Introduction to Ayurveda

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

The ancient wisdom of India teaches us to live in tune with nature and to pay close attention to what our bodies really need. In this brief introduction, my goal is give you some foundational knowledge of Ayurveda that you can start to apply to your life.


I studied Ayurveda at Mount Madonna Institute in the Santa Cruz mountains for two years. In my journey to becoming a certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, I got to experience first hand the benefits Ayurveda had on my mental, emotional, and physical health. I feel really passionate about sharing these teachings and working with people to help them achieve their ultimate health. I hope you enjoy this brief introduction of Ayurveda.



What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda, translated from Sanskrit means the “science or knowledge of life.” It is the world's oldest form of medicine dating back to India 5,000 years ago. This ancient medicine is still practiced in India today and around the world. The main goal of Ayurveda is to bring yourself back into balance through diet, lifestyle, routine, yoga (including pranayama and meditation), herbs, and cleansing practices, so that you can live a healthy life feeling your best.


According to Ayurveda, everyone is unique. Understanding your personal make-up, and working with the seasons, time of day, and your stage of life you can adjust your diet, routine, and lifestyle to keep yourself balanced.


How does Ayurveda relate to Yoga?

Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga, they go hand-in-hand. They both merge out of Sankhya Philosophy with the goal to alleviate pain and suffering. Each has its own focus within this goal:

Yoga is a practice of self-realization and cultivating a deep awareness of the body, mind, and spirit. The focus is more on the mind and the sense.

Ayurveda is the practice of healing the body, mind, and spirit through diet, lifestyle, and routines that keep you balanced. The focuse aims to prevent and treat illnesses.

Both yoga and Ayurveda work towards achieving a balanced life in the body, mind, and soul.

The Human Constitution (Dosha)

VataPittaKapha

The three psychological and physiological functioning principles of the body, mind, and soul (vata, pitta, and kapha), which determine your individual constitution and help maintain balance in the body. The doshas are governed by your response to change, whether that’s in your environment, physical changes, or mental/emotional changes. When the doshas are disturbed an imbalance is created, and when untreated this can lead to the disease process.


Prakruti

The fixed constitution determined at the point of conception that reflects the proportions of vata, pitta, and kapha in an individual. This does not change throughout one’s lifetime.


Vikruti

The current state of an individual's constitution based on how the body, mind, and soul respond to changes in the environment. If diet, lifestyle, and routine are not adapted to these changes, imbalances occur in vata, pitta, or kapha, either increasing or decreasing them. These imbalances begin the disease process. When not addressed they can advance to serious challenges.


Despite what your prakruti is, we are made up of all three doshas and any of them can go out of balance at any time. Vata is always the first to go out of balance because of its air quality to quickly change and move.

The Five Elements

Ether (Space) ~ Akash

Subtle, cold, light, everywhere. The space that is filled with all the other elements. Does not have form or boundaries. Space is needed in order for individuals to live, move, grow, and communicate. It governs freedom, peace, love, and compassion, along with isolation, insecurity, anxiety, ungroundedness and fear.


Air ~ Vayu

Dry, clear, mobile, formless. Perceived by touch, air is the element that moves all things. Thought, desire, and will flow out of air, which generates happiness, joy, and excitement. Air governs nervousness, anxiety, fear, and insecurity.


Fire ~ Tejas

Hot, dry, sharp, penetrates, illuminating. When air moves through ether, friction is created generating heat or fire – energy. Fire is responsible for transformation, intelligence, ambition, comprehension, appreciation, and understanding, along with hatred, envy, anger, criticism, and competitiveness.


Water ~ Jala

Moist, heavy, soft, flowing. When Fire becomes more dense, it begins to cool and water is created. Water brings things together and generates contentment, love, purity, and compassion. It also creates heaviness, over-consumption, dullness, and over-caring.


Earth ~ Prithvi

Solid, heavy, rough, dense, slow, grounding. Earth arises out of the combination of the four other elements to form a solid matter. Earth promotes groundedness, forgiveness, and growth, while also creating depression, greed, attachment, and ungroundedness.


Always remember: likes increase likes and opposites balance.

Key Principle of Ayurveda: The Gunas

Likes increase likes and opposites balance.

The 20 gunas (qualities/attributes) help to create balance by using the opposite quality, while trying to reduce like qualities. We are constantly affected by the changes in these qualities within us and around us. The food we eat, what we drink, the weather, our mental and emotional state, what’s happening at work and home, etc. – all impact our state of balance. By identifying which guna(s) is (are) present you can begin to bring yourself back to balance by using the opposite quality of the guna(s) you notice.

​Heavy ~ Light

Dense ~ Liquid

​Cold ~ Hot

Soft ~ Hard

​Dry ~ Oily

Static ~ Mobile

Slow ~ Sharp

Subtle ~ Gross

Rough ~ Slimy

Cloudy ~ Clear


Ayurvedic Cycles

Time of Day ~ There is a natural ebb and flow to the day where each dosha is dominant.

  • Kapha ~ 6:00-10:00 am & pm

  • Pitta ~ 10:00-2:00 am & pm

  • Vata ~ 2:00-6:00 am & pm


The Seasons ~ Each dosha has a season connected to it based on the qualities.

