What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old healing modality originating from ancient India. It is the sister science of yoga, and considered to be a science which promotes longevity, balance and radiant health.
Ayurveda excels in understanding the inextricable connection between our bodies, spirits and the natural world. It provides a platform for understanding other natural healing modalities, including herbal and food energetics, yoga, meditation, therapeutic modalities (e.g. massage therapy, aromatherapy, detoxification practices) and the impact of natural cycles (Earth, Moon, Sun) on our bodies.
Ayurveda is can also be used to enhance spiritual and subtle perception, and is therefore highly esteemed among yogis, mystics and spiritual seekers. It is a truly comprehensive science which promotes balance between the physical realm and the spiritual origins.
Ayurveda: A Living Science
Ayurveda is one of the oldest forms of medicine on Earth, a healing science that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Its name — ayurveda — comes from the Sanskrit words ayu- meaning “life”; and –vedas meaning “wisdom” or “knowledge’. In essence, ayurveda is a timeless science that teaches us ‘how to live wisely’ or ‘the science of longevity’.
Like many of the world’s wisdom traditions, ayuveda was pronounced illegal under British rule and forced underground. Today, it is living a renaissance, recognized by seekers, scientists and doctors alike for its holistic perspectives which go far beyond the biomechanical model to recognize the healing power of spiritual awareness and cosmic connection.
Great health, by ayurvedic standards, is an invitation to find balance between our inner and outer worlds. Ayurveda recognizes that each individual has unique needs according to their innate constitution (called dosha), and uses a combination of lifestyle practices, diet, herbs and therapeutic modalities to enhance and support total health and radiant living.
The Ayurvedic Approach To Healing
In modern medicine, we are considered healthy when we have no obvious signs of disease.
For many of us, this means that more subtle signs of imbalance — such as chronic fatigue, digestive issues, skin irritations, weight gain or mood swings — are often missed, ignored, medicated or poorly understood by modern medicine.
Without a proper understanding of how our body communicates, we may seek to “make the symptoms go away” or to self-medicate (e.g. treating low energy levels with caffeine or sugar). Or, we may seek endless cures through fragmented, media-driven understanding of which foods and natural products can truly heal us.
Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle, where our imbalances tend to go deeper into the bodily tissues and, eventually, cause more serious imbalance or disease.
The ayurvedic approach considers that disease comes from our dis-ease, or our lack of easiness (or balance) within ourselves and with our outer environment. This loss of intelligence in our ways of living can be due to cultural conditioning, a lack of knowledge, genetic inheritance or poor lifestyle choices. From this perspective, our diseases or imbalances are not due to something outside of us (e.g. “catching the flu” or finding the cause of cancer) but from a loss of cellular intelligence, the forgetfulness of our true nature.
Ayurveda teaches us that true wellness comes from within. We can use plants, herbs and lifestyle practices to support your body and mind, but your true foundation for wellness comes from your most natural inclinations toward what you love, toward happiness, creativity, harmony, balance and wisdom. The more you come into remembrance of your true nature, the more you naturally start making choices which support healing and personal awakening.
The Renaissance of Ayuveda:
Ayurveda is a powerful tool for modern living because:
- Ayurveda helps those who are ill or suffering from imbalance (e.g. disease, chronic pain, low immunity, digestive issues, stress) to treat the root cause of disease. This healing science excels in understanding the root cause of disease and supporting through diet, therapies and lifestyle choices, rather than simply suppressing symptoms.
- Ayurveda also excels in promoting greater health for those who are already healthy. By learning fundamental principles for healthy living, it empowers you to become your own healer, and to support the health of those around you.
- Ayurveda provides a platform for spiritual awakening & realization. Ayurveda teaches us to make choices which are not only “healthy” but also support a more sattvic state of being conducive to meditation, wisdom and harmonious living.
- Ayurveda teaches you to pace yourself with the natural laws of your body. Our fast-paced modern lifestyle has created much stress and confusion in our digestive processes, fertility levels and overall health. Ayurveda teaches you to take responsibility for your own health without being dogmatic, rigid or overly strict with yourself.
- The principles of ayurveda transcend culture or background. Yes, it comes from India, but ayurveda speaks the universal language of nature, common across the world. I still remember the day a young Haitian nurse came to tears in one of our classes, reminded of the lost practices of her own family lineage, as taught to her by her grandmother. I have heard the same type of recognition from students cultures around the world — Serbia, Ukraine, Poland, Jamaica, France, China, Peru, Quebecois. Ayurveda is truly a universal language for understanding our bodies and the natural world.
The Importance of Balance in Ayurveda
Ayurveda places much emphasis the middle path, where we learn to enjoy all aspects of life without being too excessive or too restrictive in any action or activity. The most sustainable disciplines are those fueled by self-love and self-commitment, rather than by harshness or rigidity.
There are two basic principles to bring about balance in the natural world:
- Like increases like
- Opposite qualities balance each other
Ayurveda also starts by recognizing that everything that makes up the natural world is generated by some combination of the 5 elements, and that each element has unique properties.
- Earth (e.g. soil, potatoes) is considered solid, stable and heavy;
- Water (e.g. oceans, lakes, cucumbers) is liquid, heavy and soft;
- Fire (e.g. the sun, chilies) is hot, bright and mobile;
- Air (e.g. a strong wind, rice crackers) is moving, light, dry and subtle;
- Ether, or space (e.g. the sky, black holes) is empty, limitless, all-containing;
On a personal level, you can recognize that you have a unique nature based in a unique combination of the 5 elements. For example, you may identify strongly with the fire element (passionate, bold, hot-tempered), while your sister may be more earthly (stable, loyal, committed, fertile, strong).
Ayurveda uses the understanding of the primary elements to understand the doshas.
(Excerpt from the book Vibrant Living With Ayurveda by Briya Freeman – Fall 2017)