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What is Ayurveda?

11 Aug 2015   Shanti Gowans


Shanti Gowans
Ayurveda is the natural, traditional, and holistic medicine system which originated thousands of years ago in India. Its recorded and living knowledge has been inspired by the wisdom of early Indian sages.
The word Ayurveda is comprised from the words Ayus, meaning life and longevity, and Veda, meaning science or knowledge. So Ayurveda literally means 'science of life' and its science is based on unchanging natural laws which govern the movement of vital, life giving energy, in the universe, in nature and in the body. 
It is a 5000 year old system for wellness, the oldest documented system of medicine in the world, and has a rich history of oral and written traditions which have been passed down for thousands of years.
Originating in India, founded by ancient 'seers' or rishis, it then spread to Egypt, Greece, Rome, Tibet, China, Russia, Japan, and is the cornerstone of many other traditional systems of medicine. However, more than just a system of medicine, Ayureda provides a way to promote longevity and the harmonious integration of body, mind, senses and spirit. 
Ayurveda is the most senior, continuously practiced, complete healing and health care system on the planet. This natural, safe, gentle and effective form of therapy and medical care is the oldest, continuously practiced medical system in the world. Ayurveda has been in continuous practice for over 5000 years, with an extensive history of traditional use and proven track record of safety and clinical effectiveness.  It is the most well tested and thoroughly documented system of medicine on earth. 

Ayurvedic principles

Ayurvedic principles are natural. They are based upon the rhythms and laws of Nature. Human beings are natural beings, governed by the the same rules and laws as are all other natural beings. We are all part of a greater whole. Everything in nature is reflected in each organism and is reflected in ourselves. As we are part of nature, so the treatments that correct our weaknesses will be found in nature. If we choose to ignore these principles, then imbalanced will begin to appear. These imbalances are the precursor to disharmony and disease, in both mind and body. 
Ayurveda is a complete system, that, understanding our deepest connections with the entire universe, and the influences of the energies that make up the universe, considers human beings a microcosm of the macrocosm. It thus encompasses preventative health, health maintenance, health improvement and the treatment of disease.
Traditionally Ayurveda uses a combination of herbal wisdom, yoga and meditation practice, diet and lifestyle that are tailored towards one's specific constitution or body type.
Amongst its basic principles, Ayurveda proposes that:
• The microcosm and macrocosm reflect each other
• Every cause has an effect
• For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
• Like increases like
• A quality is decreased by its opposite quality.
By applying these principles to everyday life, Ayurveda helps you create harmony in the body, mind and spirit, thereby prolonging life and eliminating the causes of disease and dysfunction.

Constitutional Assessment

Two elegant and practical features of Ayurveda are the concepts of prakruti, an individual's basic, unique, natural constitution and vikruti, which is the individual's current imbalance. 
The Ayurvedic worldview is based on the archetypical elements of space, wind, fire, water and earth as being the building blocks of everything in the manifested universe. These elements have inherent energies and qualities that govern their function. Space and earth are static in nature, while wind, fire and water are dynamic and ever changing. We are all made up of all of these elements, however, each individual has slightly different proportions of the individual elements, making everyone unique in their own constitutional makeup, or prakruti.
The Ayurvedic approach is to treat each individual as unique, by taking into account the elemental characteristics and proportions that constitute their psychological, emotional and physical makeup. Imbalances in the body are evaluated through the system of the elements. Because the world, seasons, rhythms in nature, and our bodies are constantly adjusting to new environments, when these environments become unbalanced, each individual responds in a unique way. 
Constitution at birth, and its current imbalance
Knowing your constitution, your prakruti, is useful because it increases your awareness of your natural strengths and challenges. This can be a positive step towards your understanding of health that is unique to you. To learn more about your personal Ayurvedic constitution, answer your questionaire here based upon your overall, lifelong tendencies and not according to temporary or recent conditions. 
Prakruti: your natural constitution 
Your individual, baseline, stable Ayuredic constitution is known as your prakruti. It is determined at the moment of conception and relates to your genetically, inherent and permanent physical and emotional qualities, characteristics and tendencies. These stable qualities include your height, natural eye and hair colour and innate personality traits. The concept of constitutional variety is fundamental in Ayurveda. This is the notion that we are all different and what may be medicine for one person may even harm anotherStaying within the range of your natural, healthy constitution, your prakruti would be optimum health for you. 

Vikruti: Your current imbalance

Vikruti is a sanskrit word that loosely translates as a 'changed condition of body, mind and consciousness'. In Ayurveda, it is often used to describe your current state of health (or ill-health) in relation to your prakruti, or natural health. While prakruti governs permanent characteristics, vikruti reflects temporary changes, such as gaining or losing weight, feeling nervous, angry or irritable, developing a cold or the flu, etc.