  • Kapha ~ Late winter to early spring

  • Pitta ~ Late spring to summer

  • Vata ~ fall to mid winter


Life Cycle ~ Throughout life each dosha has a specific time that it governs.

  • Kapha ~ Childhood, 0-16 years of age (developmental time of life)

  • Pitta ~ Teenage to mid-life, 16-50 years of age (productive time of life)

  • Vata ~ Mid-life to death, 51 years of age to death (retreat time of life)


By understanding your unique makeup you can move towards a balanced life.

The Doshas + Elements + Gunas

Vata ~ Space + Air

The main seat of vata in the body is the large intestine. The role of vata is to move and carry. It is always the first to go out of balance.

  • Gunas: Dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile, clear

  • Body functions: All movement, governs the large intestine and the lower body, transportation and illumination of fluids, nervous system, circulation, joints, mind, senses, breathing, bones

  • Psychological functions: Creative, energetic, fun, always on the go, sensitive, scattered, moody, enthusiastic

  • Main physical disorders: Tissue depletion, dehydration, constipation, dry and flaky skin, arthritis, weight loss

  • Main emotional disturbances: Ungrounded, fear, anxiety, insomnia, worry

  • Characteristics of vata: Small. Thin, dry skin, cold hands/feet, quick, hard to pin down, lots of ideas, hard to commit, indecisive, smaller features, pointed nose, long face (everything long and narrow), talkative, moving

  • How to balance vata: Routine. Routine. Routine. Warm and nourishing foods, regular meal times, daily yoga and meditation practice, slow down, abhyanga (self-massage with warm oil), warm humid climates

  • Yoga practices for vata: Needs to be a grounding, slow, and calming

  • Asana: Forward folds, twists, hip openers, standing and balancing postures (Yin, Restorative, and Alignment/Iyengar)

  • Pranayama: Slow deep breathing, Nadi Shodhana, and Anulom Vilom

  • Meditation: Mantra meditation to keep the mind focused on something or visualization


Pitta ~ Fire + Water

The main seat in the body for pitta is the small intestines. The role of pitta is to push or provoke.

  • Gunas: Oily, sharp, hot, light, mobile, liquid, subtle

  • Body functions: Digestion and assimilation (metabolism), governs the mid body and the small intestines, blood, temperature, endocrine glands, eyes, muscles, taste

  • Psychological functions: Responsible for perception to understand right from wrong, courage, focus, determination, drive, passion, intelligence

  • Main physical disorders: Heartburn, fever, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorders, skin disorders

  • Main emotional disturbances: Anger, jealousy, hate, judgemental

  • Characteristics of pitta: Medium. Sharp features, angular face, defined muscles, freckles, can bald or go gray earlier in life, can have red hair, warm

  • How to balance pitta: Cooling foods, daily self-care practices, forgiveness, take time for self, cool climates

  • Yoga practices for pitta: Slow and cooling, avoid fast and heating

  • Asana: Backbends, side bends, restorative postures, moon salutations (Yin, Restorative, Gentle)

  • Pranayama: Sheetali or Seetkari, Brahmari, Nadi Shodhana

  • Meditation: Breath focused or Tratak (candle gazing)


Kapha ~ Water + Earth

The main seat in the body for kapha is the stomach. The role of kapha is to strengthen and build.

  • Gunas: Heavy, moist, cold, oily, slow, smooth, dense, static, cloudy

  • Body functions: Builds all tissue in the body, governs the upper body and the stomach, lungs, tissue, fat, hydration, lubrication

  • Psychological functions: Love, caring, stability, calm, contentment, sweet, compassionate, nurturing, affectionate, stubborn, rigid, uninspired

  • Main physical disorders: Edema, swelling, development of excess tissue (especially fat), water retention, lung disorders

  • Main emotional disturbances: Attachment issues, depression, and lethargy (can feel very stuck)

  • Characteristics of kapha: Large. Solid, steady, grounded, even-tempered, round large eyes, soft and lustrous hair and skin, good sleepers

  • How to balance kapha: Discipline with a routine that includes daily exercise, no naps, shorten amount of sleep, small dinner, no snacking, bright colors, dry warm climates

  • Yoga practices for kapha: Heating, fast and moving

  • Asana: Upper back bends, twists, Surya Namaskar (Vinyasa, Flow, Alignment/Iyengar)

  • Pranayama: Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, Nadi Shodhana

  • Meditation: Walking meditation, group meditation, chanting


Want to learn more?

We have just scraped the surface of Ayurveda here. It is such a rich science and really teaches us how to live in accordance with nature and guides us towards a deeper understanding of our bodies. I offer a variety of Ayurvedic services to support you on your journey towards ultimate health.



Resources


Find out your individual Ayurvedic constitution with this quiz

Ayurvedic Products (herbs, spices, oils, etc): Banyan Botanicals

For a deep introduction read Vasant Lad's Brief Introduction to Ayurveda


Ayurveda Books

Ayurveda Cookbooks

References

#ayurveda #yoga #balance #health #wellness #mindfulness #lifestyle #guide

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