You know those experiences in life that leave a mark in your soul and you know you will remember them forever? Well, for me, this was one of them...
In March this year I got the chance to take part in a 10 day Ayurveda and Sahaja Yoga meditation retreat which took place in a beautiful part of India's countryside (Maharashtra). I had 10 days of meditation, Ayurveda treatments, relaxation, delicious food, lovely company...total bliss. I got to meet proper Ayurvedic doctors (contrary to what some of us in the West think, to become an Ayurvedic doctor, one must spend at least 5.5 years in university in order to get a degree), to observe how they run a consultation, what diagnostic tools they use, what they consider when they give therapeutic recommendations. Though I had an idea about Ayurveda prior to this trip, this experience showed me what a complex system this is.
Ayurveda is known as the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. The word Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term meaning 'science of live'. It is a holistic system of medicine which has been practiced in India for more than 5000 years, being considered the world's oldest medicine form. Pretty impressive, right?
While allopathic medicine looks for a drug that will cure a statistically significant number of people for a specific condition, Ayurvedic medicine looks for a treatment that will cure an individual of their unique presentation of the disease. Since no disease affects two people in exactly the same way, no two cures are exactly the same. Ayurveda is based on the premise that disease is the natural end result of living out of harmony with our environment, so the approach to healing is to reestablish harmony between self and environment.
Ayurveda places great emphasis on prevention and encourages the maintenance of health through close attention to balance in one’s life, right thinking, diet, lifestyle, exercise and the use of herbs.
The principles of Ayurveda are based on nature’s five elements and three life-energies also known as doshas (as there is no English translation for some of these words, I will use the Sanskrit terms). Each human being has a prevailing dosha (aka Ayurvedic constitution) that shapes our minds and bodies: Vata(wind), Pitta (fire) and Kapha(earth). Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, each person has a particular pattern of energy—an individual combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics—which comprises their own constitution.
Learning how to balance the body, mind and consciousness requires an understanding of how vata, pitta and kapha work together. According to Ayurvedic philosophy the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of the five great elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Vata, pitta and kapha are combinations and permutations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation. In the physical body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta the energy of digestion and metabolism, and kapha the energy that forms the body’s structure.
Vata is the subtle energy associated with movement — composed of Space and Air. It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
Pitta expresses as the body’s metabolic system — made up of Fire and Water. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta arouses anger, hatred and jealousy.
Kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure — bones, muscles, tendons — and provides the “glue” that holds the cells together, formed from Earth and Water. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. In balance, kapha is expressed as love, calmness and forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to attachment, greed and envy.
We all have one or a combination of these doshas. Knowing our constitution is very helpful to support our overall wellbeing. It increases awareness of our natural strengths, it allow us to adjust things like what type of food is best for our constitution, what type of exercise is recommended, when is it best to eat, etc.
Ayurveda is not a substitute for Western allopathic medicine. It is a great ancient practice which can be used to bring the body, mind and emotions into balance and I'm beyond grateful I got to learn and experience it first hand...