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I’ve been wanting to write a post answering the question “What is Ayurveda?” for a while.
It isn’t a simple question to answer. How can you describe the universe, and how it works, so easily?
Because in a sense, Ayurveda describes the universe, and how human beings interact with it, both literally and energetically.
According to the Charaka Samhita, an authoritative ancient text from the 2nd century BC in India:
“Ayurveda is a science that describes advantageous, disadvantageous, happy and unhappy states of life, as well as what is good and bad for life, its measurement, and life itself.” —Ch. Su. 1.41
A quicker way of encapsulating the same idea is to say that Ayurveda is the “science of life,” or sometimes we say it’s “the knowledge of life.”
This is the literal definition of Ayurveda.
That sounds simple enough right?
A complete system of personalized medicine
So far so good, but how does the medical system of Ayurveda work? How does this science of life work?
This part is a little more complex to explain.
What I tell people is that Ayurveda is a complete system of medicine that uses personalized diet, herbal, and lifestyle remedies to restore health.
Personalized remedies. How does one arrive at these personalized remedies?
It starts with the recognition that people are not just physical beings. We are also emotional, mental, and spiritual beings.
Therefore, an Ayurveda practitioner must take into account all of these facets of a person’s health during an assessment of symptoms.
Physical symptoms of ill health include things like acid reflux, constipation, or acne.
Emotional signs include frequently living with frustration, anger, sadness, or anxiety.
Psychological signs refer to beliefs, attitudes, and the decisions we make that lead to imbalances, such as adopting a workaholic or perfectionist mindset.
Finally, spiritual signs relate to one’s ability to receive love, to give grace, and to have faith in a higher power.
In summary, the root causes, or causal factors of disease, can be identified in the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of a person.
At the same time, treatment recommendations are able to target all of these areas.
There are endless options in the Ayurveda toolbox.
The very best recommendations are those that take into account the individual’s needs, which are determined in consultation with the individual.
Things that are considered include the individual’s comfort and knowledge level, cultures, and lifestyle.
Thus, Ayurveda is not only holistic. It is highly personalized.
Qualities and energy
I just said that Ayurvedic practitioners take into account the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of a person.
Therefore, a practitioner of Ayurveda must gain a profound understanding for the physical anatomy and it workings, as well as the energetic qualities of the body.
Ayurveda is an ancient science, and it has a scientific language for talking about energy.
There are 20 qualities that can be used to describe almost any condition.
These qualities exist in pairs of opposites, and they measure different manifestations of matter.
- Heavy and Light measure weight
- Dull and Sharp measure intensity
- Cold and Hot measure temperature
- Oily and Dry measure moistness
- Smooth and Rough measure texture
- Dense and Liquid measure mass
- Soft and Hard measure firmness
- Gross and Subtle measure perceptibility
- Stable and Mobile measure movement
- Cloudy and Clear measure turbidity
Everything in the world can be described using these qualities, and so we can talk about symptoms, emotions, mental states, and lifestyles in terms of these qualities.
A construction job is rough compared to a desk job, which is more smooth in contrast.
Mucus can be cloudy and dense, or clear and liquid.
Sadness is very dull, while anger is sharp.
A heavy mind is foggy, while a light mind is scatterbrained.
A peach is light, soft, and liquid, while an almond is heavy, hard, and oily.
Once those qualities in the individual that are out of balance are clear to the Ayurveda practitioner, the next step is to choose appropriate remedies.
The most common remedies rely on the principle of opposites to restore balance.
If a person is overweight and heavy, then a practitioner would prescribe light foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices to restore balance.
The Ayurvedic definition of health
In Ayurveda, balance is basically the definition of health.
This comes back to that original definition of Ayurveda as “the knowledge of life.”
I like to think of it like a juggling act between you and the universe. You’re looking for balance in all your interactions.
Or you could think of goldilocks and the three bears. You don’t want the chair that’s too big or too small. You want it just right.
So health in Ayurveda is a balancing act, one that requires the individual to be in touch with their inner selves and the world around them, at all times.
Since we can describe all activity, attitudes, environments, symptoms, and foods in terms of these qualities, any diet or lifestyle choice can be a tool for transformation and health.
This is a very empowering view of health, because it puts the power squarely in the hands of the individual.
Once the right actions are identified with the help of an Ayurvedic practitioner, it’s up to the individual to make the changes.
Where does disease start?
At the beginning of this post I shared the definition of Ayurveda from Charaka, who is known as the father of Ayurveda.
