What is Ayurveda?
Is Ayurveda a form of holistic medicine?
How is Ayurveda different from conventional Western medicine?
What are the doshas?
What is the Ayurvedic perspective on health and illness?
What are Ayurveda's guiding principles?
Can Ayurvedic medicine help with physical injuries?
Q: What is Ayurveda?
A: Ayurveda is a system of preventive medicine and health care that developed in India more than 5, 000 years ago. The word Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit root words: Ayus, or “life, ” and Veda, meaning “knowledge” or “science.” Ayurveda is therefore usually translated as “the science of life.” However, a more precise translation would be “the knowledge of the lifespan.” Ayurveda offers practical tools, insights, and information for living in balance and health, without interference from illness.
Q: Is Ayurveda a form of holistic medicine?
A: Yes. Ayurveda is a healing system that treats the whole person – the integration of body, mind, and spirit – rather than simply treating individual symptoms. For instance, we know that ongoing stress damages our immune system, and when the immune system is weakened, we are more vulnerable to disease and illness. We also know that when our mind experiences pleasure, our brain releases healing chemicals to our entire body, creating feelings of happiness and well-being as well as promoting health.
Ayurveda takes holistic medicine a step further, treating people not as isolated individuals but as an inextricable part of the whole universe. In India’s ancient Vedic tradition, there is an underlying intelligence that flows through and connects everyone and everything in the universe. Ayurveda sees life as the exchange of energy and information between individuals and their extended body – the environment. If our environment is nourishing, we thrive; if our environment is toxic; we may become sick. Therefore, learning how to eliminate toxicity and surround ourselves with a healing environment is the key to health.
Q: How is Ayurveda different from conventional Western medicine?
A: In contrast with conventional medicine, which has devoted a lot of effort to isolating the differences among various diseases, Ayurveda focuses on the unique qualities of individuals, pointing out that diseases differ mainly because people are so different.
Ayurveda teaches that all health-related measures — whether an exercise program, dietary plan or herbal supplement — must be based on an understanding of an individual’s unique mind-body constitution or dosha. By knowing a patient’s dosha, an Ayurvedic doctor can tell which diet, physical activities, and medical therapies are most likely to help, and which might do no good or even cause harm.
In addition, while Western medicine has tended to treat the symptoms of disease, Ayurveda seeks to eliminate illness by treating the underlying cause. For example, for a patient suffering from depression, an allopathic physician would likely prescribe a standard course of antidepressants and, perhaps, therapy.
An Ayurvedic doctor, on the other hand, would seek to understand the root imbalances contributing to the depression. The doctor would look at the patient as a whole, taking into consideration his or lifestyle, activities, diet, recent stressful events, beliefs, and mind-body constitution. The Ayurvedic practitioner would then recommend a treatment plan taking all of these factors into account.
Ayurveda doesn’t reject the use of antidepressants and other prescription medications – in fact, Ayurveda’s central principle is that we should make use of whatever healing modalities will restore health and balance to the body, including herbal remedies, dietary changes, pharmaceutical medications, meditation, exercise, psychotherapy, and so on.
Q: What are the doshas?
A: According to Ayurveda there are five master elements or mahabhutas that make up everything within our bodies and everything outside of our bodies: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Space carries all the aspects of pure potentiality – infinite possibilities; air has the qualities of movement and change; fire is hot, direct, and transformational; water is cohesive and protective; and earth is solid, grounded, and stable.
Biological systems weave these five forces into three primary patterns known as doshas. They are most easily thought of as mind-body principles that govern our style of thinking and behaving. Vata dosha, woven from the elements of Space and Air, regulates movement and change in our minds and bodies. Pitta dosha, comprised of Fire and Water, governs digestion and metabolism. Kapha dosha, made from Earth and Water, maintains and protects the integrity and structure of our mind and body.
All three doshas are present in every cell, tissue, and organ – for movement, metabolism, and protection are essential components of life. What makes life interesting is that although everyone has all three doshas, each of us mixes them together in a unique way, which determines the distinctive qualities of our mind and body.