What Is Ayurveda?
Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world’s oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India.
Ayurvedic medicine based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease. But treatments may be geared toward specific health problems.
Benefits of Ayurveda
“The fundamental concept of Ayurveda is to maintain health. Ayurveda does not look at the disease. It looks at the host and [an individual’s] vulnerability,” Manyam said.
Many Ayurvedic treatments — like meditation and individualized diets — are therefore aimed at keeping a person healthy, not curing them of disease.
Turmeric, a spice derived from the turmeric plant (Curcuma longa), is often prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners. Turmeric contains beta-carotene, calcium, flavonoids, iron, niacin, potassium, zinc, and other nutrients. And in addition to its potential effectiveness in treating peptic ulcers and some forms of cancer, turmeric also has proven anti-inflammatory properties. Several studies have suggested that it may help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
A 2011 study found that an Ayurvedic herbal compound was just as effective at treating rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as Trexall (methotrexate).
Another widely used Ayurvedic treatment is frankincense, a dried resin derived from the Boswellia tree. According to NCCAM, osteoarthritis patients had significant decreases in pain after using a frankincense remedy.
A study published in 2005 in the journal Cardiology in Review suggested that the Ayurvedic practice of yoga may help reduce anxiety and improve quality of life, making it a beneficial practice for those with heart disease and hypertension.
- Considered to be the world’s oldest healthcare system
- Named for the Sanskrit word meaning the “science of life”
- Founded upon belief that all areas of life impact health
Balancing the Three Principle Energies of the Body
Ayurveda identifies three basic types of energy or functional principles that are present in everyone and everything. Since there are no single words in English that convey these concepts, we use the original Sanskrit words Vata, pitta, and Kapha. These principles can be related to the basic biology of the body.
Energy is required to create movement so that fluids and nutrients get to the cells, enabling the body to function. Energy is also required to metabolize the nutrients in the cells and is called for to lubricate and maintain the structure of the cell. Vata is the energy of movement; pitta is the energy of digestion or metabolism and Kapha, the energy of lubrication and structure. All people have the qualities of Vata, pitta, and Kapha, but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third is usually least prominent. The cause of disease in Ayurveda is viewed as a lack of proper cellular function due to an excess or deficiency of vata, pitta or Kapha. The disease can also be caused by the presence of toxins.
In Ayurveda, body, mind, and consciousness work together in maintaining balance. They are simply viewed as different facets of one’s being. To learn how to balance the body, mind, and consciousness requires an understanding of how vata, pitta, and Kapha work together. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, the entire cosmos is an interplay of the energies of the five great elements—Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Vata, pitta, and Kapha are combinations and permutations of these five elements that manifest as patterns present in all creation. In the physical body, vata is the subtle energy of movement, pitta the energy of digestion and metabolism, and Kapha the energy that forms the body’s structure.
Vata is the subtle energy associated with movement — composed of Space and Air. It governs breathing, blinking, muscle and tissue movement, pulsation of the heart, and all movements in the cytoplasm and cell membranes. In balance, vata promotes creativity and flexibility. Out of balance, vata produces fear and anxiety.
Pitta expresses as the body’s metabolic system — made up of Fire and Water. It governs digestion, absorption, assimilation, nutrition, metabolism and body temperature. In balance, pitta promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, pitta arouses anger, hatred, and jealousy.
Kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure — bones, muscles, tendons — and provides the “glue” that holds the cells together, formed from Earth and Water. Kapha supplies the water for all bodily parts and systems. It lubricates joints, moisturizes the skin, and maintains immunity. In balance, Kapha is expressed as love, calmness, and forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to attachment, greed, and envy.
Life presents us with many challenges and opportunities. Although there is much over which we have little control, we do have the power to decide about some things, such as diet and lifestyle. To maintain balance and health, it is important to pay attention to these decisions. Diet and lifestyle appropriate to one’s individual constitution strengthen the body, mind, and consciousness.