Ayurvedic medicine or Ayurveda is one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems that was developed in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit word “Ayur” meaning life and “Veda” meaning wisdom or knowledge. Ayurveda is based on the belief that health and wellness depends on a delicate balance between your body, mind and spirit and the universe. According to Ayurvedic theory, everything in the universe is connected and a disruption of this harmony can lead to poor health and illness. Some things that can cause disruptions of your balance include genetic or birth defects, injuries, climate or seasonal changes, age, emotions, food, elimination processes and stress.
Ayurveda recognizes that each person is made of a combination of five basic elements found in the universe:
These elements combine to form three unique forces or energies called doshas. Your dosha (or combination of doshas) includes your emotions, your personality, and your physical characteristics and controls the way you act and behave. Everyone inherits a unique mix of the three doshas with one dosha usually more dominant. The three doshas are:
- Vata dosha (space and air)
- Pitta dosha (fire and water)
- Kapha dosha (water and earth)
Vata dosha encompasses the principle of MOVEMENT. That which moves is vata. Therefore vata governs breathing, motor and sensory functions of muscles and tissues, pulsations of the heart, movements of cell fluid and membranes, intestinal movement and impulses in nerves. Vata also governs feelings and emotions of freshness, nervousness, anxiety, fear, pain, tremors and spasms. If vata dosha is your main life force, you may be more likely to develop asthma, heart disease, nervous system disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation or skin problems.
Pitta dosha encompasses the principle of FIRE and METABOLISM. Pitta does not literally mean “fire” but refers to the ability to break down and handle foods and emotions. Pitta governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, body temperature, skin coloration, and eye luster. Intelligence, understanding, anger, hate and jealousy are governed by the pitta dosha. If pitta dosha is your main life force, you may be more likely to develop Chron’s disease, heart disease, infections, indigestion or food allergies.
Kapha dosha is biological WATER and serves to lubricate and cement the other elements of the body. This dosha is responsible for maintaining the body’s resistance to stresses and provides strength. Kapha lubricates joints, provides moisture to skin, helps to heal wounds, fills in bodily spaces, provides vigor and stability, gives energy to the heart and lungs and maintains immunity. Psychologically, kapha is responsible for attachment, calmness, forgiveness and love along with greed and long-standing envy. Kapha individuals may have a tendency to develop asthma, cancer, diabetes, indigestion after eating and obesity.
A balance of the three doshas is necessary for good health. Together, they govern all metabolic activities including:
- catabolism or breakdown/deterioration process (vata)
- metabolism or function (pitta)
- anabolism or growth/building process (kapha)
In childhood, the anabolism (kapha) element predominates since this is the time of greatest physical growth. In adulthood the metabolism (pitta) element is most apparent as this is the life stage of maturing and stability. In old age, catabolism (vata) is most evident as the body begins to deteriorate.
An Ayurvedic practitioner can evaluate your dosha and then set up a treatment program which may include foods, herbs and activities. The program will help to balance your system and will treat medical conditions. Ayurveda emphasizes the principle of opposites. For example, if you are Vata and experience dryness, constipation and anxiety, a regular routine of activities, rest and warmer/oiler foods may be recommended. If you are a Pitta type who experiences too much heat or anger, adding mint and cucumber to your diet and spending time in nature and loved ones will be balancing. Kapha individuals who tend to overeat and have stagnant energy will respond more to vigorous experiences and light/dry foods.
A few state-approved Ayurvedic schools exist in the United States, but there are currently no national standards or certification programs. Some practitioners may have a great deal of training and experience and others may not – just ask when you contact someone. In India Ayurvedic training can take five or more years and graduates receive either a Bachelor or Doctor degree.
Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, A Practical Guide by Dr. Vasant Lad.