What is Ayurveda?: 6 Facts you Need to Know
Amongst all the ancient healing traditions known to humankind, Ayurveda probably has the longest history of uninterrupted practice, representing a vast knowledge of life gathered and spread by ancient Indians for thousands of years. Ayurveda is the Sanskrit word for “the knowledge of life” or “the science of life.” The name itself explains a lot about Ayurveda. Its classic text describes it as “not just a system of medicine, but a way of life.” Since the last few decades, Ayurveda is enjoying huge popularity across the globe owing to increased awareness surrounding the importance of holistic living practices. Let’s have a thorough discussion on the basics of Ayurveda.
1. Prevention is better than cure
Though it is a system of medicine, the primary focus of Ayurveda is not to cure a disease. The core principle of Ayurveda believes in the primacy of prevention and health promotion over remedial action. Not just prevention, it seeks to achieve a perfect state of health that enables an individual to live life at its full. Health in itself is a very broad concept, referring to an optimal state of physical, emotional, mental, social wellbeing. In its essence, Ayurveda is all about a conscious way of life that seeks to promote longevity and vitality through proper diet, sleep, strengthened immunity, holistic stress management, and the use of herbs.
2. Five fundamental elements
The study of the universe in Ayurveda starts with the concept of Panchamahabhuta (five elements). Ayurveda believes every existing matter, living or lifeless, as comprising of five basic elements – earth, water, fire, ether (space), and air. These elements are present in everything and every one of us in varying proportions, which is evident in their physical and biological features in the world like – stone is dry, rough, hard, heavy, while a feather is light and soft. In the human body also, these elements manifest themselves by a specific set of characteristics that can be recognized by simply observing your physical body, emotions, and sensations. For example, ether is present in the emptiness of intestines and at the centre of bones; air element is at work in the movement of breath; fire is present in the metabolism of food; water is lubricating every tissue and joints; earth element is making up the physical structure of every cell.
Mind and body are inseparable in Ayurveda, which is why every emotional state of mind is linked with a physical form as well. For example, the element of earth is characterized by cool, calm, heavy, stable, dry, rough qualities and manifests itself by these very qualities in the emotional and physical characteristics of an individual. When you are feeling calm, grounded, stable, it is the sign of a strong presence of earth element and will always accompany strong physical endurance with robust immunity. On the other hand, a strong presence of fire can be recognized in focused, sharp-minded individuals, which also comes with a fiery temper and an obsession with perfection.
3. Three doshas
In living beings, the five elements combine to form three bodily energies, known as doshas. These bodily energies work in harmony with each other to rule all the physiological functions necessary to sustain life. Each dosha is a combination of two elements and is characterised by the features of their combined energies.
Air and space unite to form Vata, the energy of movement. It rules all kinds of communication and transportation in the body – breathing, blood circulation, working of the nervous system, movement of food between intestines, transfer of nutrients to different parts of the body, and waste elimination.
Fire and water combine to form Pitta – the metabolic energy of transformation. All kinds of biochemical changes in the body – digestion, action of enzymes, breakdown of food, assimilation of nutrients into tissues, and hormonal functions are performed by Pitta dosha.
Earth and water combine to form the cohesive energy of Kapha. Kapha can be understood as the mud that provides the body with its physical structure and form so that the other two energies can work inside it. It is the mucus that lubricates joints for their smooth movement, protects the lungs against dryness of the air, and facilitates the working of the brain by preventing it from drying out. Kapha is the building block of tissues, bones, muscles, and fats.
4. You are unique
Just like the elements, doshas are also present in every living being in varying proportions. Every person is a unique mixture of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which is called her Prakriti – the body-mind constitution. This unique combination is reflected in the physical, mental, emotional characteristics that combinedly make you one of a kind. Ayurveda recognises that every individual has different tendencies and vulnerabilities and each requires personalised care. Self-care practices, dietary recommendations, and even yoga poses are highly individualised in Ayurveda because what works for one person may not have the same effect on the other as they both have different sets of mind and body.
5. A holistic system of medicine
Ayurvedic system of medicine takes a holistic view of diseases, their prevention as well as their remedy. While modern medicine focuses on addressing the symptoms of diseases, Ayurveda tries to address the underlying cause that had started or facilitated the course of disease in the first place. Ayurvedic therapies comprise not only medicines but include a range of lifestyle adjustments so as to complement the effects of medicines. Along with medications, it also prescribes personalised diet, yoga, meditation, massage, herbs, stress-management techniques, and other lifestyle habits. This holistic management of health not only helps sustain the effects of medicines for a longer period but also prevents the future risk of similar diseases.
6. Connection with aromatherapy
Plant essences are considered as potent medicines for the body and mind that enhance almost every aspect of wellbeing. Essential oils are given central importance in ayurvedic daily routine prescriptions. They are extensively used in massages for relaxing muscles and strengthening them against injuries. Ancient yogis used to diffuse essential oils during yoga and meditation sessions for balancing emotions and centering the mind on the breath. Ayurveda also advises adding antibacterial, antiviral oils in the bathwater to naturally protect the skin against infections and to boost skin health.