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What you always wanted to know about Ayurveda!!
By Michaela Augustin

Ayurveda is a qualitative system based on the inherent and perceivable qualities in nature. It observes the temperature, fluidity, density, mobility of all the foods, herbs and environments we live in. Rather than just measure ‘how much’ of ‘x’ nutrient is in a food Ayurveda looks at the quality of the food; cheese is damp, heavy and cold, whereas dry Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is warm, dry, light and penetrating. 

Ayurveda is a sense based system that uses the experiences of sound, touch, sight, taste and aroma to diagnose the state of health. The study and observation of nature is at the heart of Ayurveda so that the sounds, sensations, colours, shapes, contours, tastes and smells of our bodies, herbs, foods and climates are the patterns by which we can understand how to be in a permanent state of moving towards balance; i.e. if you often feel cold, live in a cold country don’t eat lots of cold raw food. 

This systems uses a metaphorical language to explain the interrelationship between nature and our inner nature. For example, the qualities of the water element which help to give form to the natural world are heavy, wet and cold and can be experienced in the cohesive form that water gives our own bodies with its high moisture content. Water is the ‘glue’ that holds nature together. Ayurveda uses the language of nature to describe different health problems. A cough is often an example of too much water and dampness in the body. 

Ayurveda is constitutionally based so that we each have a unique mind and body type, known as a dosha; vata, pitta, kapha (see below for more details).  The health and strength of the digestive system is the seat of health and disease. Its everyday treatment is Ayurveda. If your digestion is not working at its best then it is much easier to become ill.

Diseases are differentiated into patterns ensuring that treatment is patient specific. So, arthritis (amavata) is said to have five types; vata (dry), pitta (hot), kapha (wet), all three doshas mixed together (dry, hot and wet) and a type caused by pathogenic parasites (krimi) which can be likened to rheumatic fever. Each patient receives different treatment based on the signs and symptoms that they present according to the ‘qualities’ that can be perceived. 

Treatment involves correcting the digestive system, clearing any toxins and prescribing herbs that are opposite to any excessive symptoms and similar to any deficiencies. This means that ‘cooling’ herbs are used for removing the ‘excessive’ signs of ‘heat’ and ‘inflammation’, whilst nourishing tonics are used for removing any ‘deficiencies’ such as weakness or anaemia. A wonderful anti-inflammatory used for arthritis is Boswellia (Boswellia serata) as it is bitter and cooling, whilst a great tonic herb for any weakness in the joints is Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).

The three constitutions: doshas
There are three constitutions in Ayurveda. They are combinations of the essential elements of nature; Space, Air, Fire, Water, Earth.

Vata - The Air Constitution
Vata is the energy responsible for movement, circulation, the transport of nervous impulses and prana, which is the life force. People who are born with high amounts of vata tend to feel spacey, anxiety-ridden and isolated when they are out of balance. They are not good at managing their energy levels. They are prone to dry skin, constipation, pain, panic attacks, anorexia, addictions, and sciatica among other things. When they are in balance, they are creative, clear, spontaneous, funny and always planning a trip somewhere new. 

Pitta - The Fire Constitution

Pitta is the energy responsible for metabolism, the digestive fire, metabolic processes, enzyme production and heat. People who are born with high amounts of pitta tend to feel irritated, jealous, critical, self-critical, competitive, impatient and bitter when they are out of balance. They are prone to inflammations, skin, liver and eye disorders, heartburn, and sensitive teeth among other things. They manage their energy well. When they are in balance they are highly intellectual, leaders, brave, teachers and love to be the centre of attention.

Kapha - The Water Constitution

Kapha is the energy responsible for storage, protection, lubrication, mucus and the production of fats and oils. People who are born with high amounts of kapha tend to be greedy, apathetic, slow, heavy, and cloudy-headed when they are out of balance. They are prone to hypothyroidism, obesity, clogged arteries, oily skin, and diabetes among other things. They tend to hoard and store their energy. When they are in balance they are compassionate, steady, articulate, healthy, sweet, and reliable, love food, sleep and laughter.

These constitutions are both friend and foe. They can "support" us in times of balance or "aggravate" us when we are out of balance. They are both invisible and visible depending on your health. The invisible relates to the "hidden" processes of our body and mind, our physiology and inner processes. The visible relates to the secretions and excretions that are a by product of these processes; for example, wastes, gas, nervous impulses, acid, inflammations and mucus.

We can be any combination of constitution; individually (V, P, K), in combination (VP, VK, KP) or balanced (VPK). Every combination is unique AND has dominant characteristics.

Ayurveda is about wise living. It is about balancing your personal nature with the world around you; your environment with the larger environment. If it is a boiling hot day, you are pitta by nature and you have been living off hot curries its time to seek the opposite; cooling refreshing, soothing activities such as drinking cool water, aloe vera juice or rose water and generally chilling out.

What is so empowering about Ayurveda is that we can adjust our habits and behaviour to be suitable for the time of day, the season and the stage of our life. This can lead us to perfect health.

There are other ways to balance your doshas and you should try an ayurvedic massage with wonderful smelling medicated oils or the deeply relaxing application of oil over your forhead (Shirodhara). For stiff and inflammed joints we offer  hot herbal applications ( Pinda swedana) or if you really want to treat yourself why not a Yoga retreat with ayurvedic food?
To find out more please have a look at Michaela's web site www.scienceoflife.co.uk


© 2007 All rights reserved . Michaela Augustin.