What is Ayurveda & how is it useful?
Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old system of healing from India which teaches “the way of life”. This way does not dictate one path for all, but offers understanding about the basic energies of the universe and how they manifest in differing amounts in each person. Maintaining one’s own personal balance of energies amid the changes of life allows mind, body & soul to express in the healthiest possible way. Ayurveda is being talked about more & more in alternative health magazines and yoga communities. It is a natural sister to yoga.
I became drawn to Ayurveda when I was a busy homebirth midwife, supporting women in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum with natural means. Why did some herbs and therapies work for one person with a condition, while another person with the same condition didn’t respond favorably to that same help? I saw that a piecemeal approach to using natural remedies was based on symptomatic treatment—which is one of the problems with western medicine. Just as one birth plan doesn’t work for all laboring women, one treatment doesn’t work for all women who are nauseated in pregnancy.
A holistic approach deals with the person more than with the disease, encouraging and supporting the natural healing responses in that person. Chinese medicine was becoming more popular at that time and I considered it. But when I read about it, the terms and philosophy just wouldn’t fit into my head. Then I heard a tape by Deepak Chopra, someone influential in popularizing Ayurveda in the US. Chopra’s charismatic address drew me to look further into Ayurveda. As I read about more it was like recognizing what I already knew. Many of the principles and applications fit my own intuition and experience in my body. Thus began my studies in earnest.
That was over 15 years ago. After hours & hours of classes, reading and practicing I see that Ayurveda delivers all & more than what it promised me. It is both as simple & commonplace as the sun rising each day, and as complex as all of the forces that allow that to happen & us to view it. What I’ll explain to you here is for simple & commonplace use. To delve into the more complex levels takes time & dedication. And I encourage you to go for that level, if you, like me, feel that pull to integrate your knowledge with this rich system.
Ayurveda, like midwifery, finds intuition to be the highest authority. Sometimes people get bound up in the guidelines about how to balance through diet, lifestyle, and therapies, making them into rules written in stone, and then get discouraged when they can’t follow them exactly, right from the start, so they quit. This perfectionistic view is a disease in itself. Just as written protocols might guide a new student or support when we are too tired or out of balance, so too the guidelines & principles of Ayurveda. They help you get to the point where you are clear enough & experienced enough to go with the flow with confidence. Ayurveda even recommends methods to increase our native intelligence, through increasing mental clarity.
The aspect of Ayurveda that is most commonly known is the DOSHAS. These are basic energies that act within all living beings.
VATA comes from ether and air elements.
PITTA originates from fire and some water.
And KAPHA comes from water & earth elements.
The qualities of the three doshas are outlined in Table A. All of us have all three of the doshas operating within us. We all need all of the qualities working at doing different jobs in our bodies.
Each individual has an doshic proportion set at birth. The proportion of the doshas which an individual can contain in a healthy way is called the CONSTITUTION. Our constitution is determined by the three main influences: the environment when we are conceived (climate, & thoughts, condition and constitutions of the parents); the diet, lifestyle & emotions of the mother during pregnancy; and our spiritual destiny. We can determine what this constitution is for a person through investigating the long term trends of the body & mind and by pulse diagnosis. The constitution is the benchmark of health. It can be expressed as ex. Vx Py Kz, with x, y, and z a numbers from 1 to 3, according to the proportions of the particular constitution.
Our current CONDITION shows if we are filling or exceeding our capacity for the doshas in our body/mind system. It is influenced by what we eat, the weather, the emotions of people around us, our activities, our daily routine(or lack thereof), how we breathe, our own thoughts & emotions and so forth.
Maintaining a relatively stable condition requires adjusting our choices to balance out influences which are beyond our control, such as change of the seasons or uncontrollable events in our lives.
The condition is expressed as Vx Py Kz, same as the constitution, making it easy to compare the two. The levels of the condition might go as high as 4. When our current condition levels match our constitutional levels then our body/mind is balanced & expressing in the healthiest possible way.
But this balancing act is more like surfing a wave than like a static balance. This means that the more you can tune in to what you need to balance and can discern what is vata, pitta, and kapha increasing or decreasing, the better you can ride those waves.
The condition is determined by noticing changes in our body/mind, and by pulse diagnosis. The advantage of pulse diagnosis is that subtle changes will show up in the pulse before showing up on the physical level and can be addressed more gently before they become physical.
For more about surfing the changes of the doshas in your life, contact an Ayurveda Practitioner. For more about Terra and WiseWomanhood Holistic Women's Health, go to www.wisewomanhood.com
[Excerpt from Ayurveda for the Childbearing Years by Terra Rafael, available from Amazon.]
From the professional and student members of the Colorado Ayurvedic Medical Association