Āyurveda is another one of those terms that we see a lot in wellness social media posts. Blogs invite you to take a quiz to determine your doṣa, or prescribe things to do or avoid in order to practice Āyurveda. But there isn’t much information out there that explains exactly what Āyurveda is, what it actually does, or goes into much depth about what it really means to practice it. So, let’s try to break it down.
What is Ayurveda?
Āyurveda comes from the words, “ayus” which means life or longevity and “veda” which means science or knowledge. It is the practice of trying to bring that which is out of balance in your system into balance. Through the main modalities of diet, lifestyle and herbs, you are moving your body from an out-of-balance or diseased state into a balanced/non-diseased state. Āyurveda uses the lens of the five elements from nature to understand the inner functioning of the body.
Why is Ayurveda becoming more popular in the West?
Simply put, not all people are finding what they need from their doctors who only practice Western medicine. They go to their allopathic doctor complaining that they feel “off.” Tests come back negative, and the doctor says they are normal but the patient still doesn’t feel well. This is where Ayurvedic medicine comes in because it’s about creating balance within that individual.
Āyurveda says there might not be a disease but there can definitely be an imbalance. Āyurveda has the tools to help you feel more balanced. They’re preventing/cutting it off at the pass, to see where you are in your current state. It may not be a full-blown Parkinson’s or cancer, but we could still try to prevent a disease process from happening.
What is a Dosa?
Doṣa which literally means “tendency of functioning,” refers to how your body tends to be influenced by the qualities of the five elements of Āyurveda. While your body is influenced by all five elements, there are a set of elemental qualities that are dominant in you. This is your true nature.
Your doṣa is a piece of what makes up your blueprint or true nature, that came into form at the time of your conception. It was created by the external influences your mother and father were exposed to when they were making you and does not change.
The Five Elements of Āyurveda
- Space / Ākāśa – In your body, it controls inhale and exhale, expansion and contraction. It’s very subtle, not tangible and therefore abstract because we can’t hold onto it. It’s there and then it’s gone.
- Wind / Vāyu – In your body, it controls direction and movement in a particular direction. A hiccup is a kind of wind, upward direction. Gas, downward direction. We can see it when it moves through the trees, we can experience it in our bodies. It’s about movement.
- Fire / Tejas – This is about temperature. The heat in your body digests. You’re able to take in information as well as nourishment and the fire element helps you digest.
- Water / Āpas – This refers to a sticky quality. In your body, it’s about moisture, lubrication in your joints, but part of water’s function is stickiness.
- Earth / Pṛthvī – This refers to embodiment and manifestation. In your body, it gives structure, stability, why you’re able to sit up straight and not a pile of bones. It can also refer to heaviness in nature.
The five elements outside us influence us. They are in the space between the stars in the sky, the way the wind is blowing, the fires are burning, the rain is falling and the earth is under our feet. They are the foundation. When you group one or two of the elements together, you start to see a person’s doṣa.
You might know someone who is very quiet, who walks into a room and you don’t even hear them moving. Or a person who is constantly moving. That person’s doṣa is likely to be space and wind. Another person who has wind in their doṣa might be excessively talkative. Another person with ether might be really spacey. Each element looks different from person to person. The details of the elements will vary depending on the qualities that are in an individual.
When we say that Āyurveda is the practice of bringing the body from a state of out of balance /diseased state into a balanced/non-diseased state, we’re not necessarily talking about actual “diseases” like cancer or Parkinsons. We are referring to all levels of imbalance: auto-immune disorders, allergies, mental health, or even just “feeling off.” If you’ve taken an online quiz about Āyurveda, you might have read the words Vāta, Pitta and Kapha. These are the states of imbalance in Āyurveda we’re talking about. Depending on the individual, Āyurveda can prevent a disease from happening as well as bring the disease process into a manageable place, even if something is incurable.
Where did Ayurveda Begin?
Āyurveda has existed in India for roughly 10,000 years. It is a complete system of viewing the human system. There are numerous texts and rigorous Ayurvedic medical schools to become an Ayurvedic Doctor or Vaidya. Some families practice Ayurveda traditionally and have passed down the information from generation to generation. However, Āyurveda has gained some traction as a legitimate medical system, and there are now entire hospitals that only practice Āyurveda. In the U.S., there are a growing number of integrated medical centers that combine western and Ayurvedic medicine.
This is just a brief overview of Āyurveda. If you are interested in learning more about it at the Yoga Well Institute, get to know our Accessible Ayurveda ongoing course.