Main biological forces

There are as many different constitutions as there are human beings. These stem from the three main biological, constitutional forces categorised in Ayurveda as the tridoshas

Doshas, biological forces

The three doshas are called vatapitta and kapha. Ayurveda uses the terms Vata (air/space), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (earth/water) to describe your body type. While all three doshas are present in every constitution, they are present in different ratios. For instance, I may have a high concentration of kapha (earth) in constitution, with Pitta (fire) secondary and a small amount of vata (air), however, someone else may have more Vata and Pitta and less Kapha
There are seven dosha-predominant constitutions which prevail. These are vata-predominant, pitta-predominant, kapha-predominant, three dual constitutions, where two doshas are equally or nearly equally predominant, namely, vata-pitta predominant, pitta-kapha predominant and kapha-vata predominant, and one constitutional that has all three doshas equally prominent, namely vata-pitta-kapha predominant.
Arising from environmental, emotional or physical conditions and/or stress, the biological forces (doshas) of vata (wind), pitta (fire) and kapha (earth) can increase (or, less often, decrease) beyond its natural equilibrium and what is appropriate for your constitution. Vitiated doshas may cause imbalances in the body and/or mind. This imbalance or vikruti creates an environment that is more hospitable to disease than if the prakruti (constitution) is balanced and healthy. 
Regardless of your constitution type, any of the three doshas can increase, however, your most dominant dosha often increases more quickly than the other doshas, because we tend to perpetuate what we know best. This is especially true for vata because it has a mobile quality that makes it quick to vitiate. Gratefully, it can be the easiest to bring back to balance, for the same reason. 
For example increased vata may lead to anxiety or nervousness, increased pitta may lead to a skin rash and increased kapha may lead to an overweight condition. These are usually temporary conditions that can be addressed by bringing the doshas back into balance. Ayurvedic ways to bring an increased dosha back into balance are through diet, lifestyle, Ayurvedic herbal supplements and treatments.
Regular consultations from a trained Ayurvedic practitioner who provides an integrated approach to principles of lifestyle and health imbalance using diet, herbs, massage and treatments, with a regular self-care home program is excellent preventative and corrective medicine.
To find out if any of your doshas are currently increased, please answer the questionaire below based on your current condition rather than according to what is usually true, used to be true or you wish were true.

Ayurvedic medicines and treatments

Ayurveda is a traditional system of health and wellbeing using gentle, non forceful healing modalities. It is one of the most holistic systems of medicine available, as it recognises not only the physical, but also the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of being human that effect the health and advocates a life lived to the full. It includes a comprehensive study of anatomy, physiology, pathology, diagnostic systems and treatment strategies. Both safe and effective, it reigns supreme in a world dominated by more and more complex and expensive medical procedures, many fraught with dangerous side effects. 
This magnificent system of holistic medicine and living reveals knowledge about life and health after careful observation of hundreds of thousands of individuals, animals, plants, trees and nature in general, over thousands of years. Ayurvedic sages recorded the strategies that worked and those that didn't for every aspect of health and way of living in encyclopaedic writings. Being over 5,000 years old and having stood the test of time, this science proven true from the time that the early India sages shared their wisdom and knowledge of this science to today. 
Ayurveda medicine concentrates on prevention and understanding one's own makeup, and also takes into consideration how the outer world and environment affect your daily life. One of the aims of Ayurveda is to teach people how to attain optimal health through a deeper understanding of themselves and their own particular nature in relationship to the world around them. It thus recommends specific lifestyle routines, foods and diet, medicines and procedures based upon your unique psycho-biological make-up (your body-type, prakruti, which was determined at birth). Ayurvedic diets and treatments are body-type specific.
Ayurveda is the medicine of nature and the medicine of life. The treatments of Ayurveda are found in the natural world, and most are simply diet and lifestyle. Plant based herbs help the body get balanced and then the body heals itself. Eating foods that are most beneficial for your body type will keep you healthy. Regular regiment is important. It is a system based on natural healing through strengthening the body, mind and spirit, and allowing the body's own natural healing mechanisms to work to their fullest potential.
Ayurvedic Herbal Supplements
Ayurvedic herbal supplements can be used to reduce or pacify one or more of the doshas that have increased in your body. So, for instance, if you have too much pitta (fire) in your body, this may manifest as burning heat, redness, rash - then you would choose a herb, or combination of herbs that are cooling, and thereby reduce of pacify pitta. There are also some herbal formulations such as Triphala and Shilajit that are balancing for all doshas.
What can Ayurveda treat?
Ayurveda is a complete healing modality that deals with preventative health, health improvement, health maintenance and the treatment of disease. It teaches you how to care for your health at all levels of your being. It utilises herbal, dietary and lifestyle modifications to facilitate healing and wellbeing. Its speciality and strength lie in the individualised approach it offers, and it treats the individual by identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the disease, stimulating the body's natural tendency to heal itself.  
The World Health Organisation recognises Ayurveda as a holistic system of healthcare. Ayurveda is trusted by millions of people all over the world. 
The 8 branches of Ayurveda
Ayurveda has 8 branches in it. They are: 
• Internal Medicinekayachikitsa
The word 'kaya' represents the digestive fire in the body, agni, which is responsible for the metabolism in the body. Imbalance to 'agni' is the cause for many diseases. Kaya chikitsa deals with the treatment of general ailments, such as fever, diarrhea and cough, by treating your agni.
• Pediatrics and Treatment of Childrenbaala chikitsa
Also known as kumara brtya, there are three aspects that must be remembered while treating children:
• Children cannot explain their complaints
• The dosage of medicine is different for children
• The medicines given to children must be palatable to them.
Because of these conditions, treating children is addressed in a different manner. Hence a separate branch is devoted for them.

