Ayurveda Health Education
What Is Ayurveda?
By Neemu Murthy, Ayurveda Health Educator
Ayurveda is the oldest holistic system of medicine in the world. It is the art of healthy living that has been helping human beings create harmony in daily life by using the techniques of self-knowledge and self-care. The word ayurveda is derived from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit where “ayur” means life and “veda” means knowledge or science. So, the literal meaning of the word Ayurveda is knowledge or science of life. In short we can say that to know about life is “ayurveda”.
According to ayurveda, life is a combination of four essential parts — mind, body, senses and soul. Its knowledge is not limited to bodily or physical symptoms but also thoroughly covers the spiritual, mental and emotional aspects. This traditional system of healing is based on the theory of balancing all these components of life. Strategies to this balance include eating the appropriate things at the right time, adopting daily lifestyle habits, daily meditation and maintaining purity of mind and soul.
There is a strong connection between the mind and the body. The mind not only controls the process of thoughts but also helps the body in day-to-day activities such as respiration, blood circulation, digestion and elimination. Our physiology is regulated by the combined work of mind and body. The senses are used as information gatherers so that the mind can send commands to the body accordingly, allowing us to respond to our environment. The clarity of senses helps the mind and body to integrate their functions so that human beings can live a healthy and happy life. Before existing in the physical body we exist in a more fine and delicate form known as the soul. We may take the shape and form of many physical bodies throughout the cycle of life and death but our soul remains unchanged.
Ayurveda is the perfect solution of all human needs, wants and desires. The two main goals of ayurveda are to maintain the health of the healthy and to heal the sick.
These goals can be achieved by adopting the right eating habits, daily regimen, lifestyle, actions and thoughts. Various problems like depression, anxiety, nervousness and insomnia are caused by sickness or imbalance in the mind and body. The restoration of balance in both mind and body is needed to restore good health.
The origin of ayurveda goes back for over 5000 years. It is thought to be the result of a long period of trial and error. Before it was recorded down in the texts, it was transmitted orally from teacher to students over the centuries. The classical text of ayurveda is believed to have been written between 4000 and 6000 B.C., with the roots of ayurveda developed in India.
The main textbooks of Ayurveda, the Charaka Samhita, describes how in ancient times the vedic Rishis or sages became concerned that mankind was suffering from many illnesses. The technique the Rishis used to discover ayurveda did not have any links with the modern scientific age. However, it is fascinating that every day we are discovering more scientific correlates for this ancient Ayurveda knowledge.
Ayurveda is based on the five great elements termed panchmahabhuta. These five elements are earth, water, fire, air and space. These elements constitute us and our universe. These elements change and interact constantly with each other and create a situation of dynamic flux that keeps the world going.
Ayurveda recognizes three main energies that combine to form all five elements in the universe. These basic energies (doshas) are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These energies are seen in the process of growth, maintenance and decay. Their actions are named anabolism, metabolism and catabolism.
Pitta is composed of fire and water. Kapha comprises water and earth. Vata is composed of air and space.
There are four other elements that Ayurveda considers:
Dhatus - maintains and nourishes the bodily tissues
Mala - waste products from the metabolic process of the body
Srota - channels for transport
Agni - responsible for various metabolic activities
Ayurveda also has some beliefs about the constitution of the body. Constitution refers to a person’s health, his/her capacity to fight against diseases and also ability to recover from various health problems. The constitution is known as the prakriti. The prakriti is a combination of physical and psychological characteristics and the way in which the body functions. It is believed that the body’s constitution or prakriti remains unchanged throughout life but it gets influenced by the process of digestion and elimination. Throughout our lives, due to various causative factors (stress, improper diet, too much or too little physical activity, too much or too little sleep, etc.), we can develop imbalances also known as vikriti. Our goal through ayurveda health education is to promote self-knowledge and self-care so we can restore and maintain balance, and thus health and happiness.
The definition of a healthy person according to ayurveda serves as our inspiration: “A healthy person is someone in whom the doshas are balanced, digestion and elimination are balanced, bodily tissues are functioning properly and whose senses, self and mind are filled with bliss.”
By Neemu Murthy, Ayurveda Health Educator