What is Ayurveda and how does it work?
I became aware recently that although I write often about Ayurveda. I have never actually taken the time to explain to you all what it is and how it works. Many of you will have heard of Ayurveda, some maybe not. And many of you may have some rough idea of what Ayurveda is which may or may not be the full picture. Others of you, as people sometimes say to me , may have heard of it but really have never been told what it is and what it can do. There is a big “wellness” movement drawing on the wisdom of Ayurveda these days: some of you may have visited spas and hotels and been given Ayurveda body treatments which are wonderful, but in a way also do Ayurveda a disservice as they are not given in a context which brings awareness to the medical potentialities of Ayurveda, and the power of those body treatments in personalised programmes for some very severe ailments. And so I thought I would take some time to describe the history and unique capacity of this system of medicine to help us with so much that we face in our lives, from our everyday health niggles and changing moods to more challenging and chronic health issues.
The ancient medical science of Ayurveda is growing in popularity again. It is re-establishing it’s rightful place as an important modality for the treatment of disease and for optimum well-being, not only in India from where it originates but also in the world at large. This is hardly surprising given the current popularity of Yoga worldwide. Ayurveda has always gone hand in hand with Yoga. Together these two create a fantastic whole package for our physical, mental-emotional and spiritual well-being. Ayurveda brings to the Yoga practitioner that extra know-how: the understanding needed to adapt not only our Yoga practices and the way we practice Yoga, but also diet and lifestyle to suit each one’s individual constitutional or natal metabolic type. This combination has a powerful role in sustaining and reclaiming optimum well-being, and also in the relief of the symptoms of many 21st century chronic ailments and the return to health.
Ayurveda, like Yoga, has it’s roots in the Indus Valley on the Indian subcontinent. The origins of Ayurveda have been traced back as far as 6000 BCE. It began as an oral tradition and the first recorded texts of Ayurveda are in the body of knowledge known as the Vedas. It is the oldest surviving medical system and it has influenced the other major traditional medical systems of the world. Persian, Chinese, and ancient Greek traders who visited India in the past, not only carried goods back home but also took home with them this ancient scientific medical knowledge. This knowledge included not only prescription of herbs and foods for healing, but also surgical treatises.
Whilst Yoga was developed for the spiritual evolution of humanity, Ayurveda was developed to uphold our physical and mental-emotional well-being. And just as Yoga is for the whole humanity, not just for India, so now Ayurveda becomes a resource for the whole humanity to turn to. The three dimensions of our being – physical, mental-emotional and spiritual – impact each other constantly to create health or disease, and so are in effect inseparable. A combination of Yoga and Ayurveda addresses all three in a perfectly complete way, making these two sister sciences the most potent package for our health and happiness.
How does Ayurveda work? And what distinguishes Ayurveda from other systems of medicine and healing? In short, Ayurveda is the only system that has a time-tested method to determine individual metabolic make-up and treat according to that metabolism. Moreover, Ayurveda is not treating to relieve symptoms only. In understanding your metabolic make-up, Ayurveda knows what optimum functioning is for your body type, and what is likely to take your body and mind away from that optimum functioning. Ayurveda understands that whilst certain lifestyles, nutritional habits, and mindsets may help one metabolic type to function well, they may be detrimental to another. This is why fad diets, and diets which exclude and favour certain major food groups such as carbs or fats, and proteins work for some people, and not for others. From that knowing, Ayurveda can offer you a personal plan, drawn up with specific indivdiual lifestyle adjustments, nutritional and herbal prescriptions, and perhaps Yoga and meditation practices. For example, two ladies may present who both experience frequent menstrual pains and yet who are different metabolic types according to Ayurveda. The type of pain they experience may well be different: sharp, or like a dull ache, sudden onset and lasting a few hours or gradual onset and long-lasting. This tells the practitioner so much about the ways in which the individual body function is being challenged and where metabolic tendencies are being exacerbated or weakened. This is so much more powerful than simply looking at symptoms for the effective treatment of the body. Treatments can be attuned to the individual, to restore equilibrium to each one’s particular make up and to restore optimum metabolic function. Two men may present with digestive complaints: one experiences constipation but no gas, another experiences alternating constipation and loose stools and gas/bloating. Again, this tells the practitioner a lot and rather than only prescribing a herb for symptoms of constipation or digestion issues, the practitioner interprets all the varying symptoms as signals pointing to the root cause of the issue on a level of metabolism and then he/she can address that. Symptoms can fall away as the body’s intelligent natural functioning is given the right conditions to restore itself through lifestyle and dietary habits which support rather than weaken one’s inherent metabolic nature, initially perhaps with the aid of herbal prescriptions.
Ayurveda translates as Knowledge of Life. In essence this means an understanding of how life and all that lives works. For the purposes of this article, two factors about Ayurveda are important to remember. The first is that Ayurveda understands that everything in this manifest world is made up of five elements, in varying combinations: earth, water, fire, air and ether. We humans are made up of these same five elements in varying combinations which will dictate our natal metabolic nature. The second factor is that Ayurveda makes much of the fact that nature moves in cycles: cycles of the day and night, cycles of the seasons, cycles of our own lives and lifespan. In all these cycles, including our own lifespans, varying combinations of the 5 elements dominate. We are part of nature. The same intelligence that works to move everything in this universe, that instructs a seed to grow into a fully fledged tree, a foetus to grow into a fully formed human being, instructs every aspect of life, including human life. And so it is important to understand how the elements combine within us as an individual, and how our lifestyle and the foods we take in, and the climates and environments we are exposed to, and our changing age, might impact that combination for better or for worse. Armed with this understanding we can do MUCH to maintain a good functioning of body and mind throughout our lives. If things go awry, a practitioner has much at his/her fingertips to support you return to a place of well-being and health.
Ayurveda has proven track-record in many areas of illness that challenge us in this day and age. It really is ancient wisdom perfectly suited for these times. It is frequently successful in treating and relieving symptoms of: stress related issues, nervous system disorders, endocrine and fertility issues, digestive disorders, cardiovascular problems, weight management, joint pain, inflammation of all sorts, skin conditions, auto-immune disorders, boosting immunity, relief of fatigue.
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Wishing you all good health,
Stay strong and healthy in these times and always…
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