Ayurveda – The Science of Life
Ayurveda and yoga go hand in hand. You might have heard ayurveda described as yoga’s sister science. Or; another type of yoga. With ayur
meaning ‘life’ and veda meaning ‘science’, ayurveda is also called ‘the science of life’.
You might have heard of the Vedas before. The Vedas are four religious texts written in Vedic Sanskrit. However, the ayurveda or science of life was originally passed down by word of mouth.
The Vedas explain your human experience: how to maintain a healthy physical body, how to stay mindful and create focus in the intellectual body, how to create emotional well-being, and even find your purpose in life.
The goal of ayurveda, as I have been taught, is maintaining health to prevent disease by living the appropriate life, according to your dosha constitution.
What is a dosha constitution?
Every living being including you, your pet, your garden plants and even minerals consists of elements. The amount of these elements present in your body is different for each individual. This makes you unique. It explains why you like either hot or cold weather, spicy or sweet foods and why your nails are strong or brittle, for example. But, it also tells us why we all have a different purpose and so-called ‘ karma ’.
The main elements are water, air, ether, fire and earth. These elements combine and create doshas.
The doshas are:
- Vata: ether and air.
Its characteristics are light, airy, sharp, crisp, smooth, dry, long, lean, small and cool.
- Pitta: fire and water.
Its characteristics are hot, powerful, transformative, irritated, inflamed and warm.
- Kapha: water and earth
Its characteristics are slow, grounded, viscous, heavy, balanced, and receptive to sensation.
The science of life: Prakriti and Vikriti.
As mentioned, everybody consists of elements. These elements combine and are called doshas. The dosha constitution you are born with is your natural state of being: prakriti. Your prakriti cannot change.
However, your constitution might change depending on where you live, what you eat, who you hang out with and even the music you listen to. This constitution is called vikriti. It’s the constitution that you have in the present moment and through which you notice imbalances. The vikriti is influenced by environmental and external circumstances, but also internal influences such as the fluctuations of the mind.
Knowing how much of each of the doshas is present in your body, helps you to make decisions according to your body’s constitution and live a lifestyle in which you feel balanced, capable, confident and understood.
What are the gunas? (Following Ayurveda – The Science of Life)
The gunas are the Hindu concept of energies. Just as the doshas, they are present in every living being. They reflect the three states of your mind and influence your emotions, relationships and daily activities.
The gunas are:
- Sattva: balance and harmony; the ultimate goal.
- Rajas: moving energy, being active or activity, sometimes referred to as passion.
- Tamas: potential energy, lack of movement, laziness and destructiveness.
Any time you practise yoga or carry out ayurvedic remedies, you aim to create sattva (balance). A Manasika assessment will help you find out which gunas are naturally or temporarily more present in your constitution.
Plus and plus are plus. Plus and minus are minus. This means that when you feel lazy your laziness isn’t cured with sleep, but instead requires activity. Or explains why some people are natural leaders, and others prefer to follow.
One of the things that I was taught by Leah Jones, my Ayurveda teacher at My Vinyasa Practice is that we have to be mindful when aiming for balance. Balancing rajas by slowing down ‘too much’ can soon become tamas and vice versa. Remember that we never aim to completely get rid of either rajas or tamas to find sattva. It’s like the theory of everything, one doesn’t exist without the other.
Ayurvedic healers help you find your prakriti and vikriti. There are several ways to find out, but usually take various assessments. They’ll evaluate your constitution based on the gunas. The gunas help to find out if you’re spending too much energy being active or lazing about and surprisingly, they often prescribe the opposite of what you’re doing to heal or find balance.
Ayurvedic medicine includes 8 branches:
- Kayachikitsa (Food Medicine)
- Balachikitsa (Pediatrics – Treatment of Children)
- Graha Chikitsa (Psychology)
- Shalya Chikitsa (Surgery)
- Salakya Chikitsa (Otorhinolaryngology – Treatment of eyes, ears, nose, lips, brain, central nervous system, skull and throat)
- Visha Chikitsa (Toxicology)
- Rasayana (Rejuvenation & Geriatric medicine)
- Vajeekarana (Sexual Therapy)
When you first start living an ayurvedic lifestyle, it’s likely you start with your diet. Your healer will help you find the products and ingredients according to your prakriti, vikriti, purpose and stage of your life (age) and even the season. They’ll then create a dietary plan to cure imbalances, prevent disease and bring you back to your most natural state or balance.
It’s pretty straightforward; if you have dry skin, your skin isn’t treated with a rough scrub, but oil or thick creams. But why is your skin dry and how can you prevent this from happening (again)?
If you’re interested in finding out your own dosha constitution, there are several ways to take a self-assessment. On the internet you’ll find many different dosha constitution tests. Ayurvedic medicine deals a lot with your digestion and waste matter. Therefore, these tests at first could be disturbing for some, because the questions can be very intimate.
It’s normally advised to take the same test twice. The first time filling out your answers while you think of a time that you feel best, most balanced and happy: prikriti. And the second time filling out your answers according to how you’ve been feeling in the last 30 days or so: vikriti. Complete the quiz as honestly as possible to get closest to your purest state of being. If your vikriti is different to your prikriti, it shows signs of imbalances. Make the changes you can or consult an ayurvedic doctor.
Beneath, you’ll find a few links to the test I personally trust most. Have a look write down or remember your constitution because next week, we’ll write about dietary tips according to the doshas.
Please note: In Indian medical school, Ayurvedic doctors study at least 8 years to become qualified. The information we cover in these blogs offer you a basic introduction to the science behind ayurveda. It’s a great tool to help you understand your own body and those of your loved ones and/or students better, but please not use our content to diagnose disease or prescribe medicine of any kind for yourself or others. We do not diagnose or prescribe anything to any individual, nor is it the purpose of our content.
An Introduction to Ayurveda
Practical Ayurveda – Find Out Who You Are and What You Need to Bring Balance to Your Life – Sivananda Yoga, Vedanta Center
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