Ayurveda 101: What You Need to Know About the System of Natural MedicineJune 22nd, 2015
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, or experimented with alternative medicine, you might have heard of Ayurveda.
This Indian system of natural medicine has been in use for more than 5,000 years. The word Ayurveda comes from the words “ayur,” which means life, and “veda,” which means knowledge.
It’s a system of medicine and lifestyle that guides us to live in perfect health and harmony, both personally and with our natural environment. It’s a complete medicinal system that advocates the use of herbs and essential oils, and comes with its own set of dietary guidelines.
Ayurveda holds that everything we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste is made from combinations of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. But in Ayurveda, you will also hear the terms vata, pitta, and kapha, which refer to the elements of air, fire, and earth, respectively.
Each person is made from different combinations of these elements. One or two will usually be more predominant, depending on your personality and behavior. Someone with more energy and stamina usually has more of the fire element, while someone who is slower but more grounded has more of the earth element. Someone who moves much more quickly has more of the air element. And these elements don’t remain constant our whole lives—they’re in constant movement, becoming more predominant or taking a backseat depending on our lifestyle, mindset, activities, and environment.
We also have different psychic energies or elements called gunas within our mind. The three gunas are rajas (action), tamas (inertia), and sattva (balance). As our mindset changes in our day to day lives, we move from one guna to another. For a balanced perspective, aim to say in between the three gunas.
Any activity you do affects the mindset and moves the gunas one way or another. For instance, watching an action film will excite the mind and make it more rajasic, while chilling out on the sofa for three hours will make the mind heavy and more tamasic. Having a balanced (or sattvik) mind comes from having just the right amount of rajas and tamas.
When we come into the world, we enter with a distinct character and individual nature, called prakruti.Our specific likes and dislikes come from this individual character. Ayurveda says that this particular character doesn’t change much throughout our lifetime. If we learn to understand this nature, then we will have the answers to many of our questions about our health and our relationships. Finding an awareness of “who we are” can be truly life-changing. By studying yourself, you can make conscious, healthy choices based on an inner knowledge of who you are as a person.
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re new to Ayurveda:
1. Knowing which elements predominate your body will assist you in making choices to help keep you balanced.
2. To keep your mind balanced, make sure to get enough stimulation but also rest at times. The mind needs both for perfect health.
3. Invest the time to understand your true nature, and which elements rule your mind, so you can build a lifestyle around your character and individual set of strengths.
Illustration by Karley Koenig