This is a question I hear a lot “What is Ayurveda?” The easy answer is that it is the traditional science of Ayurvedic medicine is designed to bring the body back into balance so it can heal itself, which in itself is amazing, but underneath all of that, Ayurvedic medicine is so much more. Ayurveda is a Vedic science which, like yoga, has only one purpose: to expose the illusion and neediness of the mind and become free.
So, what does that mean? What is Ayurveda? How about feeling free to love your partner, mom, dad or sibling fully, without holding back even just a little? How about feeling free to wear whatever and act however you like without concern for what people might think? How about not being addicted to sweets, chips, coffee, chocolate, money or shopping?
Ayurveda is the science that seeks to free you of all that, and let the real, delicate, vulnerable and powerful “truth of you” out so you can be fully content with just being you!
Such freedom is what the essence of Ayurveda can offer. So, let’s explore this amazing science and rediscover “what is Ayurveda” truly!
It’s All the Mind’s Fault!
In Ayurveda, the mind is thought to be the origin of all disease. The mind creates protective patterns and belief systems that start early in childhood and shape your personality today.
As infants and toddlers, the mind is poorly developed and, thus, rays of purity exude from these amazing kids. Perhaps that is why we are so attracted to every precious gu-gu and ga-ga! But as we grow up and get hurt feelings on the playground, or figure out how to get mommy and daddy’s approval, or discover the euphoria of ice cream, each child creates a new, safer version of their personality based on these very unique experiences.
These childhood personality traits are often carried into adulthood and, while they served you as a child, they often don’t serve you as an adult. These protective emotional patterns are generally created to keep the child safe and out of emotional harm’s way, but as adults, they put significant stress on the body. Childlike worries of what people will think of you – am I pretty enough? Tall enough? Smart enough? Athletic enough? Do they like me? – all are interpreted by the body as stress.
Specifically, research now tells us that these emotional stresses are processed through the gut, causing the digestive process to break down first. This is perhaps best illustrated by the current gluten-free and dairy-free fad diets – shunning so-called “bad” foods which are just a touch harder to digest – that’s all.
Stress Breaks Down the Body
From stress-related digestive distress, a degenerative stress response is driven into every cell of the body. Depending on your genetic predisposition (or what Ayurveda calls your body type or dosha), your body will break down in its own unique way as a result of a compromised ability to process stress.
Additionally, though these emotional reactive patterns to stress or trauma are created in the mind, they eventually store in the fat cells as molecules of emotion. By purifying the body, these emotional molecules are released, setting the stage for deep mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation.
So, What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a system of medicine designed to remove the imbalance of the physical body, while providing the mental clarity needed to change unproductive mindsets.
In Ayurvedic medicine, optimal health and even one’s spiritual growth starts with prevention. Prevention is based on a balanced lifestyle that is in harmony with the cycles of nature.
Ayurveda recognizes that all living creatures, whether human, plant, or animal, must live in harmony with nature in order to survive. Like the owner’s manual of your car prescribes maintenance schedules for the long-term health of your car, Ayurveda speaks of daily and seasonal routines that ensure maximal health, mental clarity, and longevity.
For example, birds fly south in the winter. Their survival depends on it. In the fall, leaves turn red and fall off the trees. It’s a law of nature.
We tend to insulate ourselves away from much participation in the changes that take place from one season to the next. We don’t realize that, just like the birds, our survival depends on it, and that simply putting on or taking off a sweater and eating the same foods 365 days a year is not in keeping with the original human design.
Going to sleep and rising with the sun, eating seasonal foods for your region, and building your activities around the natural rhythms of the day are all simple and profound ways to stay in harmony with nature.
Ayurvedic Body Types
In Ayurvedic medicine, one’s individual nature is mirrored in their body type, or dosha. The doshas reflect three main governing principles of nature, called vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth-water).
Each person is a unique combination of these three principles or doshas, with different proportions of each existing within us. These three basic Ayurvedic principles combine to make ten unique mind-body types.
Based on our Ayurvedic body type, what we eat, how we exercise, when we sleep, and even where we prefer to live, will have its own unique blueprint.
Once you know your body type, Ayurveda provides protocols to align your internal nature with the larger cycles of nature, such as the daily rhythms and seasonal cycles.
In Ayurveda, seasonal and daily routines include proper diet and a balanced lifestyle according to your type. Ayurveda then makes very specific recommendations for resetting digestion, restoring balance and function, and proper detoxification.
- Vata is the winter principle. Generally, vata types tend to be thin, hypermetabolic, and they think and move quickly. Vata types typically have dry skin and cold hands and feet. They do not like cold weather because they already have many of these winter or vata qualities inherent in their nature.
- Pitta is the summer principle. Much like summer, Pitta types are hot, fiery and competitive, with a medium frame. Pitta types prefer cool weather. When out of balance, they may get heartburn, skin rashes, inflammatory diseases, or just burn out.
- Kapha is the spring principle. Kapha types are easygoing and have a slow metabolism. Kapha types will hold on to more weight and water and tend to develop allergies and congestion. Kapha types have more spring-like qualities in the same way that vata and pitta types carry more winter and summer qualities.
Once you know your body type (vata, pitta or kapha), it’s like having a roadmap that points you in the right direction of becoming your best self, so that you can fulfill your potential and experience more joy.
Ayurvedic Diet – Eat to Live
What to Eat
We have made eating very complicated – there are more modern theories on eating than there are days in a month. While animals seem to balance their nutritional needs quite well without the technical knowledge of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, we incessantly count calories and measure grams of fat, only to find out about the latest study, which tells us that the rules of eating have changed once again.
