Health isn’t just about being free of pain and disease. Rather, as the World Health Organization’s Constitution puts it, it is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being – a definition that coincides with what Ayurveda says. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Modern truths often stem from age-old wisdom culled over thousands of years. So let’s take a closer look at what Ayurveda is and how we can apply it to our daily lives.
Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term made up of two words-ayur and Veda. The former means life and the latter, science. Thus Ayurveda is really the science of life. It is the world’s oldest comprehensive health care system, having originated some 5000 to 10,000 years ago. This ancient art of healing asserts that a person’s health depends on his body, mind and spirit being in harmony with nature, and that disease results when there’s an imbalance.
According to Ayurveda, each of us is born with a distinct pattern of energy or a specific combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics. The three basic energy types or doshas are:
- Vata (Air) The energy that regulates bodily functions associated with motion including blood circulation, breathing, blinking and beating of the heart. Physically, vatas tend to be thin and bony, lacking in muscle development and have cold hands and feet. Vatas are also imaginative, fun, excitable, talk and walk fast and learn quickly. When in balance, they have no physical health concerns and are highly adaptable, creative and joyful. Out of balance, they become prone to fear, anxiety and nervousness.
Typical health problems include headaches, hypertension, dry coughs, sore throats, earaches, anxiety, irregular heart rhythms, muscle spasm ,lower back pain, constipation, abdominal gas, diarrhea, nervous stomach, menstrual cramps, arthritis, premature ejaculation and other sexual dysfunctions. Most neurological disorders are related to vata imbalance.
- Pitta ( Fire ) This energy governs the body’s metabolic systems, including digestion, absorption, nutrition and body temperature. Pittas tend to be strong and well-built, with medium frames and moderate muscle development. They also possess a keen intellect, are good public speakers, and enjoy challenges. In balance, they’re focused, goal –oriented and make good leaders. Out of balance, they are hot tempered, impatient and irritable.
Typical health issues includes rashes, acne, boils, skin cancer, ulcers, stomach and intestinal upsets, insomnia, vision problems, anemia and jaundice.
- Kapha ( Water ) This energy controls growth in the body, supplies water to all body parts, moisturizes the skin and maintains the immune system. Kaphas tend to have a heavier build, and are slow moving, slow to learn and speak and easygoing. In balance, Kaphas are loving, calm and forgiving.. Imbalance cause them to become insecure, envious, greedy and possessive.
Common health problems include colds, and congestion, sinus, headaches, asthma, wheezing, hay fever, allergies, and atherosclerosis.
By now, you may have fairly a good idea of which constitution type you are. While each of us has all three energies, usually only one or two are dominant, making most of us bi-doshic. According to Ayurveda, our doshic balance is influenced by both the food we eat as well as our environment. In other words, stress, an unhealthy diet, strained relationships, and even weather can throw our doshas off balance, causing us to develop diseases.
That is why Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe treatment designed to bring our doshas back into balance instead of focusing on relieving symptoms. Thus, after determining a person’s constitution and diagnosing his problems, an Ayurvedic doctor generally prescribes one or more of the following :
- Dietary Recommendations
- Massage Therapy
- Meditation / Breathing Exercise
- Panchakarma ( Detoxification )
Naturally, life throws all kinds of curveballs at us and we often do not have any power to control them. However, we do have the power to make decisions about some things, such as our diet and lifestyle, which is the key to attaining a state of balance. Dietary and lifestyle choices that are appropriate for our constitutions help strengthen our body, mind, and consciousness.
While it is imperative that each individual gets a proper analysis from qualified Ayurvedic practitioners, here are some dietary and lifestyle guidelines for the different constitutions:
IF YOU ARE A VATA
It is recommended that you establish a regular routine, which includes eating well and regularly, as well as sleeping early. You are also advised to stay warm at all times and to avoid cold, dry weather. Excessive worrying or overanalyzing is absolutely a no-no for vatas, who should also take care to avoid getting or taking on hectic schedules that demand constant travel. Diet-wise, try to steer clear of too much bitter, astringent, or pungent food.
IF YOU ARE A PITTA
Recommendations include staying cool by avoiding excessive heat or exposure to the sun. As far as possible, it is best that you abstain from alcohol and smoking. Deadlines, too much activity, and skipping meals can cause imbalances as can a diet high in spicy, sour, and salty food.
IF YOU ARE A KAPHA
Get out of your rut and off your butt! Oversleeping, overeating, inactivity and routine of any kind are considered bad for your constitution. You should also stay away from heavy, greasy foods, and to avoid overindulging in sweet, sour or salty foods. Plus stay clear of cold wet weather.
AYURVEDA vs. CONVENTIONAL MEDICINE
Yes, the above changes can be overwhelming, especially in view of the busy, stressful and hurried pace of modern life. Yet they are also critical to helping us stay healthy. Remember all those times when you don’t feel very well and recognize that you’re somehow out of balance? However, when you finally do visit the doctor, you are told that there is nothing wrong with you.
What is really going on is that you have an imbalance that has not yet become a disease from the western medical point of view. Yet the discomfort is serious enough to warrant your attention. Following suggestions put down by Ayurveda can assist in minimizing the impact of stress on our minds and bodies and allow for the balance flow of energy within us. This in turn strengthens our body’s natural defense system, which can ward off disease more easily.
In the final analysis, Ayurveda is not a substitute for western allopathic medicine. There are many instances when drugs or surgery are best forms of treatment, given the extent to which the disease has progressed, especially in emergency situations. Ayurveda is best used in conjunction with western medicine to make a person stronger and less likely to be afflicted with disease or to rebuild the body after it has been treated with drugs or surgery.