What is Ayurveda?

What is Ayurveda?
Many of us practice asana to improve our health, and many of us look for related methods to enhance our physical and mental condition. Equally interested in achieving this balance, the ancient Indian sages developed Ayurveda, a body of knowledge that is considered the sister science to yoga. While both disciplines champion the power of movement and meditation, Ayurveda delves into the specifics of daily living. One way to conceptualize the two is to consider Ayurveda the practical side of yoga’s spirituality.

In the United States today, Ayurveda is considered a form of complementary medicine. In other words, the principles of Ayurveda are generally accepted as enhancements for both medical treatment and general health. Please note, however, that certain herbs and compounds, such as those containing toxic metals, are banned by the FDA.

Some Ayurvedic principles are universal in nature: get enough rest, eat colorful fruits and vegetables, move your body, spend time in nature. From there, Ayurveda looks to each person’s specific composition, or dosha. These are similar to the medical division of anatomy into three categories: ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph. In Ayurvedic terms, these are called respectively vata, pitta,, and kapha. Conventional science and Ayurvedic practice differ, however, where the latter suggests that the best way to take care of the body is through the use of the mind. Knowledge of one’s dosha allows for creation of a lifestyle that will pacify negative tendencies and allow positive ones to emerge.

While there are three primary doshas, most people are a combination of two or perhaps even of all three. Each type has its strong and weak points. When a vata personality is in equilibrium, for example, s/he is quick-witted and lively; however, the same person becomes scattered and anxious when out of balance. Specific foods, drinks, and actions will move a person one way or the other, and Ayurveda thus exists to help each of us come into and live as much as possible from a place of centeredness.

Each of us develops a lifestyle based on personal preference, and knowledge of Ayurveda helps us to temper our choices in order to find balance. Pittas, for example, need to temper their enthusiasm for intensity to avoid burnout, while kaphas need to work on their propensity for becoming couch potatoes. The seasons each have their own dosha as well, and it’s important to understand the interaction of one’s personal nature with the time of year. Eating seasonally is a universal idea, but Ayurveda takes this a step further by identifying specific foods that will strengthen the digestion and work with – or against – one’s particular make-up.

Sounds simplistic? As is true with most disciplines, Ayurveda can be used either as a sound bite or as a path of greater personal understanding. Meditation, asana practice, medicinal herbs – when one is ready to tailor each for personal improvement, Ayurveda can provide a springboard.

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