What Is Ayurveda?

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A few months ago, I attended my second Ayurveda training. Ayurveda has really become a interest of mine and I plan to keep learning about it and finding ways to implement it in my own life.However... every time I mention it to someone outside of my yoga circle, I get similar responses like these:
• "What exactly are you saying?"
• "How is that spelled?"
• "What does that mean?"
• And... strange looks.

Thus, this post was born. This is simply a short, basic introduction to Ayurveda

What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a HUGE, fascinating topic. It's hard to summarize, but from the books and articles that I've read, and the trainings I've been to, I'll answer as best I can. Ayurveda is a holistic science of healing dating back more than 5,000 years and still widely used in India. The word itself means the "science of life" or the "science of daily living." Ayurveda encompasses all aspects of life and emphasizes finding balance for body, mind, and spirit through very practical daily habits.It is also considered the sister science of yoga, so when used together one can come closer to achieving their truest self, or highest potential. In the book Yoga & Ayurveda by David Frawley, it is explained that yoga is the science of self-realization, dealing with all the various layers of "you"-- the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual layers of you and your connection to the external. Ayurveda, on the other hand, is the science of self-healing. Ayurveda as self-healing is all about finding balance and wholeness for body and mind, which translates to overall wholeness (body, mind and spirit).

How Is It Helpful? Why Should I Care?
While Ayurveda is an ancient lifestyle system, it's still incredibly relevant for today. Yes, it emphasizes finding balance in life, but also teaches that we all have a very unique makeup, or constitution. I'm wired the way I am, and you're made the way you are. Exactly what works to keep me healthy and in harmony with myself and life overall, may not work for you. Ayurveda takes this practical knowledge and emphasizes using it for for the unique individual that you are, while taking into account many factors that DO change. I'm referring to factors like the stage of life you are in, events going on in your life, the time of the year, and even the rhythm of the day. Learning about these life-rhythms and how they affect your life is quite helpful.

Here's a  practical example:
The rhythms of the day may be something you've never thought a whole lot about. Ayurveda puts a big emphasis on this. Realizing that there are active, creative, and sluggish parts to your day can help you structure your day for optimal living. This could be a whole blog post in itself (and here's one from MindBodyGreen about it if you're interested), but a practical tip is simply syncing up your daily routine with this knowledge. If you tend to feel sluggish and foggy in the mornings, then why would you try and force a lot of mental tasks here? Instead, the range in the day from 10am - 2pm is considered a great time for doing those tasks where you need mental focus, and also for having your biggest meal of the day. Then from 2pm - 6pm is a nice time to tackle creative tasks or have some centering activities. By the time the 6pm - 10pm slot rolls around, it's a sluggish time again and makes sense to have soothing activities here to help you unwind, relax and prepare for rest. This is true for me personally. If I tried to have a high intensity workout in the evening, I would be up all night! Understanding these daily cycles is so helpful. Ayurveda is chock full of practical habits like this.

What Are Some Major Themes in Ayurveda?
The Five Basic Elements:
The five elements are earth, water, fire, air and ether. They pop up over and over and over in Ayurveda. It is believed that the five elements are in everything-- even the human body, manifesting as the tridosha.

The Tridosha:
The tri-what? The tridosha is broken down into the three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Without getting too bogged down in this concept, I'll describe it here the way I have to friends. Think of the tridosha as your own unique constitution and combination. It's how you are wired, and it makes you your very own unique self. It encompasses your digestion, your eating preferences, your emotional patterns, your physical body (height, weight, bone structure, hair, etc), and even your personality traits. Learning about your specific dosha combination is the more meaningful equivalent to taking a silly online personality quiz. Actually, let's compare it to the Meyers-Briggs personality test... that's a lot more respectable. When you know which dosha tends to dominate in your life, it's kind of like you have taken one of those personality tests and now you can understand yourself a little better. It's as if you've learned what category you fit in. And when you know what category you fit in, you can respect that awesome category and honor it. You'll find strengths that you hadn't thought much about before. You'll embrace weaknesses as simply something to be aware of and not be so frustrated with them. You'll learn how to treat your body and mind with more TLC than you used to. You'll learn what time of day you're best at, and even how the different times of year affect you. When I started learning about my own personal dosha combination, I had all kinds of "aha!" moments, and it has truly impacted my life.

Funny enough, the best way to find your dosha type is actually....an online dosha quiz. I'll put a few  links below, but before you rush off and take one of these, remember to be honest. Before you answer each question, stop and think of how you really are, especially over the course of your life in general. We all evolve and have different phases that we go through, so try to be consistent with what's true to you overall when you answer.

Dosha quiz from the Chopra Center, linked here.
Dosha quiz from Yoga International, linked here.
Dosha quiz from Banyan Botanicals, linked here.

Finding Balance:
Finding balance is a huge emphasis in Ayurveda. If the body, mind or emotions are out of balance, then some sort of disorder is present. Disorder leads to disease, which makes perfect sense if you think of it simply as dis-ease. In the book Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad, Dr. Lad writes the following: "Health is order: disease is disorder. Within the body, there is a constant interaction between order and disorder. The wise man learns to be fully aware of the presence of disorder in his body and then sets about to reestablish order. He understands that order is inherent in disorder and that a return to health is thus possible." How empowering is that?! If we have the awareness, then we have the ability to help ourselves to better health.

Self-Healing:
When you find balance in the body and the energies of the body, less disease occurs. Once again  Dr. Lad pretty much sums it up right here: "Ayurveda helps the healthy person to maintain health, and the diseased person to regain health...This concept is basic to Ayurvedic Science: the capability of the individual for self-healing."

How is this sort of balance and healing possible? A healthy diet, regular exercise (ahem... definitely include some yoga!), meditation, practical healthy daily habits, and constant self-evaluation of your body, mind, and spirit.

Sounds Great! What Are Some Practical Daily Habits That I Can Easily Start?
Glad you asked. A great start is to figure out your dosha and read up on it a little. Then, structuring your day, your diet, your activities, using specific spices while cooking, certain yoga poses while exercising, and using specific oils and essential oils, are just a few of the many tools in the Ayurveda toolbox. I'll save all that for future posts... coming soon.

Love & Light.

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