Lately I’ve been discussing the topic of the “healing the body”. There is so much that we can do to take better care of ourselves—and it may be just gathering some good information–or reminders. And even though we may not have absolute control over what happens to our physical health, we do have some control; so wherever we can help—we definitely should. There are many ways that we can support and maximize our well being. When we live a healthy lifestyle we just feel good—and happier. As I’ve mentioned, one of things that we can do to support our own well-being is eating well or conscious eating—being aware of the things that we put into our bodies. The majority of the foods that we eat should be whole foods [foods in their natural state]. For our bodies to function well we need to eat nutrient dense foods. Food is our medicine and we constantly need to be reminded of this and make choices that support our overall health.
Ayurveda is an intricate medical system that originated in India thousands of years ago. It has a great focus on eating well, so it’s truly worth exploring. Ayurveda can be defined as a system, which uses the inherent principles of nature, to help maintain health in a person by keeping the individual’s body, mind and spirit in perfect equilibrium with nature.
Ayurveda is a wholistic system of medicine from India that uses a constitutional model. Its aim is to provide guidance regarding food and lifestyle so that healthy people can stay healthy and folks with health challenges can improve their health.
There are several aspects to Ayurveda that are quite unique:
• Its recommendations will often be different for each person regarding which foods and which lifestyle they should follow in order to be completely healthy. This is due to its use of a constitutional model.
• Everything in Ayurveda is validated by observation, inquiry, direct examination and knowledge derived from the ancient texts.
• It understands that there are energetic forces that influence nature and human beings. These forces are called the Tridoshas.
Because Ayurveda sees a strong connection between the mind and the body, a huge amount of information is available regarding this relationship.
The aim of this system is to prevent illness, heal the sick and preserve life. This can be summed up as follows:
• To protect health and prolong life (“Swasthyas swasthya rakshanam”)
• To eliminate diseases and dysfunctions of the body (“Aturasya vikar prashamanamcha”)
Ayurveda is regarded as the oldest form of healthcare in the world. It is an intricate system of healing that originated in India thousands of years ago. We can find historical evidence of Ayurveda in the ancient books of wisdom known as the Vedas. In the Rig Veda, over 60 preparations–a series of prescriptions–were mentioned that could be used to assist an individual in overcoming various ailments. The Rig Veda was written over 6,000 years ago, but really Ayurveda has been around even longer than that. What we see is that Ayurveda is more than just a medical system. It is a Science of Life. We are all part and parcel of nature. Just as the animals and plants live in harmony with nature and utilize the Laws of Nature to create health and balance within their beings, we, too, adhere to these very same principles. Therefore, it is fair to say that Ayurveda is a system that helps maintain health in a person by using the inherent principles of nature to bring the individual back into equilibrium with their true self. In essence Ayurveda has been in existence since the beginning of time because we have always been governed by nature’s laws.[so very true it is]
Ayurveda is made up of two Sanskrit words: Ayu which means life and Veda which means the knowledge of. To know about life is Ayurveda. However, to fully comprehend the vast scope of Ayurveda let us first define “Ayu” or life. According to the ancient Ayurvedic scholar Charaka, “ayu” is comprised of four essential parts. The combination of mind, body, senses and the soul.
Mind, Body, and Senses
We tend to identify most with our physical bodies; yet, in actuality, there is more to us then what meets the eye. We can see that underlying our physical structure is the mind, which not only controls our thought processes, but helps assist us in carrying out day-to-day activities such as respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination. The mind and the body work in conjunction with one another to regulate our physiology. In order for the mind to act appropriately to assist the physical body, we must use our senses as information gatherers. We can think of the mind as a computer and the senses as the data which gets entered into the computer. Smell and taste are two important senses that aid in the digestive process. When the mind registers that a particular food is entering the gastrointestinal tract, it directs the body to act accordingly by releasing various digestive enzymes. However, if we overindulge the taste buds with too much of a certain taste, such as sweet, we may find that the ability of the mind to perceive the sweet taste is impaired; and thereby the body becomes challenged in its ability to process sweet foods. Maintaining the clarity of our senses is an essential part in allowing the mind and body to integrate their functions and help in keeping us healthy and happy individuals.
