Ayurveda 101 – the journey begins

I’m seeing the word “ayurveda” in more and more health articles. Ayurveda has been around for a very long time, so it is about time it gained some recognition in more mainstream circles. As I’ve studied and learned more about ayurveda, I realized that over the years I’ve used some of its advice and principles without even knowing it.

Ayurveda is not:

  • A new idea
  • A fad diet
  • A list of rules
  • Just taking herbs

Ayurveda is:

  • A 5000 year old science
  • A way of having abundance in life through accessing the wisdom of your body
  • A focus on more than just better health, although that is an end result
  • A way to cultivate a love for life

The Vedas are a storehouse of knowledge that arose from the ancient culture in the area of what is now called India. Veda means “knowledge”. It refers to the knowledge of truth, truth of Self, and the underlying mysteries of existence. All of our longings are an attempt to become all that we truly are, and this understanding is what caused the ancient Vedic people to develop sciences to heal the world.

There are three primary branches of Vedic science:

  • Ayurveda is the science of living. It is the classical, natural healing medical system of India. It is about matter or Prakriti.
  • Vedic Astrology is mainly science of spirit, or Purusha, and its effect on matter.
  • Yoga literally means union. In its pure form, it provides techniques through which our egoist drives can be merged with our cosmic nature. *

Ayurveda literally translates as “the sacred knowledge of life.” It is a holistic approach to living, a pathway toward optimizing wellness, and toward creating a harmonious state in the body, mind, and spirit. It celebrates our uniqueness and provides simple solutions to imbalances. The difference between ayurveda and modern medicine is that ayurveda focuses on making the defenses of the body as strong as possible through promoting inner balance, rather than focusing on destroying invaders from outside the body.  When this balance is maintained, immune strength is maximum.

There are some basic concepts to know as you begin your journey with ayurveda guiding you on a healthier path.

  1. Five elements are the building blocks of nature. They combine to form every substance, and all five are in everything, but usually one or two elements are predominant. 
    • Space (ether) is clear, light, subtle, and immeasurable. Imagine a vast openness and freedom. Space is a container for everything else.
    • Air is mobile, dry, light, cold, and subtle. Air supports movement and communication, and the air element is what keeps everything in motion.
    • Fire is hot, sharp, light, dry, and subtle. It is the result of movement producing friction and heat. All forms of transformation including digestion are carried out by this element.
    • Water is cool, liquid, dull, soft, and slimy. It bolsters flexibility, fluidity, and flow. It also has a binding quality, as in adding water to soil, so it is a constructive force.
    • Earth is solid, dense, gross, hard. It gives structure, shape, and strength to the body.

2. Every substance has a quality.  An awareness of these qualities in foods can bring harmony into your body. Like increases like, and opposites balance. 

    • Heavy/Light
    • Slow (Dull)/ Sharp (Penetrating)
    • Cold/Hot
    • Oily/Dry
    • Smooth/Rough
    • Dense/Liquid
    • Soft/Hard
    • Stable/Mobile
    • Gross/Subtle
    • Cloudy (Sticky)/Clear

3. There are three basic body constitutions, or doshas. The doshas are biological energies found in the body and mind. They are each derived from the five elements. Each of us has a primary dosha type, and all three are necessary for balance.

    • Vata is composed of space and air, and is responsible for movement and communication. Its qualities are dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile,  and clear.
    • Pitta is composed of fire and water, and is responsible for metabolism and transformation. Its qualities include hot, sharp, light, liquid, spreading, and oily.
    • Kapha is composed of water and earth and is responsible for structure, immunity, and lubrication. The qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, large, and sticky.

4. All good health starts with good digestion – the proper metabolism of food. Agni is the digestive fire,and food, when consumed and digested properly, is medicine. Healthy agni is crucial for good health. It is responsible for the transformation of food into tissues and energy.

Common ways agni becomes weak or aggravated are:

  • Eating out of accordance with your constitution
  • Eating the same foods over and over
  • Eating too much
  • Drinking too much liquid with meals, and especially drinking iced beverages
  • Staying up late and eating at irregular times
  • Not eating when hungry, and eating when not hungry
  • Lack of exercise

A few ways to improve agni are:

  • Add spices such as cumin, coriander, and fennel to food, or drink spicy tea such as ginger
  • Eat at regular times
  • Exercise appropriately to stimulate overall metabolic activity

5. The state of our digestion brings about end-products.

    • Ama is the toxic byproduct of sluggish digestion of food and experience. Ama is the toxic sludge that build up in the body, causing blockages. These can be in our arteries, our eyesight, our joints, or in our ability to experience love and happiness. Any toxin or waste not utilizable by the body results in ama.
    • Ojas is produced by the proper digestion and assimilation of food and emotions. It permeates the whole body, giving strength and immunity. It is most clearly observed on the skin of healthy people as the smoothness and “glow” of vibrant health.

6.  We are all unique. Our individuality plays a huge part in how we respond to food, people, and the environment. What is health producing for one person may not be the best thing for another. Your constitution, age, and current state of balance or imbalance all play a part in determining what strategies will be the most helpful in improving your health and well-being and creating vibrancy in your everyday life.

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Tips for enjoying food and life:

  • Eat naturally intelligent foods that contain prana. Prana is the energy that creates and constitutes the whole universe, and we can access this life force through food. Processed foods, and foods with synthetic chemicals and preservatives have no prana. The intelligence of our body is programmed to process foods closest to nature, and anything artificial or modified will not be able to be processed. When possible, choose organic, unprocessed foods.
  • Shun food fads.
  • Eat your vegetables! Buy and cook fresh and organic when possible.
  • Learn to use spices and herbs to make tasty dishes. The internet is a great cookbook!
  • Drink to your health – drink warm or room-temperature water or tea, minimize caffeine and alcohol.
  • Cultivate good eating habits. (see above)
  • Eat for your soul – above all else, enjoy your food!
  • Experiment!

 

*this information from The Ascendant, 108 Planets of Vedic Astrology by Sam Geppi

One thought on “Ayurveda 101 – the journey begins

  1. Pingback: We are not just the body – Finding Ayurveda

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