What Is Ayurveda Medicine?
By Dr. Erika Toebaas
Ayurveda Medicine is an ancient India practice that dates back over five thousands years. The earliest known references to Ayurveda and its sister science, yoga, appeared in scholarly texts during “the Vedas” period.
The name “Ayurveda” is derived from two words in Sanskrit, “ayuh” meaning “life” or “longevity” and “veda” meaning “science” or “sacred knowledge.” Which is roughly translated as “the science of longevity” or “the sacred knowledge of life.”
This ancient and established practice of medicine looks at treating the person as a whole. It involves learning about our relationships with the five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether (sometimes called Infinity and refers to space), and how their unique combinations create Doshas; Pita, Kapha, and Vata.
According to Ayurvedic principles, we are all born with a mixture of these three doshas, and determining our primary dosha is the first step towards finding our optimal state of balanced and natural health. Ayurvedic medicine is a journey, one that encourages active participation on this journey to health.
Ayurvedic’s five elements are the fundamental building blocks of nature, and every substance contains all five of these elements. Like us, in every substance, one or two of these five elements is predominant. There are also twenty qualities/characteristics or gunas used to describe different substances and to predict their effects on the body. These twenty gunas are broken down into 10 pairs of opposites. In Ayurvedic principles, like increases like and opposites balance. The gunas are essential to understanding this.
As mentioned, every person is a combination of the three doshas, and each one of the doshas or a combination of them can be identified in various seasons, climates, landscapes, activities, plants, and animals.
When we are born, we are born with a certain combination of doshas which is called our constitution, Ayurvedic body type, or prakriti in Sanskrit that remains constant throughout our lives. Actually, these are developed at the point of conception, think of this like your DNA/genetics you are born with. Your constitution influences your physiology, tendencies, habits, likes, dislikes, mental and emotional characteristics, and your vulnerabilities toward imbalance and disease (predispositions). The ratio of your doshas is your natural state of equilibrium and your architecture for health. Ayurveda recognizes 7 basic constitutional types:
Vata: A greater amount of vata, lesser amounts of pitta and kapha.
Pitta: A greater amount of pitta, lesser amounts of vata and kapha.
Kapha: A greater amount of kapha, lesser amounts of vata and pitta.
Vata-Pitta/Pitta-Vata: Greater amounts of both vata and pitta, a lesser amount of kapha.
Pitta-Kapha/Kapha-Pitta: Greater amounts of both pitta and kapha, a lesser amount of vata.
Kapha-Vata/Vata-Kapha: Greater amounts of both vata and kapha, a lesser amount of pitta.
Tridoshic (Vata-Pitta-Kapha): Equal amounts of all three doshas within the body.
Then there is a state of balance or vikriti. This is the representation of the doshas that are elevated within us at a given time. Think of this like environmental factors that influence our body. These can change from day-to-day or even moment-to-moment. If a dosha elevates beyond one’s constitutional healthy limit, this is where imbalances start and begin to affect one’s health. This is where the 20 gunas come into play, as they are used to determine where the imbalance is and how to treat it to bring balance back. If there is more than one dosha out of balance, how do you choose which one to balance first? This will be different from person-to-person, but see if one is standing out or wreaking more havoc.
Ayurvedic medicine much like Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy, and Functional Medicine are used to treat the root cause of a condition and not just the symptoms. Because of this, they are all considered preventative forms of medicine. Even though each one of the above are their own medicine, they complement and often work well together as they all require the active participation of the patient on their journey to health. Ayurveda also has many diet and food suggestions to help maximize the agni, or digestive fire which will be different for each dosha. When it comes to its sister science, yoga, certain asana poses can be used to bring balance
If you’re interested in learning your Ayurvedic body type, in creating your Ayurvedic profile? Banyan Botanicals is a supplement company based in the practice of Ayurvedic medicine. Click here to take this 10 min quiz to help you establish both your constitution and your current state of balance.