest frequency and allows you to act from your highest self. To cultivate Sattva, it is important to eat nutrient-dense and fresh food, get enough sleep, meditate, spend time in nature, practice yoga, and provide service to your community. 

Just like you possess all three doshas in some quantity, all three gunas are also present within you and are all necessary to maintain or restore balance to your life.

Benefits of Ayurveda 

Ayurvedic medicine works to restore balance by observing the symptoms you are experiencing and finding complementary practices for your dominant dosha. Ayurvedic medicine and its practices focus on making consistent and sustainable lifestyle choices for the long run. 

Balance Your Health 

Ayurveda focuses on making healthier lifestyle choices and the mind-body connection. This looks like prioritizing proper nutrition, leading an active lifestyle, adding mindfulness practices and bodywork, and supplementing with herbal remedies. These practices can relieve stressors within the body and thus improve your overall health.  

Ayurvedic principles are practical and can be easily integrated into your daily routine, thus creating balance in your day-to-day as well.

Prevent and Manage Illnesses 

Consistent use of Ayurvedic practices has been shown to support the prevention of chronic disease and illness. Ayurveda encourages healthier lifestyle choices that naturally lower stress levels. Some examples of these lifestyle choices include having an active lifestyle, proper nutrition, and getting quality sleep. 

Optimize Your Longevity 

Consistently implementing Ayurvedic practices can have both immediate effects on your overall well-being as well as increase your longevity in ways such as: 

  • Improving your mood and digestion 
  • Alleviating stress, fatigue, and chronic pain 
  • Better sleep and recovery from injury and illness 
  • Weight loss and healthy weight maintenance 
  • Lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels 
  • Lowering your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes 
  • Reducing the risk of inflammation and autoimmune disease and cancer 
  • Balancing your hormone levels 

 

Applications of Ayurveda 

There are many ways to integrate Ayurvedic practices into your daily life.

Diet and nutrition 

To begin, proper diet and nutrition are fundamental for your health. Ayurvedic medicine promotes a nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich diet. It encourages a mostly-plant based eating diet that has a variety of foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, herbs, spices, and protein.  

Ayurvedic medicine is specific to the individual, so you will make dietary choices based on factors like your environment, what season you are currently in, the timing of your meals, your ancestry and genetics, and properties of the foods themselves that complement your dominant dosha. 

Ayurvedic herbal medicine 

This practice aims to lower inflammation in the body, lower risk of disease, and improve mental health and digestion. Spices like licorice root, turmeric, and curcumin have anti-inflammatory properties and improve heart health. Studies have shown the plant ashwagandha alleviates anxiety and stress. However, it is important to work with an Ayurvedic practitioner before you add herbal medicine as nutritional supplementation. 

Practice of yoga and meditation 

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Yoga aims to connect the mind, body, and spirit, similar to the intentions of Ayurveda.  

Research has shown that regular physical yoga practice can lower stress levels and increase quality of life. Plus, yoga builds muscle strength and improves flexibility, all while calming the nervous system and improving your focus. 

Many yoga practices incorporate an important aspect of Ayurvedic medicine, meditation, which has a myriad of benefits, from alleviating anxiety to supporting management of post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also help with weight control and healthy eating behaviors.  

Meditation is not restricted to being practiced during a yoga session, though—it can be utilized at any time during your day! 

Ayurvedic massage 

Ayurvedic massage, or Abhyangam, uses oil during the massage to support increased circulation throughout the body and replenish cells in the body. It relaxes the body and mind, which also lowers stress levels.  

Ayurvedic massage can help to: 

  • Eliminate toxins 
  • Boost immunity  
  • Increase energy 
  • Calm the nervous system 
  • Reduce joint pain, muscle tension, and blood pressure levels 
  • Improve sleep 

 

Making Ayurveda a Part of Your Lifestyle 

By now you must be curious about how Ayurveda will better your life in every way! Fortunately, many of these practices are accessible, affordable, and provide short and long-term benefits.  

If you’re feeling compelled to learn more about Ayurveda, we want you to know about our new, landmark partnership with Chopra Global and Dr. Deepak Chopra. We’ve expanded our health, wellness, and coaching offerings to include certifications like the Chopra Health Certification where you’ll confidently learn to share Ayurvedic knowledge with others with an expansive toolkit of teacher resources including scripts, lesson plans, business essentials, and deeper wisdom from industry leaders.

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