Ayurveda is the traditional healing system of India. Many consider it to be the mother of all healing, as the oldest organized, intact system of indigenous medicine in the world. Ayurveda greatly influenced Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and even the medicine of ancient Greece. It's the ancestor of our own Western medical system, too.
Extolling the promise of longevity and inner peace, the ancient Hindu science of Ayurveda is rapidly gaining popularity in the West. These days, athletes, Hollywood stars, and everyday people are all talking about their doshas. As a result, Ayurvedic schools are training a new generation of Ayurvedic healthcare practitioners. Nearly every major spa in the world now offers Ayurveda as a part of its menu of possible treatments. But can Ayurveda fulfill its promise of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being?
Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine that includes specialties in obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, and the care of the elderly. In India, Ayurvedic practitioners are recognized doctors who prescribe medicine and even perform minor surgery. Here in the United States, however, Ayurveda is revered for its natural, therapeutic, and rejuvenative therapies. While many Western Ayurvedic practitioners also treat disease, most focus on helping people achieve a lifestyle in harmony with nature.
Where there is harmony, there is health. And where there is disharmony, there is disease. This simple message is the backbone of Ayurveda. Disease is the natural outcome of a disharmonious lifestyle and the misuse of the senses. Each person takes in energy through the senses. According to their quality, sensory energies can either support health or cause disease. We're not only what we eat but also what we smell, touch, see, and hear.
The causes of harmony and disharmony are different for everyone. Each person's path toward optimal health and well-being is unique. An individual's constitution (or the balance of the three doshas at conception) and any current imbalances (the current state of the three doshas) determine what types of foods, colors, sounds, smells, and touch are beneficial and which will lead to disease or discomfort.
Ayurveda requires that a person know his or her own nature or constitution, the qualities of any imbalances within themselves, and the qualities of nature-that is, the qualities of the foods, sights, sounds, smells, and types of touch. When the proper qualities are taken in through the senses, the body responds with health.
Natures and Imbalances
Everyone is conceived with an ideal balance of the three doshas. This is called the constitution. The three doshas-vata, pitta, and kapha-represent three fundamental physiological principles: motion, metabolism, and structure, respectively. Each person's unique constitution creates certain tendencies and determines what types of sensory impressions will cause imbalance.
People with lots of vata in their nature move faster and more irregularly, speak faster, and react faster to stimuli in their environment. Their nervous system and mind are more active than others. This leads to a tendency toward nervousness but also greater inspiration, enthusiasm, and creativity.
Because they do not have a strong metabolism, people of vata nature tend to feel cold more often. Their digestive capability is more erratic, and appetite can fluctuate greatly. Vatas have narrow bones, so their body is quite thin when healthy.
Imbalances: Examples of vata imbalances include talking too much, moving too quickly, not finishing projects, confusion, dry skin, constipation, fear or worry, weight loss, and sensitivity to cold.
People with an abundance of pitta in their nature experience greater metabolism. Their strong digestive capability provides them with a strong appetite and allows them to digest most foods easily. Not only do they digest food well-but also information. Thus, their capacity to understand and intellectualize the world is quite strong. The combination of strong digestion and metabolism leads pitta people to naturally feel warmer than other doshic types.
Pittas move at a more moderate pace and are somewhat less sensitive than vatas. However, their movements are well-thought-out, planned, focused, and efficient. This is how they approach life in general. Their body's build and muscular development are moderate.
Imbalances: Examples of pitta imbalances include feeling hot, fever, loose stools, burning sensations, red rashes, anger, and inflammation in the body.
People with more kapha in their nature tend to have thicker bones and a greater development of both muscle and fat. Their stocky body frame gives them strength and stability. Kaphas are not naturally overweight but rather well developed, strong, and solid. Their heavier nature leads them to move and speak more slowly. They tend to be steady, reliable, and supportive.
Because they do not have as much motion as vatas and carry more body structure, kaphas by nature move slowly and are the least sensitive of doshic types. This is not to say that they don't feel-quite the opposite, they feel deeply. However, they're less reactive. Because they have a slower metabolism, their appetites are generally low, they digest food more slowly, and they find it difficult to lose weight.
Imbalances: Kapha imbalances are those of excess heaviness, moistness, and stability. Examples include weight gain, mucous, fluid retention or swelling, sluggish digestion, stubbornness, and lethargy.
Finding Balance: The Remedies
To find balance through Ayurveda means to bring the opposite qualities into the body and mind. If a person is too cold, he requires warmth. If a person is too heavy, she requires lightness.
Ayurveda seeks to understand the nature of the patient, the nature of his imbalance, and the nature of the best remedies.
Whether considering food, herbs, colors, aromas, mantras, or any other therapeutic tool used by the Ayurvedic practitioner, we're talking about qualities. For example, root herbs tend to be heavy. Flowers tend to be light. Some herbs are drying or astringent. Others are moist. Cooked food is warmer. Raw food is cooler. Colors like red are hot; blue is cold. Nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone.
Healing through Ayurveda occurs when we reestablish the natural body/mind balance that's proper for the individual. It is through reestablishing the harmony of one's constitution that optimal health arises in the body and mind.
An Ayurvedic Consultation
How do you get started? First, you must know your constitution. This can be determined by an Ayurvedic healthcare professional who can accurately determine the exact balance of the three doshas. A professional can tell you the percentage of each dosha in your constitution.
To know your constitution and to understand your environment is to be empowered with the ability to live consciously.
Marc Halpern is the founder and president of the California College of Ayurveda. For more information about Ayurveda, Ayurvedic healthcare, or education, please contact him at 530-274-9100 or visit his Web site, www.ayurvedacollege.com.
Ayurvedic massage is sometimes called hard body massage because of the vigorous quality of the massage. Hands, feet, elbows, forearms and well-oiled balls may be used for the massage.
Ayurveda is the traditional medical system of sub-continental India. With an archeological record going back 7000 years and an unbroken written history dating back to around 1500 BCE, Ayurveda is easily the oldest medical system still in existence and is also one of the most comprehensive.
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