Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old system of natural medicine, originating in the Indus Valley in India, outlining how to live in a way that promotes happiness, peace and health in the body, mind and spirit. Made up of two sanskrit roots: ayuh: LIFE and veda: SCIENCE, Ayurveda describes those things which create health on and those things which destroy it. Ayurveda came into being at the same time as the Vedas, the oldest recorded spiritual teachings on record, that were passed down by rishis, (wise beings who spent their lives immersed in spiritual practices). Yoga, Vedanta and Buddhism, which came along later, all influenced Ayurvedic Philosophy. Inference, Comparison, Testimony, Vedic Scripture (revealed knowledge) and Logic all constitute valid ways of knowing in this science.
Ayurveda has been described as an energy medicine in contrast to our modern allopathic “matter medicine” (Thanks to my friend, Dr. Bill Dean for that statement). Ayurveda views all matter as arising from energy or prana, in a top down, subtle to dense approach. This is similar to Traditional Chinese Medicine, which comes from Ayurveda. Whose view of the body/mind organism and how to treat it shares many similarities. Working with the subtle ways our organism goes out of balance, and learning about taking corrective measures to ward off the physical manifestation of disease. Sometimes what is making us sick is coming from our mind/emotions. So caring for ourselves at that level may be more important than changing the foods we eat. Sometimes what is making us sick is such a deep and old pattern, originating in our inherited constitution, that spiritual practices done early in the morning are indicated to work with the earliest energetic blueprint of our organism.
Always our relationships are key. Our relationship with ourselves, with our family, our community and the Natural world are vital. As above, so below; As within, so without—none of us is an island, but we are all interconnected and therefore register the changes in all or our relationships. In many ways Ayurveda is about resilience and adaptability. We learn to support our individual organism within the many environments and relationships we move in our lives.
Today, Ayurveda is known primarily as a holistic system of medicine working with diet, lifestyle, herbs, detoxification and rejuvenation therapies to support an individual in reversing the disease process, restoring optimal balance and maintaining health. Sushruta, an early father of Ayurveda defined health as: balanced constitution, balanced tissues, healthy elimination, balanced senses, and a balanced mind all in one who is seated in one’s Self.
When we are healthy, then we can pursue the 4 aims of life:
- Dharma: a noble life; one’s duty or life path (unique to each person).
- Artha: a means to earn money to care for oneself and one’s family.
- Kama: sensual pleasure and delight.
- Moksha: spiritual realization.
Ayurveda arose to support us in living the life we were meant to live by keeping us healthy and deeply well.
Ayurvedic medicine includes branches in internal medicine, pediatrics, psychology, ear,nose and throat, surgery, toxicology, geriatrics/rejuvenation and aphrodisiacs/sexuality. Thus, it is a very deep and complete approach to wellness on all levels. To treat folks in an advanced stage of disease, one might see an ayurvedic physician, who will have trained in India. For general support and preventive care and rejuvenation, one might see an ayurvedic practitioner, who is trained in an Ayurvedic understanding of the body and the disease process and how to support an individual’s return to health through diet, lifestyle and herbs. A pancha-karma therapist is one who is trained in the 5 detoxification protocols, and who administers those treatments.
Ayurveda recognizes 6 stages to the disease process and it is not until stage 4 that disease has manifested (like a cold or flu). A big part of assessing a client’s imbalance is determining what the client’s genetic weak links are, how far any disease process has progressed, and how to reverse it. Learning to recognize the small ways our organism goes out of balance and what to do to restore health are keys to ayurvedic preventive care. All of the “minor” issues folks suffer from like headaches, menstrual difficulties, sleep issues, acid-indigestion, constipation, loose stools, fatigue, anxiety, depression, excess weight and the like are all early signs of disease and it is at this stage that reversing the process will be easiest. Yoga, meditation, dietary changes, herbs and daily rhythm are all medicine that can correct these minor problems so that they don’t go deeper into the organism and create more serious illness later.
In Ayurveda, a medicine is anything that:
- Takes care of a problem.
- Does not create more problems.
- Is eliminated through the natural paths of elimination in the body.
This definition of medicine stands in contrast to many pharmaceutical drugs which may take care of a problem—however may not get to the underlying cause, may create more problems (unwanted side-effects) and may be challenging to eliminate naturally, and so create a toxic residue in the tissues of the body, weakening the body overall (another problem).
Ayurveda states that anything can be medicine and anything can be poison depending on the strength of the individual, the strength of the disease, the environment in which this is all occurring, etc. Rather than treating symptoms, an Ayurvedic practitioner seeks to understand the root cause of an imbalance, eliminate the causative factors, eliminate any toxicity and strengthen digestion. Good digestion is at the heart of wellness. Without it, no matter how good our diet is, we won’t be able to benefit fully from it. Without good digestion, we may end up with a backlog of toxicity in the system—ama—which will weaken us overall (including our immunity) and make us more susceptible to illness.
To treat individuals holistically is to treat all aspects of a human being: body/mind/emotions/spirit. Health is more than the absence of a cold, but the presence of vitality and mental/spiritual well-being. Ayurveda describes how to live in a way that promotes those things—and also what will throw us off balance. When we learn to live within the parameters of our own organism—in other words to respect our limits—we go a long way towards promoting wellness. When we habitually partake of substances and activities which throw us off balance. We propel ourselves down the disease path. When we know through our own experience that something doesn’t work for us (a food, substance, practice, etc), and we do it anyway, that is considered a crime against our own intelligence. When we repeatedly live like this, disease is in our future.
Some people might react to this as if to live within our organism’s limits mean we will be living a strict and austere life with no fun. This is a misunderstanding. The truth is that when we get to know our body/mind, and take good care of it 80% of the time—most of the time—then we can handle some indulgence without going down. When we take good care of ourselves most of the time, we have the strength to indulge periodically, and still feel really good most of the time. But when we overindulge, we weaken our organism and won’t have the metabolic energy to fight the viruses going around.
Want to have more ease and energy in your life? The first thing to focus on is rhythm. Creating a daily rhythm that is more aligned with Natural rhythms helps a lot. I’ve seen it in my own life and with my clients over and over again. Here is a basic template to use.