Introduction to Ayurveda (The Ancient Science of Self-Healing)
Work, rest & Play; Once again, it’s all about balance.
Just like its sister science, yoga, Ayurveda is a completely holistic system stemming from the Rig-Veda, one of India’s most ancient philosophical texts which is thought to have been written sometime between 4500 and 1600 BC. The text contains a collection of works recorded by many great sages who were concerned about human health and wellness. Much of what these ancient sages believed to be true about human anatomy and physiology has been confirmed these days by modern science.
At its basic level, Ayurveda advocates that, as individuals, we can take responsibility for our own well-being by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We can do this simply and easily by increasing body/mind awareness and following positive daily routines. This obviously includes diet and exercise although there is no rigidity since rigidity of mind is itself an affliction. Ayurvedic physicians are called “vaidyas”. Chances are, if you arrange a consult with a vaidya, he or she will be far more interested in how what you have been doing (or not doing) has affected your state of mind because the system seeks to treat the whole person – inside and out. Lack of spirit, unhappiness, anxiety, over-thinking, tiredness, inertia…. these are symptoms of too much “ama” (toxicity) and are usually due to a lifestyle that tends to lack time for self-care. Emotional body, physical body – it’s all the same.
Importantly, according to Ayurvedic thought, the root cause of all disease can be traced back to how well the digestive system is functioning. It’s not only how we digest our food that’s relevant though, it’s how we are digesting our life experiences. When we are stressed or anxious, for example, our gut is always affected in some way because the nervous system interprets stress (real or imagined) as fight or flight. Ayurveda also purports that a person’s natural tendencies, abilities and body-type will likely relate to a dominance of one or two of three main doshas. Accordingly, when one or more of the doshas becomes aggravated, ailments or illnesses relating to excess of that particular dosha will be experienced by the individual.
Chances are, that for the majority of us, once we have identified our particular “type” we will notice that most of us tend towards elements/qualities of just one or two rather than being completely equal between the three (tri-dosha). But if we identify our our dominant dosha and learn to respect our individual constitution, (ie, our inherited genetic make-up or “prakriti”), we can adapt our lifestyle accordingly. In this way, it becomes easier to take responsibility for our own health. We become aware when one or more of our doshas has become aggravated and can quickly take steps to re-harmonise the system; to reduce “ama” and perhaps lessen our susceptibility to more serious illnesses or non-serious, chronic ailments. It can also help us understand others. Not everyone has the constitution to be an athlete; not everyone will have boundless energy or be highly ambitious! Some people feel the cold more and others can’t stand the heat. In the end, it’s about knowing who we are and doing our best with what we have.
For example, someone with a dominance of pitta will probably be success-driven, confident and hard-working. They will probably be quite competitive*. Health-wise, they might be more susceptible to heat conditions such as acne or eczema, anger due to a perceived lack of control, and stress due to over-work. However, they will probably be less susceptible to chronic fatigue, pain-conditions or anxiety than someone with a dominance of vata. Those who are a little heavier set, are never in a hurry but are always thorough and perhaps seem to have a memory like an elephant might find their dosha type is more likely to be kapha.
*(Guaranteed that we would find that most politicians, olympians and film-stars have a dominance of pitta in their constitution!)
Consider each of the following questions and then rate your answer between (1) and (5) out of (5) to indicate how much or how little the question relates to you. For example: (1) – No or not at all, (2) maybe or a little (3) somewhat (4) Mostly/a lot (5) Yes/very much so!
Please think carefully about your answers and remember, there are no rights or wrongs. It is extremely unlikely someone will have all “5”s for one particular category, just as it is extremely unlikely a person will have an equal score for each! Most people find they tend to be pretty balanced between two. You can add up your “score” at the end.
Vata Indicate out of 5 as above
- I am small-boned, light and thin
- I have a quick mind and think, speak and act quickly
- I am lively and enthusiastic by nature
- I am open to new ideas and change
- I am prone to restlessness
- My skin is dry and cool to touch
- I hate the cold
- My feet and hands tend to be cold
- My hunger and digestion are irregular
- I understand new information immediately, but tend to forget quickly
- I can be overly sensitive and emotional
- I tend towards nervousness and anxiety
- I tend towards constipation
- I sleep lightly with many interruptions
- I enjoy warm, cooked food and hot beverages
- I am of moderate build
- I am confident and have a discriminating mind
- I will go over new information repeatedly until I have mastered it
- I do not like the heat and prefer cooler weather
- I sleep soundly and feel rested with eight hours of sleep or less
- I can be critical, quick tempered and argumentative
- My appetite and digestion are both strong. I rarely skip meals.
- I love cold foods and icy beverages
- I prefer to take charge of situations
- I have a reddish complexion and my skin can be sensitive to breakouts/rashes
- I tend to perspire easily
- I sometimes wake up very early and cannot go back to sleep
- My memory is steady
- I am more prone to diarrhea than constipation
- I am hard-working but tend towards perfectionism
- My build is strong and solid
- I have great strength and endurance
- I gain weight easily and find it hard to lose
- I have a tendency towards sinus congestion, asthma and excess mucous
- I would rather watch than participate in an athletic activity
- I am slow and methodical in everything I do
- My skin is soft, oily and smooth
- My personality is steady and I tend to be calm and easy going
- I am loyal and forgive easily
- I find it hard to let go of things I don’t need anymore. I accumulate “stuff”
- I find it harder to grasp new information but don’t forget easily
- I am even tempered and rarely get over-excited
- I am a heavy-sleeper and can sleep for hours. I am slow to get going in the morning.
- My digestion is slow and my appetite mild
- My hair is lush, dark and thick
Vata – dry, cool, airy: In balance, vata types are lively, friendly, creative, energetic and adaptable. Out of balance, those with an excess of vata are likely to suffer from anxiety and hyper-active thought patterns leading to physical and emotional problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, weight-loss, insomnia, nervous disorders, neuralgia and other types of pain conditions and exhaustion.
Pitta – hot, firey: In balance, pittas are muscular, smart, warm, determined and make great leaders. But an excess of pitta can lead to aggressiveness, anger, controlling behaviour and tactlessness. Physically, there may be acid related health issues such as heartburn and stomach ulcers. Other chronic problems from time to time might be eczema, rashes and similar heat-based skin conditions.
Kapha – warm, oily and moist: In balance, those with mostly kapha in their constitution are stable, calm, kind and loyal. Heavier set kapha-types move leisurely but always with purpose. Out of balance, excess kapha leads to weight-gain, lethargy, laziness and hopelessness. There may be mucus congestion-type health complaints such as ear infections and sunusitis, as well as extreme resistance to change – especially healthy change!