In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Ayurveda, defining exactly what it is, its main principles, why it’s key to health and well-being and more.
What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic and personalised health system designed in India over 5,000 years ago and is based on the idea that health and well-being is dependant on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit.
The name “Ayurveda” is derived from two words in Sanskrit: “ayur” meaning “life” and “veda” meaning “science.” Ayurveda therefore translates literally to “the science of life.”
Ayurveda provides tools and practices that we can use on a daily basis to optimise our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.
The Ayurvedic Definition of Health
The Ayurvedic definition of health is not just the absence of disease. It is based on a holistic state of mental, physical and spiritual well-being.
The ancient Ayurvedic text Sushruta Samhita states: “When the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), digestive fire (agni), all the body tissues (dhatus), and the excretory functions (mala kriya) are in perfect equilibrium and harmony, and the soul, senses, and mind are in a state of contentment and are cheerful, the person is said to be in a state of health.”
One of the basic fundamentals of Ayurveda suggests that “food is medicine and medicine is food.” It further goes on to emphasize that “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use; when the diet is correct, medicine is of no need.”
A Complete System
There are four characteristics that define the system of Ayurveda as a complete system:
- Timeless & Universal
Unbound by geography or time, Ayurveda’s principles originate from a true awareness and understanding of the cosmos and have consistently proven their relevance across eras and cultures.
Ayurveda perceives health as encompassing the balance of body, mind and spirit and emphasizes the intricate interplay between individuals and their environment, advocating for a harmonious existence.
Ayurveda recognizes the distinctiveness of each individual, underscored by the concept of prakriti or innate constitution and tailors treatments to align with one’s unique balance of energies and circumstances.
Preventative Versus Restorative
In contrast to many modern medical approaches that focus on treating symptoms, Ayurveda focuses on eliminating the root cause of disease by ensuring a balanced lifestyle. This proactive approach is inherently preventative, aiming to stop diseases before they start.
Backed By Modern Science & Modern Medicine
Not only is modern science validating what Ayurveda has been teaching for millennia, but modern medicine is integrating the principles of Ayurveda into healthcare.
The Principles Of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is based on a set of core principles. Knowing and understanding these principles will help illustrate why Ayurveda is such a timeless and universal science and art.
The Five Elements
Ayurveda recognises 5 elements that are the fundamental building blocks of nature. They are earth, water, fire, air and ether. Every substance in the entire cosmos contains all five of these elements. However, one or two elements typically predominate over the others.
Below is a table summary of the 5 elements and their relationship to our senses and organs.
The Twenty Qualities
Ayurveda also identifies twenty qualities (Gunas) that can be used to describe every substance or experience. These qualities are essential to understanding the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and that opposites balance. They are organized into the following ten pairs of opposites:
Ayurveda identifies three body types known as doshas. They are: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Each dosha embodies a combination of the 5 natural elements — earth, fire, water, air and ether — and 20 qualities to create a functional entity — an energetic force of nature.
All 3 doshas are present in everyone. However, the ratio between them varies from one person to another. The doshas determine the unique characteristics of each individual – as unique as our DNA.
The combination of doshas you are born with is referred to as your body type (prakriti) which represents your natural state of equilibrium and your blueprint for perfect health. Your state of balance at any given time is referred to as vikriti.
When the three doshas are in their natural proportions there is balance which is the basis of health. When the three doshas aren’t in their natural proportions, there is imbalance which is the basis of disease.
Ayurveda recognizes 7 basic body types. They are Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Below is a table summarising the 7 body types along with the amount of each dosha that is present.
The 6 Tastes
According to Ayurveda, there are 6 tastes, referred to as rasas, which all foods are categorised within. They are; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.
The key to optimising health is to incorporate all 6 tastes. This ensures that the energy that the body requires is adequately met, thus reducing food cravings and over-consumption of certain foods which can lead to negative health conditions.
Ojas, Agni & Ama
The way food is processed is dependant entirely on digestion. The three primary factors that influence digestion are: Ojas, Agni and Ama.
Ojas refers to energy and is responsible for immunity and vitality. Agni refers to fire and is responsible for digestion and metabolism. Ama refers to toxins and is responsible for sickness and disease.
Consequently, according to Ayurveda, the key to optimal health and longevity is increasing Ojas, strengthening Agni and decreasing Ama.
The Key To Health
To heal is to restore something to its natural state of balance. Ayurveda recognises the competing and complementary nature of elements in all things. Throughout life, there is a ceaseless interaction between the internal and external environment of an individual.
Thus, one of Ayurveda’s basic principles of healing holds that by making changes to forces that are working internally, we can counteract changes to forces that are working externally. Ayurveda is therefore the science of identifying an imbalance and using the appropriate opposite elements to counteract and restore balance to mind, body and spirit.
Ayurveda is a complete healing system that is focused on providing tools and practices that tap into our innate healing ability to optimise mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.
Ayurveda is based on the laws of the natural world making it timeless, it addresses the system as a whole making it holistic and it tailors treatments based on our unique energies and circumstances making it individualised.
The main principles of Ayurveda include the 5 elements, the 20 qualities, the doshas, the 6 tastes and ojas, agni and ama.