The history of Ayurveda
Its origin can be traced back to the oral traditions of ancient India when sages, who also served as healers, started observing how the body and mind can self-heal if the natural balance is restored.
The knowledge gathered in this way passed through generations of healers written on special books made out of wood, many of whom added their observation to the practice, sometimes questioning, refining, and modifying previously established theories.
Centuries of refinement have imparted this ancient way of life a rational and logical basis, which has stood the test of time. Even now, scientists worldwide are actively exploring the various principles of Ayurveda, which may provide an alternate way to look at health and help address the mounting challenges of modern times.
Focus on prevention
Ayurvedic philosophy's core lies in the timeless principle that prevention is always better than curative measures. But, not just prevention, Ayurveda proposes a way of living that seeks to consciously promote health through personalized self-care practices, such as mindful eating, proper sleep, routine and discipline, stress management, seasonal detox, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and adaptogen herbs.
Although it is a comprehensive system of medicine, the primary goal of Ayurveda is not to cure a disease. Therefore, it does not look at health from the perspective of diseases. Instead, health is a broad concept of optimal physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being that enables an individual to feel her best. It focuses on cultivating a habit of mindful living that helps build immunity, vitality, and mental resilience.
Five fundamental elements and 3 doshas
Ayurveda recognizes five elements, Pancha Mahabhutas, that build together the universe and everything within it:
3 doshas: Kappa & Pitta & Vata
5 fundamental elements: Ether, Water, Earth, Air, Fire
The five elements are considered the building blocks of energy and matter, and understanding the five elements and their manifestation in the body can help individuals to maintain a healthy balance of the doshas.
In Ayurveda, every individual is believed to have a unique combination of these five elements, known as the doshas. The doshas are a guideline to understand an individual's physical and mental constitution and provide insights into their health.
Kapha: Earth & Water
Earth (Prithvi): Earth represents solidity, stability, and support. It is associated with the sense of smell and the root chakra. Earth manifests as bones, muscles, and tissues in the body.
Water (Jala): Water represents fluidity, adaptability, and cohesion. It is associated with the sense of taste and the sacral chakra. In the body, water element manifests as bodily fluids, such as blood, lymph, and saliva.
Pitta: Fire & Water
Fire (Tejas): Fire represents transformation, digestion, and illumination. It is associated with the sense of sight and the solar plexus chakra. In the body, fire element manifests as metabolism, body heat, and energy.
Water (Jala):Water represents fluidity, adaptability, and cohesion. It is associated with the sense of taste and the sacral chakra. In the body, water element manifests as bodily fluids, such as blood, lymph, and saliva.
Vata: Air & Either
Ether (Akasha): Space represents emptiness, openness, and expansion. It is associated with the sense of hearing and the throat chakra. In the body, space element manifests as empty spaces, such as the lungs and the digestive tract.
Air (Vayu): Air represents movement, communication, and lightness. It is associated with the sense of touch and the heart chakra. In the body, air element manifests as breathing, circulation, and movement of muscles.
Treating approach of Ayurveda
Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to healing, unlike many other forms of medicine. It does not only focus on treating symptoms. Instead, it seeks to identify and address the underlying causes of disease. Ayurveda believes that a medical condition is not a cause but a symptom of an underlying imbalance. Therefore, they restore balance and promote overall health so the body can heal.
Ayurvedic treatment typically involves a personalized plan that may include dietary changes, detoxification, massage therapy, yoga and meditation, aromatherapy, immune-boosting herbs, and herbal teas. These treatments support the body's natural healing processes and reduce the risk of future health complications.
As with any medical treatment, consulting a qualified practitioner before beginning Ayurvedic therapy is essential.
Imbalances as a cause of diseases
Like elements, all three doshas are present in everyone but in varying proportions. Therefore, even if one dosha is missing, life cannot exist. But doshas are not some static presence inside the body. Instead, they are dynamic forces constantly interacting with the surroundings, affecting and being affected by your present thoughts, actions, experiences, environmental conditions, and food choices.
This means your choices and other factors may cause an imbalance in one or more doshas. In fact, dosha literally means “the one prone to corruption” or “the faulty one.” In Ayurvedic medicine, every disease is viewed as an imbalance of some dosha. Therefore, corrective measures are prescribed to restore this balance so the body may heal itself naturally.
Ayurvedic medicine is highly personalized
While modern medicine is undeniably one of the most outstanding achievements of humankind, it follows a one-size-fits-all approach that is unfortunately only sometimes the case. It assumes there is one medicine, one treatment plan, and one form of therapy that will work for everyone with a certain disease. This belief arises from a view of a person as a body of flesh, blood, and bones.
On the other hand, Ayurveda believes a person is a sum total of four parts: body, mind, soul, and senses. Therefore, when you are diagnosed with a disease, an Ayurvedic doctor considers two things before outlining the treatment plan: your original constitution and current dosha imbalance. So, even if two persons are suffering from the same disease, their treatment plans may differ.
You are one of a kind
Although we are all made up of five elements and three doshas, humans exhibit vast diversities in their physical and emotional responses to the environment. One medicine may completely heal a person and yet have no effect on another person of the same age, height, weight, and medical preconditions. Some people are vulnerable to particular food or weather, while others seem unaffected by it.
Ayurveda explains that no two persons are alike because each person has a unique combination of doshas. This constitution is responsible for their unique qualities, such as skin type, body frame, digestive strength, memory, personality traits, temperament, inclinations, and vulnerabilities in life.
Ayurveda in modern life
Yoga is the sister science of Ayurveda
Ayurveda and yoga have their roots in the Vedas – one of the earliest pieces of world literature containing a vast repository of knowledge concerning health, philosophy, and medicine. But the connection between Ayurveda and yoga is not just historical; they have a shared goal of creating a union between microcosm and macrocosm on one hand and mind and body on the other.
Both these systems believe that every human being (microcosm) is a small part or reflection of the universe (macrocosm) that represents the big picture. We are made up of the same elements and are moved by the same energies governing everything around us.
Only by living in harmony with nature can we achieve balance, optimal health, and peace of mind. But while yoga is a philosophy and a holistic way of life, Ayurveda is also a full-fledged system of medicine that integrates various components of yoga into its practice.
How Ayurveda fits in modern life
The beauty of Ayurveda is that despite being subject to constant change throughout history, its core philosophy still holds true in the modern day. Ayurvedic way of life that promotes good health through nutrition and self-care is more relevant now than ever, especially when the world is struggling with the growing burden of lifestyle diseases.
Anxiety and depression are becoming more and more common each year; poor eating habits have led to many people fighting nutrient deficiency and obesity at the same time; diabetes and heart diseases are prevalent issues; overuse of antibiotics has compromised our immune systems; our increasingly virtual world has led to a situation where we are losing real connections. Embracing an Ayurvedic lifestyle may help us reclaim our health and improve our connection with the inner self.