• Psychology and psychosomatic diseasesgraha chikitsa
This branch of Ayurveda deals with diseases of psychosomatic disorders, including insanity, and also epilepsy and diseases caused by affliction of external factors.
• Treatment of disease of the organs above the clavicleurdhvanga chikitsa
This branch of Ayurveda includes the treatment of eyes, ears, nose, throat, mouth, teeth and head.

• Surgeryshalya chikitsa
This branch of Ayurveda deals with treatment of diseases caused by foreign bodies and diseases that need surgical therapies. It is carried out only for diseases, which cannot be cured by medicines.

• Toxicologydamstra chikitsa or visha chikitsa
This form of treatment deals with the treatment of poisoning from animals, such as snakes, insects, spiders, scorpions and also of plants, metals and minerals.

• Geriatrics, Rejuvenation, jara chikitsa or rasayana chikitsa
Deals in rejuvenation and restoring the youthfulness of an individual, and prescribes various therapies and herbs that have to be taken to restore your youth and vitality.

•.Aphrodisiac therapyvrsha chikitsa or vajikarana chikitsa
This branch of Ayurveda deals with treatment that helps to get good progeny and provides various medicines and therapies to improve the virility and the sexual prowess of a person to help towards this end.
Thus we can see that Ayurveda is effective in treating a wide range of health conditions relating to physical, mental and emotional states. It can be effectively employed in treatment of both acute and chronic diseases. Ayurveda treats the individual by addressing the imbalance in the vitality of a sick person. Thus Ayurveda can help people suffering with any named or unnamed (undiagnosed) illness. Most common, acute and chronic disorders respond well to Ayurveda.
The Health Institute Australia offers clinical health, preventative and dietary consultations, treatments and study courses in Ayurveda, the wisdom of life.
As the sister science of yoga, Ayurveda plays a key role in the Shanti Yoga Health Institute Australia curriculum. These ancient holistic practices teach the importance of cultivating the subtle life force, or prana, and how to find balance in the body, mind and spirit. 
Does Ayurveda complement conventional medicine?
Ayurveda is a safe system of medicine, with an extensive history of traditional use and depending upon the ailment, can be used as a complete alternative to conventional medicine or alongside it as a complementary or integrated medicine for good health and well-being. 
The World Health Organisation recognises Ayurveda as a holistic system of healthcare. Ayurveda, the wisdom of life is trusted by millions of people all over the world. 
Ayurveda can be used whilst undergoing conventional medicine treatments. Ayurveda can help restore balance to your body, and may reduce the need for many conventional medicines. 
Your Ayurvedic practitioner and doctor can work together to maximise your treatment result. Its speciality and strength lie in its individualised approach to your unique requirements. 
The Difference 
While orthodox medicine helps to manage the symptoms through prescribed medications, often the cause of the condition is left untreated and the patient remains dependent upon the medication. On the contrary, Ayurvedic remedies wile managing the presenting symptom will also aim at treating the root cause of the illness. 
Ayurveda is a complete healing modality that deals with preventative health, health improvement, health maintenance and the treatment of disease. It teaches you how to care for your health at all levels of your being. It utilises herbal, dietary and lifestyle modifications to facilitate healing and wellbeing. Its speciality and strength lie in the individualised approach it offers, and it treats the individual by identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the disease, stimulating the body's natural tendency to heal itself.  
Find out more about Ayurveda
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With minimum effort and study, you can learn simple, valuable practices that enable you to manage your health and change your life for the better. You can learn from Ayurveda how to understand your individual constitution and your current condition of health. This can help you manage an appropriate diet and lifestyle for your unique system, and which herbs and remedies may help you gain and maintain optimum health in your body and mind. 
Discover the cause of your health imbalances and get simple advice to correct them. 

Book an Ayurvedic consultation with one of our health professionals today and notice the difference to your general vitality.




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Shanti Gowans is the globally recognised author and founder of Shanti Yoga™, Meditation and Ayurveda for the self, family and community.

Shantiji has brought the concepts and practices of a healthy body and a still mind to thousands of Australians through her Yoga and Meditation programs on national television... Read more about Shantiji's biography

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