We need the sciences from the past
to understand the sacredness
of the natural world and from that
understanding we can preserve it.
David Crow, Herbalist
A science for health simply playing with matter
Ayurveda can be simply translated as ‘the science of longevity’ from Sanskrit and is certainly one of the most ancient, complex and visionary system of holistic healing. It is an integrative system of medicine grounded in the Vedic scriptures along with Yoga and other Indian sciences which all promote the union of physical, mental and spiritual health. It is said to be at least 5000 years old and the mother of other traditional medicines like the Chinese and Unani systems.
Ayurveda tells us which matters (natural substances and actions) are life enhancing and which are not, for each individual. In that sense, it gives us the foundation of our health and the tools to longevity while restoring our relationship with Nature.
The concept of the 5 states of matter and the 3 doshas
In Ayurveda philosophy, all existence has its origin in pure consciousness, ‘Purusha’, and matter (or energy), ‘Prakriti’. From the interaction of these two fundamentals components, the 5 states of matter (often simplified as the 5 elements Ether, Air, Fire, Water & Earth) are created. They are found in everything and everywhere and combine at physical and psychological level to form the 3 doshas or 3 body humours (also referred to bio-energies with functions). From the doshas more divisions form in Ayurvedic anatomy: the 7 dhatus (7 body tissues including organs and glands), the malas (body waste products) and numerous channels in the body called Srotas to allow circulation between these elements.
The doshas govern all the biological, psychological and physio-pathological functions of the body. Our original constitution of doshas (Prakriti) is established at conception and remains unchanged throughout our life. Doshas are present in various quantities in our body, and one or two will be found in higher quantities than the other(s) and become the name of your Prakruti (Vata, Kapha/Pitta, etc).
In a balanced state, the elements of our body act as protective barriers for its normal physiological condition. However, throughout life we are constantly interacting with the external environment also made of the 5 states of matter. If we are not mindful of these subtle changes in our body and mind, we can become out of balance physically and emotionally and let the disease process begins (Vikriti). A basic principle in Ayurveda is that individuals can re-create inner balance for body, mind and spirit by altering diet and habits of living to counteract changes in his external environment. In a healthy body we are constantly building immunity (Ojas), energy (Tejas) and life force (Prana). When we are aware of – and start maintaining – our birth constitution naturally, we just become happier and healthier….as we get closer to consciousness.
The concept of the 3 doshas in Ayurveda lead to a functional medicine focusing on the individual where the root of the current disease is analysed, treated and prevented from reoccurring. Our predisposition to certain illnesses, our body type, our personality and our life-enhancing qualities are largely governed by our individual constitution and the choices we make in our existence. All doshas and all existence have qualities (Gunas) such as dry or moist, light or heavy, hot or cold, soft or rough, clear or cloudy, mobile or static, etc. These qualities are used in Ayurvedic medicine to balance doshas, nourish and/or purify tissues. Diet, lifestyle, age, emotional state, nature cycles (daily time, seasonal changes, etc) are all considered in an Ayurvedic treatment as they all have qualities that could imbalance the individual.
A clear understanding of the doshas is the first requirement for self-healing, to feel happier and more fulfilled in our life. The 3 doshas and some of their functions and attributes are:
Vata (Air + Ether)
Governs movement and space in the body. Balanced people with more Vata dosha tend to be quick and energetic thinkers, creative and sensitive souls. Diet with warm, moist, heavy food favouring sweet, sour and salty tastes as well as good sleep reduce excess Vata. Watch out for Vata imbalances in Autumn/Early Winter.
Pitta (Fire + Water)
Governs digestion, metabolism, intelligence, vision. Balanced people with more Pitta dosha are intelligent, organised and compassionate. Diet with refreshing and heavy food favoring more of sweet, bitter and astringent tastes as well as gentle exercise like swimming reduces excess Pitta. Watch out for Pitta imbalances in Late Spring/Summer
Kapha (Earth + Water)
Governs body resistance and stability. Balanced people with more Kapha dosha are calm, caring, and have good immunity. Diet with lighter and drier food favouring bitter, pungent and astringent tastes as well as more vigourous exercice reduce excess Kapha. Watch out for Kapha imbalances in Late Winter/Early Spring.
The concept of Agni (digestive fire) and Ama (toxins)
The concept of a healthy digestion (Agni – the digestive fire) is key to Ayurvedic medicine. According to Ayurveda, all diseases are related to specific imbalanced dosha which in turn impairs digestion of food…and thoughts. What is not optimally digested creates Ama (toxins). Ama can accumulate in one or several sites of the body and mind. We can correct and balance our digestive fire – which controls the digestion, assimilation and metabolism – and eliminate toxins with the choices we make in terms of diet and lifestyle. We also live in a world where we are increasingly exposed to potentially harmful chemicals and pollutants. These alone can throw us out of balance by accumulating toxins that the body can’t eliminate efficiently enough. It emphasizes the importance of a healthy Agni for all of us.
Only when the body and mind find proper nourishment, you start to heal. You connect to your true body intelligence and find peace of mind.
How Ayurveda treats
Ayurveda uses the qualities and energetics of food, plants and actions (e.g. daily routine, massages) to act on 3 levels: to balance digestion, eliminate toxins and further treat affected tissues and organs. Plants and food are classified according to their taste (Rasa), energy temperature (Virya), post-digestive effect (Vipaka), special potency (Prabhava) and therapeutic action (karma). Treatments can be rejuvenating, pacifying, purifying, etc, or a combination of several of these. The mode of preparation of herbal remedies, the vehicle of intake (‘Anupana’, e.g mixed with warm water, honey, etc) and the dosage are adapted to the cause of the imbalance. Body therapies are part of this treatment to further detox, pacify or nourish.
All this above is put in the context of the patient’s current constitution, patient’s age and the season, which makes Ayurveda treatment truly unique and holistic, something impossible to find on the shelf but that you can learn from a trained consultant.
My daughter has suffered from eczema all over her face and body since she was 3 months old. She is now 5 and uses steroid creams, antihistamines and greasy emollients on a regular basis to manage her eczema.
I initially used Dermaved on her face as it was so dry, itchy and rough. I was astonished how smooth and moisturised her face felt in the morning after only one application.
I have since used it all over her body and there has been an overwhelming improvement in the condition of her skin to the extent that she hardly itches after her bath/swimming lessons and barely in the evenings.
I have not used any of her steroid ointments and emollients for weeks now! Long may it continue!
This is amazing, thanks so much! I’ve been thinking about what you said and reading through these documents and so much of it just makes sense – when I think about how I feel after eating some of the things that you say no to… I’m excited to make some positive changes to my life