WHAT IS AYURVEDA?
Ayurveda means 'science of life' or 'knowledge of life'. Rooted in ancient texts of wisdom, "the Vedas", Ayurveda encompasses a true body-mind approach to health and wellness. It offers a classical model of re-balancing cellular metabolism and it’s foundations are based on the science of nature. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for over five thousand years and is thought to be the world’s oldest and most comprehensive medical system in the world.
All early Ayurvedic writing is based on the Samkhya philosophy of creation ("Sat" meaning truth and "Kha" meaning to know). Ayurveda is believed to have been created during a time of enlightenment, when the sages of ancient India discovered truth by means of religious practices and disciplines, including yoga and meditation techniques that are being increasingly appreciated in the West today. They believed in close relationship between man and the universe and the flow of cosmic energy in different forms between all living and non-living things.
Ayurveda believes that every individual is a unique phenomenon and that the individual is indivisible from the cosmos. Therefore, whatever is there in the macrocosm also exists in the microcosm. Every individual is a manifestation of cosmic consciousness.
A WAY OF LIFE
The principle behind Ayurveda is to find and keep a perfect balance between mind, body and spirit. All three of these areas are inextricably linked, meaning that an imbalance in one will affect the others. As a holistic practice, Ayurveda strives to prevent illness, and to treat disease by observing its causes and reversing the imbalances that have caused it in the first place.
What, how and when we eat is at the heart of Ayurveda, which teaches us to nourish and satisfy our bodies. According to Ayurveda, poor diet is the main cause of all diseases, therefore food is used as medicine in Ayurveda. Nutrition is one of Ayurveda's central elements, with the emphasis not only on wholesome ingredients but also on the right foods specific to each individual.
Ayurveda says that there is not a single thing on earth that is not medicinal. Medicine can be a plant, herb, animal or even a simple action or a thought.
Often described as the “sister science” to yoga this potent system is believed to have influenced ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Arabic medicinal practices. Ayurveda is often said to be practiced before commencing a committed Yoga practice. Ayurveda deals with the body and mind, preparing a person for a spiritual Yoga journey.
THE THREE PSYCHIC FORCES
According to Ayurveda and yoga, nature consists of three main forces or qualities, called Gunas, that correspond to creation. These are: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva represents the quality intelligence, balance and clarity; Rajas represents activity, change and stimulation and; Tamas corresponds to darkness, dullness and inertia. Every object in the universe contains all the three Gunas in different proportions.
Ayurvedic cooking concentrates on Sattvic foods which are ripe, fresh and natural, as well as easily digestible. In practice, this translates to a wealth of delicious soups and stews cooked in simple ways and designed to promote gut health. In contrast, Rajasic foods — meat, eggs and onion, for example - can be overstimulating and lead to stress and anxiety. Tamasic foods - i.e. processed, refined or reheated - can make you feel heavy and lethargic. As such, Ayurvedic recipes contain as many Sattvic foods as possible, while incorporating small amounts of Rajasic and Tamasic elements to maintain the balance.
In individuals, the Sattvic quality might represent a time of day when they feel perfectly balanced, whereas the Rajasic corresponds to feeling wired, overstimulated and anxious, and the Tamasic designates a lack of energy or motivation.
THE FIVE ELEMENTS
Ayurveda teaches us to work with our constitution, which is a unique blend of the five elements — Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth - as is the universe itself. All of us need the right amount of the vital nutrients that make up these elements to ward off disease and maintain balance, while the exact proportions depend on our individual constitutions.
THE THREE DOSHAS
The Ayurvedic idea of body types corresponds to the three Doshas: Air (Vata), Fire (Pitta) and Earth (Kapha). Each of us have a unique blend of all three Doshas within us, with one of them often being predominant over the others.
In Ayurvedic philosophy, three Doshas of the body are believed to determine the unique combination of physical, physiological, and psychological features of an individual. The Prakriti of a person is a consequence of the relative proportions of the three Doshas. The dominant Dosha of a person is believed to be determined at birth, which is further modulated by the diet and lifestyle of mother, age of the parents, and the environment in which the person grows to generate the unique Dosha-Prakriti of the individual.
THE 20 QUALITIES
Ayurveda describes everything within and around us through 10 pairs of opposites known as the 20 Qualities (e.g. hard vs. soft and wet vs. dry). We know that being exposed to too much of any one thing in our diet or environment negatively impacts us; in the same way, too much of a given quality (e.g. the cold) causes an imbalance, which we can then remedy by exposing ourselves to the opposite quality (e.g. heat) to tip the scales back to a balance.
THE FIVE SENSES
In Ayurveda, our sensory impressions influence our health and well-being in the same way the food we consume does - so what we taste, smell, touch, hear and see has a great deal to do with how we feel on the whole. For example, a hearty thick porridge is heaven for some, and for others it’s a texture no-no! In the same way, the taste of fish or seafood might divide a room — it all comes down to each of our senses, constitutions and past experiences, as well as our physical mental and spiritual needs at that particular point of time in our lives.
THE SIX TASTES
According to Ayurveda, the sense of taste is a natural guide-map towards proper nutrition. For ages, humans relied largely upon taste to discover healthy foods in nature and avoid toxicity. Our taste-buds do much more than simply identify tastes; they unlock the nutritive value of foods and provide the initial spark to the entire digestive process.
Food speaks to us directly through taste. A juicy pear may call out to us with a gentle message of delight, while the flaming chilli pepper cries out in warning. As we tune into the tastes naturally desired by the body, we tap into the body’s innate wisdom regarding food and nutrition.
Ayurveda identifies 6 Tastes by which all foods can be categorized: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent. While the first four tastes are probably recognizable, the last two may not seem familiar. Pungent taste is hot and spicy as found in a chilli pepper, while Astringent taste is dry and light as found in popcorn.