In Ayurveda, the rules remain constant: as the seasons change and different foods are harvested, we change the foods we eat in accordance.
In winter, for example, squirrels eat nuts a good source of protein and fat. This is a perfect food to help combat the cold and dry weather in the winter months (vata season). Grains, which are harvested in the fall and cooked in the winter, are also a perfect winter food. Cooked grains provide a warm, heavy nutritional base that helps us adapt to the cold of winter.
In spring, after eating heavy nuts and grains during the long sedentary winter, nature again provides us with the perfect food. Light, leafy green veggies and berries are the first foods harvested in the spring (kapha season) and are the natural antidote for the allergy season.
As the days get warmer in July and August, nature provides cooling fruits and vegetables to balance the heat of summer (pitta season).
How to Eat
Ayurveda understands that the cycles of nature will provide what we need at any given time. These cycles also provide the guidelines for a rhythm of life that is enjoyable. Unfortunately, our society has demanded that we rush, push, and shove our way through life in order to get ahead.
The biggest social violations of natural law revolve around our meals. We frequently race through or skip meals, eating as many as one-third of our meals in the car.
Crashing through our day, racing through lunch, and coming home to eat our biggest meal of the day at 7:00 PM when the digestion is the weakest, could not be going more against the powerful grain of mother nature.
Ayurveda recommends that all meals should be eaten slowly and calmly, and that the main meal should be at midday.
- Aim to eat three meals a day without snacks in between
- Eat enough at breakfast to get you through to lunch, and enough at lunch to get you through to dinner. Eat a light dinner but enough to get you to breakfast without hunger pangs.
- Drink a 12 oz glass of water 15-20 minutes before each meal
- Sip water with meals
- Avoid cold drinks with your meals
- Eat until you are satisfied, usually about ¾ full
- Eat in a relaxed manner, without distractions (TV, reading, work, computer, etc.)
- Rest for 15-20 minutes after meals
According to Ayurveda, living in harmony with nature’s cycles is required for the body to enjoy the self-awareness needed to heal itself and then build the clarity needed to provoke deep emotional change in one’s life.
In Ayurveda, exercise is not only about losing weight, winning races, and staying healthy. Exercise provides a kind of physical stress that can be used to teach us how to deal with all kinds of stress (mental, emotional and social) with an internal sense of composure.
From the research in my book, Body Mind and Sport, I have integrated a specific nasal breathing technique I call Darth Vader Breathing into a basic exercise routine. Darth Vader breathing (Ujjayi Pranayama, as it is called in Yoga and Ayurveda) allows a deep sense of calm to co-exist with the movement and intensity of exercise, making it an enjoyable experience rather than a workout.
After learning nasal breathing, tennis star Billie Jean King told me that she has not enjoyed exercise this much since she was a child. I have used this technique with world class athletes like Martina Navratilova, with elderly people who want safe and enjoyable exercise, and as a therapy for people who have difficulty handling stress.
Simply breathing deeply through your nose while walking fast for twenty minutes can teach you to handle stressful situations. (Here’s a tip: while walking fast, if you have to breathe through your mouth, you are walking too fast!)
With 80% of all diseases linked to stress, learning how to take an experience of calm into dynamic activity is an integral part of Ayurveda. The ability to know exactly how much exercise is good for you and how much is harmful becomes more automatic as you learn to listen to your body. Nasal breathing during exercise provides numerous health benefits, including a natural experience of calm that we require for self-healing and growth.
What is Ayurveda? Well, Ayurveda believes that healing starts from within.
The idea of giving an herb to sedate you for insomnia, or a laxative to relieve constipation, is contrary to the Ayurvedic philosophy.
When fully balanced, living a lifestyle in harmony with nature and one’s type, stilling the mind with techniques like yoga, breathing and meditation along with proper diet, exercise and herbal support, as needed, one can set the stage for optimal health and emotional growth.
Ayurveda attributes 80% of all disease to imbalances of the digestive system and, therefore, much attention is given to its maintenance.
In Ayurveda, as the digestive system is also our detoxification system, when the digestion breaks down, so does the ability to detox.
Five thousand years ago in a non-toxic world, Ayurvedic experts thought it important even then to design one of the most sophisticated detoxification programs in the world, called Panchakarma. Today, with digestive-compromising stress and environmental toxicity at an all-time high, resetting digestive strength and regular detoxification are more important than ever.
The Essence of Ayurveda – What is Ayurveda Really …
It is clearly unique in this day and age to find a system of medicine that is over 5000 years old and still today one of the largest on the planet. Ayurvedic medicine, although in its infancy here in America, has over 300,000 Indian doctors in the All Indian Ayurvedic Congress, making it the largest medical organization in the world.
Perhaps the reason for Ayurveda’s unrivaled longevity is its basis in truth.
Remember, Ayurveda is a Vedic science that is designed to uncover the truth of your life. Literally, veda means truth, and ayus means life.
While Ayurveda is generally viewed as a system of medicine for the body, all Vedic sciences – including yoga – are focused on a deeper truth. These sciences are designed to bring balance, harmony, and silence to the mental, physical, and emotional bodies so that we can be better equipped to act from our truth, rather than from protective patterns that the mind incessantly projects on the screen.
Ayurveda believes that the mind has us convinced that we must act, put on a show to be approved of or accepted. Just think of how much energy and strain goes into worrying about what others think of you. It’s the incessant worrying and unnecessary thinking that hammers your gut and, eventually, your body. So, what is Ayurveda? Ayurveda is the science that seeks to free you of all that, and let the real, delicate, vulnerable and powerful “truth of you” out so you can be fully content with just being you!
What is Ayurveda to you?