What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda (Ayurvedic Medicine) is a traditional system of medicine that can be both preventative and curative. The origins of Ayurveda can be dated back to more than 5,000 years ago.
The Charaka Samhita is a Sanskrit text written on Ayurveda. The information was compiled and codified by many and revised by Charaka - known as the 'Father of Ayurveda'.
Concepts of Ayurveda were first seen in the Artharvaveda - one of the four Vedas.
How does Ayurveda work?
Ayurveda has both preventative and curative aspects to its practice. The preventative components include personal and social disciplines - exercise, healthy routines, a sattvic diet, yoga and meditation are all remedial aspects of Ayurveda.
Curative aspects of Ayurveda include herbal medicines, external preparations, physiotherapy and diet/nutrition.
These preventative and curative aspects of Ayurveda are adapted to the personal requirements of each person.
Each person has their own constitution (prakriti) that they are born with. These are called as vata, pitta and kapha. We all have these in various amounts but one is always dominant as your basic nature.
Knowing your constitution can help guide you in the right way to conduct your daily life specifically according to you - hours of sleep needed, the type of exercise which is best suited to you and when to do it, personalised nutrition advice, type of yoga and meditation that is best for you to name a few. Living a lifestyle suited for you and listening to your body during different times of your life can greatly ease any dis-ease in the body and can help to prevent imbalances later in life.
Ayurveda also mentions the importance of living with the seasons. Each season has its own routine for each constitution. It also mentions disciplines for each season of life - children, adolescents, adults and the elderly. There is a guideline for everyone to live according to their individual make up to live in harmony with themselves, others and their environment.
Understanding the Doshas
Ayurveda categorises people into three main constitutional types - vata, pitta and kapha - known as the doshas. The doshas influence all bodily functions, from biological processes to thoughts and feelings. Every person contains a mixture vata, pitta and kapha, in varying unique amounts.
Your main constitution (prakriti) is present from birth. However, doshas change according to our circumstances, such as the food we consume, the weather, how content we are feeling, how much sleep we get or how much stress we are experiencing. A temporary imbalance in one particular dosha can cause vikriti, which means ‘imbalanced’. If this imbalance is left unchecked, it can become chronic and health problems will arise. Ayurveda helps us to understand these doshas to keep any imbalance in check to help prevent illnesses.
Vata is the principle of communication and movement. It is in charge of regulating the nervous and immune systems and the messenger between these. It is responsible for all movement in the body - breathing, the heart beat, speaking, blood circulation, elimination, menstruation, giving birth, normal thought processes and the voluntary movement of muscles and limbs.
It is comprised of the elements of space and air/ wind. Vata is an expression of the nature of these elements. Like a cool breeze, vata is cold, dry, light, rough, mobile and irregular. In our bodies, we experience vata as dry skin, feeling cold due to poor circulation or low body weight.
Vata is also responsible for communication around the body. Without vata, pitta and kapha would be inert. They need the wind of vata to carry information in and out. However, because of vatas dynamic nature, when aggravated it provokes the movement of disease around the body.
Vata prakriti people are creative, inspirational and full of ideas. With this creative flare and ‘airy’ nature comes some irregularities. They can be impulsive and love change. They can susceptible to anxiety, nervousness and a lack of concentration.
Causes of vata vikriti:
Too much physical/ mental activity
Cold, humid weather
Lack of sleep
Too much dry and cold foods in the diet
End of the day
Stress, anxiety, nervousness
Lack of routine
Pitta is the principle of passion, metabolism and transformation. It manages the information that vata has brought into the body. It controls digestion, metabolism and oversees the generation of energy. The qualities of pitta are fire and water, the regulatory elements in nature and they are actually complimentary to each other. Water helps to extinguish the destruction fire (heat) can have on the body.
Due to the hot nature of pitta, it is responsible for transformation in the body. It helps to regulate the heartbeat, hormone levels, body temperature, good eyesight, hunger, thirst and skin quality. It is also responsible for the function of the liver, the secretion of bile and for digestion in the stomach and small intestine.
Pitta prakriti people are full of vitality. They are charming, charismatic and love to be the centre of attention. They have a dynamic and colourful energy and are enjoyable to be around. When out of balance (an excess of pitta), they can have a lot of heat in the body - aversion to heat, loose stool and red skin or eye discolouration. High blood, pressure, heartburn, hyperacidity, skin rashes and other inflammatory illnesses can be seen in people with an excess of pitta in the body. Pitta excess can manifest emotionally as anger, frustration and irritation.
Causes of pitta vikriti:
Too much heat
The sharp properties of the wind, sun, cold and even emotions
Stress, anger, frustration
Heating foods such as spices, citrus fruits and fermented foods
Kapha is responsible for growth and repair within the body. It is responsible for the stability and the moisture levels in the body. Kapha literally means ‘that which flourishes in water’ and it is a combination of the earth and water elements. It helps to store the energy that vata has brought into the body and that pitta has transformed. Kapha helps to give lubrication, structure and form to the whole body.
Kapha actions in the body help to regulate the experience of taste and smell, protects the lungs, softens food in the stomach and protects the lining, protects the joints in the form of synovial fluid and nourishes the brain in form of cerebrospinal fluid.
Kapha prakriti people are full of love and compassion. They are very loyal, devout and reliable. They generally have a stronger body frame with thick and oily skin. When kapha is out of balance, it can be seen in the body as excess mucus, congestion, growths, cysts, and oedema. It can manifest as diabetes, high cholesterol and being overweight. Kapha people have a tendency to ‘hold on’ to more things in life. They should regularly do exercise and do clear outs of their cupboards. When imbalanced, they can be greedy or lazy.
Causes of Kapha vikriti:
Eating heavy foods
Eating late at night
Sleeping too much and not waking early