Wellbeing 101: The Ancient Wisdom Of Ayurveda
Ayurveda is steeped in tradition, philosophy and legend, here Poppy takes a closer look at this ancient practice.
Ayurveda is an indigenous science, recognised as the oldest therapeutic healthcare system in the world. Widely known as the ‘Mother’ of healing, Ayurveda has been practiced for roughly 6,000 years with documentation in the Vedas, the sacred Indian scriptures. Between 800 BCE and 1000CE the insights and wisdom that formed these texts were thought to be received by holy men, sages and rishis, known as the ‘seers of truth’, whilst in a state of deep meditation. The use of plants as medicine and ayurvedic concepts were documented in later scriptures the Rigveda, 2000 BC and the Atharvaveda, 1500-1000 BC.
Ayurveda is steeped in tradition, philosophy and legend. The Sanskrit word Ayurveda, ‘Ayuh’ meaning life and longevity and ‘Veda’ meaning knowledge, translates as the science, or sacred knowledge of life. During British colonial rule, 1885-1947, western medicine was used as a superior and cultural force of oppression and with years of bias demonizing the ayurvedic approach to health as primitive, these sacred indigenous practices were nearly lost. Yet millions of people worldwide rely upon this spiritually charged system to maintain health and happiness.
In India today, Ayurveda compliments western medicine with many medical doctors who will receive intensive training in both the Ayurvedic and Western medicines. Ayurveda is a preventative and maintenance practice as opposed to the symptom management, disease treatment and damage control approach of western medicine. Encompassing a holistic practice, remedies include nutrition, massage therapy and meditation and with correct diagnosis an ayurvedic doctor can determine the root and natural treatment for an illness.
Ayurveda is a science of understanding the self. The mind and body are viewed as intrinsic in nature and our soul energy, or consciousness, is the ongoing life force occupying both. Based on the Samkhya school of philosophy, Ayurveda acknowledges that our reality and every human being is a result of an eternal field of consciousness that connects us with the universe and all life on earth.
“Paradise is not a place; it's a state of consciousness.”
Our consciousness is that, which lies beneath our thoughts and feelings, our most intimate experience of life. Meditation is believed to be a vital tool to quieten our mind and connect with the unified consciousness, the benefits of cultivating this awareness are highly regarded in the ayurvedic practices, such as the yogic tradition:
“Chitta-vritti-nirodha” The practices of quieting the fluctuations of the mind to experience consciousness
— Patanjali Yoga Sutra Texts
Ayurveda is personalised healthcare, every aspect of a patient’s life is studied. From their age to their relationship to self and others, their environment and diet. To treat a patient effectively one must approach the person as a whole, whilst addressing mind and body and soul. By adopting recommended lifestyle practices and making prescribed changes to encourage balance, ayurveda restores harmony, vitality and prevents disease.
Health as Dosha
The goal is to develop a way of living that brings your mind, body and spirit into alignment. Life’s qualities are understood by the five elements, Space, Air, Water and Fire and Earth. These five elements form the three doshas and the delicate balance of these forces influence your holistic health internally and externally.
An individual’s mind and body type, or prakruti, is determined by the balance of their dosha and the science of diagnosis and treatment relies upon this theory. Ayurveda strives for harmony, fostering a balanced state where Prana, life force energy, can flow with nature; this is known as asvāsthya, our optimum well being.
To begin treatment in Ayurveda a consultation is required, various assessments take place, such as pulse diagnosis, tongue and breathing analysis and a detailed questionnaire which broadly covers qualities of the mind, body and spirit to help to determine your dosha balance and imbalances. Once dominant doshas are diagnosed, one's health weaknesses can be identified.
Qualities of the Dosha
The seasons of the year are carefully considered, honouring the intrinsic link to our environment. Just as the cyclical nature of the earth changes, so must our approach to health. Accumulation of imbalances during seasonal shifts is common, it is useful to be aware of how different elements and doshas dominate throughout the year, to cultivate a deeper understanding of yourself and needs.
Expert practitioner in ayurvedic medicine and published author Geeta Vara offers her insight into Ayurveda for autumn, the Vata season. For simple and practical advice to support your mind and body during this seasonal transition follow and watch Geeta’s informative video:
To go deeper into understanding the history and practice of Ayurveda, learn more about your personal constitution and for advice from qualified practitioners, Otherness recommends the following books by practitioners Geeta Vara and Sonja Shah-Williams: