Ayurveda for Health, Balance & Wellbeing ~ Taking the Mystery out of an Ancient Science
Like Chinese medicine that is over 5000 years old, Ayurveda is an even older, ancient science of health, healing, and longevity that has its origins in India. So let’s demystify this Sanskrit word that teaches us to live in a way that is in harmony with yourself, with nature, and the cosmos, and take a journey into greater awareness and health.
Ayus means life, and Veda means wisdom, so Ayurveda literally means, the wisdom or knowledge of life. Translated further, Ayurveda offers a time-honored guide for living a life of happiness, vitality, love, longevity, and purpose. From an Ayurvedic perspective, human beings (actually, all beings), are viewed more expansively as multiple fields of intelligence that are in constant and dynamic exchange of energy and information with the environment. True health then becomes a state of vibrant balance in which all the layers of one’s life are integrated. By learning the tools that enhance your physical and emotional well-being through conscious choice, the nourishing connection between body, mind, heart, and spirit is enlivened and expanded.
What does food have to do with it?
One of those tools is using food as medicine. Next to breathing, eating is our most vital bodily function; we are basically DNA wrapped in food. In order to create and maintain a healthy physiology and mind, our food must be nourishing, our digestive power strong, and our elimination efficient. The most ideal nutrition results from consuming foods and beverages that are deliciously and mindfully prepared and eaten with awareness in an environment that is peaceful and serene.
What is Diet?
Our “diet” is simply, what and how we eat. The word diet has been misinterpreted and even manipulated to refer to being on a particular diet. There are so many opinions and theories out there about diets that are going to make us healthier, help us lose weight, and even prevent disease. Sorting through all of this information can be confusing and downright frustrating. In addition to everything else we have to do in life, we must count calories, fat grams, carbs, proteins, points and possibly even weigh our food. What is touted as healthy and nourishing for us one day, is deemed toxic and detrimental for us on another day as research results change depending upon how and who conducts it. Not to mention the “one-size-fits-all” approach that does not acknowledge our unique makeup with individual preferences and needs that may not (and usually do not) apply to all. It’s hard to keep up and it’s hard to know what’s true!
One person’s poison is another person’s nectar and vice versa.
In Ayurveda, we do not do any of this. We follow the principle, “everything in moderation, including moderation”, and consume a diet that has variety, is natural, healthy, colorful, and seasonal while honoring our unique energetic makeup. This approach not only honors our unique nature, but teaches and allows us to tune in, feel, and know what choices are the best and most nourishing for us.
I am not a purist, and many of these so-called “diets” are impossible to stick with for the long term. I personally coach my clients that if they follow the recommended Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle practices 75-80% of the time, this leaves room for indulgence. These are times when we can let go and consume things that may not be the best for us, but that may fulfill another function such as the need for community and celebration; for example, we go to a wedding - eating and drinking foods and beverages that contain white sugar and flour, alcohol, and less healthy choices, but the emotional benefits of attending such an event with friends and family, and truly enjoying all the culinary fare, far outweigh the temporary consumption of foods that are unhealthy. Additionally, when these indulgences are the exception rather than the rule, the toxic load on the body is far easier to recover from than a consistent diet of poor food and lifestyle choices that create stress and ultimately disease, especially as we age.
What inevitably happens with this approach as clients become less toxic, more balanced, and experience fewer cravings for unhealthy foods and practices, it naturally and effortlessly becomes less desirable to eat and drink things that are detrimental. This becomes less about scarcity and deprivation, and more about simply wanting to nurture yourself with healthy foods and beverages that honor and nourish your unique nature. And just like a regular exercise program conditions you to crave the benefits of exercise and feel the adverse effects when you don’t do it, healthy food habits help your body to feel nourished, your mind to feel clear, and your spirit to soar.
The Building Blocks of Nature
Ayurvedic Medicine is based on the five elements of nature that combine to create everything we experience with our five senses and beyond. These elements or five codes of intelligence are: Space (Akasha), Air (Vayu), Fire (Tejas), Water (Jala), and Earth (Prithvi) that exist both inside and outside of us. They are the building blocks of nature’s divine expression and everything we see in creation is made up of varying combinations of these five elements. So while the desk we are sitting at is made up primarily of earth and water expressing itself as very solid and stable, the breath we take in, or the movement of thought in our minds is made up of air and space. You can feel and notice the contrast.
From the five elements, the three Doshas or constitutional types are derived. These doshas govern aspects of functioning within the body and mind as the five elements organize themselves into the essential principles of Movement, Transformation, and Protection & Stability. These are known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha respectively.
So how does it work?
Space and air combine to form the Vata Dosha which governs all Movement in the body-mind.
Fire and water combine to form the Pitta Dosha which governs all Transformation in the body-mind.
Earth and water combine to form the Kapha Dosha which governs all Protection & Stability in the body-mind.
*Note: Body-mind is used to indicate not only the mind/body connection but that both are inextricably one and the same.
These three principles are responsible for every function or our body-mind.
Movement (space & air) - of breath in and out of our lungs, movement of thought in our minds, blood through our circulatory system, food through our digestive tract, and all elimination.
Transformation (fire & water) – detoxification, transformation of food into nutrients, healthy function of heart and memory, healthy complexion, and visual perception.
Protection & Stability (water & earth) – provides lubrication of digestive tract, perception of taste, stability of musculo-skeletal system, lubrication of joints, heart, brain and spinal cord.
So what does it mean to nourish your unique nature?
By knowing and understanding our own constitutional type (dosha), i.e., knowing which elements predominate, we learn to make lifestyle choices that support and nourish our individual and unique nature. In Ayurveda, we do this through food, herbs, spices, beverages, and lifestyle practices that pacify or reduce overactive elements that can create illness when not addressed, thereby creating a life of balance, health, and longevity.
To learn your Dosha or constitutional type, take the Dosha Quiz! http://www.drjoannacarmichael.com/dosha-quiz--health-forms.html
In future posts, I will be sharing more about this beautiful and healthful way of life that has nurtured me for over 15 years. Being over 50 and on no medication should be the rule rather than the exception, yet I find that people sometimes expect that aging means managing your health with pharmaceuticals. This does not have to be the case once you feel empowered to make different choices. So let’s all
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ~ Hippocrates
I hope this article was helpful in making Ayurveda a little less mysterious and that these nature-based concepts resonate somewhere deep inside of you. For more information, questions, to take a course to learn more, or make an appointment to talk about your personal health, feel welcome to contact me!
Yours in good health,
About Dr. Carmichael
Joanna Carmichael, PhD, RN, BSN is a Chopra Center-Certified Vedic Master & Educator and the Founder of Kalyana Centre in Narberth, PA where she teaches courses and coaches clients in an Ayurvedic Integrative approach to health and wellbeing. Learn more here: http://www.drjoannacarmichael.com/about.html
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