Considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science, Ayurveda has been taught for thousands of years, and it could be just what our hectic lives need.
I’ll confess: I’m an Ayurvedic virgin. I’ve heard of doshas and I’m partial to a veggie daal, but I’m ashamed to admit ignorance of the 3,000-year-old science of life. While the ancient practice is certainly nothing new, Ayurveda is becoming more mainstream, its popularity boosted by a booming interest in Ayurvedic beauty tenets (hair oiling, anyone?). But there’s obviously more to Ayurveda than looking good.
“Ayurveda is a pragmatic framework that deals with sustaining health, longevity and curing disease,” explains yoga teacher and therapist Maria Jones. “Stretching back several thousand years, Ayurveda offers an opportunity to broaden our understanding of wellbeing in ways complementary to traditional medicine and health.”
Here’s a potted introduction to what’s often called the “mother of all healing”.
What is Ayurveda?
There are five elements
“According to Ayurveda, the world exists in five different elements – known as bhutas,” explains Jones. “The bhutas are space, air, fire, water and earth (in that order), which are also connected to our senses. All bodily functions depend on the qualities that range across the bhutas coming together. How bhutas interact is captured in individual doshas [energy patterns].”
“The five elements of Ayurveda each have their own unique characteristics and qualities,” says Ayurvedic consultant Charlotte Hopson. “Everything in life, both material and subtle, is made up of a unique combination of these elements.”
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Essentially, there are three doshas, or energies, believed to circulate within our bodies.
“The five elements are paired to create doshas,” explains Hopson. “The three doshas are vata (ether and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (water and earth). Vata governs movement, circulation, nervous system, impulses and space within our body; pitta is our body temperature, transformation, digestion, assimilation of nutrients and our intellect; kapha is lubrication, our body mass and bodily fluids.”
While it’s believed we are all comprised of all three doshas, we each have an innate tendency towards one in particular, which can change throughout our lifetime. “The doshas capture our qualities as a human being,” says Jones. “We are all ultimately made of these three elements to a degree, with one dominant defining the majority of our tendencies. This combination of qualities and tendencies is also known as prakriti: our constitution or natural state.”
“Our constitution makes us unique from others,” explains Hopson. “Our prakriti is our pure constitution that we’re born with. Everything that happens is our lives and affects our prakriti is our vikruti – our current state of imbalance.
“This is when our constitution strays away from our prakriti because of polluting factors such as foods that don’t suit us, environmental pollution, excessive noise, travel, over stimulation and excesses of anything. Our prakriti is affected by our interactions, relationships, jobs and so on.”
It’s all about balance
“The aim of Ayurveda is to understand our prakriti – and any deviation from this natural state – and help us work towards better balance,” says Jones. “There are several frameworks which, when followed, aim to balance our physical functions, digestion, behaviour and psychology, energy and emotions, ultimately helping us achieve better health and wellbeing.”
“Our body is in a constant state of flux to deal with our modern complicated lives,” agrees Hopson. “If we continue with food, movement or lifestyle choices that don’t suit us or if we ignore our body’s signs and symptoms of imbalance (bloating, constipation, flatulence, anxiety, headaches, tiredness, aches, skin issues, period issues) then we tip our body further out of balance.”
How do I know what my doshas, prakriti and vikruti are?
“You can find fun quizzes online that can give you some indication of your constitution and current imbalances,” advises Hopson. “But if you want a better understanding or an in-depth analysis, a one-to-one consultation with a consultant or practitioner is much more valuable.”
How can Ayurveda enhance our wellbeing?
The experts believe that an Ayurvedic practice can enhance our wellbeing in a variety of ways.
“What is amazing about Ayurveda is that it has a solution for everything,” enthuses Hopson. “Treatment or application of its wisdom to modern problems is very logical and often very simple. What it does need, however, is commitment, patience and a true desire to make change. It’s not a quick fix; rather, we make deep-rooted and long-lasting changes to get to the heart of the issue so that it doesn’t return.”
It’s all about noticing how we feel, noticing our body’s natural urges and tendencies, and gaining a better understanding of our individual health and balance.
“Many of our modern societal pressures are focused on achievement, advancement, being busy, aesthetics, material wealth and not enough on how we feel and sustainability,” says Hopson. “Ayurveda is about tuning into how you truly feel and making changes to support ourselves.”
How can we incorporate Ayurvedic practices into our daily lives?
“The best way to incorporate Ayurveda into our lives is to start with aligning our activities and food with the seasons,” explains Hopson. “Within Ayurveda, every disorder – depression, fertility issues, eczema, arthritis – is believed to start in the gut. So this is the first thing we bring back to balance. Our ‘agni’ digestive flame needs to work optimally so that we digest our food correctly, assimilate nutrients efficiently and eliminate toxins effectively.
“This can be with achieved through adopting a combination of appropriate food, supportive movement practices and herbal remedies. It can be as simple as cooking fresh food for ourselves and refraining from processed foods. Simple is best; don’t overcomplicate things, and that applies to everything – from food to our relationships. Remember this is a holistic practice.”
Be kind to yourself
“Sometimes we are our own worst enemy and place so much pressure on ourselves to be better, do more, change, add, even when our body is giving us warning signs,” warns Hopson. “Ayurveda believes that like increases like, so to find balance, we need to find the opposite of what we are currently doing.”
Less is more
Hopson advises taking some time to reflect on our lives and why we do the things we do.
“Think of speaking to yourself with love, as you would a good friend. If we had a friend who was feeling really tired all the time, who was going through a rough patch with her partner, who had taken on a recent promotion and was juggling too many plates, who was having trouble sleeping and couldn’t focus. Would we say they really need to just push on, ignore it, do more? Tell them to start going to the gym, start intermittent fasting and maybe take up another hobby?” she challenges.
“No, we wouldn’t. We’d likely advise her to rest. To take time for herself. Find some peace in nature. Eat good wholesome food. Have a massage. Find comfort in friends. Find every opportunity to do less rather than more. We need to apply this good advice to ourselves.”
Slow down, reflect and look after myself? Those are things I can get on board with. I’ll definitely be giving Ayurveda a try.
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