Many modern healing modalities—reiki, acupuncture, herbalism and aromatherapy, as well as sound, color and gem therapies—have their roots in Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda (pronounced aah-yure-VAY-dha) is literally translated from Sanskrit as “the knowledge of life.” According to the Charaka Samhita (an early Ayurvedic text from ancient India), life itself is defined as the “combination of the body, sense organs, mind and soul; the factor responsible for preventing decay and death, which sustains the body over time, and guides the processes of rebirth.” Simply stated, Ayurveda is a holistic healing system to harmonize the body, mind and soul.
As Ayurveda is one of the Vedic sciences, it shares a few foundational philosophies with all of Vedanta (including yoga, jyotish and vaastu). The most important of these is understanding that everything in the universe is energy and thus interconnected. Interestingly, this is also the conclusion of modern sciences such as atomic theory and quantum physics. Because of this precept, the study of optimal life experience (and thus health) became one of being aware of the energies in and around our being. Thus, the sages delineated a science of mapping energetic qualities and patterns in every facet of the universe.
Another definition of Ayurveda, then, is the awareness of the energies in yourself and your life and how they interface in your experience of life. Once you have a good feel of how your life is manifesting in your emotions and body, you can use this awareness to make more balancing choices. This is why, for me, the practice of Ayurveda is a process of empowerment.
The Three Doshas
Part of the difficulty in assimilating this awareness in modern times is the lack of terms in our language to describe energy. In Ayurveda, the energy comprising our universe has been categorized into the five elements, and even more simply into three primary energy types called doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Just as millions of shades of color can be reduced down to a ratio of the three primary colors, the millions of expressions of energy in the universe can be all viewed as a ratio of these three primary energies.
Energy can be described in people, places, things and in processes or interactions. The stages of life, features of the digestive process and even climate, can also be categorized energetically.
Your Ayurvedic Constitution
We each have Vata, Pitta and Kapha, but the ratio with which we carry and express these energies varies by the individual. Ayurvedic questionnaires can be helpful in figuring out your personal ratio, or constitution. It’s a common misconception that we can each be typed as simply Vata, Pitta or Kapha and don’t change. While our constitution reveals our set point, and thus our innate tendencies (e.g., defense mechanisms, genetic predisposition), our life experience is a continuing input of energy. We can make shifts in our constitution with long-term or significant energy inputs (e.g., pregnancy, 40 years of farming).
We are incorporating the energy of our lives (job, relationships, climate, food, routine, etc.) into our very cells. That’s why no one can have the exact same energy exposure throughout life as someone else, even with the same parents. Ayurveda takes into account your current state of energetics, along with your constitution (how you were created), when individualizing an approach to balance. Healing is approached with food choices, herbs, routine changes, self-care and changing how you perceive and respond to life.
Our vikruti (where we are energetically today) is sometimes more relevant to current ailments than our constitutional makeup. Usually, our vikruti can be assessed through our present state of emotions and physical condition. When we maintain similar dynamics in the various aspects of our lives, we cultivate specific patterns of emotional responses and physical responses to our experience of life.
What Is Imbalance?
In Ayurveda, imbalance is always a state of excess. If you were feeling depleted or low in energy, Ayurveda would term this an excess of Vata (Vata imbalance). In other words, imbalance can mean too much of any (or even two or three at the same time) of the doshas in your life. If you are in a state of imbalance, you will be able to identify signs of imbalance in your thoughts, emotions and body.
How to Approach Balance
The path to finding balance for yourself begins with cultivating the qualities that are the opposite of your current state of imbalance. For example, someone in Pitta imbalance (hot, inflamed, infected, irritable) would soothe that state by bringing in the opposite qualities of Pitta, such as cool, soft, calm, sweet. This is, in essence, reducing the Pitta energy coming in. As imbalance is always a state of excess, bringing in qualities opposite of the dosha is synonymous with bringing in less of that dosha. And this is how you achieve a healthy balance the Ayurvedic way.
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