Ayurveda, India’s ancient Tradition of Health, is now undergoing a vigorous revival throughout the world. Its practitioners say this is because it is capable of meeting the need of our time – to create better health rather than depend on medicine to cure problems.
The two Sanskrit words ayus and veda together mean “knowledge of life”. Ayurveda is a complete medical system that has evolved over time, integrating centuries of wisdom derived from experience. Holistic medicine at its best, Ayurveda describes all aspects of health – physical, mental, spiritual, social, environmental – all aspects of the relationship between the individual and the universe, and how all these aspects are handled so as to generate health.
The importance of a person’s lifestyle and dietary habits and their appropriate variation in different seasons are understood. Ayurveda addresses each person individually: the important point is to make the right choice for you, your circumstances and your imbalances. Therapies include changes to your routine, exercise, environment, stressors and so on. Appropriate foods and a huge array of herbal, mineral and animal products are used as medicines. Fasting and spa type treatments are also available to eliminate toxins. You may be advised to take up Transcendental Meditation (whose benefits have been scientifically documented) or Yoga.
What type are you?
Variety is the spice of life. Some plants like the sun. Others like the shade. Some grow in sandy soil, while others prefer damp, boggy earth. The polar bear thrives in the Arctic, lizards in the desert. Similarly, human beings have different natures and needs. To be healthy, we each need to know our own unique nature, and the things that are good (and bad) for us – otherwise we resemble car owners who don’t know whether to use petrol or diesel, what type of oil is right, or when to service the car.
Ayurveda describes each individual in terms of three fundamental dynamics called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each one of us has a unique natural balance of these three principles, and if that balance is maintained in our everyday lives, we are healthy and happy. If the balance is disturbed, then a lack of ease – disease – may develop.
The first fundamental principle of Ayurveda is vata, the dynamic of movement. So vata people are light, lively and on the move. If you are vata, then your body frame is likely to be thin and either tall or short. You are refined in feelings and sensitive. When vata is balanced, you have immense inspiration, enthusiasm and vitality. When out of balance, vata can create fear, anxiety, panic and insomnia. Inspiration evaporates, and forgetfulness sets in. Bodily aches and pains arise; perhaps constipation occurs. To balance vata, get plenty of rest, eat nourishing foods, slow down, live a regular routine, keep warm, have an oil massage.
Pitta is the dynamic of transformation. Pittas are hot-natured, and look warm, with red complexions and perhaps red hair. They are passionate and have both a sharp appetite and a sharp mind – they like to understand things. They are good organizers, tend toward perfectionism and are natural leaders. If you are pitta, when balanced you are warm-natured, charming, generous, cheerful and content. Imbalance of pitta causes anger, jealousy or aggression, and can lead to physical aspects of overheating such as heartburn, cystitis, diarrhoea, skin rashes, fevers, excess hunger and thirst. To balance pitta choose foods of a cooling nature – a summer-type diet with salads and fresh fruit and schedule time for recreation before. Chill out!
Kapha is responsible for structure and growth. Kapha people are compassionate, kind, stable, strong, ponderous and slow but with great stamina. They easily put on weight and have a long memory. Kapha people when balanced are strong and stable, with big builds, excellent stamina and a high pain threshold. They are good-natured, even-tempered, generous, kind and compassionate. An imbalance of kapha means that weight becomes a problem. Laziness, lethargy and depression develop. Physical complaints such as coughs, colds, allergies, asthma, diabetes and hypothyroidism may also occur. To restore balance eat lightly, exercise more, enjoy variety and spice in life, take on challenges, and in general get moving.
Each one of us has a unique proportion of vata, pitta and kapha. When one is that appropriate proportion one is healthy. Deviation from your unique proportion is imbalance, which causes unease and disease. Usually we gather an excess of a dosha and need to re-balance by using the opposite qualities in life to the excess dosha. Ayurveda helps us to recognise what we need to do to regain balance and full health.
Health is your natural state. Your mind-body wishes to return to perfect balance. A move in this direction brings feeling of clarity, energy and joy. A move towards imbalance brings discomfort and pain. Ayurveda helps us to understand why we suffer and what we need to do to restore health. If healthy it empowers us to unfold our physical, mental and spiritual potential.
By Donn Brennan MB BCh BAO, MRCGP, MScAyu