What you need to know about Ayurveda

Ayurveda means 'wisdom of life', and is a traditional Indian set of teachings for health in the body and mind.

Traditional Ayurveda is all about YOU taking responsibility and control over your own healing. It is about making changes to your habits, routines and mind to guide you to better health.

With so much history and beautiful rituals associated with Ayurveda, let's take you through the holistic health practice.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing science.

As a word, Ayurveda in Sanskrit means "The Science of Life". Originated in India, the practice is more than 5,000 years old and is often referred to as "Mother of All Healing".

The principles of many of the natural healing systems now familiar in the West have their roots in Ayurveda, such as Homeopathy and Polarity Therapy.

Techniques which result in health benefits from Ayurveda include but are not limited to:

  • Dietary changes

  • Essential oils

  • Acupuncture

  • Massage

  • Meditation

  • Breathing exercises

  • Yoga

As Maya Tiwari says: "Peace must start within! The cultivating of inner harmony is the most critical accomplishment each woman can endeavour to attain". Ayurveda is about finding peace in your routine and lifestyle. It is about using this routine and lifestyle over taking medicine and putting things in your body.

The three pillars/foundations of Ayurveda

When we look at Ayurveda, we tend to limit it to the individual constitutional types known as doshas: Kapha, pita and Vata (more of this soon). But here are the three pillars (or foundations) of Ayurveda:

Shakti Prana: energy of the goddess, energy of the strong, empowered female energy = prana is the life force of the feminine. Shakti is the subtle energy that means "power" or "empowerment," the primordial cosmic energy, and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe in Hinduism. Shakti embodies the active feminine energy of Shiva and is identified as Mahadevi or Parvati; this is why it is often referred to as "she" and "her" rather than "it." However, shakti is present in both men and women. In Taoism, shakti is known as chi.

Bhakti: means devotion, to live in loving devotional service. It can be god, universe, higher wisdom. My bhakti practice is my chanting and meditation to bring the bhakti in my life. One practical suggestion is to have a sacred space in your home. A little corner where you have your own special items.

Sadhana: means conscious spiritual practice in Sanskrit. My teacher Katie Manitsa, who is from Maya Tiwari (Mother Maya) lineage from the Wise Earth Ayurveda school has restored the original meaning of sadhana as 'actions that reclaim the Divine within'.

Sadhana is a conscious everyday activity that replicates the sacred in nature and so brings us in harmony with the great cycles of the cosmos. The goal of sadhana is to enable us to recover our natural rhythms to realign our inner life and daily habits with the cycles of the universe. When we begin to live and move in rhythm with nature, our mind becomes more lucid and peaceful and our health improves; life becomes easier.

Sadhana brings us awareness of our inner harmony, and when this happens our power of intuition becomes active. We become more expressive, more fully alive and more in tune with our bodies and all our healing energies. Cultivating a sacred outlook through sadhana is essential to developing bhakti, or loving devotion, in your life.

Make daily habits a ritual, for example making a cup of tea. The opposite of Sadhana is looking for the next thing when you are doing something. For instance, being at work and looking at your watch and being like: when is it done? With two options: find sadhana in your job or find another job.

As Maya Tiwari (Mother Maya) says: 'Food is memory. Eating is remembering.' This statement puzzled me for years: What do we remember? I came to understand in time that part of what we remember is our ancestral lineage, and that food connects culture and family.

Ayurveda has always been a practice. However, it has been known as Sadhana, which means a conscious spiritual practice. These types of practice mean that anything you do in your life has the conscious intent of healing.

As an example, we could say that consciously preparing food is Sadhana. For you to make it a conscious activity, you need to do it with love and care. Actively think about the food you are preparing, use beautifully fresh ingredients, make the setting look nice.

The purpose of traditional Ayurveda is for Sadhana to become a way of life. You continue to become conscious and your life consists of spiritual practices. The aim is, you will always have a ritual in the most mundane things you do in your day to day. Tasks like boiling the water for your coffee, making your bed, all of these can be done with more love, care and attention.

When someone is feeling very low in energy they might have a cup of coffee; in a severe case, a doctor might offer vitamin shots or stimulants. An Ayurvedic doctor working within a similar model might offer herbal tonics.

The Sadhana approach might be quite different to this. Wise Earth teachings might suggest for example going for a walk in a forest.

The feeling of the leaves and brambles underfoot will wake up your subtle body and nervous system. The fresh air and wind will invigorate. The vast sky above will expand your horizons. In this way true and lasting healing takes place.

Working with the elements

'Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath, Fire my spirit.'

– traditional pagan goddess chant

According to Ayurveda our subtle bodies, just like our physical bodies, are impacted by the seasonal cycles and the five elements. Each one of us has a unique constitutional type that is set at the time of birth.

This constitutional type can be thought of as a mixture of the four elements within our bodies and personality types. Some people are very grounded, earthy and soulful; others are more flighty, airy and emotional. Most of us are a mix but with a predominance of one or two elemental tendencies, which usually start to show up in childhood.

In Ayurveda, your unique constitutional type is called your dosha and it describes the tendency you will have to go out of balance.

There are three doshas: Pitta is fire, Vata is air and Kapha is earth combined with water. For example, a fire/pitta person will be especially exacerbated on a hot summer day, whereas an air/Vata person will feel especially out of balance in very windy weather.

Exploring and widening the capacity of our senses allows us to feel and experience the many facets of the self and awaken the journey to self-knowing more deeply. When we get to know our unique constitutional type we can learn how to balance it by working with the elements. To go back to our Pitta type, who is burning up in the summer sun, jumping in the ocean will be the perfect antidote.

Vata is an energy associated with air and space, therefore linked to bodily movements like breathing and blood circulation. Vata is predominately in people who are lively, creative and thinkers. When this is out of balance, Vata individuals can experience joint pain, constipation, dry skin and anxiety, just to name a few.

The energy of Pitta correlates with fire and is believed to be in control of the digestive and endocrine systems. Those with pitta energy are fiery in temperament, intelligent and fast-paced. When the individual is out of balance they can suffer from ulcers, inflammation, anger, heartburn, digestive problems and arthritis.

The last principle of Ayurveda is Kapha energy, or earth and water. Kapha is said to be in control of growth and strength, associated with the chest, torso and back. If you were someone associated with Kapha, you are likely to be strong and sold in constitution and calm in nature, however, obesity and diabetes, sinus, insecurity and gallbladder issues may result when not in balance.