Ayurveda is about finding balance so that we can find ourselves.
Somewhere along your wellness journey you may have encountered the term Ayurveda. Even if you don’t recall hearing the term, you’re likely to have heard talk of Ayurvedic remedies, as there are some that have worked their way into mainstream wellness rituals (ever heard of “oil pulling”?). Yet you may be left wondering what exactly Ayurveda is, where it comes from, and how it can be of benefit to you in your wellness journey.
What is Ayurveda?
An ancient medical science, Ayurveda offers a rich, deep and dynamic body of knowledge that supports holistic wellness at a deep level. Believed to be oldest system of healing on Earth, Ayurveda is distinct in that it tailors preventative wellness as well as the treatment of acute and chronic conditions to the unique constitution of the individual. The focus is on bringing the elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether) within the individual’s body back into balance, as it is the imbalance and provocation of the elements that are the cause of any kind of disease.
The word Ayurveda is translated as “science of life” — the wisdom to live well. 'AYUR’ means life and ‘VEDA’ means knowledge or truth. This word is used to describe the vast body of healing knowledge that traces its roots to India, dating as far back as 5,000 to 6,000 BC. Ayurveda is said to be an eternal science that first existed in the universal consciousness (Brahma) before it was passed from the creator to the ancient Indian mystics through meditation. The first mentions of this great body of knowledge are found in the Rig Veda (an ancient Indian collection of Vedic hymns), but the classical texts specific to Ayurveda are called the Charaka Samhita, Susruta Samhita and the Astanga Hridayam. These texts were originally scribed by the ancient seers in the sacred language of Sanskrit, but have since been translated, verse by verse, into English. We give thanks for this great effort because it is for this reason that we are able to utilize this precious wisdom in the West today.
Doshas – the elements within us
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of five elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. Ayurveda groups these five elements into three basic types of energy and functional principles that are present in everybody and everything. Since there are no single words in English to describe these principles, we use the Sanskrit words Vata, Pitta and Kapha to describe their combinations. These are the three Doshas. The ancient Vedic texts tell us that each individual person is made of a unique ratio of these.
Vata is made up of the ether and air elements. It embodies the energy of movement, and is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of dry, light, cold, mobile, and subtle.
Pitta is the fire element. It embodies the energy of transformation, digestion or metabolism, and is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of hot, sharp, oily and liquid.
Kapha is a combination of the water and earth elements. It embodies the energy of building, lubrication and holding structure, and it is said to manifest in the world and in ourselves with the qualities of heavy, slow, gross and static.
All of the doshas are essential to our existence, and each offers its own unique and beautiful qualities to ensure the smooth functioning of the whole. However, when they become imbalanced, we become imbalanced...leading to dis-ease. In order to maintain wellness within our body, mind and consciousness, we must understand how Vata, Pitta and Kapha work together within us, and we strive to keep them balanced.
Prakriti and Vikruti – How the elements make us who we are
Vata, Pitta and Kapha all exist inside of every individual, but are combined in different ratios to make up that person’s unique "inherent constitution". Known as Prakriti in Ayurveda, your inherent constitution is the ratio that you are born with and will show a dominance of one or two of the doshas within you. These are the doshas that are most likely to become elevated and cause imbalance. This ratio was determined by factors such as genetics, the health and wellbeing of your parents, and the astrology at your time of conception. This unique combination of the elements within you is the foundation of your being, formulates your mental and physical qualities, and it does not change throughout your life. This is where your body and mind is most at peace. Understanding your prakriti supports you to accept and honor yourself in your individuality.
As we move throughout life and interface with the world, our doshas inevitably get imbalanced, which can make us feel less than our most radiant selves. Ayurveda uses the Sanskrit term “Vikruti” to describe the current state of imbalance of the doshas. Vikruti is used to measure your current state of imbalance, bringing awareness to how disease, physical discomfort and emotional unrest manifest in the body. Though the goal is to come back into perfect balance with your Prakriti (inherent constitution), it is nearly impossible to do, so you will therefore always have a Vikruti (current state of imbalance). Your Vikruti will change over the course of seasons and weeks, and even as you move throughout your day. Your job, according to Ayurveda, is to live such that you are bringing your Vikruti back into balance with your Prakriti on a daily, seasonal and yearly basis.
By comparing your prakruti to your vikruti, we can see which doshas are elevated and use the principle of opposites to restore balance
Getting and Staying Well with Ayurveda
The Universe is a manifestation of opposites: feminine/masculine, cold/hot, love/fear, etc. Ayurveda works to pair these opposites and encourage balance.. By applying the opposing qualities to your most imbalanced dosha, we can bring it back into harmony.
According to Ayurveda, all disease is simply an over-abundance or provocation of one or more doshas in the body. Fortunately, each of the doshas is made up of simple qualities like hot or cold, dry or oily, rough or smooth, mobile or static, etc., so to bring any provoked dosha back in to balance, we simply need to apply the opposite qualities. In Ayurveda, this is done through a rich and satisfying diet tailored toward the individual healing goals, daily routines, deep cleansing, herbal remedies, warm oil treatments, massage, yoga, meditation, and other – often delightful – treatments.
Ayurveda is about alleviating the suffering of humanity, living in harmony with the natural environment, honoring ourselves and enjoying life, so it provides brilliant wisdom that can support us to improve the quality of life on Earth for all. Here at Cultivate Balance you’ll find explanations of basic Ayurvedic concepts, explorations of the wisdom found in the classical Ayurvedic texts, and specific rituals and self-care practices – from meditations to recipes – all aimed at the wellness of our sisterhood.
We look forward to sharing the journey of wellness with you!