What is Ayurveda?
by Eva Dusch
Ayurveda may be the oldest health system in the world, but in 2020 it’s more popular than ever. However, drinking one ‘Golden Milk’ a day doesn’t make an Ayurvedic lifestyle, unfortunately. So then, what does? And how can you integrate it into a Western lifestyle?
‘What is Ayurveda?’ When people ask me this question, I can’t help but smile. It’s an inevitable question, but one that still makes me stumble sometimes, even after having studied Ayurveda for a year. How can you explain something so obvious yet so profound? It’s like trying to explain life in just a few words. But in this article, I will do my best to clarify what Ayurveda is and how it can change your life.
Ayurveda is a holistic system of well-being developed in India more than 5,000 years ago. The literal translation of ‘ayur’ is 'life' and ‘veda’ is 'knowledge’. Ayurveda is the knowledge of life or the knowledge of how to maintain health in daily life and therefore support longevity. Its goal is to achieve health by working towards balance and harmony by helping people get in sync with nature and flourish in an ever-changing environment.
‘Ayurveda is a medical science and its purpose is to heal and to maintain the quality and longevity of life. It is an art of daily living that has evolved from practical, philosophical and spiritual illumination, rooted in the understanding of Creation. It offers a profound understanding of each person’s unique body, mind, and consciousness, which is the foundation of health and happiness.’
- Dr. Vasant Lad
Ayurveda is not just a way of thinking or a strict approach - it’s a way of living. There’s no such thing as ‘Ayurvedic food’ or ‘Ayurvedic medicine’. The underlying spirit of Ayurveda is that you can use the whole Universe to reach a certain result.
A rule of thumb is to maintain good digestion. Achieving and maintaining a lively digestive fire (called Agni in Ayurveda) is the key to good health. Knowing how the digestive system functions and how to keep it bright and happy, helped me tremendously in feeling good and healthy and is what drew me to Ayurveda in the first place.
But Ayurveda isn’t about only doing this or not doing that, there’s no right or wrong. There’s no strict rules or judgements. It’s a fluid dance and it’s up to you to take the lead. How? Well, for starters, by understanding the uniqueness of you as an individual.
‘And this is what Ayurveda is all about: following your inner nature, in balance with your outer world, so that your spirit can blossom.’
- Sebastian Pole (co-founder of Pukka) in an interview with Jasmine Hemsley
Ayurveda is extremely personal
Ayurveda bases its health advice on your personal mind-body type, called a “Dosha”. So for those who are new to Ayurveda the most intriguing question often is: ‘Which Dosha am I? What type am I? What does this say about my health?’ Yes, we are all human beings with two ears and two lovely butt cheeks, but the Ayurvedic system is based on the philosophy that every individual has their own unique constitution. That’s where the more familiar term ‘Doshas’ (energies) come in—Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Your Dosha is your own unique blueprint or DNA code outlining the innate tendencies that have been built into your system.
The Doshas represent the five nature elements (Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth) and their actions. Vata (air + ether) is movement, Pitta (fire + air) is transformation and Kapha (earth + water) is building block material. These elements are expressed in the form of a person's body type, mental activity, emotional tendencies, and physiological functions. Balance within these three fundamental doshas leads to optimal health and well-being; an imbalance will cause complaints or diseases.
For example, someone with a lot of fire (Pitta) suffers more often from acid reflux and skin problems while someone with too much earth (Kapha) is more prone to weight gain and heaviness in the mind. By recognizing and knowing how to influence this complex interaction of inner-energies, your health can be balanced and restored. That’s why, in Ayurveda, therapy is tailored to an individual’s physiology. Individualized medicine is one of the core principles.
‘Ayurveda is about observing yourself. Always stay the observer. It gives you the opportunity to look at a situation and take the right action.’
- Dr. Vijith Sasidha
Where’s your head at
If we look at the Vedas - the Indian scriptures on spirituality and life - they describe what modern medicine is just beginning to grasp: that the mind has a very powerful influence on our overall health and well-being. According to Ayurveda, perfect health is a delicate balance between body, mind, soul, and the senses. They cannot be separated. You can brush your teeth with Triphala and be a star at oil pulling, but what about cleaning out the dusty corners of your mind? As our teacher Victoria Hyndman would say, ‘What’s going on in the living room of the mind?’ That’s why, the core concepts of Ayurveda emphasize the view of the mind, consciousness, and spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, and mantra.
Okay, but it seems impossible to integrate Ayurveda into a Western lifestyle…
In the beginning, it can feel like A LOT. Trust me, I’ve been there too. But it’s all about integrating a few principles slowly, one step at the time. Once you understand the basic principles, it’s all about making it your own. As our teacher, Kirsten Drooger explains: ‘Ayurveda is a living thing. It cannot be very rigid. Find a way how it fits into your life.’
One of the best ways to do so is looking at your Dinacharya, a suggested routine of morning and nighttime practices. One of my favourite practices is waking up by 5:30 every morning so I start the day energized and uplifted (yes, I know how strange this can sound). Tongue scraping and Abhyanga (applying warm oil to the body) have also become hugely helpful practices for me. I also recommend making lunch the biggest meal of the day, spicing up your dinner plate, and taking it easy (as a Pitta Dosha, I have the tendency to push myself a lot, but Ayurveda reminds me not to force myself to go to an Ashtanga yoga class when I’m already stressed or overworked).
‘Ayurveda is a medicine of feeling, not knowing,” one teacher of mine used to say. When you stop knowing you feel. When you feel you have easy access to healing. There’s no need to know the name of everything. It is important to know how it feels and that’s usually quite simple.’
- Jasmine Hemsley
And that’s the core message. Ayurveda is not a secret health code that needs to be cracked. It’s already inside of you, with every breath and every move. It’s the language of life, of your own body. An itch is telling you something. Pain is telling you something. Fatigue is telling you something. Redness in the skin is telling you something. Those popping joints you hear in your yoga practice are telling you something. Let's start listening to our bodies and communicating with them. In return, you will feel freedom and empowerment in your own health and wellbeing.
This blog was written by a student in our Ayurveda Practitioner Studies degree programme. If you are interested in becoming an Ayurveda Practitioner or want to deepen your professional knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda - see our website here.
It’s when we look beyond the gross outer layers of life that we find our way to the more subtle layers that can shift your whole being and perspective on life. That’s how it felt when Eva encountered the path of Ayurveda. After years of practising yoga and meditation, it was the cherry on the cake. The foundation she was looking for, that connects everything. No matter where you go. After working for years as a writer and freelance journalist, she took a big break in 2016 to travel the world. She went to all corners of the planet, living in New Zealand and South America for a while. As unstable and challenging the circumstances sometimes were, it was through yoga and Ayurveda that she found stability, balance, and inner peace. Something she brought back home with her when she returned to Amsterdam in the spring of 2019. That same year, she started her journey with the Delight Academy to deepen her knowledge, skills, and experience in the field of Ayurveda. Her motivation to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner is to help people reconnect with their bodies and inner knowing again. Encouraging them to take their health into their own hands, using nutrition, awareness, and balance as tools. She believes in conscious, healthy, and joyful living inspired by the beauty and depth of Ayurvedic wisdom and holistic philosophies. Photo credit: Kiki Reijners