Ayurveda also sees that before we exist in physical form with the help of the mind and senses that we exist in a more subtle form known as the soul. The ancient seers of India believed that we were comprised of a certain energetic essence that precluded the inhabitance of our physical entity. In fact, they hypothesized that we may indeed occupy many physical bodies throughout the course of time but that our underlying self or soul remains unchanged. What we see to help illustrate this concept is what transpires at the time of death. When the individual nears the time to leave the physical body, many of his/her desires will cease to be present. As the soul no longer identifies with the body, the desire to eat food or indulge in a particular activity that used to be a great source of satisfaction for that person drops by the wayside. In fact, many individuals have been documented to experience the sensation of being “out of their bodies.”These are just a few examples of how we are made up of these four components that we call life.
Now that we have a better understanding of what comprises life, let’s look at some of the principles of Ayurveda and how they might affect us. In Ayurveda we view a person as a unique individual made up of five primary elements. The elements are ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth. Just as in nature, we too have these five elements in us. When any of these elements are present in the environment, they will in turn have an influence on us. The foods we eat and the weather are just two examples of the presence of these elements. While we are a composite of these five primary elements, certain elements are seen to have an ability to combine to create various physiological functions. Ether and air combine to form what is known in Ayurveda as the Vata dosha. Vata governs the principle of movement and therefore can be seen as the force which directs nerve impulses [the central nervous system], circulation, respiration, and elimination. Fire and water are the elements that combine to form the Pitta dosha. The Pitta dosha is the process of transformation or metabolism. The transformation of foods into nutrients that our bodies can assimilate is an example of a pitta function. [we talk about the fire of digestion…well we do need fire or pitta to properly digest our foods]…Pitta is also responsible for metabolism in the organ and tissue systems as well as cellular metabolism. Finally, it is predominantly the water and earth elements which combine to form the Kapha dosha. Kapha is what is responsible for growth, adding structure unit by unit. Another function of the Kapha dosha is to offer protection. Cerebral-spinal fluid protects the brain and spinal column and is a type of Kapha found in the body. Also, the mucousal lining of the stomach is another example of the Kapha dosha protecting the tissues. We are all made up of unique proportions of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These ratios of the doshas vary in each individual; and because of this, Ayurveda sees each person as a special mixture that accounts for our diversity.Ayurveda gives us a model to look at each individual as a unique makeup of the three doshas and to thereby design treatment protocols that specifically address a person’s health challenges. When any of the doshas (Vata, Pitta or Kapha) become accumulated, Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines to assist the individual in reducing the dosha that has become excessive. [so for example if Pitta/fire becomes accumulated in the body, we may experience symptoms such as heartburn….] We may also suggest certain herbal supplements to hasten the healing process. If toxins in the body are abundant, then a cleansing process known as Pancha Karma is recommended to eliminate these unwanted toxins. ‘Panchakarma’ is a five-fold Therapy of Purification. According to Ayurveda, our natural state is one of health, happiness and an inner sense of well-being. Health is defined as the body being clear of toxins, the mind is at peace, emotions are calm and happy, wastes are efficiently eliminated and organs are functioning normally. In a busy, stressful and toxic world, our physical and mental systems accumulate toxins causing deterioration in bodily functioning. This eventually weakens our systems, which opens the door for chronic, degenerative, and non-specific diseases to develop. These can evolve into serious specific diseases, ultimately damaging an individual’s health and wellness. Panchakarma can help by reversing these negative effects of daily living. It can restore your natural state of health and wellness by cleansing your body of toxins, bringing balance into your system and improving bodily function. It can also help you sustain this process by making positive changes in lifestyle.Panchakarma is a unique, natural, holistic, health-giving series of therapeutic treatments that cleanse the body’s deep tissues of toxins, open the subtle channels, bring life-enhancing energy thereby increasing vitality, inner peace, confidence and well-being.
A healthy person, as defined in Sushrut Samhita, one of the primary works on Ayurveda, is “he whose doshas are in balance, appetite is good, all tissues of the body and all natural urges are functioning properly, and whose mind, body and spirit are cheerful…”
The understanding that we are all unique individuals enables Ayurveda to address not only specific health concerns but also offers explanation as to why one person responds differently than another. I hope that you will continue to explore Ayurveda to enhance your health and to gain further insights into this miracle we call life.