it is something you can hear me speak of often, as it is one of my deepest passions.
In my most recent post I described how I was initially introduced to this system of knowledge, which was through my maternal Indian lineage. What I didn’t share in that post was that after my mother was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer 3 years ago I have been [obsessively] researching and learning about natural health and wellness, and Ayurveda sparked something special within me. The first time that I formally learned about Ayurveda was during my 200h yoga teacher training in Goa where we all visited the local Ayurvedic doctor to have our pulses read. Many of the European trainees were more than slightly confused by the old man analyzing every inch of our tongues, but I had been exposed to these practices before. Since then I have participated in a number of Ayurvedic education trainings and workshops, and although I am not a certified Ayurvedic doctor (which takes several years of intense schooling and is essentially a doctorate degree), I want to share my learnings of this exceptional healing practice.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
Vedic India is where this ancient system of knowledge that can be traced back to as Ayurvedic practices were instituted during the era of the writing of the Vedas (1500-500 BC). Although, like most indigenous or traditional medicine systems, it is impossible to pinpoint a single origin as the wisdom of Ayurveda was passed orally prior to Vedic writing. However the Sanskrit text known as the Charaka Samhita is generally understood to be the first Ayurvedic text, inscribed around 400-200 BC. Ayurveda is regarded as the sister science of yoga, and this is because the two foundational systems of knowledge emerged in tandem and support one another.
Unlike Western allopathic medicine, Ayurvedic healing is not derived from scientific discoveries with control groups and hypothesizes. Rather, it is an understanding of the natural cycles of the planet that we humans come from. Just as the physical postures of yoga were developed from sages studying the organic movement of animals and humans, Ayurveda was developed by sages studying the environment and its impact on the human self.
Around 400 BC the famous Sanskrit text known as The Yoga Sutras was written, and is still being taught under most systems of yoga around the world. The author credited to this sacred text is someone known as Patanjali, who is also credited for writing the commentary on the Charaka Samhita. The general understanding of Patanjali claims him to be a man who lived in the region of Uttar Pradesh and he is thought to have been a monk or spiritual teacher. However, this is widely debated as there is no evidence that Patanjali was an actual person, and many believe this “Patanjali” to be a school of thought rather than a human being. Under my lineage of yoga, the Sukshanti method, we were taught that Patanjali was number of sages who worked together to formulate these groundbreaking texts. Regardless of what you believe, the influence of Patanjali is still being felt even in today’s 21st century.
So that’s where it all began, but what actually is it?
Ayurveda is a system of healing based on the understanding that everything in the universe is made up of energy. It seems that modern science is beginning to catch up with this ancient understanding as several modern studies in the field of quantum physics are beginning to indicate that since everything on this earth is made up of energy, it also has a vibration. It is believed that energy can shift and evolve and that we absorb the energy that is around us. Everything impacts our energy, from the food we eat to the environment we are surrounded by and even the words we say and think.
Another key understanding in the Ayurvedic system is of micro and macrocosms. You can think of it this way, in the grand scheme of the universe, the universe is the macrocosm and earth is the microcosm. On a planetary scale, the earth is the macrocosm and its creatures are the microcosm. We can apply this understanding that there is always a greater cause to everything in the universe, and it is a humble reminder that we are (believe it or not) not the centre of the universe. Under this concept of micro / macro, everything in the environment impacts us, and we impact the environment as well. Thus environmentalism is a significant theme in Ayurveda; if we pollute our waters and the earth which we live on, this also pollutes ourselves.
Through understanding the energies around and within us, we become conscious beings who can use this knowledge to embody the best version of ourselves and in turn better the planet. Clearly Ayurveda is so much more than simply a diet or beauty practices as it might appear to the untrained eye.
As we have already identified that everything is made up of energy, Ayurveda claims that illness stems from an imbalance of energies. Essentially, disease is dis-ease, and when there is an imbalance or blockage of energy (known as stagnation) we experience dis-ease. The concept of the Wheel of Healing is commonly used in Ayurvedic understanding, and this concept illustrates the many facets to health such as emotional, spiritual, relational, occupational, environmental health and even healing from the past. At the centre of this wheel is your dharma, or life’s purpose, which gives you the most pleasure, drive, and motivation to stay healthy and committed to your personal cause.
Ayurvedic healing views each personal as an individual, and thus every person requires individual practices which best serve their own lifestyle. Each person has a completely unique energetic constitution, as no two people are the same. There are three distinct qualities of energy that are known as doshas which exist within all things. These doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha, and they each correspond to different natural elements. You can think of these qualities like the Gunas in yoga, although they are different concepts. Essentially, the doshas are the energetic qualities of matter, and below is a chart outlining each of these distinct energies. Everyone has each of these three doshas within them, but we each have a dominant dosha which is called your prakruti. The prakruti and further energitic constitution will be determined by an Ayurvedic doctor, but by looking at our body type, digestion, and mental habits it is not difficult to infer our own. The prakruti is important to understand because this is the quality of energy that is most likely to be chronically off balance.
This is where I will end our Ayurveda 101 lesson for today my friends, but stay tuned for future posts on balancing your doshas. Let me know in the comments what you think prakruti is!
I send you love and light.