Charaka said Ayurveda describes “advantageous, disadvantageous, happy and unhappy states of life, as well as what is good and bad for life, its measurement, and life itself.”
I want to return to this definition again now that you have understood more about how Ayurveda works, and highlight for you the causes of disease from an Ayurvedic view.
Everyone would like to know the cause of their disease right?
This is because when you get a disease, it often feels very much like a mystery, but what if it wasn’t really?
Ayurveda actually has an answer for the causes of disease.
The answer lies in the theory of samprapti, otherwise known as the six stages of disease. There is a progression of disease states. It doesn’t manifest all at once, or suddenly overnight.
I want you to follow along closely, because this knowledge is golden, because applying it can prevent most diseases.
Six stages of disease
In the accumulation stage, symptoms are mild and minor. For example gas, bloating, lethargy, sensation of heat, cramps.
In the provocation stage, symptoms are more significant, but they are still located in the gastrointestinal tract.
For example, tingling hands or feet, burning during urination, sensitivities, feeling tired, or a white tongue coating.
In the spread stage, symptoms manifest outside the gastrointestinal tract and move into the blood and circulation.
For example, sinus congestion, ringing in the ears, or inflammatory skin conditions.
In the deposition stage, tissues are impaired. This will usually occur at a weak spot in the body where there may be a genetic predisposition, previous trauma, or a lifestyle cause such as smoking, etc.
At this point, one may feel pain or sensitivity in this area.
In the manifestation stage, normal function of the tissues is disturbed, and the individual goes to the doctor for a diagnosis because it’s clear that something is wrong.
Prior to manifestation, most people will consider their symptoms too minor and will not seek treatment.
The final stage of disease is complication. This is the final expression of the disease process, where both the function and structure are disturbed, and at this point the disease has a name.
Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, cancer, etc.
It is critical to note that this progression of disease, which is so beautifully detailed in the Ayurvedic system of medicine, shows us how to prevent and avoid disease.
If you had help to determine the cause of your symptoms in the early stages, it would be easy to prevent the progression of disease.
What about the causes of disease?
These days we know from experts that 80 percent of chronic diseases are rooted in lifestyle causes.
Ayurveda would also agree with this, as the 3 main causes of disease we talk about relate very much to an individual’s choices.
Misuse of the senses is the first cause, and this relates to issues of over-indulgence.
Failure of the intellect is the next one, and this relates to doing things you know aren’t good for you.
Who can relate? We do this all the time when we minimize that inner voice of truth to pursuit a short term gain.
The third cause of disease, according to the Ayurvedic system, is transformation and decay due to time and motion.
This relates to the inevitable biological clock, but also to how much “wear and tear” we subject ourselves to.
Examples include how much activity, how much hard work, how much partying, how much thinking, etc.
So basically it comes down to our lifestyle choices.
A new way of thinking
Some people may find it distressing to learn that so much personal responsibility can be attributed to disease, but I want you to be exceptionally compassionate to yourself and try to accept this.
The problem actually starts when we forget our true nature as a spiritual, or energetic being.
We live in a world, and culture, that is entirely dismissive of this, so it’s no wonder that we forget.
In our world, we mono-crop the land to grow food because it’s the most efficient way to produce yields, but we do so to the detriment of the soil, and our environment.
The environment doesn’t factor into the equation, and so a perfectly sustainable practice of agriculture is turned into an activity that pollutes the environment.
Modern science, and the world it has created, is mechanistic and materialistic. Only what is seen and proven is real. Profit and gain are overarching motivations that are often blind to human suffering.
With much of the modern healthcare system, we have outsourced our truth to the experts, who are practicing a model that doesn’t recognize energy.
This is a very disempowering and damaging system.
So we can’t blame ourselves for this situation, but we do need to work on educating ourselves.
We need a new way of thinking, and it starts with you.
Take the next step
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of Ayurveda, and how it is used as a clinical approach to health and wellness.
If you would like to learn more about how you can adopt an Ayurvedic lifestyle, I recommend you start with my 6-week course, Happy Eater.
In Happy Eater, I help you get acquainted with the energetics of your food and lifestyle choices, and help you to identify personalized solutions that work for you.
You will also learn about Ayurvedic cooking and nutrition, and get more deeply connected with how your food is making you feel.
You’ll also be able to adopt a healthier daily routine that allows you to be a lot more productive, while experiencing greater peace and calm throughout your day.
So many problems can be solved with simple solutions, gleaned from Ayurveda.
It is the “knowledge of life,” after all.
I like to say it is the knowledge of how to live a good, healthy, and productive life.